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Twelve years ago, Glenn Laga was tasked with packing and shipping old information technology (IT) assets for a prominent cellular company. The company had five call centers, each with more than 500 computers that needed to be erased and shipped back to the leasing company. That’s when Laga’s company invented its IT erasure lab, a portable lab that can wipe data on-site.

“Then we realized that we have a whole new service,” Laga says.

His company, Guardian Data Destruction, South Hackensack, New Jersey, has since expanded to also provide physical data destruction, degaussing and shredding.

Laga says Guardian Data Destruction is a large secure destruction company that has its own fleet of trucks and several national and international partners. He says the company can service about 24 locations in the U.S. on any given day.

Keeping in mind the security of clients and the importance of data protection as well as the increasing importance of sustainability, Guardian also coordinates responsible recycling of the materials it handles.

“I think we pioneered the industry,” Laga says. “I would say that we’re best in class; our team [is] all customer and service focused, and what makes us different is that we stand behind everything we do.”

A growing industry

With rapid changes in technology and data storage, Guardian Data Destruction has experienced a good deal of growth the past few years, says Laga, who is founder and president of the company.

“When we started, we were the first in the industry, and it was a very, very, very slow growth,” he says. “Now, I would say our logistics and data destruction are actually running side by side in volume. Where we see more growth is on the data destruction side, combined with a new service that we’re offering, which is site decommissioning and data center decommissioning.”

Site decommissioning has increased in popularity because of the widespread shift to cloud storage, Laga says. Data centers have been shrinking as companies opt out of physical storage devices in favor of storing data in remote databases and accessing the information via the internet.

When companies decide to downsize and exchange large volumes of physical data storage equipment for cloud storage, Laga says they face risks of data theft and identity theft if the equipment they previously used is not handled properly.

“When you’re shipping a device with live data on it, it’s like a bomb: You never know when it’s going to go off,” he says. “It might fall off the back of the truck, somebody might steal it, it might get delivered to the wrong destination, and somebody grabs it that way. So, by destroying your data on-site, for a few dollars in cost, you’re eliminating a huge risk in the chain of custody process.”

Guardian’s technology also has evolved: Its wiping technology has downsized from a mobile erasure lab to a device small enough to fit in a suitcase. Additionally, the company has 24 shredding trucks that can shred up to 5,000 hard drives or 15,000 tapes per day.

Many clients choose to have their shredded material recycled. In site-decommissioning jobs, Laga says clients also request recycling for racks, steel and other materials that have been left behind. He says, “There’s not a lot of value in a rack or raw steel, so [clients] don’t want to transport it back to their facility, where they have to handle it and handle it and handle it. They’d rather have that just go right to a recycler.”

Guardian pulls and shreds hards drives and works with clients to find reputable recycling facilities to process the scrap.
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Laga says recycling is critical in the data destruction industry. Although Guardian does not perform this task itself, it works with clients to find local, reputable recycling facilities to process the scrap.

“When a customer hires us to go shred hard drives, if they ask us to recycle them for them, we then recommend two or three R2 or e-Stewards recyclers that are close to the actual location,” Laga says.

R2 and e-Stewards, short for Responsible Recycling Practices and e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment, respectively, are certifications for the electronics recycling and asset recovery industries. Recyclers meeting either of these standards must adhere to specific requirements, including documenting and reporting data destruction procedures, regularly training personnel and maintaining systems to identify and properly handle hazardous materials.

Guardian then transports the scrap to the chosen accredited facility. Laga says his employees keep a “hard chain of custody” of the transported material, recording each device’s serial number and keeping asset-transportation forms that mark every step of the journey to the recycling facility.

“What you don’t want to do is send the shred thousands of miles to a recycler because any value that’s coming out of that is eaten up by transportation cost,” he says.

Guardian uses the profit from selling the scrap to offset clients’ transportation costs.

Getting down to work

One of Guardian’s successful projects was to decommission a data center for an unnamed multibillion-dollar global technology company. The facility was 100,000 square feet with raised floors. It featured more than 900 server racks. Laga says the project took four weeks and a crew of 18 people to complete.

“That was one of our best, biggest projects,” he says.

Depending on the logistics of the project, Laga says jobs can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.

The global technology company’s project presented a challenge to Laga’s team because the data center was equipped with seismic racking: racking attached to the floor that then connects the server racks to the wall and ceiling, preventing the server racks from falling during an earthquake.

Laga’s team was tasked with pulling and shredding hard drives, assembling an inventory of all the assets it would remove from the site, decommissioning the racks, removing the seismic racks, taking the wire chasers and leaving the room “broom-swept clean.” The team also was responsible for removing the material from the data center and transporting it to a recycling facility.

Laga says, “Once we did the data destruction, we had to submit the inventory to the customer, so he realized what assets he was actually disposing of and made sure that list matched his inventory list so that [he had] chain of custody and documentation that we were removing those assets.”

Laga says he considers safety to be a challenge in large-scale site decommissioning projects such as this one. “It’s just a lot of labor, and you have to be very careful when you’re working in an environment like that,” he says. “You know: making sure nobody’s getting hurt [and] everybody’s working with the same safety regulations.”

On the other hand, Laga says projects of this scale succeed because of a strong management team.

“The right management team is critical to having any job go smoothly because there are so many moving parts,” he adds. “Just think, as you’re pulling the hard drives, you’re recording the serial number of the hard drive, then you have another team transporting that hard drive out to the shredder, then another team inside the truck shredding the hard drives, then you have a logistics team coordinating the removal and the transport of the shred, and that’s just the very beginning.”

He continues, “Multiply that same process with those many different areas of work for the devices, the racking and the actual racks. It’s a lot of [variables], and that’s why having a team on-site is important.”

Looking ahead

As technology continues to grow, Laga predicts the secure data destruction industry will grow with it.

“I think it’s growing probably about 20 percent a year,” he says. “We’re shredding cellphones, we’re shredding tablets, we’re shredding iPads on-site because the data that’s on those, [customers] don’t want to be released into the remarketing arena.”

With growing concerns of data breaches and identity theft, Laga also sees an increase in clients opting to shred wiped devices and recycle the scrap at local facilities.

“We’re seeing more and more people are not taking the in-transit risk by shipping the assets with live data on them on a hard drive. We’re seeing that growth especially for the bigger players, and it’s a trickle-down effect,” he says.

Laga says the biggest hurdle the industry must overcome is battery recycling.

“There’s really not a good downstream yet for batteries,” he says. “If somebody can come up with a good formula to recycle batteries and reuse them, I really think that’s where there’s a huge opportunity for the right company.”

The author is an intern with the Recycling Today Media Group.