Computer Aid: re-using rather than recycling is a better way to comply with WEEE
In politics, one good sound bite is worth a thousand good deeds; and the truth gets mislaid in the middle. This is what happened when Neelie Kroes tweeted: “Me recycling computers at the WEEE centre, #Nairobi http://t.co/FquRE13U”. And there’s another photo of her with a crowd of schoolkids. Africa, kids, recycling… What could be better?
The truth could be better; and the truth is that while recycling is good, re-using is better.
The EU WEEE Directive requires responsible decommissioning for old computers. You can’t just dump them in landfill – that’s irresponsible, dangerous and illegal. So to help responsible decommissioning, manufacturers pay a levy for every computer they sell. This levy then funds the Producer Compliance Schemes, which decommission defunct hardware responsibly – and legally. The problem is that WEEE is passively promoting recycling rather than actively promoting re-use. Consider this:
- High levels of product replacement and the concentration of energy intensity in the ICT production rather than use phase (80 and 20 percent, respectively) means that any activity that extends the life of ICTs–such as reuse–should be prioritised
- Reusing working computers is up to 20 times more energy-efficient than recycling them. Also, reuse has lower resource depletion costs than recycling. Thus, the waste hierarchy, which has reuse as more environmentally beneficial than recycling, equally applies to unwanted ICTs as to other wastes
ICT and the Environment
Change may happen. An amendment to the WEEE Directive is under discussion, and may come to fruition next month (October 2011); and come into UK law next year. The aim is to set a target of 5% re-use on old hardware. Five per cent! Anja ffrench, the director of marketing and communications at Computer Aid (a charity that concentrates on re-using rather than recycling) is too much of a lady to complain. “The European Parliament is proposing a 5% re-use target, which we would most definitely welcome,” she says – although the reality is it should be a 75% target.
“Computer Aid,” she told me, “is a WEEE-authorised treatment facility approved by the Environment Agency to take in equipment for re-use. We’re not signed up to any Producer Compliance Scheme – although we use DHL, which does belong to the Producer Compliance Schemes, for any recycling we have to do. So we’re a part of WEEE without directly being a WEEE compliance scheme.”
When you consider the cost of recycling in order to recover a fairly minimal value from the valuable metals contained, combined with the energy cost of manufacturing a new computer, then there is a clear environmental argument in favour of re-use. “And if you donate to a charity like Computer Aid,” continued Anja, “then there is a social argument as well. We take full legal liability for all of the equipment donated to us. We use Ontrack to data wipe all laptops, desktops, servers, and base units – and if for any reason we can’t do that, the disks are crushed and melted. Then it goes to a good cause.” And it’s all certified and guaranteed.
So you can donate to a good cause and have confidence that you are simultaneously destroying any data accidentally left on your systems. Everything that is reusable finds a deserving and needy home, and you can check this on Computer Aid’s Flickr streams.
“We have a waiting list right now for donations of old computers,” said Anja. “We have a continuous need for computers, laptops and monitors.” So, if you want the satisfaction that comes from combining environmental friendliness with legal compliance and adding more than a sprinkling of the warm, fuzzy feeling you get for doing absolutely the right thing, call Computer Aid now on +44 (0) 208 361 5540. Decommissioning should be more re-using than recycling.