Recycling in the IT Industry

While you may favor placing a candlelit lantern on top of the system box and watch as the sun sets over your recently obsolete computer drifting off down the canal, many might consider this method of disposal as unorthodox, few would consider it environmentally unfriendly and it is definitely frowned upon by British Waterways and fishermen alike.

The Icer (2000) UK status report on waste from electrical and electronic equipment reports that 390,000 tonnes of IT equipment are discarded every year. In addition to this less than 20% of redundant computers are refurbished, the majority finding their way into skips and landfill sites. However in the near future all of this will have to stop. If everything goes to plan, the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment EU Directive will be finalized by the end of this year and become UK law in 2004.

Although the final details have yet to be decided, current thinking suggest that the directive will require around 65%-75% of equipment will have to be recycled or recovered and the onus to do so is likely to fall on the manufacturer. There is also the possibility that all or part of the cost could fall on the end user. To emphasize the point that the EU is serious about recycling the directive is likely to have teeth in the form of penalties and fines, and recycling will become a requirement not an option. So what can you do when your PCs have reached the end of their useful lives?

The obvious choice is to upgrade and refurbish the machine. The problem with refurbishment is the machine still needs to be sufficiently powerful to perform its new function if it is to remain an asset and not become a liability. An exception to this might be where a redundant machine is used to experiment with new technology or software such as Linux for instance. Essentially though as you move towards the lower end of the specification spectrum, so the scope for re-use becomes less. A server, once considered state of the art and now obsolete as a server, might be reincarnated as a workstation without much effort but the differential between the specification of an obsolete desktop machine and that required to run the latest operating system could require prohibitively expensive upgrades.

Refurbishment for sale, or in preparation before donation to a local charity is another option. The DTI reports that the market for refurbished IT equipment has grown five fold in the past 3 years. With no specific requirement in mind, refurbishment for re-sale simply aims to produce a salable item. A minimum requirement of the refurbishment process has to be the removal of any sensitive data from the machine. While a low level format of the hard drive should suffice in most cases, you may wish to take more stringent action to ensure the privacy of your data. Having wiped the disk clean there is then the problem of restoring the system to pristine working order. Without the use of a disk image or recovery disk the process can be time consuming and the costs involved in refurbishing the machine can be more than its re-sale value.

As outlined above refurbishment and re-use may not either be practicable or economically viable hence many machines end up in skips or as a donors, cannibalized for parts either to repair or upgrade machines that still have a useful life.

There are organizations some commercial and some charitable that will manage the whole refurbishment process; collection, wiping the data to Ministry of Defense standards, sale or disposal. Tools 4 Schools is an organization providing this service however they require a minimum of 20 Pentium class machines before they will provide the service free of charge.

The recycling options for obsolete or redundant machines are wide and varied. Refurbishment and reuse can lead to savings or provide the opportunity to experiment with new ideas. With this in mind the skip should be the option of last resort and with a raft of new EU directives on the horizon it may not even be an option in the future so getting the recycling habit sooner rather than later might be the wise thing to do.


Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling

Tel: 020 7729 4766

Tools for Schools

Tel: 020 7689 1990

Computer Aid International

Tel: 020 7281 0091

Recycle IT

Tel: 01582 492 436

Image of blue lightbulbs with a yellow one in the middle A private member bill entitled the Copyright, etc and Trade Marks (Offenses and Enforcement) Act 2002, an amendment to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998, received Royal assent on 24th...
Recycling in the IT Industry
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Image of an old laptop While you may favor placing a candlelit lantern on top of the system box and watch as the sun sets over your recently obsolete computer drifting off down the canal, many might consider this method...
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