Further laws in IT disposal put a burden on IT directors, says Tony Grzesik
Although some IT managers may have expressed concern about the environmental impact of their IT waste, it is fair to say that few have been pressed into action. But with the introduction of new EU legislation, the environment is set to become as much an IT issue as a political one.
Computers, monitors and printers consume vast amounts of energy and contain hazardous substances such as lead and cadmium. When they are discarded, a lethal cocktail of chemicals and hard metals is left to pollute the environment. In addition, 15 million mobile phones and accessories, containing arsenic, mercury and zinc, are thrown away annually in the UK.
It is estimated that the UK generates one million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste each year, about 90% of which ends up contaminating landfill sites.
The new Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, due to come into force in July 2006, prohibits electronic and electrical products from containing numerous substances commonly used today. Companies will have to source lead-free solders and less toxic components to ensure products can be more safely disposed of.
IT departments will also have to meet the requirements of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive regarding the disposal of IT waste, which is due to come into force later this year.
The directive applies to all IT equipment and is aimed at reducing waste through re-use and recycling. IT manufacturers and resellers will be required to identify parts that can be recycled, and users will be responsible for ensuring waste is recycled properly.
But many companies are unaware of the implications of these directives and do not know how to implement them.
Companies will be required to hold detailed information about the substances used in their products and will need to report
on hazardous materials. The IT department will be responsible for collecting and collating this data.
For most companies this will be a challenge, as existing component data is often inaccurate, inconsistent or incomplete, and certainly lacks quantitative material composition.
Average-sized companies may use up to 100,000 unique manufacturer parts, and it can easily take six to 12 months to source the data. They will then need data management systems, analytics to assess compliance and decision support tools for engineering.
The problem is that time is running out for companies to comply with the new legal requirements on the disposal of IT equipment, and companies that are inadequately prepared will risk fines and exclusion from European markets.
For most, the cost-effective option is to employ a specialist company to help them meet the requirements. If firms do not
Tony Grzesik is vice-president at i2 Technologies
This was first published in August 2004