The Green Sheet Online Edition
July 28, 2008 • Issue 08:07:02
Destroy the data, recycle the rest
In February 2003, the space shuttle Columbia exploded upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere and streaked like a flaming comet across the Texas sky. In the aftermath of that horrific tragedy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration contracted with a data recovery firm to try and coax the data from a warped and melted disk drive recovered as part of Columbia's wreckage.
"The hard drive was burned at 7,000 degrees on reentry and was essentially melted together," said Dr. Roger Hutchison, President and Chief Executive Officer at Digital Data Destruction Services Inc. "They kind of used the jaws of life to open the hard drive to get at the platter [that holds the data]. It had holes in it, pits, it was burned, but they retrieved 99 percent of the data on that hard drive."
That is the ultimate example of how hard it is to destroy digitally stored data, and a warning to the payments industry, where cardholder data vulnerability is the biggest concern.
If melted hard drives still contain recoverable data, level 3 and 4 merchants shredding disks with a standard commercial shredder is hardly enough precaution. Much, if not most, of the data is still recoverable, Hutchison said.
But D3eraSE, the new security erase division of D3 Services, does not shred; it destroys. One hundred percent of the data is destroyed through its process.
D3 has attained Tier 5 destruction status - the highest level for data destruction, the level used by the U.S. government for the destruction of classified, top secret material.Along with paper, D3 accepts CD-ROMs and DVD discs, hard drives, floppy disks, magnetic tapes and flash drives. In the case of CD-Roms and DVDs, the discs are ground down at the D3 facilities, reducing the information layer to "a very small particle size," Hutchison said.
For hard drives and magnetic tapes, he added, the storage devices are put inside an electromagnetic field called a degausser that destroys the digital signal completely. Then all the components are disassembled and recycled. Electronic media can be shipped to D3. Or, for some projects, D3 goes on-site, where it destroys the media, then ships it back to its central location for recycling.
Yes, that is the polar opposite to its destruction service; it recycles, too. D3 destroys 100 percent of the digital data and recycles 100 percent of the material byproducts.
When the devices are disassembled, after the data is destroyed at D3's facilities, the different types of metals and plastic are separated, then sold to recyclers who, in turn, sell them to businesses that reprocess those materials into new products. "We've offered a green solution from the very beginning of the company," Hutchison said. "So we're very keen on not taking the electronic media and just destroying the data, but making sure that the materials, the aluminum, the nickel, the copper, the plastic, the paper wrapping - all of that - gets back into a recyclable mode."
Hutchison maintains that D3 is the only company in the United States to be awarded a General Services Administration (GSA) contract for both destroying the digital data and then recycling 100 percent of the material it receives. "There are other companies that do one or the other, but not both," Hutchison said. To win the contract, D3 went through a demanding nine-month process, complete with an on-site inspection and downstream audit that confirmed 100 percent of the destroyed material was in fact recycled.
The process made getting "a root canal look like a desirable pastime," Hutchison said. "It was one of the most complex processes that I've ever been through in my professional career. Unbelievably difficult."
But the GSA contract gives D3 a legitimacy that Hutchison believes other data destruction services cannot claim. He said other companies engage in what is termed a "dirty process" by shredding both paper and electronic media with the same shredding equipment.
"The problem with using the same equipment to shred CDs and DVDs that you would with paper is that when you comingle them, much of the data can still be retrieved, and it is highly likely that they end up in a landfill," Hutchison said.
"And the reason being is that when you chop up an optical disc, there's aluminum and chemicals on the surface, and the recyclers won't take it. "And so a lot of companies are claiming they have green processes or ecologically friendly processes because it's a buzzword, but they've never been audited."
Clean and cost effective
The three-and-a-half-year-old Wisconsin-based company has a processing facility in Iron River, Wisc., and is opening a new office in Washington, D.C., in September 2008. It plans to also open an office in Southern California, and eventually another one in Palo Alto, Calif. Although it has secured the GSA contract, Hutchison said D3's growth has been in the commercial sector, from financial institutions, hospitals, law firms and so forth concerned about both security and recycling.
Despite the labor-intensive nature of the service D3 provides, Hutchison said D3 is able to keep device destruction costs low for its clients by selling the recycled material to buyers worldwide. "Our customers pay us to destroy the digital data content," he said. "And, as a byproduct, we recycle, but we pass back the value of that."
According to Hutchison, the demand for recycled materials is skyrocketing, with the price on the world market for such materials tracking the price of petroleum "almost perfectly."
D3 partners with sales representatives to market its services to businesses. Reps receive commissions based on sales. It can be "very lucrative," Hutchison said. "Some of these projects are very, very large." To inquire about selling opportunities, contact Mike Martino, General Manager of D3, at the number below.
Digital Data Destruction Services Inc.
Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.