Your major source of potential waste-disposal liability is 1980's Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), otherwise known as the Superfund law. Under CERCLA, the EPA identifies contaminated sites, arranges for cleanup, identifies responsible parties and seeks compensation for the cleanup costs. Many of these sites are landfills where you'd typically send your trash, including obsolete computer equipment. Once you've been targeted, you can always choose to fight the EPA in federal court instead of paying what it has assessed. But more likely than not, yoou'll find yourself embroiled in costly, expert-intensive litigation over your company's environmental impact on soil, drinking water, surface and groundwater, and the toxicity of its waste. And unless you can prove you never deposited so much as a printer cartridge or a half-empty bottle of nail polish at that site, you'll be on the hook.
Worse yet, the Superfund law states that all contributors to a contaminated site are jointly and severally liable for the entire cost of the cleanup. This means that you may only be responsible for part of the contamination, but if your company is the only deep pocket that can afford to pay, it can be stuck with the entire tab.
Of course Superfund isn't where it ends. You also need to stay on top of state laws and regulations that affect what you can do with old hardware. For example, as of April 1, 2000, you're no longer permitted to send computer monitors, TV sets or other cathode ray tubes to landfills or incinerators in Massachusetts. In addition, South Carolina is considering the establishment of a likely mandatory statewide electronic-equipment recycling program. And several other states are actively discussing disposal limitations and take-back requirements on certain equipment.
But just because you shouldn't simply dump your stuff in the local landfill without a second thought doesn't mean you should hang onto it forever, either. If you do that, your equipment will become more obsolete than it already is. Then you'll lose any value the equipment may have still had. You won't get tax deductions for donating it to charity, and it'll be useless for training future workers. Strangely enough, however, this is the choice most companies are making. Nearly 80 percent of the 15 million computers retired last year are in storage, according to a 1999 report from the National Safety Council. And with the high cost of office space these days, that is simply a bad investment.