OEMs and recycling programs offer green alternatives for PC disposal

Unlike PC hobbyists, businesses can't afford to be computer packrats. Eventually, old equipment must go; often, it's to the landfill. But there are other options. OEMs and recycling programs promise environmentally-friendly computer disposal. Here's how.

The recycling and trade-in programs that many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have implemented are an outgrowth of legal requirements set up in Europe and Japan that require producers to offer their customers safe disposal of out-of-date machines. With some OEMs, these programs extend to U.S. customers; however, the U.S. government doesn't mandate the requirement—yet. If your vendor doesn't have a recycling plan, or if they charge too much to recycle old computers, you might want to find a local recycler. In this article, we'll look at why you should recycle old computers and offer some resources to help you implement a recycling program in your enterprise.

What's the point? Why should we?
More than 315 million computers will be obsolete in the United States by 2004, according to a prediction by the National Safety Council (NSC). If those computers do not find homes with employees or in government or charitable institutions, they are likely to end up in a landfill.

A recent poll at TechRepublic reveals that 21 percent of voters' companies discard their used computers; another 50 percent sells them to employees or donates them to charities. (See Figure A.)

Figure A
Nearly a quarter of voters say their companies' out-of-date computers are discarded.

When computers end up in landfills, they are contributing to "one of the fastest growing and most toxic waste streams in the industrialized world," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), which produces an annual report card on how OEMs are doing in developing and implementing take-back or recycling programs.

Each computer that reaches a landfill dumps a variety of hazardous wastes into the environment. These wastes include lead and cadmium from circuit boards; lead oxide and barium from monitor CRTs; mercury from switches and flat-screen monitors; and brominated flame-retardants found on circuit boards, plastic casings, and cable insulation an SVTC report states.

According to the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies, some of the reasons your organization might want to look closely at recycling computers as opposed to tossing them in the trash include:
  • Demonstration of environmental stewardship
  • Increased customer loyalty and satisfaction
  • Green marketing
  • Legislation abroad
  • Environmental liabilities

University of Tennessee's Gary Davis prepared this list for a presentation at the Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling (EPR2) Summit, of which the NSC is one of the sponsors.

Finding an appropriate graveyard
So does your company need information on how to dispose of its old computers? Here are few ways to go about it.

First, to see if your vendor or OEM has a take-back, trade-in, or end-of-life return program, go to their Web site or call the company.

The SVTC report card has an appendix that lists most OEM take-back sites. Some of the more popular manufacturers' sites include:
  • Dell—This site describes two programs that either buy back usable computers or recycle old computers.
  • Gateway—This site describes Gateway's rebate and recycling programs.
  • Hewlett-Packard (HP)—HP is considered a leader in computer recycling by many environmental entities. This is the gateway to its recycling program information.
  • IBM—IBM began its take-back program in Europe in 1989. This takes you to its country-specific gateway that explains its recycling programs.

The second option for trashing a computer is to take it to a local recycler that handles computer equipment. Some companies' recycling programs involve telling customers to use these local recycling companies to dispose of their old computers.

The trick, of course, is finding a qualified recycler in your area. Fortunately, there are a few search engines out there to help. Here are a few:

When your company decides to dispose of its out-of-date computers, remember to:
  • Compare the costs of the options you think will work best for your organization.
  • Low level or zero format the hard drives on the doomed equipment.
  • Make sure you get appropriate documentation that the equipment was disposed of properly.

Have you recycled hardware?
Sometimes you just can't give old hardware away. What has been your experience when you have tried to dispose of hardware appropriately? Was it hard to find a recycler? Post a message in the discussion below about your experiences.