Measuring Disposal

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The third leg of the Green Computing strategy is to understand disposal. A quick survey of employees typically finds that the staff is in favor of recycling and protecting the environment but woefully ignorant of how to do this. Many companies have recycling collection points for paper, plastic, and aluminum cans, but no central place for collecting electronic components. If someone replaces a keyboard or mouse, then the old one goes into the trash. If a monitor is replaced and not picked up by the IT department in a reasonable time, it is also likely to be tossed into the local trash hopper. This is the wrong way to dispose of equipment.

Counting the number of devices moved in the waste stream is difficult. The information may come from the asset management manager, who can say how many devices were scrapped in a given year but not if they were donated or thrown away without reference to the asset manager. Also, spare parts, such as broken keyboards and computer mice, tend to be difficult to count. If the company's desktop support team keeps a work ticket database, it may provide some idea of the number of broken parts for the past year and where they went.

Ideally, surplus electronic equipment is collected at one central location for disposal. Equipment can be can be sold, donated, or scrapped. Aggregating everything into one place facilitates counting, inspecting, and data erasure prior to its departure. Part of the employee education program must include educating staff on what is included, such as batteries, cellular telephones, broken keyboards, cables, and so on. The central control of electronic equipment disposal also ensures that equipment is properly removed from the company's asset inventory. This is significant for companies that pay a property tax on assets.

In each device with onboard storage, the equipment's fixed disk (computers) or static RAM (cellular telephones) storage must be completely erased. Disks require a special disk management tool that performs repeated passes over the entire disk storage surface writing zeros and then the number one at every location. This repeated process is not foolproof, but it will require a laboratory and considerable expense to extract any of the original data from the disk.

Once the equipment is prepared for disposal, it must be removed by a company licensed to handle hazardous wastes. It is your company's responsibility to ensure that the recycler is actually recycling and properly handling the equipment. Laws that protect the environment hold the company that purchases hazardous material liable for its proper disposal. If someone shows up and offers to handle it without a visible and verifiable process, the company may find itself liable for a very expensive dump clean-up.

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