Computer Aid has called for vendors and the government to promote the reuse of old IT equipment.
In the report entitled “Why reuse is better than recycling”, Computer Aid, which supports the recycling of electronic waste, argued that reusing working computers is up to 20 times more energy efficient than recycling them.
It said that reuse is “higher up the hierarchy” than recycling because recycling can demand high amounts of energy and inputs such as transport and disassembly, to recover the required product parts.
“Recycling does not always recover all of the raw materials, creating residual wastes that will require disposal. Also, even if a recycling process recovered 100 percent of materials from a product, this does not account for wastes generated during its manufacture, which can be considerable,” Computer Aid said in the report.
It also said that compared to other waste electronics, the “payback” of recycling PCs was relatively small.
“This is due to the concentration of energy intensity in PC production and typically short life spans of their actual use, fuelled by rapid product innovation and high levels of replacement,” Computer Aid explained.
The organisation said that all stakeholders in the ‘ewaste chain’, from vendors to consumers, can support the reuse of IT equipment.
For example, Computer Aid suggests that that producers of IT equipment could reduce waste and pollution by designing reuse into their products; that is, making it easy to take apart products to enable repair and recycling.
“Too many products have obsolescence designed in,” the report said, before adding that producers should also provide instruction manuals that promote reuse over recycling.
Although the competitive and innovative nature of the technology industry means that it will be difficult to do so, Computer Aid also encourages consumers to postpone replacing products until the equipment has reached the productive life. Otherwise, it recommends consumers donate working equipment for reuse.
However, Computer Aid is aware of the challenges of reuse for consumers, as it added: “The reality is that often unwanted ICTs are not actually end-of-life. Many have a productive lifespan that far exceeds typical use.”
Nonetheless, Computer Aid believes that the government should support reuse by introducing targets and standards for reuse and monitoring their attainment. This is particularly significant as the coalition government recently closed the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB) as part of its cost-cutting efforts.
“Public education about the waste hierarchy and the environmental importance of prioritising reuse over recycling would be a valuable contribution as would mandating the segregation of reusable equipment at waste collection sites,” the report said.
Haley Bowcock, Computer Aid’s environmental advocacy officer, added: “We hope that this report convinces policy-makers in the EU and beyond of the need to maximise opportunities for reuse-such as through the introduction of legislated targets in their e-waste management systems".
Cranfield University recently donated 1,200 PCs, refurbished by Computer Aid, to South America.