Three Options for Recycling Flash Drives

usb drive

The last two decades have ushered in an enormous number of electronics. Prices get lower, users upgrade, society reapes the benefits of these advancements. This explosive growth in electronics has led to an escalating burst for EOL (end-of-life) electronics and e-waste. When electronic devices are left in traditional landfills toxic materials can be released into the soil and environment.

Cheap devices has reaped tremendous benefits for the society. This massive growth in the electronics industry particularly has led to a rapidly escalating issue of end-of-life (EOL) electronics or e-waste. Normally in primitive recycling operations, toxic materials can be released from old electronic devices into the environment.

No doubt about it as E-waste is growing, and with that rapid pace the need for effective electronics recycling programs is a must. As of 2018, e-waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with an estimated waste stream of 48.5 million tons in 2018, valued at 62.5 billion US Dollars.

The amount of e-waste from USB flash drives is unknown from the above statistics, yet it’s not entirely necessary to make flash drives part of the e-waste equation. There are options for recycling USB flash drives and data recovery.

Option One:

Run antivirus software from a USB flash drive.

To remove a malware from infected computer with antivirus within Windows may not be enough to remove it. If your computer has a rootkit, the malware may be able to hide itself from the antivirus software. The only proven way to ride your system of a nasty virus would be starting your computer from outside the Windows environment and start the cleaning process from there.

This is where bootable antivirus solutions come in. Malware will be clean from outside the infected Windows system, so the malware won’t be interfering and running with the clean-up process. The HowToGeek website did a nice write-up on this topic. If this is a tool you need, don’t e-waste your USB flash drive, rather make a bootable antivirus software stick.

Option Two:

Run Linux from a USB flash drive.

As of 2020 the percentage of Windows computer users is still an impressive 88%. Mac users are 10% and Linux users are the remaining 2%. Have you ever used Linux? It’s actually a fantastic operating system and at least something to play around with if you have spare USB media. Rather than e-cycling your USB stick, you can download a Linux operating system and give it a run. The process is not difficult and (nearly) any non-technical person can download and install Linux on a flash drive.

Slax is a well know Linux package. The instructions for download and installation are straight forward and simple. It is highly recommended to try this version of Linux as your first exposure to the operating system.

Several benefits of running Linux from a USB include trying the operating system without investing money in new hardware, or making changes to your current Windows operating system.

Learning to run Linux from a flash drive will give you an advantage in the event of a computer failure. For example, a computer gets bogged down with a nasty virus and you need to access some files quickly. There is no time for a lengthy cleaning process (scanning a hard drive can take hours). Booting into Linux from a USB stick will give you access to the memory of the hard drive to access the files you need.

Option Three:

Recycle USB drives for a good cause.

“One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.”

Isn’t that how the saying goes? Said another way, you can donate your USB drives to an organization who can re-purpose those drives and provide them to others in need. Pivoting from option number two, a non-profit organization called SugarLabs.org puts a Linux based operating system on a flash drive. The operating system is a special version of Linux and is designed to teach young kids how computers work. The not for profit organization sends these donated drives all over the world. SugarLabs is based in Boston Massachusetts and founded by Walter Bender a graduate of Harvard and technology researcher from MIT Media Labs.

Part of the SugarLabs process is insuring each USB drive is clean from any personal data or potentially harmful malware. RecycleUSB.com is a website and business which manages the sanitizing and cleaning of the donated USB flash drives before sending to Walter and his team at SugarLabs. The recycle USB website lists the “how to” steps on donating media, contact information for any questions someone might have and sanitizing steps used to clear data from the flash drives. The partnership between RecycleUSB and SugarLabs started back in December of 2009 when flash drives began having the storage capacity to hold a portable operating system (about 2GBs).

After reading the above options for recycling USB flash memory and you find yourself still wanting to e-waste the flash drives, be sure to check your community or city about e-waste programs. In nearly all cities and counties it is not recommended to throw away electronics into the standard garbage service. Be sure to enlist the use of recyclers who are certified through either of the voluntary certification programs that have been established to ensure responsible recycling, including R2/RIOS and e-stewards.

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