UK households and companies discard an estimated 2 million tonnes of WEEE items every year, and an ever-growing percentage of that is IT equipment. As a supplier of hardware to UK organisations, we feel a responsibility to make sure old kit ends up in the right place.
We still hear horror stories about technicians going at hard drives with hammers and then chucking them in the recycling bin – this is not only probably against about 10 health and safety regulations, it’s also not particularly secure or helpful to the environment.
With that in mind, here are 4 very good reasons why all electrical equipment – particularly IT hardware – should be recycled responsibly.
It’s environmentally friendly
Guiyu is a massive electronic waste processing community in the Shantou region of China, and studies conducted there provide a scary picture of the impact that improper disposal of electronic waste can have on the environment.
The methods of disposal carried out in Guiyu are hazardous not only to the environment but to the workers involved. Thousands are employed to strip cables, grind plastics into particles and even dip circuit boards into acid to dissolve precious metals. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly and disposal has lead to a number of environmental problems as detailed in the table below.
|E-Waste Component||Process Used||Potential Environmental Hazard|
|Cathode ray tubes (used in TVs, computer monitors, ATM, video cameras, and more)||Breaking and removal of yoke, then dumping||Lead, barium and other heavy metals leaching into the ground water and release of toxic phosphor|
|Printed circuit board (image behind table – a thin plate on which chips and other electronic components are placed)||De-soldering and removal of computer chips; open burning and acid baths to remove metals after chips are removed.||Air emissions and discharge into rivers of glass dust, tin, lead, brominated dioxin, beryllium cadmium, and mercury|
|Chips and other gold plated components||Chemical stripping using nitric and hydrochloric acid and burning of chips||Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, brominated flame retardants discharged directly into rivers acidifying fish and flora. Tin and lead contamination of surface and groundwater. Air emissions of brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and PAHs|
|Plastics from printers, keyboards, monitors, etc.||Shredding and low temp melting to be reused||Emissions of brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons|
|Computer wires||Open burning and stripping to remove copper||PAHs released into air, water, and soil.|
In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, e-waste is dumped and frequently burned with no control measures, leading to extensive pollution, as well as a massive increase in the crime and disease rate.
All of this paints a very grim picture of just what can happen if the disposal of e-waste is not controlled. And while it might seem that this is happening far away from home, there’s a very real possibility that if not handled correctly, your discarded equipment could end up in a place like Guiyu or Agbogbloshie. We often refer back to the Panorma documentary aired in 2011, which revealed that Britain’s e-waste was being illegally leaked into West Africa.
It’s socially responsible
It’s easy to forget that just because on old device or electronic item isn’t suitable for you and your organisation, it might be for someone else less fortunate.
Digital skills are vital in today’s society. Children and adults alike from all walks of life have a need, no doubt, at some point to have access to a computer and/or the Internet. Imagine trying to get a job, create a CV, or even do homework without a device.
There are number of charities and schemes that help to get devices to help people develop essential IT skills for the world we live in, particularly in countries in Africa where access to technology can be a problem. As a business work with IT Schools Africa, who take old PCs processed by us that aren’t suitable for use in the UK market, but do get used in programs in countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. This not only gives us a sense of giving back, it passes it on to our customers too.
Recycled and refurbished PCs have a use over here in the UK too. There are, again, numerous charities and organisations that work to “bridge the digital divide” including Get Online @ Home and Happus. A lot of these initiatives also work with broadband providers, enabling them to deliver a complete solution.
Taking out the very good arguments for environmental and social benefits that proper IT recycling provides, it can help you be more economical too.
On the one hand, disposing of unwanted electronic equipment may very well free up valuable space, as well as – in some cases – provide an opportunity to make some money back on what you recycle. Many IT asset disposal companies offer fair market rebate values on kit that can be spruced up and resold.
On the other hand, you may be able to benefit from the availability of refurbished devices. Budgets are tight right now in many public sector organisations, and although you might be crying out for a new suite of PCs, it’s not always viable. A high quality set of refurbished PCs could be the answer to this problem.
Letting kit go off to potentially be dumped in the middle of a former wetland in Ghana isn’t great for the environment, but it also means that you’re exposing your end-of-life IT hardware to a massive potential security risk. Without proper processing and traceability, your data-bearing hardware sits ripe for the picking by any opportunist, and before you know it, sensitive user data could end up in the wrong hands. This can land you fees of up to £500,000 from the ICO, increasing to €20 million once the GDPR regulations come into effect.
That’s why it’s vital that when disposing of your IT hardware you can consider how you will dispose of data – be sure to select a recycling partner who has the ability and the credentials to erase data beyond possible recovery. Accreditations you should look out for include ISO 27001 Information Security Management, Defence INFOSEC Product Co-operation Group (DIPCOG) and ADISA.
For me, this one’s a no-brainer, particularly as so many companies in the UK offer free IT recycling (ahem, we’re one of them). Don’t take the risk. Do your research and dispose of your unwanted electrical equipment in a way that helps both you and the world around you.