National e-waste legislation to keep hardware costs lower

A congressional caucus studying e-waste could recommend national legislation that vendors say would cost data center managers little to nothing compared to disparate state and local regulations.

A U.S. congressional caucus has met twice in the past month to determine if the growing e-waste problem could be solved by national legislation, which server vendors support over state or municipal regulations.

The E-Waste Working Group, as it is called, formed as environmental groups and some U.S. congressmen came to feel that there should be a federal law on the matter. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than four million tons of e-waste, some of it with toxic ingredients, hit landfills each year.

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"I think people recognize that there needs to be a federal program," said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), one of the four congressmen in the group. "That's the one thing where there seemed to be agreement. I'm guardedly optimistic about that."

If e-waste is not disposed of properly, it could harm the environment and people. Some states have varied regulations regarding the disposal and reuse of e-waste, and Congress is starting to wake up to the problem, but oversight in the U.S is still weak compared to Europe, where continent-wide regulations have passed regarding the manufacture and disposal of e-waste.

Major server manufacturers would probably prefer no legislation at all, but federal regulations, as opposed to local ones, enable them to standardize equipment takeback programs. If legislation on electronic waste is varied state to state and city to city, manufacturers could pay more to recycle products, and the cost could trickle down to end users.

David Douglas, Sun's vice president of ecoresponsibility, said national legislation would work best and similarly to the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in the European Union (EU), which says responsibility for e-waste rests on manufacturers.

"If we were having to deal with local regulations and local disposition facilities in every state, to deal with every state's nuanced costs, that would clearly involve cost to our basic equipment," he said.

David Isaacs, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) director of government and public policy, said the company's goal is always to get as much resell value out of the equipment it is taking back from customers.

"Our goal, our approach is how we can make that cost as small as possible while still doing the job and meeting our goals," he said.

That, of course, would be beneficial to data center managers. Many of them are already paying for third-party waste management firms to get rid of their old hardware. Jaime Man, IT director of Health Care Excel in Indianapolis, doesn't ship equipment off to his third-party waste management firm, Recall, until it's practically useless.

Tom Joseph, facilities manager at Time Warner Cable in Herndon, Va., agreed.

"We pretty much use them until we burn them up," he said. Joseph added that incremental increases in his hardware costs wouldn't make that much difference but that "on the larger scale (for the company) it would."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

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