Disposing of Old Computer Equipment
By Lasa Information Systems Team
Many voluntary organisations that have been using IT for several years are now looking to upgrade their technology and will have old equipment they need to dispose of. This article looks at options and issues for organisations wishing to do this safely and in accordance with the relevant laws.
In 2003 the European Union (EU) introduced legislation one of the aims of which is to reduce the impact of electrical and electronic equipment on the environment.
The EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) came into force on 13th February 2003. The directive encourages and sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment including PCs, servers, printers, network equipment, peripherals and telephone equipment.
From August 2004 EU Member states have been required to have WEEE and a related piece of legislation, the Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) on their statute books. Schemes to allow users to return their waste products free of charge, and manufacturers are expected to fund suitable methods to facilitate this disposal have been in place since August 2005.
Our advice is that a typical voluntary organisation's IT strategy should ideally include budgeting to replace computers and other IT equipment on a 4-5 year rolling program. This is because current software generally requires higher hardware specifications and may not run on older equipment. Also hardware will eventually fail and need to be replaced. When it ceases to be economical or practical to upgrade a particular piece of IT equipment, or to salvage parts and recycle them for use in other equipment internally, organisations will be looking at replacement kit and will likely have old equipment to get rid of. Equipment that may be beyond its useful life for one organisation may be of use to someone else e.g. schools, charities, individuals etc. For example, computers can be refurbished and passed on, or if not, various parts such as hard drives and memory can be reused in refurbished machines. Where refurbishment or recycling of individual parts is not an option, equipment needs to be broken down and any harmful toxic elements removed and disposed of safely. The effect of EU legislation means that it is no longer an option for organisations to chuck their old equipment in a skip to be disposed of in a landfill site.
There are dozens of companies that refurbish computers and who might be willing to take your old equipment off your hands. Not just computers either. Some companies will take old printers, telephones, mobile phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), handheld computers etc., almost anything electronic that can be recycled. There are several things to look out for though. What to look for:
Some companies will only take equipment that meets a certain specification or are only interested in large numbers of computers or other IT equipment. For example they may only be interested in computers with Pentium III processor or higher. If your old equipment is a bunch of Pentium IIs, or you only have the odd one or two computers to get rid of you will need to look elsewhere.
Will they collect and if so for how much?
Some companies will arrange collection of your old equipment. In other cases, you may be responsible for getting the equipment to them. Often companies will charge at least a small fee. The fee is usually to cover their costs to dispose of any equipment that can't be refurbished and / or any components that can't be recycled. Other companies or organisations may be able to collect your equipment for free.
Secure cleaning of hard disk drives
Whenever you are getting rid of computers including PCs and servers, you should ensure that the company collecting will guarantee to securely wipe all data from hard disks before refurbishing or recycling. Use only licensed or accredited companies. As a precaution you should delete all files and reformat hard disks before disposal (although be aware that this is not enough to make your data irrecoverable). If your data is highly confidential or sensitive you should consider removing hard drives (and possibly even destroying them) before letting them off the premises.
Where computers are going to after recycling or refurbishment
Many companies and organisations involved in computer recycling or refurbishing supply equipment to organisations such as schools and charities in the UK or abroad. Others will sell to anyone. Your organisation may wish to support particular projects. If this is important to you, choose your disposal company accordingly.
More information and resources
- Environment Agency information on WEEE
- Electrical and electronic equipment recycling information sheet from Waste Watch
Computer Recycling / Refurbishment
- Realise IT Network - Information and advice on computer disposal. Database of computer recyclers and refurbishers
- Waste Online list of computer recyclers and refurbishers
- IT for Charities - list of computer recyclers and refurbishers
- Computer Aid - non profit supplier of computers to developing countries
Published: 25th February 2005 Reviewed: 12th July 2007
Copyright © 2005 Lasa Information Systems Team