An Investigation of Hard-Disk Drive Circularity Accounting for Socio-Technical Dynamics and Data Uncertainty

Julien Walzberg, Robin Burton, Fu Zhao, Kali Frost, Stephanie Muller, Alberta Carpenter, Garvin Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus Citations


The installed data storage capacity in the U.S. will reach 2.2 Zettabytes by 2025, generating about 50 million units of end-of-life (EOL) hard-disk drives (HDDs) per year. Due to data security concerns, most EOL HDDs are currently shredded (even when still functioning), representing an economic loss. Moreover, raw material extraction linked to the increased demand for storage causes environmental impacts. Besides mitigating the threat posed by sudden restrictions of raw materials, the circular economy (CE) offers to maximize value retention in the economy and reduce the environmental impacts of human activities. Common CE strategies are reusing and recycling products. However, the reuse of hard disk drives is currently burdened by the lack of trust HDD end-users have toward other non-physical means of data removal than shredding. Here, an agent-based modeling (ABM) approach is proposed to explore how techno-economic and social factors affect end-users’ decisions to adopt EOL management practices other than shredding. The proposed method also accounts for data uncertainty by applying a semi-quantitative approach. Results demonstrate how increased green procurement and more robust standards could spur end-users’ trust toward data-wiping technologies. Even when accounting for uncertainty, HDDs’ reuse brings better environmental and economic benefits than HDD shredding followed by material recovery. The semi-quantitative approach proposed in this study could be more universally applied in future ABM, especially given the often-stochastic nature of such models. The developed ABM is also the first to represent several HDD industry stakeholders and demonstrate how the HDD shredding lock-in situation could be resolved.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number106102
Number of pages11
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier B.V.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-80032


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Circular economy
  • Data quality
  • e-waste/electronic waste
  • Hard-disk drives
  • Theory of planned behavior


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