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Green IT Article
Doing the right thing with your unwanted IT equipment
Published: 2009 November

What do you currently do with the IT equipment your organisation no longer needs? Here we take a look at some of the options and their implications, including how they might affect your regulatory compliance.


In 2007 January, the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive was introduced in the UK, to help reduce irresponsible disposal of the fastest growing type of waste. The Directive sets out the obligations of different categories of organisations and individuals regarding specific types of waste, including IT equipment.


Many organisations now choose to pay a recycling firm to take their out-of-use equipment away, thinking they’re doing the right thing. However it’s recently emerged that rogue ‘recycling’ outfits are making additional profit by selling the old equipment on to countries in the developing world, as second-hand goods. They stand to make £2-£3 per unit from this arrangement, rather than paying £3-£5 per unit to recycle it legitimately.


You might think that sounds like a positive outcome all round, as reuse is widely considered preferable to recycling, as it typically has less impact on the environment. However, most of the equipment is not arriving at its destination in a useable state.


Computer Weekly recently reported that each week around 900 containers-worth of IT equipment is arriving in Africa and Asia from Western Europe and the US, and that 80% of it is being dumped. Local people, often children, then end up using unsafe methods to extract the valuable materials, such as copper. In the process they’re exposed to toxic chemicals including PVC, mercury and lead, which also leach into the environment.


How can we stop this happening?


One simple way to reduce the risk of toxic materials from IT equipment creating an environmental hazard is to stop including it in the first place.


An international standard called EPEAT has been established, which aims to discourage manufacturers from using these unnecessary toxic substances. If you’re concerned about the environment, selecting EPEAT-registered equipment where possible is a good idea. Four major manufacturers are currently marketing EPEAT-compliant products in the UK.


But when you have IT equipment that’s surplus to requirements – whether EPEAT-compliant or not – what’s the right option to take?


Here are some options to consider…

1) Recondition, reallocate and reuse!

Rather than automatically replacing old equipment with new and better alternatives, first consider reconditioning and upgrading what you already have.


Before disposing of usable surplus IT equipment, medium to large businesses should look within their own organisation for alternative uses. A best practice asset and configuration management system would provide you with visibility of all the equipment within your organisation. While there will be an initial investment involved, you should soon find that you’re disposing of less equipment and using what you already have more efficiently.


2) Pass the responsibility to your equipment manufacturer or supplier

Under the WEEE Directive, if your unwanted IT equipment was produced after Saturday 13 August 2005, the company that supplied it to you is responsible for funding its collection and appropriate disposal. This category is known as obligated WEEE.


If you bought the equipment before this date it falls into the category of non-obligated WEEE, and you are responsible for disposing of it correctly and covering any costs. The exception to this rule is if you’re replacing it like for like with equivalent new equipment. In that case you can arrange for the supplier of your new equipment to take away what it’s replacing.


Bear in mind though that the manufacturer or supplier will probably destroy the old equipment, even if it’s in fair working order.


3) Donate your old equipment to charity

As a corporate social responsibility activity, some companies opt to donate their unwanted IT equipment to a charity that supplies computers to schools and communities in developing countries. It’s important to choose a reputable organisation that will guarantee your WEEE compliance.


Many charities in the UK are still wary of taking on second-hand electrical and electronic equipment for sale. However, if it’s in good working order and compatible with modern software, you may want to consider offering your equipment to a local charity for its own use. This way you’re still helping a worthwhile cause but avoiding the carbon emissions entailed in shipping the equipment half way round the world. If you have a business community partnership in your area they may be able to connect you with a local charity that could make use of your old equipment.


In addition to the feel-good factor and potential for positive PR, there’s also a tax benefit in this option. You can claim full capital allowances on the cost of any equipment you pass on to a UK charity, as long as it has previously been used for your normal business operations.


4) Choose a reputable recycling provider

This is easier said than done. While there are numerous IT recycling businesses operating in the UK, checking their credentials is not always a simple process.


5) Put your old equipment up for sale

Most businesses pay to dispose of their non-obligated WEEE and other recyclable waste. However there is now an interesting new option. A service has recently been launched to help organisations connect with companies willing to pay for their recyclable or reusable waste, including unwanted IT equipment.

Whichever option you go for, please do ensure that your data has been wiped before passing on any unwanted equipment. Also remember that you must keep proof that it’s been disposed of according to the WEEE Regulations.


Page updated: Fri 26 Nov 2021

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