A Business Guide to Recycling E-Waste

The technology world is a fast changing one and that inevitably means that we end up with equipment that is surplus to requirements after just a few years of use. Much of this ends up in landfill, but it shouldn’t.

Much electrical and electronic waste contains hazardous materials as well as materials that can be recovered and recycled. It therefore needs to be disposed of responsibly and safely
which is why, since 2003, we have had Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling schemes.

What are the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations?

The WEEE regulations apply to both domestic and commercial products. Items which should be recycled via WEEE rather than just dumped in a bin or skip carry the crossed out wheelie bin symbol.

So what should you recycle under the WEEE provisions?

In terms of business equipment, there are the obvious large items such as computers and printers as well as things like old photocopiers. But smaller items are covered too, so you
can recycle old smartphones, as well as peripherals like mice and keyboards and so on.

Electronic waste contains a number of substances that are potentially harmful to the environment. These can include things like lead and cadmium. But there are also precious
metals like silver, gold and copper that can be retrieved and reused. Other less valuable items like plastic parts and steel cases can also be recycled into new products.

Despite the new rules it’s reckoned that around 50 million tonnes of WEEE waste are generated worldwide each year. But a good deal of this is still not still not being disposed of properly with some nations recycling less than a quarter. This is not only wasteful, but it can also be very harmful to the environment.

How to Dispose off Old Kit?

You have a number of options when it comes to disposing of your old equipment. If it’s still working you may be able to pass it onto a charity that can put it to good use. Things like old mobile phones generally have some value and can be sold to companies who will recycle or
refurbish them, allowing you to recoup some value.

When you buy new kit retailers will often have schemes where they will take back old equipment to safely dispose of it. For those with a large quantity of e-waste to dispose of –
perhaps you’re refitting an entire office – there are businesses that will collect equipment in bulk and safely dispose of it. For small amounts of WEEE waste, local councils usually have the facility to take items at their recycling centres and ensure they are properly disposed of.

Secure Disposal of Computer Equipment

It’s important to remember that when disposing of old computers and some related equipment they may contain sensitive data. You don’t want this to fall into the wrong hands so it’s vital that you undertake a clean up of the equipment before you dispose of it.

For computers that are still working, you need to safely overwrite the contents of the hard drive. Deleting files or formatting isn’t enough as material can be recovered with specialist software. The latest versions of Windows and Apple operating systems have the facility to wipe the disc built into the software. For older machines there are programs available that can create a bootable CD or flash drive, allowing you to start the PC independently of the
operating system and wipe the main hard drive.

Of course the above is only useful if the computer is still working. If you have a machine that doesn’t work there may still be recoverable data on the hard drive. In these circumstances
you can take the drive out of the machine, try attaching it to another machine via an external caddy, if it’s readable then you can wipe it. Even if you can’t read it you need to be sure it
can’t be recovered. Hitting it with a hammer or exposing it to a strong magnet can be effective or if you want to be absolutely sure there are companies that will take old drives
and securely destroy them. Old external drives used for backups and so on should be disposed of in a similar way.

Remember that it’s not just computers that may contain data you don’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Routers and networking kit – as well as Internet of Things devices – will contain the login details for your networks, so it’s important that these too are wiped of information before disposal. Performing a factory reset of the device following the manufacturer’s’ instructions is usually all that is required to ensure no information can be recovered.

Author: Chakraborty

Dr Chakrabarty is the Chief Innovation Officer of IntuiComp TeraScience. Earlier she was Assistant Professor of Delhi University, a QS ranked university in India. Before that she has held research positions in IITs and IISc. She holds 2 patents and over 20 publications in her name. Her area of research is in smart technologies, integrated devices and communications. She also has a penchant for blogging and is an editor of Business Fundas.