One of the least sexy jobs in IT management may be disposing of old PCs, servers and other technology equipment. But it's a job that is gaining attention with Australian IT professionals who believe Australia should stay ahead of the US, whose federal and state lawmakers are concerned about high-tech waste.
Federal legislation has been introduced in the US that would impose a $US10 fee on sales of desktop PCs, laptops and monitors to help pay for new recycling centres. A similar plan is pending in the California legislature.
Indeed, the Electronic Industries Alliance, a US-based trade group that represents makers of PCs and other high-tech equipment, said technology recycling bills have been introduced in 24 states, most of which call for study committees to examine the issue.
Debate is also raging about how to safely dispose of PCs and monitors that include hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury and polyvinyl chloride plastics.
While most large US companies currently contract with the PC disposal services that hardware vendors or specialised waste disposal companies run, Australian IT professionals are unaware of similar operations locally.
An IT manager with an Australian theme park said disposing of old PCs, servers and other technology equipment is one of the least sexy responsibilities for an IT manager. "It's up there with breathing in dust from inside them."
The theme park IT manager said his organisation disposes of "a few" PCs a year and usually sells them to staff. If equipment cannot be sold off, the IT manager said it is "chucked into the big dumpster".
He said he is not aware of any PC recyclers locally and thinks Australia should look more closely at the issue of tech waste, "especially for copiers and units containing volatile chemicals".
An IT manager from a publishing company said getting rid of PCs and other technology equipment was not an easy job. "We auction old PCs within the company and at times end up supporting or servicing them as they are bought by our own staff, even though there's no guarantee on the condition," the IT manager said.
Disposing of 10 to 15 PCs a year, the IT manager said those that are unsuitable for resale or not picked up when offered free to staff wind up in the warehouse "resting place".
"The junk is kept for spares. I'm not aware of any PC recyclers locally, but am aware of an ACS (Australian Computer Society) group that refurbishes PCs for disadvantaged people and groups, but this stuff we throw out is crap," he said. Even when they're free, "no-one wants old, slow PCs any more".
To safely dispose of PCs and monitors that include hazardous materials, the IT manager said "there should be disposal companies that pick up such material with companies paying for their service", adding that he would be prepared to pay disposal fees of $A4 for monitors, $3 for CPUs and $1 for other small units.
However, in the US, disposal fees average $US25 to $US50 per PC, according to industry officials. That includes the cost of erasing data and packaging and shipping the systems plus administrative expenses. Fees may also depend on the prices that used PCs can fetch in after-market sales.
Meanwhile, Richard Hogg, national president of the ACS, agreed that the issue of tech waste needs to be closely looked at in Australia, but was unsure whether it should be considered a government responsibility or an industry challenge or opportunity.
"There are organisations in both Sydney and Melbourne that specialise in taking old computers, refurbishing and reconfiguring them, and then handing them over to welfare organisations and welfare recipients who don't need state-of-the-art technology and are grateful for a relatively low-end machine to enhance their quality of life," Hogg said, citing the Technical Aid to the Disabled PC recyclers.
Hogg said it is unlikely that Australia would follow in the US's footsteps and impose a fee on sales of desktop PCs, laptops and monitors to help pay for new recycling centres, because "no-one would be willing to address the administrative issues".
"As a concept, $US10 is not a large impost, but I don't think it would be seen to be a vote-winning issue, so it's unlikely to attract sufficient support from government," Hogg said.