• United States

Computer recycling on a large scale

Sep 06, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsIBM

* The right way to dispose of obsolete IT gear

As I was driving home the other day, I passed a flatbed truck full of ancient PCs and monitors. I wondered where they were being taken. To a recycling center? To a charitable organization? To a landfill? Where do old PCs and other computer equipment go to die?

If your company is anything like mine, these once-useful-but-not-anymore items gather in a closet, abandoned office, warehouse or other out-of-sight, out-of-mind place. Why do we find it so hard to deal with these bulky pieces of technology that were made obsolete by their sleeker, more powerful brethren? We know we won’t ever use them again, so why not get rid of them?

As it turns out, it’s not so easy to dispose of hundreds or thousands of obsolete PCs, notebooks, servers and monitors. A consumer with one or two items can take them to Office Depot and know they will be disposed of properly. But what about the enterprise organization with literally tons of technojunk?

Government efforts to help us recycle our old computer equipment seem to have stalled. Back in March 2003, there was great fanfare for a House of Representatives bill known as the National Computer Recycling Act. The bill is meant to establish a program to encourage and promote the recycling of used computers. It was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which in turn sent it to the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, where it has languished.

This bill, H.R. 1165, would add $10 to the purchase price of all new computers, monitors and other electronic devices, to go toward establishing a recycling program that would, among other things, remove the hazardous materials routinely found inside these devices. Then the technojunk could be disposed of safely.

Major computer manufacturers aren’t waiting for the bill to become law. They see a business opportunity and are willing to fill the need. IBM, HP and Dell all offer some form of computer disposal and recycling for companies with pallets full of stuff to get rid of, and with a check in hand.

IBM Global Financing offers Asset Recovery Solutions. I’m amused at the term “asset recovery,” because basically there’s nothing to recover. Those old junkers have no value left in them. If they did, you’d keep them in service.

If your computers do indeed have any life left in them, you can ask IBM to conduct the garage sale and share the profits with you. Or if they are too old or dead to be worth anything, IBM will haul them away and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way. An optional but highly recommended service is hard-drive data cleansing. You don’t want to send the CFO’s old spreadsheets out with his old PC.

HP calls this old junk “e-waste.” For its part, HP tries to head off some of the problems with obsolete and hazardous materials by “designing for the environment” in the first place. That means HP considers the long-term impact on the environment that its products will have, long before the products ever roll off the assembly line.

Nevertheless, there will be e-waste to dispose of eventually, and HP can help you do this. Like IBM, HP will help recover anything of value from the old equipment, and then safely dispose of the remaining bones afterward. Simply tell HP what you have to ditch, and they’ll give you a bid for the dirty work.

Not to be outdone, Dell also offers equipment disposal services. But before you send computers to the junk heap, Dell asks you to consider donating complete, old but still functional systems to the National Cristina Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides computers to people with disabilities, students at risk and economically disadvantaged individuals. Standards for these donations do exist, so check out the requirements before you plan your tax write-off.

Even if your old equipment isn’t worthy of a charity, Dell will take it off your hands and dispose of it safely. Like HP and IBM, Dell offers recovery and disposal services for large quantities of equipment. So maybe it’s time you get those IBM ATs out of the warehouse and quit paying rent on space occupied by dead computers.