Computer Aid Pushes For Computer Re-Use Targets

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Too much focus on recycling means that hardware which still has a useful life is being needlessly scrapped, the IT charity says

IT charity Computer Aid has criticised environmental legislation for promoting recycling over reuse of IT hardware, which it claims is a more sustainable use of second-hand equipment.

The organisation released a special report into this issue this week, ‘Why reuse is better than recycling’, citing research data which Computer Aid says shows that reuse is the most environmentally and socially beneficial way to deal with old equipment.

Haley Bowcock, Environmental Advocacy Officer, Computer Aid International, said that recycling is often seen as the best way to tackle increasing volumes of so-called e-waste. However this approach ignores the fact that manufacturing hardware is more carbon and energy intensive than the day-to-day use of the device.

“For ICTs specifically, the environmental payback for recycling is small, as the vast majority of energy use is expended during the production, rather than the use phase – 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively,” she said. “Also, recycling does not slow the depletion of natural resources used in electronics to anywhere near the same extent as reuse.”

Aggressive Upgrade Cycles

Computer Aid also maintains that the aggressive upgrade cycles of the tech industry mean that consumers are encouraged to purchase the new devices, even though their existing ones still have a useful life.

“Adding to this is the fact that most PCs are often replaced by their primary user well before the end of their productive lives, and the impact of energy inefficiency becomes evident. The reality is that the single most environmentally responsible activity for a still-functional PC is to extend its life,” said Bowcock.

Computer Aid says it has professionally refurbished over 150,000 PCs for use in schools, hospitals and community projects in more than 100 countries. The charity is an Authorised Approved Treatment Facility, licensed by the Environment Agency to handle equipment under the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) laws.

On the issue of environmental legislation, the charity said that, while regulations such as WEEE recognise the importance of re-use, there are currently no targets in place specifically for reuse, which often means that recycling takes priority as it gets more attention.

“Public bodies, businesses and consumers need to be far more aware of the benefits of reuse over recycling. The reality is that many unwanted PCs and laptops that are recycled have simply not reached the end of their life,” said Anja Ffrench, director of communications at Computer Aid.

The WEEE directive is currently going through a re-drafting process in the EU. However, its implementation in the UK was impacted last month by the decision by the coalition government to scrap the body which oversees the legislation. Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB) will be shut in the next year, and said the move was part of the coalition government’s ongoing strategy to cut back on quangos and create a leaner public sector.

Data Wiping

The move was condemned by Computer Aid and its partners such as Kroll Ontrack, which provides data-wiping services to the charity for reused technology before it is shipped to schools and other deserving organisations in the developing world. The organisation said the closure of WAB “raised concerns” over the future of tech re-use in the UK. However, the group went on to point out the importance of making sure that any equipment that is reused is effectively wiped before being dispatched abroad.

“Regardless of how the UK government handles e-waste management in the future, it’s essential for individuals, businesses, public sector organisations and others to responsibly dispose of end-of-life data stored on old computer hard drives and storage media, and, where possible, ensure that the data is destroyed to an appropriated level by CESG certified means,” the company said in a statement.

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