E-Waste: How old technology devices have become an environmental issue


It is not hard to see the evidence of the waste that the IT revolution has had on our lives. Look around any home and chances are you will find old PCs, mobile phones, printers, monitors and a whole host of other devices that a either broken, unused or simply past their shelf-life.  As wonderful and enriching as all this technology has been, from an environmental viewpoint it represents an enormous waste and disposal problem.

This domestic picture is a worrying one and it’s the same in the commercial sector. In the 90s and early 2000s, hardware was relatively cheap and the response to many operational issues was simply to add more processors, storage and printers. As devices became more compact, more of them could fit in data centre halls and offices. The legacy of this approach is a sprawling estate of devices, often putting a strain on overworked configuration managers.

Taken together, the domestic and commercial sectors have together created a huge environmental problem – millions of tons of kit in need of disposal and much of it containing dangerous chemicals that don’t easily degrade in the natural environment. And even if they do degrade, some of the by-products of this process are highly damaging to natural ecosystems. An average PC contains plastic (23%), ferrous metals (32%), non-ferrous metals (18%), electronic boards (12%) and glass (15%).  A single computer can contain up to 2kg of lead, and the complex mixture of materials can make PCs difficult to recycle.

Fortunately for our beleaguered planet, governments and international agencies have acted with robust legislation and other industry-driven initiatives. Probably the best known of these is WEEE (Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment) regulations that impose various obligations on manufacturers, importers, brand owners and retailers in relation to providing for recovery and recycling of WEEE. The WEEE Regulations came into force in January 2007, with the main requirements and obligations on producers and distributors of EEE coming into force that April.

The regulations do not impose any duties on the users of electrical and electronic equipment.  Instead, the regulations require appropriate recovery and treatment of collected WEEE, paid for by the producers. Consequently, computer makers such as Dell and HP are now offering recycling and asset recovery services to organizations to recycle unwanted computer equipment securely and responsibly.

For major IT services companies such as DXC, this has meant providing appropriate services both internally to staff, but also ensuring clients are aware of their obligations when it comes to disposing of equipment. It has also meant working closely with real estate teams, that typically manage all waste disposal activities in an organisation; training staff on the best practices (no throwing used batteries in the general waste bin!); and working with specialist organisations to ensure compliance with waste disposal targets (zero-to-landfill!) and ever-increasing legislative requirements.

Imaginative alternatives to disposal are also now common place. Old PCs and other devices (once all data has been securely removed of course!) have been donated to schools and charities. This philanthropic activity has been hugely beneficial in many areas, particularly when budget constraints are a major consideration.

Nick-Bloomfield-headshotNick Bloomfield is the Global SME for DXC Technology’s ISO 14001 certification programme and is a member of the Global Quality & Assurance Organisation. He has worked in the IT Industry for over 33 years and is a member of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA). Nick lives and works in Milton Keynes, UK.



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