EPA starts agency e-recycling contest

The Environmental Protection Agency has started a contest to see which federal agencies can recycle the most electronic equipment.

The EPA called on all federal facilities to recycle as many of their used computers and other electronics as possible during the next five months. The challenge, issued Nov. 15 in honor of America Recycles Day, will continue through Earth Day, April 22, 2006. Agencies were encouraged to donate their outdated equipment to local schools or the relief efforts of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

During the initiative, the EPA will spotlight selected federal facilities based on the amount of devices recycled.

According to EPA officials, the federal government is the largest information technology equipment buyer in the world, with an IT budget of more than $60 billion in fiscal 2005. When agencies upgrade their systems, the old hardware usually sits unused, stored in basements, closets and warehouses.

“More sustainable federal government electronics end-of-life management practices would yield reduced toxics and solid waste, improved financial performance for individual agencies and throughout the federal government, and help in the development of a cost-effective national recycling and reuse infrastructure for surplus electronic equipment,” said Khary Cauthen, special assistant to the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The EPA's public outreach program comes when federal agencies are struggling to pay for recycling.

Many agency officials view the upfront costs of recycling as a burden. Recycling involves additional expenditures for removing data from hard drives, transporting and inspecting equipment and repackaging useful parts.

Federal agencies pay for e-recycling from their existing budgets through a variety of specialized contracting programs.

Some officials have found a way to offset their recycling costs through share-in-savings programs in which they share a portion of the proceeds of recycling with the contractor hired to dispose of the e-waste. Dell, MPC Computers and Liquidity Services are among the companies that offer this service.

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