Computer Manufacturers Should Concentrate More on Re-Use Rather than Recycling

Computer Aid International says new WEEE directive guidelines offer the computer industry a huge opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint at the same time as reducing its cost of compliance - by donating PCs for charitable re-use.

The latest WEEE implementation guidelines published on 28th February place a clear obligation on producers to prioritise the re-use of PCs (whole appliances) over recycling (disassembly).

However the charity says some Producer Compliance Schemes (PCS) damage the environment by recycling (dismantling or shredding) working computers when they should be prioritising PC re-use as required by the new legislation.

With just days to go before the 15th March deadline, Tony Roberts CEO of the charity is urging PCS, manufacturers, retailers, distributors and individual IT users to work in partnership with the charity to bridge the digital divide at the same time as meeting the new legal requirement to prioritise re-use:

“These guidelines represent an important crossroads for the computer industry. We want to get the message across to producers, distributors and businesses that by donating their PCs to Computer Aid they can ensure full compliance with the WEEE legislation and give the PCs a new lease of life where they are most needed in poor countries.

“Whilst we welcome the initiatives by companies such as Dell and Hewlett Packard to recycle PCs, we are also urging them to consider the far greater environmental and social benefits of prioritising re-use for PCs that have not yet reached the end of their working life.

“Empirical research from sources such the UN University in Tokyo proves beyond doubt that re-use of computers is much better for the environment than recycling.* According to research by Professor Williams, a researcher at the United Nations University re-using a computer is 20 times more effective at saving life-cycle energy use than recycling. The new study found that the production of every desktop PC consumes 240kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1.5 tonnes of water**.

“Given the substantial environmental cost of production it essential we recover the full productive value of every PC through re-use before eventually recycling it to recover parts and materials at its true end-of-life. When, in order to remain competitive, a company replaces a computer after just 3 or 4 years we must secure that still-working PC for charitable re-use. Schools and universities in Africa using a PC professionally refurbished by Computer Aid International will enjoy another 3 or 4 years productive PC usage. Doubling the effective life of a PC in this way halves its environmental footprint.”

The latest guidelines are very clear in directing PCS to work with ‘genuine re-use organisations’ with the appropriate waste management licences or registered exemptions. They must refurbish the equipment and make it available for re-use, having tested it to the appropriate safety standards. The guidelines also require producers to report on such partnerships recording volumes and percentages of PCs provided for re-use. Computer Aid meets all of these requirements and has 10 years unrivalled experience in ethical re-use during which time it has delivered over 85,000 PCs for re-use in schools and health organisations in more than 100 developing countries worldwide.

“The government could have gone further to promote re-use partnerships with charitable objectives over commercial reselling”, says Roberts. “Commercial re-use provides PCs to those with the means to pay commercial prices. Charitable re-use specifically targets provision to disadvantaged users. Computer Aid provides computers to marginalised groups in some of the poorest countries on earth. I think that the final guidelines were watered down in this respect and so lost a valuable opportunity to explicitly encourage the computer industry to work with registered charities such as Computer Aid to maximise educational and social benefits (not-to-mention the CSR and PR benefits) of charitable re-use.

“With the legal deadline of the 15th March almost here, we are urging the PC industry to act now and take the initiative to support ethical re-use. Many organisations are unaware that the easiest way to solve their legal obligation under the WEEE legislation is to donate to Computer Aid.

“Companies will continue to be free to donate PCs directly to charities such as Computer Aid post-implementation rather than a Producer Compliance Schemes if they wish to. It is vital that we get this message across to the PC industry to maximise ethical re-use and to minimise environment costs.”

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