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In Focus: Recycling PC Equipment Can Turn Trash Into Cash

Content provided by IBM-ForwardView eMagazine .

Disposing of computer equipment and PCs is becoming increasingly difficult in light of data security concerns and new environmental regulations. Fortunately for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), there are now cost-effective ways to address these concerns, and in some cases obsolete IT equipment can even be traded in for cash.

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If the idea of your computer leading a double life as an environmental time bomb seems about as far-fetched as a spreadsheet program that also mows lawns, think again. Computers and computer peripherals-including servers, storage devices, wiring and cell phones-are typically made up of more than silicon. Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium are also lurking inside, and may pose significant health hazards, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This unforeseen by-product of our ability to share information just about everywhere is also becoming a problem that may soon be felt everywhere. The United States alone discards 250 million computers every year, according to some studies, and a recent CNET article suggests that only 10 percent of these machines are actually recycled.

 Improper disposal isn't just a landfill and environmental issue, either. When an old computer gathering dust is finally thrown out, it often still holds critical information in its hard drive-information that can quickly become a treasure trove for someone else. You'd expect someone who retrieves this kind of information to be considered a thief, but reading old data is not necessarily against the law: back in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that privacy can be waived with discarded materials.


Don't Just Hit Delete

Unfortunately, deleting data from obsolete equipment is a lifecycle management task that is often performed incompletely, if at all. Simply dumping files in the recycle bin, for example, does not really erase the information-it merely erases pointers to the information, putting the files themselves into an electronic limbo where they can be easily retrieved by skilled computer criminals.

While reformatting the hard drive makes it harder to access files, this method is really just a more advanced way to obscure information that still remains on the computer. Data-wiping utilities that overwrite hard drives with random binary numbers may be more effective, but can be time consuming.

Recent legislation at the municipal, state and provincial levels in the United States and Canada is now addressing issues related to both data privacy and untreated computer waste. In many parts of North America, recycling computers is now longer a nice idea-it's the law, and failure to do so can result in fines and other headaches. On the federal level, bills such as the U.S. National Computer Recycling Act would require recycling and safe disposal of all old computer equipment nationwide.


Address Code Issues Effectively

While these new regulations are a boon to the environment and privacy, they may pose serious compliance problems for SMBs that are already stretched thin in their efforts to understand and abide by laws covering workplace safety, privacy, taxes, zoning requirements and long-standing environmental codes.

Fortunately, as laws change, so do opportunities. In many areas you can now take obsolete IT equipment down to the local recycling center along with old newspapers and magazines. But before you do, think for a moment about why lawyers and doctors still rely on shredding companies to eliminate paper files instead of dropping these records off at the closest recycling station.

Recycling centers don't typically guarantee data security with paper documents, and they are usually hard-pressed to extend anything similar to computers and peripherals. Going the local recycling route certainly requires the use data-wiping utilities, a potentially costly and time-consuming effort.


Don't Trash, Think Cash

Fortunately, leaders like IBM are helping the computer industry come up to speed with other industries where trade-ins, buybacks or just picking up old equipment has been the norm for decades. While many manufacturers and resellers will only accept large amounts of hardware for recycling or credit, quality asset recovery services are changing these practices. Now it is easier than ever for SMBs to find qualified recyclers who will accept small quantities of outdated hardware.

Finding a way to efficiently dispose of computers is a problem the public relations firm Text 100 recently faced. This international company employs 100 people in the United States, and like many SMBs, it has no budget allotted for disposing of old computers. The firm was retiring small quantities of notebook computers each quarter, and was unable to find a vendor willing to accept fewer than 25 at a time.

Rather than storing the computers until they had enough to meet minimum disposal requirements, Text 100 turned to IBM and discovered that the asset recovery solutions division pays fair market value for working notebooks-regardless of the make or brand. In addition, this program includes shipping costs for the old computers, as well as guarantees of comprehensive, secure data overwrites on all disk drives. As similar programs in the computer industry begin to follow suit, SMBs should keep several key considerations in mind when choosing an asset recovery program:

  • Does the program pay cash, or simply offer credit toward new purchases?
  • Are there minimum quantity requirements?
  • Is the cost of disposal balanced against the ever-changing market value of the equipment, which may mean that the sooner you upgrade, the more value you recover?
  • Does the program offer security services to prevent data from getting into the wrong hands?
  • Does equipment destruction meet regulatory standards, and is documentation available to verify compliance?
  • How quickly will you receive your money?
  • How easy and convenient is the process?
  • Does the program accept assets without market value?
  • Who is responsible for packaging and transportation?


Plan on Letting Go

In the excitement of buying something new, many companies fail to think about what happens at the end of a product's life span. As functional and feature obsolescence becomes an increasing reality in the information age, it is important for SMBs to add ease of disposal to any feature list when considering new computers and peripherals.

Rather than wait until computers and peripherals become so obsolete as to be utterly worthless, SMBs can plan in advance to recycle these devices quickly and responsibly. And when regulatory compliance turns into unexpected windfalls for future hardware purchases, learning to let go can become a pretty attractive proposition.

Content copyrighted by IBM Corporation.

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