New Standard Could Keep Old PCs Out Of Landfill

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The PAS 141 specification, coming from BSI, turns WEEE waste into re-usable kit

A new specification will help keep e-waste out of landfill, by creating formal quality tests for re-used equipment.

The PAS 141 specification will create a “Reuse Label”, which  can be applied to re-usable equipment, and will combat the dangers of “recycled” IT kit ending up at killer recycling plants in the third world, or else in the hands of crooks determined to extract personal information from hard drives.

Standards required for safe reuse

“Re-using IT equipment is twenty times better than sending it to landfill,”said Gary Griffiths of asset recovery firm RDC, speaking at an IT recycling event at the House of Commons, run by Comtek – a specialist in reusing network equipment.

“Re-used IT equipment needs to be safe,” said Griffiths. The PAS 141 specification has been worked on within the now-defunct WEEE Advisory Board (WAB) since at least 2009.

WAB – which continues to meet despite losing its government funding – chose a “publicly available specification (PAS) instead of a more formal British Standard (BS), in order to get a specification into circulation as quick as possible. This means it is able to address widely-criticised problems in the implementation of the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which is intended to keep electrical equipment out of the waste stream.

The PAS does the important job of defining REEE – re-used electrical and electronic equipment, and includes data destruction in the tests it specifies so that companies putting equipment into the REEE scheme can be secure, and end-users buying it can trust they are getting a safe, workable system, which can be supported.

Shift in business culture

Other speakers at the event included Mark Tami, MP for Alyn and Deeside, and Askar Sheibani, CEO of Comtek, who said: “As a business we can make a change by creating local jobs, by training staff and being a source of development.  However, to make a real difference, we need to see a total shift in our business culture.”

“It’s the entire life cycle that is very poorly calculated,” said Green ICT expert Catalina McGregor, who works at the ITU. “We are at a stage where we need to accept the integrated technoprint of mining, manufacturing, shipping and packaging is significant but we cannot afford to ignore the intensive footprint associated with using the web and our mobile networks.”

Griffiths suggested that, given the carbon costs of buying new equipment, the government could incentivise reuse by awarding carbon credits to UK organisations that demonstrate significant levels of reuse.

The final version of PAS 141 will be published at the end of March 2011, but a draft version is visible here.

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