Amid global competition and thinning profit margins, companies are constantly upgrading computer equipment to keep up with the technological times. As a result, there’s confusion over what do with the hardware that gets left behind. It’s important to get maximum value out of IT assets before they become worthless while avoiding legal and environmental risks.
Storing used computers onsite might be a short-term solution, but costs rise quickly as idle assets take up space and depreciate — as much as 6 per cent a month. The current useful life span of a computer is about three years and shrinking, according to industry figures. By 2004 more than 300 million computers in North America will have become obsolete.
When refreshing its PC arsenal, a company has several options: sell them, re-deploy them elsewhere in the company, turn them in (if they’re leased), donate them to charity, recycle or dispose of them.
Great risk of liability exists for companies in the United States through environmental laws as administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as state and local authorities. This may eventually emerge as a major concern in Canada.
The greatest protection against regulatory liability is afforded by keeping detailed records of final asset disposition, such as the serial numbers provided by recyclers. Some recyclers also provide customers with legal indemnification. Due diligence should be performed before selecting a recycler to confirm adequate systems and financial strength to consistently comply with the law.
A major source of waste-disposal liability legislation information is the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), otherwise known as Superfund Law. Under CERCLA, the U.S. EPA identifies contaminated sites, arranges for cleanup, identifies responsible parties and seeks compensation for the cleanup costs. Woe unto that company whose PC has been traced to a landfill — Superfund could come knocking, and with a very big bill. Canadian IT waste generators would be well served by looking to the U.S. precedents for clues about what’s coming down the pike.
There are also very real environmental dangers associated with discarded electrical and computer equipment. Few people realize that a monitor, for example, can contain as much as nine pounds of lead, in addition to quantities of other pollutants including chromium and cadmium. In fact, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance reports that cathode ray tubes — commonly found in monitors — have become the second-largest source of lead in the U.S. waste stream, after automobile batteries. (See www.solidwastemag.com for a link to more information.)
There are many parts of a computer that can be recycled rather than thrown away. Obsolete hard drives processed by Redemtech, a technology recycler in the U.S. and Europe, are routinely crushed in a hydraulic press and smelted into aluminum ingots, then sold. This both insures against data loss and reduces the waste stream.
Robert Houghton is president of Redemtech, based in Columbus, Ohio.