Dell offers PC recycling bin

Computers become obsolete and printers break down, leaving agency officials with the tricky problem of disposing of them. Hard drives often contain sensitive information, and simply deleting a file or even formatting the drive won't destroy the data past the point of recovery.

But industry is extending a hand. For a price, some companies will send "e-cycling" teams to gather the machines, destroy stored data and dispose of the machines.

Officials in the small Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board benefited last year from such a program. They had more than 130 outdated computer components that were crowding the agency's 100 employees. When the office filled up, officials tried donating the used computers to local schools, but many educators only wanted new equipment.

But in March 2004, Dell came to the rescue. Employees from the company's Asset Recovery Services lugged the agency's computer workstations out of the building, wiped out the hard drives and returned 90 percent of the electronics' secondary market value back to the board.

The cost came to about $500 for all services. Board officials paid Dell about $5,000 upfront to recycle 100 workstations and several printers, fax machines and servers. In return, the agency got a detailed inventory spreadsheet, documenting items down to the serial number, and a credit for $4,415.

"We didn't make a profit, but we didn't have to do all the manual work of sanitizing, removing and making up the reports of our inventory," said Lora Steed, an information technology computer specialist at the board.

Now, Steed is writing another e-cycling contract for this fiscal year that will include the agency's six sites nationwide.

E-cycling is not free but is usually inexpensive. Dell charges the government $25 per CPU, monitor or laptop. Since 2003, officials from the military, all 50 states, intelligence agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency have used the service.

Another government computer supplier, MPC Computers, has offered a PC recycling program to the government sector since 1998. The list price for desktop and notebook computers, monitors, servers and peripheral devices is $35 each. The service includes shipping, hard-drive cleansing and money back.

Over a three-year period, MPC recycled about 10,000 PCs for a regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Northern California, said Kelly Sasso, a spokeswoman for MPC. Each year, the agency got back several thousand dollars. The VA is the company's largest recycling customer.

Meanwhile, Office Depot officials are working with the government to review the results of a home office and small-business computer recycling test program. Last year, the failed seven-week test disposed of 10.5 million pounds of electronics but cost millions of dollars.

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