When upgrading computer equipment in your workplace it is worth considering the environmental impact. Most electronic devices end up in landfill – not recycled – both at home and abroad. Toxic waste is a particular concern – often ending up in poorer countries with lax regulations. The volume of electronic waste being created is huge, in 2012 it averaged 7kg for every human on the planet. This figure has remained high, and as of 2016, only c. 20% is recycled. In this article, I explore some alternatives to sending electronic goods to landfill.
Upgrading or disposing?
A frequently overlooked element of upgrading computer equipment is just that – “upgrading”. Many hardware devices are capable of being upgraded overtime whilst the primary structure or body of the product can be retained. Key examples include:
- Hard-drives and RAM on computer devices. Replacement keyboard components and even replacement graphic cards can prolong the life of desktop, server and laptop computers. In particular upgrading RAM or Hard-drives (particularly to SSD technology) on devices can significantly improve performance of devices to near new levels for the majority of applications.
- New screens on mobile tablet/phone devices. Screens often fail long before devices become redundant. Whilst there is a limited lifespan for most mobile devices, a screen replacement is frequently able to rescue a device otherwise perfectly functioning. Depending on your network contract (or lack there of), you may be able to repair your device in any repair shop globally – many small Irish towns now have PC and phone repair shops whom will fix your device in less than an hour.
- Salvaging components from retired devices. When most devices fail, be it a printer, carpet cleaner, dishwasher or, more commonly, a laptop – it is generally only a single component failure… providing you haven’t dropped a coffee over it! Working with your existing IT support, you may be able to rescue your device from landfill by reusing components from another.
Donating (or selling) devices
Donating (or selling) devices can be a great way of ensuring your electronic waste doesn’t go to landfill. There are, however, a few steps organisations must take – both for legal and practical reasons – to ensure minimal risk:
- Identify appropriate organisations whom have a need for your devices – either charities or IT support / hardware companies. There are plenty of companies online who will buy your old hardware for reconditioning or resale locally or internationally – ensure you choose a reputable provider who have a robust waste management process for failed components. Charities can be approached through personal connections or via local business associations.
- Be upfront and honest about your hardware. Don’t donate (or sell) stuff that isn’t usable; if you have chronic problems with a particular device, tell your new reuse partners about them – they may still want them – but if you keep giving them junk, they’ll stop asking. Worse still, if they are paying, they may seek compensation if they have already found customers for your hardware.
- Ensure you have a robust data destruction process. A Google search will give you plenty of companies (and DIY resources) to help with this one. As a general rule – unless you intend really using industrial strength wiping software – donating or reselling devices without hard disks or other memory devices is the best bet. If keeping these hard drives or data storage devices, ensure relevant data is deleted and that they are encrypted (before removal if they haven’t already been). Ensure they are destroyed in a timely manner with certification by your security or shredding company – again lots of links on Google.
- Cover your organisation. This will very much depend on the risk you, your legal department (or solicitor) see in dealing with your reuse partners – but is a very good idea to discuss in advance of donating or selling. Some general points to consider are limitation of liability for items (i.e. no-warranty / sold as seen) and an NDA if you want to limit public exposure.
Reduce, reuse, now finally… recycle
If you are about to dump your electronic waste in the bin…. don’t. It may be illegal; you may be exposing your organisation to data leaks and you may be polluting the environment. Discuss proper safe disposal and recycling with your existing waste provider (ensure you ask for certificates of destruction if you do not want resale of equipment). Alternatively read up more on the WEEE (The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive is to ensure cost-effective implementation of waste management strategies for the benefit of the environment).