Archive for the 'waste' Category

Open letter: CD Recycling

Dear IT Industry Colleague,

I’ve just moved house. In the process I realised that I had hundreds of old datas CD’s. Some of them with old backups, many of them used to copy copies of other CD’s some DVD’s with dumps of system folders and so on a so forth.

I figured I’d just dump them in the recycling, which gets collected bi-weekly. On checking though, not only are these not recyclable, but they are actually pretty hard to completely destroy. They also contain a large amount of toxic chemicals, and unless they are sent to a specialty recycling center, most end up in incinerators or landfill, neither is a good thing.

There is a good article here on the general problems with the creation and disposal of CD/DVD’s, from 2013. It says, among other things:

The discs are made of layers of different mixed materials, including a combination of various mined metals and petroleum–derived plastics, lacquers and dyes, which, when disposed of, can pollute groundwater and bring on a myriad of health problems. Most jewel cases are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which has been thought to produce a higher-than-normal cancer rate within workers and those who live in the area where it is manufactured. They also release harmful chemicals when incinerated.

Having realized the problems, what did I do? First, when disposing old data CD’s and DVD’s you must understand there is an obvious potential security exposure. In principle, any data can be read from the CD. In practice, it may not be that simple if the data is formatted using specific backup programs, encrypted etc. But you do have to consider this before discarding them.

man eating cdI came up with a couple of easy ways to make recovering data hard. One involved scratching the recording sides (remember, some are dual sided). The scratches can be removed but it’s a time consuming process and not something done by someone who casually comes across your CD.

The second process used a nail in a set of grips, I heated the nail and simply pushed a couple of holes through each CD/DVD. Again, some data could still be read by the determined, but very unlikely.

IMG_20160609_182555Once I was done marking all the media, I threw them in an old Amazon box, too them to the US Post Office, mailed them as “media mail” to the CD Recycling Center of America. The CD Recycling Center provides “certified destruction” of your CD’s.

Our industry uses vast amounts of natural resources, it consumes rare minerals at an alarming rate, often mined in difficult, dangerous, and sometimes illegal conditions. Individually this is hard for us to do anything about. Please though, don’t throw old data CDs, DVD’s or any others in the garbage/trash/refuse and especially the recycling.

Yes, it takes a few minutes of your time; yes, it will cost you to box, tape, address and actually post the package back for destruction. Over the years IT has made me a lot of money, it is the least I could do. Please join me. Thank you.


Reuse, recycle, repair – Oral-B disaster

Sometime ago I commented on the repair status for iPhones, like my no longer used Palm Treo, which was subsequently a target for a class action lawsuit over breakdowns, the iPhone has some expensive repair options and I said at the time “Is it unreasonable to expect the designers of one of the best gadgets in the last few years to think about how they are serviced, refurbished and disposed of, I think not.

We simply can’t go on forever buying stuff and dumping the old, unwanted broken stuff without regard.”

Oral-B Pulsar vibrating toothbrush Picture AttributionNoncommercialShare AlikeSome rights reserved by Inju

And so it was last Friday evening I was making my usual dash up and down the isles at the grocery store. I don’t make a list, since I live alone I can mostly look at the isle and decide if I need to go down it.

I knew my tooth brush had reached the “sorry” stage and needed to be replaced. I’d owned one of those electric ones with the big handle that took 2x AA batteries and had two distinct heads, one rotated and the other moved up and down. Only the head wasn’t really big enough for me, so I’d stopped using it.

As I glanced through the racks and racks of toothbrushes I glanced at one by Oral-B that looked like it had a good size head, I picked it up band threw it in my shopping cart.

Yesterday morning, after reading this excellent post by Adobe all around good guy, Duane Nickull, on how to improve Vancouver. Duane lists a staggering number of good/simple steps, including “2. Immediately ban the sale of the following items from store shelves within Vancouver:” – Duane went on to list a number of common sense things.

I’d like to add at least one Duane, this Oral-B Pulsar toothbrush. This is outrageous. When I opened it, rather than buy a regular toothbrush, I found I’d bought an electric one. Worse than that, the tootbrush couldn’t be opened and specifically said on the packet that the battery was not designed to be replaced.

Given the tootbrush part isn’t going to last more than 6-8 weeks brushing twice per day for a reasonable amount of time, that means I’d be wasting 7x entirely good eletric motors per year, worse still, I’d be deliberately disposing of 7x AA batteries into landfill per year with all the environmental impact that has. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Procter and Gamble will sell at least half a million of these each year, the landfill consequences of dumping those batteries is unforgivable.

I’ve written Oral-B telling them that I’m buycotting their toothbrushes until they withdraw this product, or at least modify it and the instructions so the battery can be removed and the instructions tell you to remove the battery before discarding it. Please do the same. Their contact details are here. 

[Update: My email submission was assigned  ‘090127-000612’.]

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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