Spring-clean your IT gear

Whether you reuse, resell, donate, or recycle old machines, there are rewards to be reaped

Ah, spring -- time to oil up the ol' mitt for some baseball, scrape the gunk off the grill for some barbecue, stock up on Claritin for some allergies, and of course, for some spring cleaning. Sure, you could round up the Tribble-sized dust bunnies from beneath your desk and get rid of that half-empty soda can that's become a breeding ground for a strange new life-form. But it's also a great occasion to tackle a bigger mess: all that old, unused IT equipment.

An office can become a veritable wasteland of superfluous computers, monitors, printers, portable devices, and the like. Sure, it might be easy to ignore all that clutter, but you may be pleasantly surprised by just how rewarding it can be to gather up that old gear and either put it to good reuse or dispose of it -- in a secure and environmentally friendly way, of course.

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To begin, it's likely your organization is wasting precious dollars to power machines that simply aren't being used. Old computers and monitors could be sitting in uninhabited offices or cubicles, draining power and collecting dust. An idle daisy-wheel printer might be sitting ignored, yet powered up, in the copy room beside the shiny new MFP. Just how much of a difference can these electricity vampires make on your electric bill? Consider this: Health care company GlaxoSmithKline managed to collect some 5.8 tons of old IT equipment last year from two of its office buildings in Philadelphia. According to the company, simply unplugging all of that old gear reduced annual energy consumption by 190,442 kWh, which adds up to $21,000 in annual cost savings -- not to mention the associated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The potential savings don't end there: Not all the PCs you find will be of the pre-Windows 3.0 variety. It's possible you'll discover computers that are perfectly fine to meet the needs of end-users who are due for an upgrade. Voila! You've spared your IT budget a hit by not purchasing a new machine.

Then again, you may find machines that are of no use to anyone at your organization. Even so, there's a chance to reap rewards for your IT clean-up effort. For starters, there's a market for pre-owned IT gear. Hardware vendors like HP and Sun will give you cash and/or trade-in credit for old equipment. You might also consider turning to a third-party ITAD (IT asset disposal) provider like Intechra and PlanITROI, who can help you figure out the value of your gear, then sell it for you at a negotiated price. (ITAD providers can also assist in responsibly recycling those electronics that can't be reused. I'll get to that in a moment.)

[ Learn how to choose the right ITAD provider to meet your organization's needs. ]

An alternative to selling unwanted IT gear is to take the philanthropic path and donate it to a local school, nonprofit, or charity. It's a great investment in the community, plus there's some financial reward. For example, according to Earth911.com, "the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 states that companies that donate personal computers to schools qualify for an enhanced charitable deduction benefit. It also expands tax incentives for private companies that donate computer technology, equipment or software to K-12 classrooms."

Earth911.com points to several sources of additional information and assistance in donating gear to schools and community groups. Among them: the Electronics Industry Alliance, a national trade organization that includes the full spectrum of U.S. electronics product manufacturers. The group maintains a listing of organizations throughout the United States that accept donations of electronics products.

There's also a chance that some of the equipment you find just isn't suited for reuse. In that case, recycling is the ideal, Earth-friendly route. For starters, e-cycling recovers valuable materials, such as metals, copper, and engineered plastics, all of which require considerable energy to process and manufacture. According to the EPA, recycling 1 million desktop computers prevents the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 17,000 passenger cars.

Additionally, properly recycling old electronics, rather than tossing them in landfills, helps reduce toxic pollution. PCs and monitors, especially old ones, contain a multitude of hazardous substances: lead, which can cause brain and kidney damage in children; mercury, which can cause nervous system and kidney damage; and cadmium, BFRs (brominated flame retardants), and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which are known to cause health problems like cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive damage and are able to accumulate in the human body and travel long distances through air and water when not disposed of properly.

Finally, whether you're reselling, donating, or recycling old equipment, data security needs to be a top priority. It's possible that the machines you're disposing of contain sensitive information that can land your organization in a heap of trouble, both with the public and the law, if it falls into the wrong hands. The last thing you want is for proprietary secrets or legally protected client data -- credit card numbers, medical records, Social Security numbers -- to fall into the wrong hands.

Here, you have options. You can wipe the machines in-house using applications such as DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke), Active@KillDisk, or BCWipe. Alternatively, you can make sure that the organization you select to buy back or recycle your gear provides a thorough data-wipe service.

Cleaning up your company's IT clutter can indeed by a rewarding endeavor: You can save some money, free up space, reduce your organization's environmental impact, and do some good for your local community. Just be mindful of the potential security pitfalls.

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