Hardware

How do I recycle floppy disks? And what if I still want the data on them?

recycle floppy disks
Just a selection of my unwanted floppy disks...

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I’m sure I’m not alone in having around 100 floppy drives sitting in my office, never to be loaded again. While it’s easy to shove them into a bin destined for landfill, that’s not the most environmentally friendly option. Here’s how to recycle floppy disks, how to extract data from them, plus a couple of intriguing alternative ways to deal with them.

First, do you want the data?

If you think there might be crucial data on your floppy disks, you can still buy external floppy drives – this one is Amazon’s recommended choice, for £9.

If that sounds like too much hassle, you can ship your drives to American company FloppyDisk.com. For a fee of $1.95 per disk, it will transfer data to a USB drive and post that back to you. Fear not, they accept floppies from all over the world, but you will have to pay for delivery (typically $5 to $10) on top of the $1.95 fee per floppy disk. The big downside is carbon miles.

Note, though, this isn’t a data recovery service – if there’s a problem with files on the disk, FloppyDisk will skip them. Tom Persky of FloppyDisk told us that they “succeed with 90% of the disks we get”, though, and they will always return the disks (usually at an extra $5 to $10 charge to cover international delivery) unless you specify you don’t want them back. If you don’t, it will recycle them for you and email you the files.

Note that whether you want the floppies back or not, and whether you’re based in the US or elsewhere, FloppyDisk will always charge a $9.95 handling fee. “We still impose the handling fee because it takes time to send the content, we need to maintain an inventory of the disks until the customer confirms receipt, and a significant number of customers need help in unzipping compressed files,” said Persky.

How to recover data from floppy disks

Cambridge Data Recovery in the UK is a proper data recovery service that charges significantly higher fees than FloppyDisk, but with the knowledge that it will try its best to rescue data where it can. You’ll spend £15 for the first floppy, £10 for each successive disk.

Obviously, at higher volumes, that could be expensive, so I contacted the company to find out if there’s any wiggle room. “For 20 disks I would expect us to charge around £7.50 each i.e. £150 total and for 50 disks around £6 each i.e. £300 total,” said Dr Dominic Wilson.

“When we get to 100+ disks in theory the cost would be around £500… but often in these cases the owner is not prepared to pay that much,” he said. At which point pragmatism comes into play. “I have one at the moment where we are charging around £2.50 per disk, but we are essentially not spending time on the problem files or problem disks and just skipping these – also at this cost other work takes priority, so we just fit it in when we can.”

Problems occur because many of the disks being sent to Cambridge Data Recovery are over 20 years old, which is reaching the limits of floppy drives’ archiving ability.

But there’s promising news if you own even older disks. “Sometimes we receive 5.25 inch floppy disks and 3 inch CF2 Amstrad disks – the costs are higher for these because the process involves older equipment and more stages to get it onto a modern computer, and also there is often file conversion involved to enable the files to be used on a modern computer.”

Once the work is done, Cambridge Data Recovery will either return your floppy disks or “securely dispose of them”. That means recycling the metal parts, while destroying the magnetic disk and plastic.

Don’t recycle floppy disks: sell them!

Yes, I can’t quite believe this either, but there is a market for old floppy disks. For example, as I write this, there are two bids for 73 used floppy disks on this Ebay posting. Total price £8.69, including postage. It takes all types.

If you choose to do this, carefully consider whether any data sitting on the disks might still be sensitive.

(Incidentally, if you’re curious, read this short BBC article about how floppies are still used in some industries.)

Turn floppy disks into a pen pot

Whether a cheap gift for a techie friend or just for yourself, it’s easy to turn five floppy disks into a pen pot. You’ll also need a drill and zip ties, but as this video shows the work itself is easy.

I’m less convinced by this blog that explains how to turn two floppy disks into a notepad

Dissemble the floppy disk into its component parts

Chances are that your local recycling centre won’t recycle floppy disks. There’s every chance, though, that you can break it into its component parts. The metal, in particular, is eminently recyclable.

Full video below, but the key thing you’ll need is a flat-head screwdriver to split the floppy disk in half so you can access its innards.

READ NEXT: How can I recycle my old smartphone in the UK?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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