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James Drohan spends more time than most thinking about what people throw away, so much so that he has built a business around discarded IT equipment.

Drohan is president of CDI Computers, a 25-year-old Markham, Ontario, company that recycles used computer equipment for resale and leasing. In the last couple of years, however, the company has added to its core functions the disposal of equipment that is no longer usable.

For a fee, CDI sends trucks to a location to pick up old IT equipment. The company then sorts the plastics, metals and glass and recycles whatever remains usable, sending the rest to disposal centers approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the Canadian Ministry of the Environment.

CDI is looking to partner with VARs and integrators who can offer their customers disposal as another value-added service, Drohan said. Even though businesses may resist paying to have their old equipment hauled away, he said, sooner or later they will have to take it seriously as laws mandating proper disposal go into effect.

Referred to as e-waste, discarded computer equipment has started to catch the attention of lawmakers in the United States and Canada, with laws already in effect in California, Maryland, Maine and the province of Alberta.

Four members of the U.S. Congress this year formed the Congressional E-Waste Working Group to figure out what to do about the estimated 50 million computers that are discarded yearly. The group plans to develop a standardized e-waste national law.

“E-waste is a national problem that needs a national solution,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.

Drohan anticipates that as laws go into effect, businesses in possession of unusable equipment will need companies like his to discard it properly. Currently, products that cannot be recycled are either thrown away improperly or sit somewhere gathering dust.

“We will come across periodically clients that have warehouses full of product,” he said.

Computer equipment, particularly monitors, contains large quantities of toxic material, including lead and other heavy metals, which make them environmentally unfriendly and difficult to discard.

Also, often old equipment contains data that no one has erased. “Proper disposal also includes data destruction,” Drohan said.

Erasing data is one of tasks CDI takes on as part of discarding equipment. The company uses an erasing machine, the Eliminator 4000FS, to erase metal particle tape and degauss hard drives.

Channel companies can make a small margin by charging customer to dispose of the equipment. Drohan said CDI charges 25 cents to 35 cents a pound, to which a VAR or integrator can add as much as 10 cents for its involvement.

Even though the fees are small, he said, VARs and integrators can use the disposal service as an opportunity to strengthen their customer relationships.

To assure customers the equipment is discarded properly, the disposal centers issue certificates of destruction, he said.

VARs say that getting rid of e-waste is a challenge. Some customers simply throw the old computers, monitors and printers in the dumpster, but more and more are asking their IT products and service providers to take away the old equipment. Some have been offering the removal as a service.

In April, distributor Ingram Micro Inc., of Santa Ana, Calif., launched a program to address discarded equipment. The online service, Ingram Micro Outlet for North America, gives resellers an opportunity to profit from discarding old technology. VARs can trade used equipment in working condition, such as laptops and LCD flat-panel monitors, in exchange for credits to their Ingram Micro accounts.

So far U.S. VARs have traded in more than $45,000 worth of equipment, according to Justin Crotty, vice president of channel marketing for Ingram Micro North America.

“Between the green movement and the laws and regulations around properly disposing of old technology, resellers are being forced to come to the table with two business solutions: one for new equipment and another for the old,” Crotty said.

In New England, Staples Inc. last year partnered with the EPA and the non-profit Product Stewardship Institute Inc. to collect e-waste at 27 of its office products stores. The stores collected 57 tons of e-waste from businesses and consumers.

“The successful ‘eCycling’ pilot shows that consumers and businesses will respond, if given the chance to recycle consumer electronics,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office.

One of the potential outcomes of e-waste legislation is forcing manufacturers to make products with more recyclable materials. This is something that Xerox Corp. already is doing, said James Firestone, the company’s North America president.

“We recycle components to the highest degree of anybody in our industry,” he said.

Among the recycling initiatives Xerox has launched are giving customers prepaid postage to return ink cartridges for reuse and the company’s use of dry ink, a crayonlike material that uses no cartridges.