Disposing of old computers isn’t as simple as putting them out with the rest of the corporate trash. Many computer components contain hazardous materials such as cadmium, lead and mercury. And with this year’s Earth Day celebration scheduled for April 23, it’s worth noting that the problem is only getting worse: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 250 million computers will be retired during the next five years.
Companies must comply with hazardous waste regulations when they get rid of old PCs and CRT monitors. (According to the EPA, CRTs are prone to flunking the government’s hazardous waste toxicity leaching standards.)
For larger companies, sending old PCs off to a hazardous waste facility can become a legal nightmare. Improper disposal resulting from carelessness, ignorance or hiring a disreputable recycler raises the specter of future liability. One option is to hire an export broker that sends the materials abroad. But once on foreign shores, who knows whether the equipment is disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner?
To minimize environmental impact and legal liability, the best bet for companies is to find a reputable recycler that reduces computers down to their component commodities with as little residual waste as possible. Unfortunately, finding a good recycler requires some legwork because the recycling industry is still fragmented. To find a reputable recycler, the EPA recommends contacting the hazardous waste experts at your state’s department of environmental protection (see “Recycling Resources” at left).
Clare Lindsay, a project director at the EPA’s office of solid waste, would like to see CIOs become much more proactive by encouraging vendors to offer comprehensive recycling programs.
“When [CIOs] buy computers, they should be raising the recycling issue with their vendors,” Lindsay says. “They should make recycling part of the deal up front,” rather than worrying about recycling when computers get old.
Certain hardware vendors offer recycling services, but they come with a cost. Monitor maker NEC-Mitsubishi Electronics Display recently launched a recycling service called Total Trade. The service was started, says Vice President of Marketing Al Giazzon, because “a lot of our customers are concerned with the disposal of monitors, and they are unsure how to do it.” NEC-Mitsubishi handles all the administrative paperwork, physical pickup, disposal and recordkeeping. The cost of recycling averages $25 per unit based on high volumes, he says.
As part of its Global Asset Recovery Services, IBM Global Financing has several options for hauling away old equipment, including revenue-sharing based on equipment resale (which operates like a consignment sale), removing old equipment for a fixed price, and a no-cost disposal option. With the latter two options, any nonmarketable assets are disposed of and recycled. The equipment’s owners are indemnified from any future disposal issues.