Computer Reuse Standard Could Help Meet WEEE Aims

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Computer waste experts are working on a re-use standard that could keep old electronic equipment out of landfill sites and help meet the WEEE

Agencies need more resources to police the disposal of electronic waste, while a new standard could ensure old computers are put to good use instead of being crushed and recycled, according to waste experts.

Devices that are disposed of are often shipped to the Third World where their toxic materials kill people, while perfectly usable old computers are often destroyed and their raw materials recycled, when they could be refurbished and kept in use, electronic waste experts said at a London round table last week.

Electronic waste must be disposed of properly under the European Waste and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which states that it is better to re-use electronic devices than to break them up. However, it is still difficult to catch criminals shipping waste illegally to the third world, and the market for second-user systems needs a standard to make it work properly, the group said. .

“Re-use is twenty times more effective than recycling,” said Tony Roberts, founder and chief executive of Computer Aid International, which sends refurbished computers to the Third World for social projects.

The standard has been drafted and is due to come out in 2010 – when it will provide a level playing field and help build a market by reassuring users, said Adrian Harding, a policy advisor to the UK Environment Agency: “If you achieve that standard then we’re all going to accept that is good quality, perfectly usable equipment that comes with a decent life, that’s safe.”

It will be created by people in the reuse industry, so it is not overburdened by bureaucratic nonsense, the group said. “There’s nothing in the standard
in my opinion that is particularly onerous, it’s common sense stuff,” said Harding.

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Business users are lagging behind domestic consumers in any participation in electronics reuse, the group heard, largely because of fears about data protection, which prompt them to have equipment destroyed – even though it would be easy to simply destroy the hard disks and Flash memory and reuse the systems.

“For most organisations we deal with, data protection is their prime concern,” said Gary Griffiths, head of sustainability at RDC, a UK based computer recycling and asset management company .” Most businesses simply can’t afford to take a risk with data.”

A new version of the EU’s WEEE directive is being drafted, while the UK has tightened its WEEE regulations and the US has just passed an e-waste bill designed to promot recycling. A campaign has been launched to stop government departments sending “Dirty IT” waste through exporters to developing countries.