Federal Prisoners To Recycle Government Computers
Federal prison inmates will be recycling U.S. government computers under a contract made between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and UNICOR in December.
UNICOR is a self-sustaining corporation that uses prison laborers and is part of the Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Prisons. UNICOR was awarded one of eight contracts to dispose of some of the 10,000 computers the federal government discards each week.
The U.S. government buys seven percent of all computers sold in the world. When they are replaced by more modern models, the U.S. EPA is making an effort to keep some of them and other used electronic equipment out of landfills and warehouses.
In December 2004, the agency awarded its first contracts to dispose of the unwanted computers in an “environmentally responsible” manner.
Called Government Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) for Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition (READ) services, the contracts provide federal agencies with a method of recycling and disposing of excess or obsolete electronic equipment.
UNICOR says its electronics recycling program provides inmates with valuable skills and processes the equipment in a responsible way. If a computer cannot be reused, it is broken down into component parts that are recycled. The glass from all CRT monitors is recycled in a glass-to-glass process. But critics say the program exposes prison laborers to dangerous chemicals while they labor for 20 cents to $1.26 per hour. Electronic equipment contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, chromium, cadmium, and beryllium, which, if mishandled, could be released into the environment, the EPA said. “This complex waste stream poses challenging management issues and potential liability concerns for federal facilities,” the agency said.
“We scream bloody murder when other countries use prison labor, yet here we are under our own noses seeing this becoming one of the fastest growing industries,” said attorney Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition last year when a commercial computer company gave UNICOR a contract to recycle its computers.
Including the one with UNICOR, the EPA has awarded eight contracts – three nationwide, three in the eastern United States and two in the west.
The other contractors are Molam International of Marietta, Georgia, Supply Chain Services of Lombard, Illinois, Asset Recovery Corp. of St. Paul, Minnesota, Hesstech of Edison, New Jersey, Liquidity Services Inc. of Washington, DC, Global Investment Recovery of Tampa, Florida, and Hobi International of Batavia, Illinois.
The basic contracts approved December 16, 2004 run for one year with up to four possible one year extensions, with a combined potential value of up to $9 million.
Contractors must maintain an audit trail to the equipment’s final destination to ensure that reclamation and recycling efforts are documented.
In fiscal year 2005 alone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects federal agencies to spend almost $60 billion on information technology equipment, software, infrastructure and services.
Provided by the Environmental News Service.