Computer equipment recycling – Essential Guide

Computer equipment recycling and refurbishing is an important part of an organisation’s sustainable waste strategy.

Computer equipment recycling and refurbishing is an important part of an organisation’s sustainable waste strategy. Businesses are encouraged to dispose of their IT equipment in an environmentally responsible way, and there are government regulations, such as the WEEE directive, designed to deal with hazardous waste.

Why recycle computer equipment?

Computer equipment recycling reduces the volume of waste which ends up in landfill sites, or gets dumped illegally.

It cuts down on the amount of raw materials needed for the manufacture of new products, and it also means more efficient and convenient recycling for the end user.

In addition, if computing equipment is refurbished, this can benefit people and organisations that cannot afford to buy new IT equipment.

What computer equipment can be recycled?

It is possible to recycle many parts of an IT system, particularly monitors, PCs and servers.

Computer peripherals, such as printers and scanners, can also be recycled, as can landline and mobile phones.

However, some elements of an IT system may need particular expertise to recycle, with PCs, for example, tending to have heavy metals in their circuit boards.

What materials are in a PC?

An average PC contains plastic (23%), ferrous metals (32%), non-ferrous metals (18%), electronic boards (12%) and glass (15%).

A single computer can contain up to 2kg of lead, and the complex mixture of materials make PCs very difficult to recycle.

How do you recycle your computer equipment?

Firstly, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) advises companies to contact their waste contractor to get advice on how they need handle their waste, as it may vary from company to company.

That said, there are a large number of disposal specialists geared up to recycle computer equipment, and these are easy to find either from local council web sites, or through a search engine.

You can also dispose of computer waste by returning the product to the manufacturer, with computer makers such as Dell and HP offering recycling and asset recovery services to organisations to recycle unwanted computer equipment securely and responsibly.

Goods are ‘de-manufactured’, and sorted according to type or material. Materials like steel and aluminium can then be recycled to make new products, from car parts to plastic toys.

Meanwhile non-reusable substances are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

What laws deal with computer recycling?

The two main government directives are the DTI’s waste acceptance criteria (WAC) and the European recycling Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive.

The WEEE directive recognises that electronic equipment needs specialist handling and disposal.

Hazardous waste covers a broad range of materials, and computer hardware recycling can deal safely with things like lead, hexavalent chromium and mercury. The aim is to keep them out of landfill sites.

The WEEE directive overlaps with the WAC, which specifically covers the handling and disposal of computer equipment such as monitors, some PCs, fluorescent tubes and televisions.

Is there an alternative to recycling equipment?

Donating obsolete, but still functional systems to charities can be a mutually beneficial option.

Also, there are many organisations throughout the UK that take computer equipment and prepare it for reuse, where possible.

Many of these are not for profit organisations and social enterprises which may provide benefit to the local community through employment of long term unemployed, or donation of equipment or profits to individuals or organisations in need.

What about sensitive data on hard drives?

The 1998 Data Protection Act makes it a legal requirement for most businesses that deal with sensitive data to keep it backed up and secure.

So, organisations are urged to have a healthy and secure data strategy, and this may include using good encryption and security technology to protect the relevant data.

It also includes disposing of it in an adequate and thorough way if the computer equipment is passed on.

But be warned that reformatting the hard drive is not sufficient to permanently destroy all data. Seek professional advice on how to dispose of data properly, to make sure those credit card and private details don’t end up on eBay.

Waste resources:

  1. Environmental Services Association
  2. Waste information resource
  3. Wiki on computer waste

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