Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 14:18 UK

How to best dispose of old PCs

Computer in a rubbish skip
Computers should not be thrown out with general rubbish

Knowing what to do with old PCs can be a real problem for small companies.

While old computers should not be thrown out with the general rubbish, it can be difficult to know what exactly to do with them.

Dr Martin Gibson, director of BuildDesk, a software and consultancy business that helps improve the energy efficiency of buildings, looked at how best to tackle this problem back in January 2006.

At the time he was director of Envirowise, the government-financed programme designed to help companies reduce their environmental costs.

QUESTION
David Pugh, UK
My company services computers for small businesses.

We are often asked to dispose of batches of old PCs, perhaps half a dozen at a time.

We have been unable to find a contractor who will take such small quantities, and the local authority doesn't want to know other than to say they must not go in general waste.

What are we supposed to do? We want to make sure this bad pollutant is disposed of as safely as possible but simply can't find how to do it.

ANSWER
Dr Martin Gibson
Throwing away a PC really does seem like a waste, doesn't it?

The first question we would ask is: do these old PCs need to be "disposed" of at all?

Re-use or recycling are always preferable options with plenty of organisations available to help you do this.

The WEEE directive will see the producers of computer equipment themselves responsible for financing the collection and treatment of their products at their "end of life" to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill

They will usually make sure the PCs work well, wipe all old data (very important!), replace any non-working parts, often add basic software and try to find them a new home.

A good place to start is the IT For Charities website (link on the right), which provides a list of organisations that recycle PCs.

Unfortunately, with so much old IT equipment available, you may find that this route is not available for computers with less than a Pentium (or equivalent) processor.

If there are no recycling organisations near you, or you cannot find an organisation which will take your equipment, then you can also try to donate your old computers online at Donate A PC (link also on the right).

If this fails, you may have to find a waste disposal contractor to dispose of them for you.

This is likely to incur cost, though, so you may want to reconsider offering to dispose of old computers for your clients.

This question should soon be much easier to answer because a new directive, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, should take effect soon.

The WEEE directive will see the producers of computer equipment themselves responsible for financing the collection and treatment of their products at their "end of life" to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

Collection process

All products launched on the UK after the implementation date will be marked to identify the producer and make the collection process easier.

The exact details aren't finalised yet but, once fully in force, the WEEE directive should ensure that old IT equipment can be disposed of in a more environmentally benign way.

I'm sorry that it does not help to solve your immediate problem.

For additional information go to WEEE section of the Envirowise website.


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