A Business Guide to Recycling E-Waste

In our working lives we’re all more than ever reliant on technology. But the world of computers and other gadgets moves fast, which means it’s a rare business that doesn’t have a dusty corner somewhere that’s filled with old kit awaiting disposal.

Getting rid of e-waste can be tricky because it often contains hazardous materials that shouldn’t go into landfill. Perhaps more importantly, some of this material is valuable; electronics often contain metals such as gold, silver and copper which can be usefully recycled. So, how do you go about getting rid of your old technology safely and responsibly?

#1 – WEEE Waste

Since 2003, electrical and electronic equipment has been covered by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations. Equipment covered by WEEE will have the crossed out wheelie bin symbol on it. This covers most pieces of equipment that have a mains plug or are powered by batteries.

In business terms, this is likely to cover not only computers and laptops, but also phones, scanners and printers, mice and keyboards, routers and more. Despite the regulations, around two million tonnes of WEEE waste go into landfill each year and the total amount of e-waste is expected to reach over 52 million tonnes by 2021 so the problem will only get worse. Globally it’s estimated that as little as 20 percent of all e-waste generated actually gets recycled. Indeed, in some countries, these figures are far lower.

#2 – Recycling Options

Where large items are concerned, retailers now have to offer a recycling service when you buy a new piece of kit. While this is intended for items such as fridges and washing machines, it also covers computer equipment.

For smaller tech like laptops or mobile phones that are still functional, however, a better option might be to donate it to charity. Many charitable organisations have schemes to reuse or refurbish old equipment. If it’s relatively recent kit, you may be able to sell it and help to finance the cost of its replacement.

If your equipment is not working then you may have to dispose of it some other way. Local councils usually have schemes to collect and recycle WEEE waste and there are also specialist companies that will collect your waste and ensure that it’s disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.

#3 – Safe Disposal

Before you dispose of any computer equipment, whether it’s a macbook, laptop, desktop computer or peripheral such as a router or printer, you need to make sure that you safely remove any data it contains. In doing the right thing to dispose of your equipment you don’t want to be doing the wrong thing by giving away your valuable data.

It’s not sufficient to just delete the files, or even format the drive, as data can still be recovered using specialist tools. You need to make certain that the data is removed by being overwritten. The latest versions of Windows and MacOS have built-in tools to allow you to do this. If you have an older system, there are free tools available on the internet that can be used to boot the machine independently of the operating system and safely wipe the disk.

If your old computer is not working, don’t assume that the data on the drive can’t be recovered. It’s best to take out the hard drive and plug it into another machine to see if it still works – and wipe it if it does – or physically destroy it. There are specialist companies that can recycle hard drives securely, ensuring that no data is compromised.

Remember that other devices such as routers and printers may well contain details including the login passwords to your network. You should, therefore, make sure that these are given a factory reset to wipe out any data they contain before you send them for recycling.

It’s vital that we all dispose of our e-waste responsibly, but also that we don’t compromise our business data in the process.

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