Yes, you can scrap old hard drives, but there are some important factors to consider first. When deciding whether to scrap or recycle an old hard drive, you’ll need to think about data security, environmental impact, and potential value recovery.
Is there sensitive data on the hard drive?
The most important consideration is whether there is any sensitive data still stored on the hard drive. This could include financial information, personal photos and documents, or proprietary business data. Formatting or deleting files does NOT securely erase data on a hard drive. So if the drive has ever been used, it needs to be wiped with a data destruction program before disposal. Otherwise, the data is still recoverable and could end up in the wrong hands if you simply scrap the drive.
Options for data destruction
- Use built-in disk utility programs like Diskpart Erase on Windows or Disk Utility on Mac to overwrite the drive with 0s.
- Use third party drive wiping software that overwrites data multiple times.
- Physically destroy the platters inside the hard drive.
You want to make absolutely sure the data can’t be read before scrapping a used hard drive. If you don’t properly destroy the data first, you could be liable if that personal information gets leaked.
Is the hard drive still functioning?
If the hard drive is mechanically functional and the data has been wiped, consider recycling it instead of scrapping. Many recyclers will purchase working electronics and hard drives to resell or recover precious metals. This gives the drive a second life and keeps it out of the landfill a little longer.
Older IDE/PATA drives from the 90s or early 2000s are probably too obsolete to resell. But newer SATA drives may still have resale value on secondary markets. For example, a 250GB SATA desktop drive from around 2010 may still sell for $10-20 to hobbyists looking for cheap storage. Larger enterprise-grade server drives are also sought after for repurposing.
Assessing drive function
To test if the hard drive still works:
- Connect it to a computer via SATA or IDE cable.
- See if it’s recognized in the BIOS at boot and Disk Management within Windows or Mac OS.
- Check the SMART status with free drive utilities like Hard Disk Sentinel.
- Run the manufacturer’s diagnostics if available.
- Try securely erasing the drive with a wipe program.
If the drive fails to initialize, is not recognized, or shows a large number of reallocated sectors, then it’s likely reached end of life and is best to be recycled.
Is there precious metal value?
Hard drives contain trace amounts of precious metals like gold, platinum, palladium and others used in circuitry and platter coatings. Scrapping drives allows for the recovery of these metals through smelting. While the yield is small per drive, shredding and smelting thousands of end-of-life drives adds up for recyclers which offsets their costs of properly destroying the data.
The metals recovered have economic value on commodity markets. Here are typical yields per 1lb of whole hard drives based on assays from recycling facilities:
|Metal||Yield (Troy Ounces)|
|Other (Zn, Pb, Al, etc)||3|
At today’s spot commodity prices, 1lb of hard drives would contain approximately $5 worth of precious metals. Not a fortune, but a nice side value recovery for recyclers scraping IT equipment at scale.
Is the drive past warranty?
If the hard drive is under the manufacturer’s warranty period, you may want to request an RMA (return merchandise authorization) for replacement first before scrapping it. Most major brands like Seagate, WD, Toshiba, etc provide 1-5 year warranties on their drives when new. However, the warranty is voided if you disassemble or destroy the drive.
Check your receipts or order history to see if the drive is still under warranty. Then contact the manufacturer to start an RMA claim. You’ll usually need the serial number and often have to run diagnostics first. If approved, they’ll send you a replacement drive before you ship back the defective one.
Destroying the drive makes it ineligible for manufacturer warranty replacement. So consider exercising this option before scrapping, if applicable.
Where can I scrap hard drives?
There are many options for properly destroying and recycling end-of-life hard drives, including:
- Computer recyclers – Many e-waste recycling centers accept hard drives for data wiping and materials reclamation. Find certified, responsible recyclers in your area.
- Donation programs – Some charities like Goodwill accept old computer equipment and may wipe and resell working hard drives.
- Electronics take-back – Check with local waste management if they offer electronics recycling days or collection points.
- Mail-in recycling – You can ship hard drives via certain mail carriers like UPS to certified recycling partners.
- Municipal household hazardous waste – Some communities allow residents to drop off old electronics to be recycled.
- Scrap metal yards – These may purchase intact hard drives by weight along with other scrap metals.
- Secure shredding vendors – You can hire a bonded company to come on-site and shred hard drives while you observe.
When selecting a scrapping solution, have them explain how they destroy or wipe data so there is no risk of exposure. Also confirm they follow environmental standards for secure recycling and materials recovery.
Scrapping old hard drives is possible if you take the proper precautions. First and foremost, you need to sanitize the drive by securely wiping any stored data to avoid data leaks. If the drive still works mechanically, consider recycling instead for potential reuse or precious metals recovery. Evaluating the drive’s warranty status, functionality and data sensitivity will determine whether responsible recycling or scrapping is the best option.