A computer at the end of its lifecycle makes for complex garbage, and organizations must consider a number of factors, including environmental and security issues, when dumping their old PCs.

The problem hasn’t gone unnoticed by large vendors, either. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co. recently launched a service in the U.S. which allows consumers and businesses to recycle unwanted computers and equipment from any manufacturer without adding to landfills. In September, IBM will unveil its Global Asset Recovery Services which will enable mid- and large-sized customers sell or recycle their computer equipment.

HP has been in the recycling business for some time, said Chris Altobell, business development manager for product recycling solutions, and customers have a number of options as to how to rid themselves of unwanted equipment. They can donate it to charity, sell it to other organizations or have it recycled.

Often, companies are getting rid of old hardware in order to to standardize their IT environment. When buying replacement equipment, they put disposal as a condition of sale. Altobell said some companies have a refresh strategy where they dump as many as 30,000 PCs every three years.

At its Roseville, Calif., site, HP can recycle everything from handheld devices to rack-mounted computers, and can break apart a mainframe into its various ingredients in about five minutes. Altobell said HP will likely introduce a recycling program in Canada in the coming year.

No matter what option customers choose, there are certain things they have to keep in mind, Altobell said. Disposal of old hardware needs to be convenient. But companies also want to be compliant with environmental laws. “There is a non-awareness of what’s inside a computer and how the different components have be handled,” Altobell said.

Some European countries already have mandated “take back” laws for equipment vendors, and HP has been involved in discussions with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments on potential guidelines, said Altobell. The province of Alberta is also studying the issue, he added.

Donation of equipment is another option, Altobell said. “But there are aspects of donating that people aren’t aware of.” Hard drives need to be completely wiped of proprietary information and licensed software, and asset tags have to be removed from the equipment, said Altobell.

IBM tries to donate used equipment it takes back from customers as much as possible through the Computers for Schools initiative, which has procedures in place to demonstrate that the used computers have been completely wiped and ready for use.

Tim Pomeroy, environmental coordinator with IBM Canada, said IBM sends used hardware to Computers For Schools because it’s easier dealing with one charity.

Dave Boulanger, an analyst with AMR Research, said the disposal of computer hardware has led to more organizations leasing rather than buying new equipment, just as they are using applications services providers to rent software rather than buy it. “Leasing programs get customers accustomed to trading machines in every three to five years,” he said.

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