Let’s say you have some computers for recycling. You know there are some passwords saved on there, and maybe some banking info or some saved files. But you only have a few computers and you just want to get rid of them. You bring them to your local garbage collection center and assume that your computers will be recycled. After all… everyone else in your town brings their computers there and you have never heard of any problems with recycling.

That’s what the residents and small businesses of Clearwater, Florida thought. What they didn’t know was that interim City Manager Jennifer Poirrier was investigating the lack of recycling collected from city residents. In January of 2023, Poirrier discovered that the city’s solid waste department had been collecting recyclables from residents’ homes but had not sent any materials to the Waste Management processing plant in Tampa since June. Instead they sent all recyclable materials with the regular refuse to the Pinellas County Solid Waste Disposal Complex.

Proper recycling restarted following the discovery of the breach. Then FBI met with Clearwater officials and it became apparent that the city was actually investigating lapses in its recycling program that stretched back years.

It was discovered that between Jan. 9 and Jan. 31, the city sent 231 tons to Waste Management, which was more than twice what it delivered in most months in the last three years. In fact, Clearwater had delivered a surprisingly small amount of recycling to Waste Management each month for processing since at least January 2020. Except Clearwater is also responsible for transporting recyclables from Belleaire and Safety Harbor to Waste Management for processing. However, in most months since January 2020, Clearwater’s total deliveries to Waste Management were less than what the city had collected from just Belleaire and Safety Harbor, according to data from the processor.

The county data indicates that Clearwater didn’t deliver any pure recycling loads to the solid waste complex in 2021, meaning the recyclable materials were likely just mixed in with regular refuse. Waste Management discontinued Clearwater’s contract because the city had not delivered any recyclables since June.

City officials stated that staff turnover in the solid waste department may have contributed to the problems with recycling in Clearwater. Former solid waste director had retired in November and former assistant director resigned in January following the discovery of the breach.

More Problems with Recycling

In recent years, many foreign countries changed their laws about accepting materials for recycling. These changes caused more problems with recycling in the United States. While the US still ships an estimated 1 million metric tons per year of plastic waste abroad, without the Chinese market for plastic, some types of cardboard, paper, and glass, the economics of municipal recycling has been challenged.

In 2017, Stamford, CT made $95,000 selling recyclable. A year later, it had to pay $700,000 to have it removed. Bakersfield, CA also went from earning money for its recycling, to paying $25 a ton to get rid of it, as did Franklin, NH. Because many municipalities couldn’t afford to pay for a service that used to generate income, many had to end their recycling programs, or increase costs.

How Will this Effect Your Computers?

What happens to that computer you brought to your local municipality? The sad truth is, you might not really know. Your local town might have a qualified vendor who will remove your hard drive and destroy it, but because you don’t really know what private information is floating around on the dark web, you also don’t know where it came from. Could it have come from your discarded hard drive? or from your old copier? Or your cell phone? Sure. It may have.

So How Do You Prevent a Data Breech?

  1. Use a certified electronics recycler that SHREDS hard drives. One that is R2 or NAID AAA certified. Ask if you will get a certificate of destruction and recycling for your devices.
  2. Remove your hard drives yourself before bringing them to your local municipality. This includes hard drives in desktop computers, laptops, cell phones, tablets, printers, copiers, scanners, fax machines, and connected medical devices