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Data Dump event in Lakewood Ranch keeps toxins out of the environment

Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and Sarasota IT firm SouthTech co-host the annual event to dispose of electronic waste.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. April 25, 2022
  • East County
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For SouthTech, the now annual Data Dump event in Lakewood Ranch came as a result of a literal cleanup.

The Sarasota IT firm began helping its clients recycle electronic waste six years ago, but the response was so enthusiastic that the used equipment began to take over SouthTech's office.

So SouthTech paired with the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance to begin Data Dump, which has held Earth Day (April 22) in a parking lot near Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. The event allows the public to dump electronic waste free of charge.

Alliance Vice President Dan Sidler has been surprised how many residents need to safely get rid of electronic clutter.

"We reached a lot of residents, which was surprising for us," Sidler said. "We normally communicate with the business community, but I think this partnership (with SouthTech) helped create a strong turnout of residents.”

When the event, which also involved Quicksilver Recycling Services, began at 9 a.m., people already were waiting for the service.

Greenbrook's Jerry Lashower was disposing of a desktop computer and two laptop computers, which he said he had set aside for five years after they declined in function.

Ariel Villafana and Lazaro Sanchez break apart computers to remove the hard drives.
Ariel Villafana and Lazaro Sanchez break apart computers to remove the hard drives.

“I've been wondering how to get rid of them safely,” he said. “So when I got the notice about this, I jumped all over it.”

Lashower watched intently as a combination of the workers drilled and pried with screwdrivers to tear open the computers to remove the hard drives. The drives were then punched through with an industrial drill press.

By 9:30 a.m., a pallet of electronics approximately three feet in diameter was piled high with electronics and wrapped in plastic for disposal. Many more followed.

Jim Lawler, the vice president of Quicksilver Recycling Services, said that landfills in many areas, including Manatee County's at Lena Road, have a location that will accept electronics, but they do not destroy the data beforehand. The Data Dump allowed residents with security concerns a chance to dispose of their devices.

Lawler said the drill press is the most effective method for rendering a hard drive unusable. He explained that while it is possible to use software to wipe data and then resell the drive, punching a hole prevents any possibility of error.

The removal of the hard disk in front of the owner is intended to offer total safety.

The data-storing component of a hard drive, the platter, is much smaller than the drive itself and is typically made of aluminum, glass or ceramic substrate.

“That part of the drive is brittle,” he said. “When it’s pressed, it just shatters like glass.”

He pointed out the numerous fragments lying in the basin of the drill press.

Lawler said that with decreasing hard drive prices, this disposal method now offers the best combination of safety and efficiency.

The drill press punctures a hard drive while fragments of hard drive platters litter the surrounding surface.
The drill press punctures a hard drive while fragments of hard drive platters litter the surrounding surface.

Once the data has been destroyed, electronics will be sent to the Quicksilver facility in Tampa where they will be further disassembled and the parts separated by type including steel, circuit boards, cables, wire, plastics, copper-bearing material, and more.

If the electronics contain newer components, they may be repurposed, reused or resold, though, according to Lawler, about 95% of all material is recycled.

Materials for recycling are shipped to metal refining facilities, with the closest such facility being Reldan Metals in Pennsylvania. These facilities use acid-based chemical products to smelt the material down, separating out the metals through their differing weights.

He said this process is beneficial to the environment for multiple reasons. One is that it allows precious metals contained in circuit boards and other components, including gold, palladium and platinum, to be recycled. After separation by the chemicals, these metals can be incorporated into jewelry and any other items that use those materials. This process is known as urban mining.

“There's a lot less energy involved in mining precious metals through electronic recycling than there is in actually mining gold,” said Lawler.

He said the event also ensures that toxins, such as lead, are removed from the electronics because these would otherwise leech into the ground and enter aquifers, bringing the toxins into the environment.

He also emphasized that the recycling process follows strict environmental standards; the firms that perform these tasks are regulated by state environmental laws, in addition to being audited by independent companies such as R2 Corporation and e-Steward. “It’s a very regulated business,” he said.

Although the majority of residents attended earlier in the morning, a largely steady flow of visitors continued as the event stretched on until 1 p.m.

As the action wraps up for the day, a pallet is loaded into the truck.
As the action wraps up for the day, a pallet is loaded into the truck.

Karen Ostrosky, a resident of the Lakewood Ranch Country Club, said that her husband, who recently died, left behind a wide range of electronics he had collected but that she had been unable to find anyone who would take one laptop he owned.

“It would have taken me awhile to get in there and figure out how to wipe the data,” said Ostrosky. “From what I understand, even with software, it's really difficult to erase everything. So I figured the manual way is best. I was really pleased that they offered this, and I can't believe all the hard drives they destroyed just today.”

Indigo resident Mick Chianese brought in a large desktop PC. “It's just good that somebody knows how to do that,” he said, “because we didn't really know what to do. We wanted to make sure whatever information we had on it was gone.”

Some electronics had long awaited the chance to be recycled. Windows editions from the earlier 2000s were spotted, and at one point, staff noted the presence of a Windows 95 PC, with its large size and beige exterior.

By the end of the event, there were enough pallets to fill just more than one truck. SouthTech previously partnered with the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance for the event in 2019, which saw a record-breaking amount gathered of 16,000 pounds, or two truckloads of material.

Sidler said he is looking forward to partnerships with the organization in the future. SouthTech also holds other events locally with organizations including the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.