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CompTIA’s Strata Green IT Certification: Disposing of Hazardous Materials

Emmett Dulaney breaks down the objectives of CompTIA’s Strata Green IT certification exam (number FC0-GR1) with a focus on what you need to know in order to be successful on this exam and earn the certification. The focus of this article is Section 1.1: Implement environmentally sound techniques to dispose of hazardous materials.
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In Part I, we looked at the Strata program from CompTIA and introduced the Green IT certification. We will now start breaking down the objectives of CompTIA’s Strata Green IT certification exam (number FC0-GR1) with a focus on what you need to know in order to be successful on this exam and earn the certification. The focus of this article is Section 1.1: Implement environmentally sound techniques to dispose of hazardous materials.

To put the issue into perspective, according to the Global Futures Foundation, 70% of all toxic materials found in landfills originate from electronic equipment. There are various hazardous used in and around an IT department every day, and it is clear that green disposal habits are of high importance to IT professionals looking to reduce their impact on the environment.

Computer Recycling

While the production of computer components is becoming greener every year, a number of hazardous substances are still found in most computers and laptops. Mercury, lead, and cadmium are all found in circuit boards and hard drives. While cathode-ray tube (CRT) computer monitors (the kind that take up half your desk space) have become less common in favor of space-saving LCD monitors, it’s not uncommon for most organizations to still have a couple in use or sitting in storage. These monitors contain significant amounts of lead and should never be disposed of without consulting a recycling provider.

Whether you have old motherboards, monitors, or laptops, a few considerations should be kept in mind when recycling or disposing of any computer equipment. First, as a truly green IT professional, it is not enough to simply locate the nearest recycling center and unload all your old equipment there. It is your responsibility to do some research about the facilities in your area to ensure that they uphold the same environmental standards your organization is pursuing. Ask about certifications such as ISO 14001, which verify responsible handling of hazardous materials. Don’t be afraid to ask about the recycling process the facility uses and exactly how much of your electronics will be extracted for reuse. While safe disposal is the baseline for getting rid of old equipment, ensuring that the maximum amount of material possible is recycled is an equally important step. Furthermore, make sure that all information is completely erased from any computers before disposing of them. Many recycling centers provide additional data removal services before the recycling process begins.

For more tips and regulations for recycling computer equipment, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s eCycling homepage.

Battery Disposal

One thread runs constant through almost every piece of equipment used in the IT world: batteries. While the myriad batteries that energize laptops, remotes, and hard drive back-ups are incredibly helpful during their useful life, they become a burden once used up. The heavy metals and corrosive substances that make it possible for batteries to power these devices are hazardous materials that can cause serious environmental detriments if disposed of improperly. Simply throwing away batteries increases the chance that the lead, nickel-cadmium, lithium, and other materials found inside will leak out and contaminate surrounding soil or water.

Lead-acid batteries, very similar to the kind that power automobiles, are used frequently in the IT sector as uninterruptable power supplies in the case of power failure. Because of their large volume and weight, lead-acid batteries are some of the most hazardous and need attention to make sure they are disposed of properly. Luckily, Battery Council International reports that recycling of these batteries has been a worldwide success, with over 98 percent being recycled properly in recent years. Currently, 38 states have adopted laws concerning lead-acid battery recycling.

Alkaline manganese batteries, better known by their classifications (such as AA or D), can often legally be thrown away with other trash without any special disposal techniques. This is in large part due to Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act, passed in 1996, which put regulations in place to stop the inclusion of mercury in these batteries. Simply because ordinary disposal is legal, however, does not mean it is the most environmentally-minded practice possible. Taking alkaline batteries to approved recycled facilities can extract steel and zinc from the used-up batteries for reuse, reducing the energy needed to create new ones. If they are going to be thrown away, alkaline batteries should be double-wrapped in a plastic bag the ends of each battery should be covered with masking tape to prevent leakage.

