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Study points out costs of computer disposal

Getting rid of outdated computing equipment can be an expensive proposition for companies, even if they manage to sell off some gear, a new study from research company Gartner says.

Disposing of outdated computing equipment is a costly proposition for companies--even if they manage to sell off some gear, a new study says.

Released Monday by research company Gartner, the study says although the sale of obsolete hardware can fetch owners from 3 percent to 5 percent of the equipment's original price, that doesn't factor in the $85 to $136 it can cost to get rid of an old PC.

Disposal costs, which vary depending on the quantity and condition of the gear being sold as well as on the method of disposal, can involve things like disconnecting PCs from networks, erasing sensitive data from hard drives and, in some cases, reloading operating systems and testing the equipment. That's in addition what companies spend on paperwork, packing, shipping and handling.

"When enterprises evaluate disposal options, they must consider the per-PC costs, the administrative overhead of the disposal method selected, and the legal and economic risks to the enterprise for improper disposal," Frances O'Brien, a research director at Gartner, said in a statement.

Recycling and disposal of computing gear have recently received increased attention, with international environmental groups accusing computer manufacturers and buyers, along with the U.S. government, of using countries in Asia as junkyards for outdated computing gear. Some state governments have gotten involved as well, and companies such as Dell and Gateway have unveiled recycling programs for old PCs.

Despite the costs, companies may have little choice. PCs sold after four years have limited economic value and still incur disposal costs, Gartner said. In a study released earlier this month, the company advised that using desktops for four or more years may result in simply shifting expenses from direct-cost categories, such as hardware, software and information systems labor, to indirect-cost categories such as lost end-user productivity and downtime.

Other considerations aside, disposal costs can run even higher, if companies try to sidestep them.

"Many enterprises have paid a high price in costs, regulatory fines, bad publicity and even litigation, when their PCs turned up in landfills or third-world countries, or when confidential data was recovered from hard drives that had not been properly sanitized," O'Brien said.