Computer recycling, electronic recycling or I.T. recycling is the disassembly, separation and evaluation of components and raw materials of waste electronics in readiness for re-use or alternative use. Although the procedures of re-use, donation and repair are not strictly considered as recycling, they are other common sustainable ways to dispose of IT waste.
In the United States in 2009, 38% of computers and a 25% of all electronic waste was recycled. This represented an increase of 5% and 3% respectively, from the same period three years earlier. Since inception in the early 1990s, more and more devices are recycled worldwide due to increased social responsibility and subsequent investment. Some electronic recycling is in order to recover valuable rare earth metals and precious metals, which are in short supply, as well as plastics and other, more common metals, whilst other recycling is simply to reduce the energy wasted in recycling items in the first place. The rare elements are resold or used in new devices after purification, creating a circular economy and the used I.T. equipment is simply donated to charities or resold for testing or backup purposes to other corporations.
Recycling is considered more environmentally sound because it reduces hazardous waste, such as heavy metals and carcinogens, from entering the Earths's atmosphere or local landfills and waterways. Whilst electronics constitute a small fraction of all total waste generated, they contain substances that can often be far more hazardous. Stringent legislation has been designed to enforce and encourage the sustainable disposal of appliances, including the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive of the European Union and the United States National Computer Recycling Act.
Opponents often argue that computer recycling is over-expensive and ineffective. Computer recycling is, of course, in its early stages and is constantly increasing in sustainability and effectiveness.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is considered to be one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, growing at 3-5 % per year. WEEE contains diverse substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks if treated inadequately, whilst the recycling of WEEE offers substantial opportunities in terms of making secondary raw materials available on the market.
Now often referred to as e-waste, discarded computer components include:
- Circuit boards
- Screens - CRT/LCD
- Hard disks
These items shouldn't be thrown out with domestic rubbish because they contain toxic substances and so are effectively hazardous. E-waste can end up in the developing world where local workers - sometimes children - are paid to disassemble and evaluate for recycling or resale as raw materials. Make sure that your recycling agent does not improperly dispose of equipment overseas as these practices add to pollution caused by hazardous chemicals and heavy metals in the developing world.
EU legislation promoting the collection and recycling of such equipment (Directive 2002/96/EC on WEEE) has been in force since February 2003. The legislation provides for the creation of collection schemes where consumers return their used waste equipment free of charge.
The objective of these schemes is to increase the recycling and/or re-use of such products. Currently one third of WEEE in the EU is being reported by compliance schemes as separately collected and appropriately managed (some of this might be via destinations outside the Member State of origin).
The remaining WEEE is either:
- Collected by unregistered enterprises and properly treated
- Collected by unregistered enterprises and improperly treated or even illegally exported abroad or
- Disposed of as part of residual waste (e.g. to landfills or incinerators)
The European Commission has revised the WEEE-Directive to increase the amount of WEEE that is properly collected and treated and to reduce the volume that goes to disposal, and to give Member States the tools to fight illegal export of waste more effectively.
The Data Protection Act now requires that all information collected by your organisation and held on any media be destroyed when that media has become redundant.
Every organisations, and the individuals within those organisations, have a statutory duty of care of obligation to ensure that any confidential data held not be released in any unauthorised or accidental way, particularly that relating to employees or customers. This of course would include storage media such as USB flash disks or hard disk drives.
Non-compliance can lead to heavy fines, compensation for individuals whom have suffered unauthorised disclosure of confidential data (section 13 DPA 99), and brand damaging media exposure. All of the equipment we collect or receive is wiped of data upon arrival so that we can normally operate our offices and storage. Our data wiping process adheres to the guidelines laid out by the Security Equipment Assessment Panel (SEAP), which conforms to all UK and US Government legislation, including the aforementioned Data Protection Act 1998. Our software guarantees data is unrecoverable and produces its own certificate for each disk or computer that has been wiped.
Any hard disk that cannot be successfully wiped using this process is removed from the PC and physically destroyed beyond recoverability. This ensures complete data security and peace-of-mind for all of our clients. Hard disks carcases are then recycled for their rare Earth-Metal element resources.
All external inventory labels and markings are also removed both for security purposes and in readiness for resale.
Have a read of the recycling guide here.