The Economics of IT Equipment Recycling

Arthur Cole
Slide Show

Guide to Green Electronics

18 top manufacturers are ranked according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.

The IT industry has taken its share of plaudits for embracing the green agenda over the past few years. This is certainly well-deserved considering the substantial investment in virtual and related technologies that have helped reduce overall energy consumption.

However, many of the measures have rightly been described as "low-hanging fruit" in that they were fairly easy to accomplish and produced relatively quick, quantifiable returns on investment. That may not be the case in the next phase of the green data center movement, however, in which the industry will increasingly be asked to do what's right for the environment even if it does not produce significant benefit, and may in fact be detrimental, to the bottom line.

A key example is recycling. Enterprises have traditionally left disposal of old equipment to suppliers or distributors, essentially washing their hands of it once depreciation had eroded its value. That approach isn't likely to hold up much longer considering the impact that refuse enterprise hardware is having on both the environment and municipal budgets that have to accommodate the e-waste.

According to IDC, the United States alone already recycles some 2.4 billion pounds of computer equipment and mobile devices annually, although expanding cooperation throughout the enterprise industry has been a challenge. The latest acronym coming your way, it seems, is ITAD (IT asset disposal), which incorporates everything from hardware lifecycle management and recycling practices/procedures to security concerns and standards compliance. The group is sponsoring a one-day seminar on ITAD at its Framingham, Mass., campus on June 23.

There are a number of significant obstacles to improved e-recycling, according to CSC's David Moschella. Unlike energy consumption, disposal issues do not directly impact the hot-button issues surrounding fossil fuel consumption, namely global warming and reliance on unstable sources of oil. There's also the fact that the true impact of casual disposal is felt largely in the Third world. Unfortunately, as the developed world moves away from PCs and more toward mobile (read: disposable) devices, the problem will only get worse without a concerted effort to change attitudes both on the street and in the boardroom.

On the plus side, however, there is growing recognition that recycling is not necessarily a "you-win-I-lose" proposition. Distributor Arrow Electronics has jumped into the ITAD market with both feet acquiring specialists like Intechra and Converge over the past year and launching programs for reselling and/or recycling full systems or individual components, with part of the proceeds going back to the enterprise customer. Company officials peg the global ITAD market at $22 billion.

Still, it's important to remember that recycling is not necessarily a net gain for the environment, according to IDC Practice Director Kimberly Knickle. Electronics recycling is a highly fragmented industry right now, and it's reasonable to ask whether it can handle the logistics involved in a sudden uptick in business. Freight and transportation issues could become highly problematic, particularly as the makeup of e-waste shifts from fewer large, heavy boxes to millions of smaller, embedded devices.

Nonetheless, the industry as a whole has an obligation to clean up after itself. By supporting a regulated, sustainable hardware lifecycle program, enterprises can show that they recognize their responsibilities when it comes to mitigating the negative aspects of modern data environments.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 25, 2011 7:27 AM NewsMeBack NewsMeBack  says:

Now when we successfully ruined our environment recycling is a must and not optional, no matter the price.

May 30, 2011 4:47 AM plr plr  says:

This is good news, I work for Green Packet, where the only thing green is the name. They should make biodegradable ICs, because it probably costs more to recycle them.

Jun 1, 2011 12:51 PM Bob Bob  says:

This all needs to happen at the local level as land fills impact the surrounding area more than the outlying areas.  We all want cleaner soil water and air.    Local citizens need to get involved or we will see the criminals in Washington DC come up with laws that exempt thier big donors and themselves and benefit their investments.    We can see how the big environmentalists act in total hypocrisy to their talk (Gore, Pelosi, Soros, etc.) with their big jets, houses, etc.  

Jun 2, 2011 12:37 PM Ed Ed  says:

Part of the challenge in the ITAD category is the labels used to describe the players involved.  Too often all providers are called 'recyclers.'  On the ITAD spectrum recyclers are toward one end with true recycling involving the responsible breakdown, sorting of materials, and grinding of those materials for use in new product manufacturing.  On the other end of the spectrum is asset value recovery specialists.  These providers, such as PlanITROI, focus on re-use via refurbishment and asset remarketing to e-tailers and retailers.  This is the win-win-win scenario for the former owner of the equipment that gets signifcant money back, the new end-user that now has a commercial grade computer at a good price, and the environment.  Remember, it's Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle.  Environmentally, recycling may ultimately be necessary, but should be the last resort given the worldwide demand for well refurbished products.

Jul 15, 2011 3:22 AM fbt fbt  says:

There is some good money to be made in equipment recycling.

Sep 12, 2011 11:27 AM FPL FPL  says:

We all want cleaner soil water and air. Local citizens need to get involved or we will see the criminals in Washington DC come up with laws that exempt thier big donors and themselves and benefit their investments

Sep 13, 2011 10:43 AM Haul it Louisville Guy Haul it Louisville Guy  says:

The problem is only going to grow. I hope that we address sooner then later. I have found that if done correctly there is some money to be made by recycling computers and monitors. The monitors have copper and some aluminum int hem. I see it as a hobby that will pay me.

Dec 12, 2013 1:36 PM bryanflake1984 bryanflake1984  says:
I am wondering if anyone could thoroughly explain to me what Industrial asset recycling is? I am just super curious and think that it is something that I might benefit from. | Reply
Mar 27, 2015 3:16 AM sashascarlet sashascarlet  says:
Yes, Green IT is in. And, yes it is also not “You win I lose proposition.” I work with IB-Remarketing and we recycle around 500 tonnes of obsolete computer hardware every year. Recycling is not just a smooth disposal mode, there is a lot of value proposition involved in it. One can always refurbish and reuse the hardware saving precious IT CAPEX. You just have to consult the right agency that provides WEEE along with a renew and refurbish offer. Reply
Mar 27, 2015 11:08 PM Thomas Wright Thomas Wright  says:
Really Good news, An eco-friendly policy, in regard to asset recovery service in Boston, for complying with mandatory laws related to asset disposal, is a major point. Reply

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