Monday, 16 February 2009

How can I dispose of my computer in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible way?

CI’s guest blogger Anja ffrench, the Director of Marketing and Communications at Computer Aid International, writes how:

'The environmental cost of using computers
In 2007 in the UK alone, 11 million new PCs were purchased and it is predicted that in 2008 this will be 12.5 million. The number of PCs being discarded in the UK on a yearly basis is in the millions.

At every step of the PC's product life-cycle carbon footprints are left behind during the...
  • initial extraction of minerals from the environment
  • processing of raw materials
  • production of sub-components
  • PC assembly and manufacture
  • global distribution
  • power consumption in usage.

The production of every PC requires 10 times its own weight in fossil fuels. According to empirical research published by Williams and Kerr from the UN University in Tokyo, the average PC requires:

  • 240kg of fossil fuels
  • 22kg of chemicals, and
  • 1,500kg of water.

That’s over 1.7 metric tonnes of materials consumed to produce each and every PC. PCs require so much energy and materials because of the complex internal structure of microchips.

Why it is better to ‘reuse’ rather than ‘recycle’?
Empirical research proves beyond doubt that reuse of computers is far better for the environment than recycling.

Reusing a computer is 20 times more effective at saving life cycle energy use than recycling. Given the substantial environmental cost of production it is important that we recover the full productive value of every PC through reuse before eventually recycling it to recover parts and materials at its true end-of-life.

A refurbished computer can provide at least another three years productive life.

How does the WEEE Directive affect me as an individual?
Since 2007 the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive has been in force. The WEEE Directive is an EU initiative which aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment, by increasing re-use and recycling and reducing the amount of WEEE going to landfill.

The WEEE Directive does not require by law that consumers dispose of electrical and electronic equipment in a certain way. However, the Government strongly advises households to dispose of WEEE separately from household waste, by sending it to a charity such as Computer Aid International for re-use, or by recycling it.

Local Authority Civic Amenity sites should have drop off points for computers and other electronic equipment.

Do I need to worry about data security?
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 it is your responsibility to destroy any personal data that may be stored on the machines. Just hitting the delete button is not enough to wipe the data.

To ensure you are protected make sure any organisation you use to dispose of your IT equipment uses a professional data wiping solution that has been approved by CESG or similar.

An environmentally friendly and socially responsible solution to your unwanted IT equipment
Donating your unwanted IT equipment to the UK charity Computer Aid International is both environmentally friendly and socially responsible.

You will also benefit from a professional PC decommissioning service, which includes free CESG approved Blancco data wiping.

Computer Aid is the world's largest provider of professionally refurbished PCs to the not-for-profit sector in the developing world. It has been in the business of IT refurbishing for over 10 years.

The charity’s aim is to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions. To date Computer Aid has supplied over 130,000 fully refurbished PCs - donated by UK businesses and individuals - to where they are most needed in schools, hospitals and not-for-profit organisations in over 100 developing countries.

In order for Computer Aid to continue with its work it relies on donations of computers. Schools and universities in the developing world using a PC professionally refurbished by Computer Aid will enjoy at least three or four years productive PC use. This effectively doubles the life of a PC halving its environmental footprint whilst enabling some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world to have access to computers.

For more information about donating computers to Computer Aid International please visit'


  1. That sounds like a win-win option, being green and helping the third world!

  2. What about end of life? What happens when it becomes obsolete, by a developing countries standard? Does it just end up as part of the 1 million tonnes entering these countries each month? How about EU legislation, which clearly and legally states that waste is waste, no matter whether it works or not. In effect, you're donating our waste- much of which, is defined clearly as being Hazardous as stated in the European Waste Catalogue. "Ghana is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for waste from Europe and the US. We are talking about several tons of obsolete discarded computers, monitors etc. - a report on this site cites Mike Anane, Director of the League of Environmental Journalists in Ghana as saying :"We don't have the mechanism or the system in place in this country to recycle these wastes. Some of these items come in under the guise of donations when you examine the items they don't work," Even if they do work, treatment facilities are not in place, nor will they ever be for these quantities. This isn't the EU, these counties simply don't have the infrastructure in place to move, treat and remove toxins properly, let alone dispose of the highly toxic by-products. We are in effect setting up a ticking time bomb, that will go off in 5 years when all this working, donated equipment becomes obsolete.

    Professor Oladele Osibanjo, Director at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa.

    "We have about half a million computers, used computers, coming into the Lagos port every month, and only 25 per cent of these are working. 75 per cent is junk. The volume is so large, that the people who trade it, just burn it like ordinary refuse. Our studies have shown that the levels of metals in this waste are far beyond the threshold limits set by Europe." So in effect, we're adding to it, in the guise of a charitable donation. Working machines for use in schools, on top of working machines for resale, on top of our own junk. After Pakistan, India and China, we've come full circle, back to Africa as our dumping ground all over again. Bet they haven't recovered from the last bout of E-waste we dumped on their doorstep. And no, I'm not going to sign this. I'm not at liberty to have our name associated with this unethical practise.

  3. Commendable job done by you. Congratulations!!!