Alberta fee means rise in PC costs

Each computer his company purchases may be as much as $30 more expensive today than they were this time last year, but you won’t hear Darren Ruhr complaining about the premium.

Ruhr, IT director at Precision Drilling Corp., a Calgary-based contract drilling supplier servicing the oil and gas industry, figures it’s money well spent. It’s a government-imposed fee, new this year. The extra money is supposed to support computer recycling efforts in Alberta.

Albertans can expect to spend an extra $12 for monitors, $8 for printers and $10 for CPUs with keyboards, mice, cables and speakers attached. Text

According to the Alberta government, the $30 could go a long way to improving the collection, dismantling and disposal of computer parts in the province — pieces that could release harmful material (mercury, for example) into the environment if handled improperly.

Ruhr agrees with the government’s recycling fee, in part because it makes Precision’s internal recycling regime that much simpler to manage.

“We were already recycling everything, except we were paying for a service provider,” Ruhr said.

Precision used to have another company haul its old computers away and dispose of them. The government levy makes it easier to factor disposal costs into the PC purchase. “Now we don’t have to pay for it after the fact. It’s better,” Ruhr said.

Computer disposal costs become a business-wide responsibility. “Before, IT had to pay to get rid of it. Now it’s paid up front by the business when the machines are bought,” he said.

According to Robert Moyles, assistant director of communications at Alberta Environment, the province’s environmental protection and enforcement department, the powers that be decided on a PC recycling levy because the province succeeded with a similar fee for tires, to deal with the ever-growing stock of spent rubber lying in piles. Alberta enacted the tire levy in the early 1990s.

Since then, 35 million tires have been diverted from landfills, Moyles said. “It’s working quite well,” Moyles said, noting that the money collected from tires drives entrepreneurial endeavours to re-use the ancient treads, such as research into rubber-asphalt highway surfaces.

The computer recycling levy would do something similar, he said. Here’s how it works: purchasers pay the levy up front when they buy computers. Vendors fork the cash over to the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA), the government agency that also administers the tire levy.

ARMA spends the money on creating computer recycling collection points. The money also goes towards companies that dismantle computers, and it goes to research into new uses for old PC bits.

“Some of it will also go to education and awareness efforts about the importance of recycling computers,” Moyles said.

He added that the government doesn’t know quite how much money the computer recycling levy will pull in this year, but ARMA’s annual report at the end of 2005 should lay out the numbers.

The levy applies to PC peripherals as well as entire computer systems. Albertans can expect to spend an extra $12 for monitors, $8 for printers and $10 for CPUs with keyboards, mice, cables and speakers attached.

Governments in other provinces are reportedly watching the Alberta situation to see if this computer recycling fee will fly in their jurisdictions.

Moyles said his province designed the system to harmonize with other provincial and federal recycling efforts.

The levy could be a hit on enterprise PC purchasing power, but it doesn’t have to be painful. There are ways for companies to keep costs down without losing environmental brownie points. For instance:

• Consider purchasing used computers instead of new ones. The levy only applies to new machines, Moyles said. He pointed out that the Alberta government aims to promote re-use; attaching a levy to used computers would hamper that effort.

• Refurbish current computers. The government’s levy doesn’t apply to components like motherboards, microprocessors and graphics cards, Moyles said. Perhaps it makes sense to get as much mileage out of existing boxes by replacing the internals.

• Consolidate the PC infrastructure. Network computing platforms such as those sold by Citrix Systems Inc. might help. Companies that require more processing horsepower need only replace a few boxes instead of hundreds of PCs.

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