Green IT: Reap the Rewards of Hardware Recycling

The e-waste problem is big and growing. Yet IDC estimates that only 33 percent of U.S. companies, mostly large enterprises, have made use of the asset disposal industry.

In late 2000, Union Bank of California concluded that it was time to refresh its desktop PCs every four years, based on findings from a PC Total Cost of Ownership Study. This meant that 200 PCs would have to be retired every month. Unfortunately, there was no strategy in place for the task, or even a designated person or department to manage the systems.

"Until then there was no process for disposing of PCs," says Julie LeDuc, IT group purchasing manager at Union Bank. "Each department would do its own thing, either storing them in warehouses, saving them for contingency purposes, or simply disposing of them."

With a mandated company policy of environmental friendliness and the rumblings of the Sarbanes-Oxley and Gramm-Leach-Bliley acts, LeDuc knew the company couldn't simply have the machines shipped to the local junkyard where anyone could harvest them for sensitive data. It was time for a corporate asset-recovery strategy to ensure that the machines were retired in a secure and eco-friendly manner.

After considering several alternatives, Union Bank chose Intechra, a growing national asset-disposition firm, and continues to enlist its services today. "They handle everything from our PCs to notebooks, printers, servers, monitors, telephones, scanners, and projectors," LeDuc says.

After Union Bank does a preliminary disk wipe, Intechra's logistics team comes out to shrink-wrap and pack the equipment onto pallets and ship it all to its facilities, where it performs several subsequent disk wipes and tests everything. Usable PCs are either made available for reuse to Union Bank employees, donated to charity, or refurbished and sold on the market. Unusable equipment is disassembled for whatever usable parts can be sold, and the rest is recycled where possible so the materials can be used in other products.

Waking up to e-waste

Union Bank's asset-recovery awakening is typical of many larger companies today. "We see a new interest in e-waste recovery, thanks to all the recent debates about climate change and global warming," says IDC Analyst David Daoud. "Large corporations have decided that it's to their interest to tackle environmental e-waste issues and are competing with each other to reduce their environmental footprint."

The e-waste problem is big and growing. According to IDC, the U.S. installed base of PCs is expected to grow from 280 million in 2006 to 404 million in 2010, with 237.5 million PCs expected to be retired between 2005 and 2010. In 2006 alone, 30.7 million commercial PCs, or 70 percent of the total commercial installed base, were retired.

Yet IDC estimates that only 33 percent of U.S. companies, mostly large enterprises, have made use of the asset disposal industry. In the European Union the number is closer to 40 percent.

That's unfortunate, because the increasing number of retired PCs that end up in landfills results in more toxic pollution. PCs and monitors, especially old ones, contain a multitude of hazardous substances: lead, which can cause brain and kidney damage in children; mercury, which can cause nervous system and kidney damage; as well as cadmium, BFRs (brominated flame retardants), and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which are known to cause health problems such as cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive damage and are able to accumulate in the human body and travel long distances through air and water when not disposed of properly.

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