by Edited by Elana Varon

Washington Watch: EPA Targets Computer Recycling

Mar 15, 20023 mins
Green IT

EPA Targets Computer Recycling

Sure, you want to be environmentally responsible and not just throw those old computers into the local landfill, but you’re hard-pressed to find alternatives. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to help by setting voluntary standards for disposing of or recycling old CPUs and monitors.

Mike Shapiro, principal deputy assistant administrator with the EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, says more than 90 million computers will become obsolete annually by 2003. In addition, he notes that as of 1998, only 13 percent of old computers were recycled. Many computer components, such as cathode ray tubes in monitors, contain lead and other potentially toxic compounds that make recycling them time-consuming and expensive.

One step toward solving the problem is an EPA-run program to recycle discarded electronics equipment from several federal agencies, including the EPA, Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. These agencies are working with several electronics manufacturers, which the EPA isn’t naming right now, to get them to take back and recycle their old equipment.

Clare Lindsay, a project director in the Office of Solid Waste at the EPA, says that if this project is successful, the EPA will make public its list of manufacturers who agree to take on recycling tasks. That would make recycling easier for CIOs, who could return old equipment to the makers rather than worry about following disposal standards themselves. Once the EPA sets disposal and recycling rules, expect states to ban the dumping of old computers in landfills, says Lindsay.

The EPA is also talking with electronics vendors about designing products that are more easily recycled, reused or upgraded so that they don’t have to be thrown away.

Would you send old computers back to their makers for recycling if you could? E-mail Staff Writer Simone Kaplan at


CIOs have until July to weigh in on the latest changes to the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), a proposed national standard for software contracts. That’s when the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) will vote on 16 amendments designed to give corporate and individual consumers more clout with vendors when they buy software.

If the amendments don’t pass muster with the nonpartisan NCCUSL, politics will determine how software licenses are written, says Carlyle Ring, the chairman of the group’s drafting committee. “The void will be filled by Congress, and [campaign contributions] will decide the debate.” Ring thinks there’s enough pressure from both vendors and consumers to regulate software licenses that one of these groups will take the issue to lawmakers.

Who would win that battle? Barring a consumer uprising, bet on the vendors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, technology companies donated almost $40 million to political parties and individual campaigns during the 2000 election cycle, making them the seventh largest group of contributors.

So far, however, UCITA critics aren’t mollified by the amendments drafted by NCCUSL’s commercial law experts, which include language to protect consumers from bugs the vendor knows about and a ban against vendors disabling software remotely. Attorneys General from 32 states think UCITA can’t be fixed and should be abandoned. “The proposed amendments give the appearance of compromise without the substance of compromise,” says David McMahon, a board member of Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce and Transactions, an anti-UCITA lobbying group.