The federal government estimates that it retires 10,000 computers each week, among other electronic devices that have outlived their usefulness, and although it knows that most of them are resold, donated or recycled, it wants to make sure that the rest are not simply hauled off to the dump.
The General Services Administration ordered last week that desktop and laptop computers, cellphones, copiers, telephones, digital cameras, televisions and various other electronics “should not be disposed of in landfill or incinerators.”
Rather, it said, excess electronics that still work should be reused within agencies; transferred to other agencies; donated to schools states or nonprofit organizations; or sold to private purchasers. Electronics that have truly flashed and beeped their last are to be sent to certified recyclers or to manufacturer take-back programs that use such recyclers.
President Obama’s recent federal budget proposal included a projected $79 billion for government information technology spending in 2013, including the cost of personnel, contracts and equipment. Officials were unable to provide a count of the government’s electronic devices.
The figure of 10,000 computers alone being declared excess each week is a GSA estimate based on the number of federal employees and the typical period the government uses computers. The government does not have exact figures on what happens to its used electronics, although through various channels it knows that most are resold, donated or recycled.
Starting this year, the government will better account for the disposal of its electronic devices and will report that information on www.data.gov.
The GSA directive flows from a 2009 presidential order on improving the government’s environmental performance and energy usage. That order in turn produced a report last year saying that the government “generates the most used electronics in the U.S.” While the government had prior programs to encourage recycling or donation, the failure to fully track what happens to equipment after it leaves the government’s hands “leaves the ultimate destination and disposition of this equipment unknown,” it said.
The new policy encourages recipients of used government electronics to later reuse or recycle them in turn.
Electronics contain “valuable and reusable resources such as rare earth materials, precious metals, plastic, and glass. These devices also contain hazardous and toxic materials, and they must be disposed of properly in order to prevent pollution and risks to public health,” the GSA said in announcing the policy.