Green is in with technology companies and they’re responding to the very real environmental concerns posed by increasing numbers of computers-and myriad other electronic devices-being discarded because of obsolescence or failure.

It turns out that most big-name computer manufacturers offer their own recycling programs, some of which will come right to your door. Writing recently inThe Wall Street Journal, Katherine Boehret says Dell offers free home pickup of any old Dell equipment, and will pick up other brands at no cost if you buy a new Dell. Hewlett-Packard will pick up and recycle any brand of old equipment for a nominal fee, but you’ll also receive a coupon worth $30 to $50 on new gear you buy from H-P. Lenovo doesn’t offer home pickup but will sell you a prepaid shipping label for $30 that you can use to send any brand of computer equipment to them for recycling or refurbishing. Apple’s program is essentially the same as Lenovo’s, plus their retail stores accept all manufacturers’ rechargeable batteries.

Eight states have already enacted electronic equipment recycling laws that vary dramatically, and many other states are considering their own laws. So electronics manufacturers, rightly nervous about facing a grab bag of inconsistent state laws, are lobbying for a national law requiring them to take electronic equipment back for safe, clean reuse or recycling.

The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA, Arlington, VA) has just released an outline for a national electronic equipment recycling program. This proposal represents the first consensus among IT and TV manufacturers on meeting the nation’s recycling challenge and these manufacturers should be applauded for stepping up to the challenge.

The EIA’s plan differentiates between TVs and computer equipment, based on point of purchase and expected lifespan. TV sets are purchased from retailers, and live for 15 to 17 years. The plan calls for an industry-sponsored third-party organization to collect and recycle TVs, with support from nominal consumer fees levied at purchase.

Computer equipment is purchased directly from manufacturers and lives for six to eight years. EIA says each IT equipment producer should implement a program to collect and recycle its own products in a way that is convenient and free for consumers. Furthermore, EIA says IT manufacturers should be required to have such programs as a condition of conducting business.

The EIA plan would pave the way for federal legislation establishing a national program, which realistically is the only way to address the problem. However, the physician’s credo “first do no harm” leaps readily to mind.

The electronics manufacturers are to be commended for their leadership! Our concern, however, is that the opportunities for self-serving chicanery that “nominal consumer fees” and “ a condition of doing business” offer to bureaucrats may be too attractive to resist. Beware: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”