How to recycle your IT responsibly

Businesses can either recycle or refurbish old IT. Refurbishing allows organisations to sell their IT on to a third party, which can often cover the refurbishment costs.

Businesses can either recycle or refurbish old IT. Refurbishing allows organisations to sell their IT on to a third party, which can often cover the refurbishment costs.

"Equipment up to four years old can be refurbished and sold at a profit after costs are deducted, so organisations should make money from remarketing used IT," says Gary Griffiths, head of sustainability at IT refurbisher RDC.

Creating a market in refurbished computers means resources are not consumed in making new ones. The manufacturing stage is when technology produces most of its carbon footprint - more than when it is being used. Reducing the number of units that need to be manufactured is beneficial for the environment.

How to refurbish IT

  • Use electrical safety testing to make sure the computer is safe to use
  • Data eradication - avoid embarrassing leaks and costly remediation by using data eradication tools approved by CESG
  • Functionally test the item - does it work as the manufacturer originally intended?
  • Check that new software loaded is properly licensed to avoid software piracy
  • Remove all former user ID marks and labels
  • Check the refurbishment organisation you are working with has independently certified standards such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001.
  • Visit the refurbisher's site to make sure it can do what it says it does, because several are being investigated by the Environment Agency for the illegal export of waste under the guise of being for reuse.

How to recycle IT

If IT equipment has reached the end of its useful life, it needs to be properly recycled. This is what is involved:

  • Anyone involved in recycling should have a licence or permit. You can check that recyclers hold the required licences on the Environment Agency public registers site.
  • Under Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations, in the UK recyclers should be either an ATF (approved treatment facility), an AATF (authorised approved treatment facility), or AE (approved exporter). If companies do not have such permits, look elsewhere.
  • Waste producing organisations have a duty of care under UK environment legislation to ask for proof of what happens to the computers after disposal. So recyclers have a legal requirement to ensure you are satisfied that your waste is handled and disposed of properly.
  • Check what happens to hazardous waste. CRTs, lead acid and nickel cadmium batteries are classified as hazardous and need consignment notes for each load.
  • Make sure none of your waste is exported to developing countries. People who do so are putting developing countries at risk, denying UK and European recyclers of the materials they need, and risking prosecution under environmental legislation.

How the government is greening IT

The Home Office has set up a cross-functional team to examine use of IT. It has delivered a saving of more than £2.4m in 2008-09 by identifying and removing unused IT hardware and telephones, renegotiating with suppliers, and tracking down unused laptops and software.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has replaced previous mixed PC desktop devices with a corporate laptop device and a common desktop suite of software, equipped with Wi-Fi communications. These laptops provide a power saving of 60% over the old desktops. For 4,500 staff, this is the equivalent to 160 tonnes of CO2 emissions saved per annum, and saves the department £40,000 on its power bills.

The Department for Communities and Local Government is replacing its telephony service for 2,500 users across three locations. At the heart of the system are new handsets and switches that are among the most energy-efficient available. They provide a power saving of 60% over the existing equipment. Once deployment is complete, this will translate into a saving of £21,000 on power bills and more than 100 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

HM Revenue & Customs is introducing Wake On Lan to more than 75,000 PCs. This Ethernet network standard enables PCs to be put into low-power mode overnight, at weekends and at other times when they are not in use via the local area network. It is expected to reduce HMRC's CO2 emissions by 12,000 tonnes a year, and save £2m per annum in energy costs.

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