Feature

Tips on PC scrap

Karl Cushing reports on the options available for disposing of electronic equipment in the EU's Green Age.

Disposing of old IT equipment has become more pressing with the passing of European directives aimed at ensuring old IT hardware is disposed of in a way that does not harm the environment. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive became EC law on 13 February and will become law in the UK by August 2004. The directive encourages the safe disposal of old electrical equipment through recycling and refurbishment. From 2005, IT suppliers will be responsible for collecting and safely disposing of equipment sold to customers.

The impact of WEEE will be compounded by the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive, which states that from 1 July 2006 electrical and electronic equipment for sale must not contain a number of materials including lead, mercury and cadmium.

Although the directives place the burden of responsibility on suppliers, IT departments and businesses also need to be prepared not least because, until 2005, unless they are replacing hardware they will probably be responsible for getting rid of the old equipment.

"From an IT manager's point of view this is still important. They need a policy in place so they are seen to be conforming with the directives," says Phil Reakes, managing director of recycling and reuse firm Selway Moore.

Organisations such as Intellect, an association that represents the IT, telecoms and electronics industries, have also urged IT leaders to get to grips with the WEEE directive and factor it into their upgrade cycles.

But just how do you get rid of old hardware?

Donate to charity

While old equipment may be defunct to you it could be useful elsewhere. London-based charity Computer Aid International, for example, will pick up old kit for a small fee. CAI refurbishes hardware and sends it to not-for-profit organisations in the developing world. Unusable equipment is sent to its recycling partner, Silver Lining, to strip the 95% of parts that can be recycled and dispose of the rest.

The charity wipes data from the machines free of charge. It only asks that the size of the load is quite large and, in the case of PCs, they are at least Pentium 1 machines.

One organisation that has chosen this route is University College London. Brigitte Picot, divisional co-ordinator for the college's education and information support division, says the university has disposed of more than 700 PCs in this way since the scheme began two years ago. The college, she says, has more than 10,000 PCs and the constant need for more powerful machines means a maximum upgrade cycle of three years. The university pays about £60 for a van-load of about 150 PCs to be collected and a small cost to cover any that need to be recycled.

Sell it on and recoup the revenue

Alternatively you could give your old equipment to a specialist company which will refurbish it and sell it on. This may not be as virtuous as donating PCs to charity, but avoids the landfill option and can generate revenue.

BT is setting up a scheme that is a mixture of the above two ideas. When the company replaces hardware, third-party firm Computacenter takes it, cleans it and sells it on. The revenue is split between charities and the department disposing of the equipment. "We're safely, cleanly disposing of old equipment whilst giving money to charity," says Adam Oliver, head of information access at BT. "You have to be very careful about the disposal of old kit. If something goes wrong with it you could be liable."

He also points to the implications of the Data Protection Act when disposing of hard discs and the need to wipe data held on them.

The point is also flagged up by Phil Reakes, who urges IT directors to factor in legislation such as the Data Protection Act when disposing of old hardware. "This is a security issue, not just an environmental issue," he warns.

Upgrade old kit

Upgrading ageing hardware is an increasingly viable option. The price of components such as memory chips these days makes it possible to extend the life of PCs and servers.

Lengthening the upgrade cycle of hardware could save your budget while leaving you safe in the knowledge that you are being green in the process.

Employee purchase schemes

Reakes recommends the tried-and-tested technique of staff purchase schemes for ageing hardware. It can recoup revenue spent on IT and have the advantage of building relations with staff who may view this as a perk.

When all else fails, recycle

When equipment is beyond all use yet not old enough for the museum, it should be recycled. After 2005 the onus will be on the supplier to collect hardware it has sold and pay for it to be recycled. Until then it is down to the user. Recycling can be costly, but it is better for the environment than the landfill option.

And finally, while it does not solve the problem of getting rid of old IT kit, you could buy refurbished equipment. This option saves money as long as you ensure that all refurbished kit you buy comes with a full warranty.

Five ways of disposing of old hardware

  • Donate it to a charity
  • Give it to third party such as Computacenter which can sell it on and recoup revenue  
  • Upgrade old kit
  • Set up an employee purchase scheme 
  • If all else fails, recycle it.    

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This was first published in June 2003

 

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