In today’s world, used PCs are either turned into landfill, put into storage, re-used or recycled.
Recycling company DataServ process around 250,000 computers a year, primarily from corporate customers who are updating their systems.
“Approximately 70% of equipment that comes in goes for reuse, 30% for recycling,” said the company’s managing director Neal Saunders.
“It’s very important that a full audit trail is kept in order that the companies using the service can show that they’ve adopted the correct form of corporate governance.
“It’s not unusual now for companies to report in their annual accounts what equipment has been recycled and what its breakdown materials were.
“Since the operation started in 1992 we’ve reprocessed over two million assets. Looking at the volume of those, that’s an awful lot of landfill that’s been saved.”
New use, old machines
According to technology researchers Gartner Dataquest, in 2004 there were 152 million so-called “secondary” PCs – defined as machines used for three months or more before being passed on to another user or stored.
Another 31 million were buried in the ground as landfill.
Bizarrely though, about 40 million machines were put into storage and just 762,500 PCs were donated for re-use by non profit organisations.
In the European Union, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE) aims to reduce the millions of tons of poisonous waste buried every year.
Unfortunately, despite the lofty aims of the directive, it is having a troubled time getting countries to implement it.
Nonetheless, as you would imagine, in an industry built on innovation new ideas are being touted every day.
At a recent exhibition at the Science Museum in London a handful of quite startling technologies were unveiled, including a circuit board made of pasta.
The board is a genuine piece of pasta with some electronic components on it. When you are finished with it all you have to do is boil it in water and all the bits fall off.
There exhibition also showcased a printer case made of corn-based BioPlastic that degrades gracefully, and a phone case made of Kenaf, a plant grown all over the world, which effectively melts when you bury it.
One mobile phone case had been made from biodegradable plastic, with a sunflower seed inserted into it. By planting the case in the soil a flower grows.
Refurbished computers are regularly sent out to new homes, perhaps the perfect secondary market for PCs.
But, considering that we are putting some 40 million PCs into the ground every year, we really should not get too complacent.