eWaste Special Report: The ABCs of Recycling

By Laton McCartney


Well-intentioned CIOs and green-minded organizations that don't want their used PCs, printers and the like ending up in some third world toxic dump need a road map to determine the recycling policies of their vendors.


Problem is that many manufacturers don't do much in the way of publicizing and marketing their recycling and e-waste programs. "We're just at the beginning stages of electronics manufacturer recycling programs," says Barbara Kale, National Coordinator of the Electronics Takeback Coalition, which promotes responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry. "And a number of vendors are still not marketing their takeback policies."


Moreover, these policies are sometimes so complex that IT professionals have to read the fine print to determine what's acceptable and what isn't. Why the obfuscation? Well, for starters, recycling old laptops, servers and CRTs for free and ensuring manufacturer policies adhere to what to Casey Harrell, international toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International dubs "the holy trinity" of curtailing e-waste—"no dumping, burning or exporting."—isn't a big profit generator. Consequently, some manufacturers are doing little more than paying lip service to recycling, Kale says.


That's changing, however, for a variety of reasons: To date 18 states, plus New York City, have passed laws creating state/city wide e-waste recycling programs. Of these, California imposes a tax on residents to pay for its programs while the other states require manufacturers to pick up the tab. Another ten states are expected to pass similar bills this year.


Though these laws are sometimes vaguely written and not yet always actively enforced, they're seen as a positive step by green watchdog groups. "Our theory is that ultimately recycling should be built into the price of the product," says Kale. "And that producers take responsibility for driving green design to eliminate toxins."


At the same time, some vendors such as Dell and more recently Sony Electronics have launched comprehensive takeback programs that make it easy for users to return computers for free. Sony will now only deal with recyclers that pledge not to export e-waste while Apple has committed to building laptops that can be readily recycled as has HP. "HP designs products that use fewer materials, are easier to disassemble and recycle, and allow for more effective reuse of materials," a company spokeswoman told CIOZone. "By changing the materials used in HP PCs, HP has saved enough metal in 18 months to build another Eiffel Tower."


Distributors such as Ingram Micro; resellers including ASI Systems Integration; and electronics retailers including Best Buy and Staples have also initiated recycling programs.


In support of green recycling efforts, EPEAT (Electronic Product Assessment Tool) evaluates and rates desktops, laptops, servers and monitors based on 51 environmental criteria. "This allows companies and individuals to buy products that are environmentally superior without having to understand all the criteria involved," says Susan O'Brien, EPEAT's Outreach and Communications Director, of the rating system. "We want the process to be as simple as possible.


All EPEAT registered products must include vendor sponsored end-of-life recycling programs. "This is particularly useful for small and mid-sized businesses that may not have a recycling strategy in place," says O'Brien. "The EPEAT recycling requirement provides them with automatic access to recycling capabilities."


In the public sector, the Federal Government recently ruled that all agencies must ensure that 95 percent of all computers they purchase are qualified under the EPEAT green computer purchase standard.


CIOZone surveyed the major computer manufacturers to determine whether they will take back your old computers and recycle them and the terms under which they do so.


Here are the results.

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of CIOZone.com and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and About.com.