PC recycling made easier

SAN FRANCISCO (12/30/2003) - If you received a shiny new flat-panel display this holiday season, you're not alone. And if you're not sure what to do with that bulky old CRT monitor, you're also not alone. Disposing of CRTs can be frustrating, expensive, and, if you do it incorrectly, illegal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies used computer equipment as one of the fastest-growing waste problems in the United States. As a result, however, new services are springing up that will help you easily dispose of aging computer equipment in an environmentally friendly manner.

Disposal Dangers

The most obvious disposal method--tossing the equipment in the garbage--proves wasteful, environmentally unsound, and, in some cases, illegal. In fact, the EPA reports that computer equipment includes such hazardous materials as cadmium, lead, and mercury.

CRTs, for example, contain as much as four pounds of lead--a heavy metal highly toxic to water systems, according to the EPA. With flat-screen sales surpassing CRT sales in the United States last year, landfills could soon see a CRT flood fouling the environment.

In response, California and Massachusetts have both banned computer equipment from their landfills, with other states sure to follow as the problem grows, the EPA reports.

Easy on the Environment

IBM Corp. offers two environmentally friendly solutions for computer owners who want to get rid of older equipment. Through its Asset Recovery Solutions, which was recently extended to businesses of any size, even single-person enterprises, IBM will buy back select equipment. IBM determines the price it will pay based on the market value of the equipment. Customers are responsible for shipping charges.

To qualify, the equipment must be "marketable" according to IBM--that means it must be in demand for resale. IBM offers a minimum specifications list on its Web site; and delivers individual quotes based on information you provide about the equipment. Under IBM's program, notebooks tend to command the highest prices, while CRT monitors below 19 inches won't be purchased, according to IBM Asset Recovery Solutions Business Unit Executive Kathy Ferguson.

Gateway features a similar program, giving customers a rebate of up to US$50 on new Gateway Inc. equipment when they donate or recycle old equipment to qualified organizations.

For equipment that cannot be resold, many manufacturers such as Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and IBM will recycle equipment for a small fee. In IBM's case, businesses pay IBM $25 to $30 per item for recycling costs. That fee does not include shipping costs, for which customers are responsible.

Such pay-for-disposal recycling, however, isn't limited to major equipment manufacturers; local recyclers will pick up unwanted equipment for a fee, then dispose of it following state and federal guidelines.

Low-Cost Options

Some people just aren't willing to pay for recycling. Take for instance Scott & Allen, a Chelsea, Massachusetts-based produce distributor. When the company decided to replace its bulky Dell 19-inch CRT monitors with sleek ViewSonic flat-panel displays, it found disposing of the CRTs a frustrating process.

"I tried to give them away to people but no one wanted them," says owner Dave McKenna.

The four-person company didn't want to pay a local recycler for its four CRTs. "Our monitors were only a couple of years old; they were going to charge us $25 (each) to pick them up," says McKenna.

To avoid such fees altogether, the EPA suggests that small businesses first check with local town or county governments for free or low-cost curbside pickups, drop-off centers, or recycling events. As many as 3000 such local government programs exist across the United States, according to the EPA.

Small companies in low population density states like Kansas, however, may not find local disposal solutions, according to Chiquita Cornelius, executive director of the Kansas Business & Industry Recycling Program.

"We have just 2.5 million people in the entire state," she says. "To have a collection program across the state, get them to a regional processor, and then to an end processor takes some creative solutions."

Feel-Good Solution

Another alternative, donation, offers a feel-good solution for many companies, as it affords deserving individuals or organizations needed computer equipment, not to mention a potential tax advantage for the donator. For newer, in-demand equipment, such organizations as Computers for Learning, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army facilitate donations, as do many local groups. Be aware that such organizations don't accept junk; they accept only working, up-to-date equipment.

For Scott and Allen, donation represented the best option. After a few phone calls, the company donated its CRTs to the Amesbury, Massachusetts, high school's computer-aided design department.

"(Amesbury) came down here and picked them up within an hour. They were thrilled to get them," says McKenna.

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