There’s a rapidly increasing stream of electronic rubbish, particularly from old computers throughout the UK and the developed world. Low market prices and an exponential advance in technology are rendering staggering numbers of devices obsolete and an astonishing rate. With 20 million PCs being thrown out annually by the USA alone, here’s why you need to ensure your old computers are correctly recycled.
Why should I recycle my old computer equipment?
Discarded computer equipment such as printers, monitors, circuit boards and hard drives are collectively known as e-waste. Such products contain toxic substances, making them effectively hazardous waste. It’s for this reason that you should never throw e-waste out with your household rubbish.
E-waste that’s improperly disposed of often ends up in the developing world, with the UN’s Environment Programme alarmed at the high rate of e-waste overseas. These large amounts of heavy metals and hazardous chemicals in Asia, South America and Africa are an increasing concern.
With a single computer containing up to 2kg of lead, as well as the other complex materials that make up a computer, here’s how to effectively recycle your e-waste.
Since 2007, there has been legislation in place to cover Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). For individuals or companies that treat or recover WEEE, they must collect, store, treat and dispose of WEEE separately to other waste.
It’s now a requirement to obtain and keep proof that WEEE has been taken to a waste management company, treated and disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way.
Options for disposal
Returning your product to the manufacturer, taking it to a professional waste disposal facility or donating the device are all options to dispose of WEEE.
Manufacturers of electronic goods are increasingly incorporating e-waste management into environmental policies, offering consumers recycling schemes for their old computers. For example, Dell now covers the costs of picking up e-waste, taking it to a recycling centre.
The e-waste is then ‘de-manufactured’ and correctly sorted. Reusable materials go on be correctly recycled and non-reusable materials are safely disposed in an environmentally friendly way.
Professional waste disposal
The same procedure as manufacturer disposal, professional waste disposal differs in that you have to cover the costs of collection and disposal. Before choosing a professional waste company, ensure you check they:
- Comply with WEEE and other legislation
- Are able to provide details on their own Waste Carriers License, along with the details of any overseas partners they have. To prevent hazardous waste trafficking, check the Basel Action Network for details on states who haven’t signed up to a convention to combat it.
You can find a large number of non-profit organisations and charities that collect electronics for both reuse and de-manufacture and recycling. The recipients of the equipment pay nothing or buy it at a highly discounted rate. UK community groups and developing countries highly benefit from these schemes.
If you want to donate your PC to a charity, ensure that:
- Appropriate measures have been put in place to prevent unauthorised access, the alteration or destruction of personal data. This is a legal requirement under the 1998 Data Protection Act, and reformatting a hard drive is not sufficient to permanently destroy your data.
- Once the PC does become obsolete, the organisation has a waste management strategy. Whilst it’s good to send your computer to help train students, what happens when they need to get rid of it? Will your donation end up as e-waste on a landfill or will it be successfully de-manufactured and recycled?