The IT and computer industry has grown rapidly in the last 20 years and we produce a wide range of goods from desktop pcs and communication systems, mobile phones and tablets to hard drives and flash sticks, Wi-Fi equipment and digital accessories. IT and other waste electronic and electrical equipment have often struggled in the world recycling stakes because of the intricacies of separating out the various components and making better use of them. Because of better technology, however, this has become a growth industry in recent years.
With new sorting processes, it is now possible to extract plastics, glass and metal components that can then be separated, packaged and baled and sent for recycling. Not only does the recycling of IT products require a good deal of equipment, there is also the question data handling and how components such as hard drives are made safe from potential hackers and data miners. This normally means completely destroying something like a hard drive or a mobile phone drive so that data cannot be accessed.
Discarded IT equipment can comprise of a wide range of devices:
- Hard Drives
- Business phone systems
- Circuit Boards
- Mobile Phones
Returning Your Computer to the Manufacturer
For a large amount of WEEE nowadays, disposal can be undertaken by either giving it to the local council or asking the manufacturer or supplier to take it back. Companies such as Dell now provide a pick up for obsolete equipment if they are providing a new computer – mainly because of changes in the waste management legislation. This puts a duty of care on manufacturers to recycle old IT products (and all electrical equipment) as part of their service. Today, it’s highly likely if you order a new piece of equipment online that you will be given the offer of having your old system taken away for free.
How is IT Equipment Recycled?
There are two main ways in which waste IT equipment is handled. The first is to refurbish it and make it available for charities who then provide the equipment to those who need it. This usually means that recipients get their computers and phones at either no cost or a significant discount. Many charities send this refurbished IT equipment abroad to those from very poor backgrounds. The other way of recycling is to reduce a device to its smaller components such as glass, metal and plastic and reuse these. There are also, particularly in older computers, some components that are considered hazardous waste which needs to be disposed of according to current legislation.
Legislation for IT Waste
The law regarding waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was introduced in 2007 and covers everything from how it is stored to how it is eventually disposed of. That, of course, includes the way in which IT waste is recycled. Companies that are getting rid of their electronic waste have a duty of care to do so effectively, safely and securely and must provide an audit of all stages of the disposal process.
Recycling Your Old Computer
Computers are a good source of reusable material including metal and plastic. Copper, aluminium, lead and even gold and palladium can be taken from monitors and desktop computers. The process is usually to shred the devices and then employ various extraction techniques to separate out the core materials. A series of magnets, centrifuges and vibrating plates finally reduce any electrical device to its component parts which can then be collected together and sent to processing plants for reuse in manufacturing.
Data Protection and IT Recycling
One problem area that has often plagued IT recycling compared to other WEEE is the nature of data protection. In the past, old pcs were sent to landfill or even transported abroad where there were concerted efforts to remove valuable data including financial and bank details that could then be used for fraudulent schemes. Many IT recycling companies now do data disposal on site which involves destroying hard drives so that they cannot be accessed any more. This is important particular for commercial ventures which may have a lot of sensitive information that is not removed by simply wiping the hard drive of a particular computer. It should also be a consideration for domestic IT users who may find it much safer to remove any hard drive and dispose of it themselves before sending to recycling.
Finding an IT Recycling Company
If you are a private individual, then you can take a computer to your local council facility or opt to replace an old machine and have it collected by the company you are buying from. For commercial ventures, there is a greater duty of care when disposing of all waste including computers and laptops. That means choosing a waste management service that has all the right processes in place.
You can search our online data base for contractors who specifically handle IT recycling for companies.