Lithium-ion (what powers your cell phone or laptop) and silver oxide (the button-sized power source of watches and calculators) batteries need to both be disposed of properly because of the lithium and mercury they contain, respectively. Additionally, lithium-ion batteries can explode when stored in high temperatures, making landfills an especially hazardous place for them to end up. While recycling stations for these types of batteries may not be as common as lead-acid or alkaline batteries, the vendor selling you the laptop of cell phone will likely be able to direct you to a recycling facility or take back the worn-out batteries themselves.

The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends visiting Earth911.com to find recycling centers for batteries of all types in your area.

Toner / Ink Disposal

Recycling of toner and ink cartridges hasn’t kept up with the positive trends of other IT equipment[md]over 350 million cartridges are still being thrown away each year. It is estimated that producing a single ink cartridge requires 2.5 ounces of oil, and laser cartridges can require up to ten times this amount. Furthermore, disposing of printing supplies carelessly isn’t just wasteful, it’s toxic. As the ink left in old cartridges dries, it release volatile organic compounds[md]gasses containing harmful chemicals[md]which can add up to a serious environmental problem considering the number of cartridges being thrown out every day.

While improper disposal of ink and toner can be one of the most environmentally-problematic habits around the IT department, it is also one of the easiest to remedy. Most office supply stores and electronics retailers have easy drop-off stations for all your old cartridges. Additionally, the makers of all major printers and copiers have established mail-in recycling programs. For more information about the smartest way to recycle your old toner, ink, and cartridges, consult your user manual or company website.

Cleaning Products

Although cleaning products may not hold as much importance around your IT department as computers or servers, making sure they get thrown away correctly is equally vital. Reading the product label for cleaning supplies is always a good place to start to get a good idea of how, when, and where the product should be disposed. In general, if the container is completely empty and dry, simply throwing it in the trash (or better yet, a recycling bin) should not be a problem.

Anytime you see the words “corrosive,” “hazardous,” or “toxic” on a product label, putting the substance in the trash or washing it down the drain can pose serious environmental problems. Leaking items in the trash can lead to health hazards for those around your office, waste handlers, or the landfill in which the trash ultimately ends up. While sending hazardous substances down the drain may seem to wash away the problem, it can end up polluting water sources and septic systems.

If you don’t know the best way to get rid of cleaning supplies, it is always better to play it safe. In most cases, a quick Google search of “household hazardous waste collection” and your location will help you locate facilities that are well-prepared to deal with the numerous hazardous chemicals found in your department’s cleaning closet.

Third-Party Vendors

The Green IT exam also highlights the benefits and best practices of using third-party vendors to take care of certain disposal duties such as shredding, incinerating, and hard drive wiping. With any of these endeavors, it is again important to remember that simply getting the waste out of your office is not enough to guarantee your practices are having a positive impact on the environment. When it comes to shredding companies, find out if the organization uses low-energy shredding and fuel-saving transportation practices, as well as how they recycle their shredded output.

Don’t let your efforts stop with shredders. Performing a quick environmental audit of all of your business partners[md]looking at their recycling, fuel usage, and energy-reduction habits[md]is an imperative step toward making your green IT efforts as successful as possible. With a little bit of work, you will be able to form partnerships that are both environmentally and economically intelligent.

RoHS Regulations

A final area of Section 1.1 that exam participants need to be familiar with is the European Union’s Regulation of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. This set of regulations prohibits the sale of electronic equipment containing six hazardous materials (lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium (known as Chromium VI), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)) throughout the European Union. Extending beyond the EU and around the globe, organizations are beginning to recognize RoHS as an international standard for environmentally-conscious electronics production.

As more and more countries adopt standards similar to RoHS, migrating your IT department to RoHS-compliant equipment now will not only make the transition less of a financial burden, but also identify your company as a serious contributor to the field of green IT.

This completes the discussion of the topics beneath objective 1.1 and should provide you with the information you need to know for this portion of the exam. In the next installment, we will take a detailed analysis of objective 1.2: Identify and implement environmentally sound techniques to preserve power.

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