Sidebar: Manufacturers Get Recycling Religion

While activists and government regulators are exerting increasing pressure on manufacturers to reduce the toxic content and increase the ease with which IT products can be recycled, vendors say they've been working on the problems for years. Three of the biggest PC vendors, Dell Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., say they now offer disposal programs for any IT asset, regardless of brand. All say they follow environment-friendly recycling practices and don't export e-waste. As more vendors face disposing of old products as part of their request for proposals for new products they sell, product designs that facilitate recycling are increasingly seen as a competitive advantage.

IBM offers disposal services through its IBM Global Financing arm, which disassembles equipment for recycling. Wayne Balter, vice president of corporate environmental affairs, says the company sends less than 3% of its IT waste to landfills and has eliminated polybrominated biphenyls (a flame retardant) and several ozone-depleting substances from its products. It buys recycled materials and has made its own systems easier to recycle by reducing the number of fasteners used and by stamping plastic components to make sure recyclers can easily identify them. "We are extremely active in research on lead-free solders," he adds.

Dell offers asset disposition services and will also coordinate disk erasure as well as equipment collection and transportation. Disposition management options include lease return, donation, sale of equipment to employees or others, or recycling. Tod Arbogast, senior manager of asset recovery services, says the cost of Dell's recovery programs averages about $49 per asset.

HP has established a reputation for designing for ease of recycling and is working toward reusing recycled materials in new products. It offers a computer takeback program and provides environmental data sheets on its products at its Web site. HP says it has removed polyvinyl chloride from its plastics and expects to meet the European Union's Restriction on Hazardous Substances (ROHS) directive for the removal of lead from all systems by 2006. HP disassembles machines, then shreds circuit boards and other components and sends them to a smelter, where precious metals are recovered.

Both HP and IBM are less optimistic about eliminating mercury from LCD backlights, another part of the EU directive. "I'm not aware of a viable alternative that will give even subperformance today," says David Lear, director of corporate environmental strategies at HP. "There need to be some exemptions [in the ROHS]," says Balter.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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