Recycling Reboot

Computer Services at Temple University
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Temple University
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You can’t just toss an old computer into the corner trash can when it has outlived its usefulness.

Because of the environmental issues involved, special care must be taken in disposing of such equipment. Often, that involves paying for proper disposal. If you do choose to trash aging PCs in a Dumpster, you need to wipe any sensitive data from each one’s hard drive for security and privacy reasons.

Eight years ago, Temple University (Pa.) officials decided to become more proper pitchers. Previously, says Tim O’Rourke, vice president for computer and financial services and chief information officer, “our facilities management would come and dispose of any equipment, but they charged a fee.” So here’s what would happen: Rather than pay that fee, the person would just throw the computer out.

The university’s Computer Services office developed a series of initiatives that have resulted in cost savings, greater security, and a green impact so positive it was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Through the implementation of an Advanced Recovery Fee, university departments pay $25 per new computer and $25 per new monitor. Temple purchases about 2,000 computers a year, resulting in a $100,000 dedicated fund for salaries and expenses related to disposal of electronic waste.

Handling these duties is the Computer Recycling Center (CRC), which worked with the Computer Services’ Desktop Support Group to set minimum requirements that would allow outdated equipment to be refurbished and returned to university use. If those requirements aren’t met, the hardware can be sold for personal use, or donated.

New e-waste disposal procedures keep more old computers out of landfills and more new money in the university's coffers.

Since 2005, CRC has recovered almost 12,000 computers, 11,000 monitors, and 5,800 printers, scanners, and other related pieces of equipment. Nearly half of the computers and more than a third of the monitors were returned to university service after being refurbished and repurposed by CRC staff, saving Temple about $300,000.

“We noted very quickly that these computers were still good in a lot of cases, and with a few dollars here and a little work there, we could put them back into service,” O’Rourke notes. “It has turned into a model of not just throwing out computers properly, but recycling computers and getting them back into use.”

Centralizing the processing of e-waste also allowed CRC to work with Computer Services’ Office of Information Security to develop and implement processes to erase data from old machinery, minimizing the likelihood of sensitive and proprietary information being exposed. Computers that are neither repurchased nor donated are given to outside firms, which break them down for parts and share proceeds with the university.

Finally, Temple estimates that these e-recycling efforts have prevented 2,860 metric tons of carbon equivalents from entering the environment as waste. In 2009, the EPA presented the university with its Environmental Achievement Award in recognition.

“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” O’Rourke says. “It’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for us financially. That’s the beauty of this program.”