Thanks for the Memory: DEC Recycles PCs

Digital Equipment Corporation has found a way to turn a liability into an asset. It's salvaging and recycling parts from old computers to avoid Federal Superfund infractions, and it's making money in the process.

Digital Equipment Corporation has found a way to turn a liability (an ever-growing pile of outdated computer equipment) into an asset--big bucks.

Like many electronics manufacturers, DEC must properly dispose of outdated systems or face Federal Superfund liability. Some computer parts include batteries and mercury switches, which require special handling. The Federal Superfund program that began in the '80s was set up to lessen such waste.

To cope with the problem, DEC is recycling its old computer-related equipment--30 million pounds of it in fiscal 1995 alone. The company estimates that the program has blossomed into a $15 million to $40 million business. The figure includes the money the company has saved from not carrying old inventory.

Although most of its recycling business is made up of DEC products, about 25 percent of the material DEC handles is from other manufacturers. DEC gives clients trade in credits on old equipment to put toward new systems.

According to DEC officials, 30 percent of a PC is steel, which brings in 1.5 cents per pound. Other salvageable materials include aluminum, glass, plastic, and gold.