Computers are everywhere, touching every part of our lives. Home, work, shopping, schools … You can't go far without hearing the familiar beep of a microprocessor. Uncle Sam uses a lot of electronic equipment too. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal government buys 7 percent of the world's computers.
But these technological wonders are not designed to last forever. According to the National Safety Council, nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years.
The federal government disposes of 10,000 computers every week. That's a lot of electronic trash. What happens to it? According to the EPA, a significant number end up in storage closets, warehouses and landfills, or overseas, where environmental standards are generally lower.
Legislation and presidential direction requiring the purchase of recycled content products have been evolving since 1976, when Congress established a buy-recycled law. In Section 6002 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Congress directed government agencies to promote recycling by increasing purchases of products containing recovered materials.
Every government agency falls under the Pollution Prevention Act and Executive Order 13101 to recycle and properly dispose of electronic equipment. Guidance is available from the following Web sites:
Pollution Prevention Act – (http://www.fedcenter.gov/programs/p2/) signed into law in 1990.
Executive Order 13101 – (http://www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/13101.pdf), "Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition" signed into law in 1998.
DRMS to the Rescue
The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) is an agency within the Department of Defense and Defense Logistics Agency. DRMS works with the military services to reuse, recycle and dispose of excess material.
There are 89 Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMO) located in 17 countries and 37 states on or near military installations. Military units turn-in excess or damaged property, with the proper paperwork, to their DRMO. Excess electronic equipment is redistributed on behalf of Defense agencies by DRMS or sold for reuse by a DRMS contractor resulting in extended life for electronic equipment, thus avoiding or postponing disposal.
Electronics, which cannot be redistributed or sold, are subjected to de-manufacturing processes that result in some additional reuse and recycling for the remainder of the electronic property. Environmental compliance is assured for Defense Department property, with 100 percent being reused or recycled.
Commercial recycling contractors or Federal Prison Industries perform all of the recycling and disassembly operations. Contracts are awarded under the Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWAC) for Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition (READ) services.
The contracts provide federal agencies with a dependable method of properly recycling and disposing of damaged or obsolete equipment. Eight companies were awarded contracts January 2005. For DRMS, all de-manufacturing partners are evaluated for technical capabilities and environmental compliance prior to entering into contracts or operating agreements.
Molam International, located near Atlanta, Ga., is one of eight companies recycling electronics for the government. According to company president Nader Nejad, DRMS keeps him busy. "We average 5 million pounds of material every year," Nejad said. "We recycle all of it — including the pallets."
Hazardous materials such as