Technology is progressing at an ever-increasing rate, and electronic waste, especially computer equipment, is a rapidly expanding waste stream. Gadgets are soon out of date, and can be replaced cheaply and easily.

This leads to approximately one million tonnes of electronic waste being disposed of each year in the UK alone. It's essential that these items are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

Protecting the environment

Computer equipment must never be disposed of in landfill. They're generally bulky items, which take a lot of space in our restricted landfill sites but, more importantly, our 'e-waste' contains toxic substances that are considered hazardous waste.

Computers contain a mix of plastic, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, electronic boards and glass, and each computer can contain up to 2kg of lead.

A lot of electronic waste is being improperly disposed of in the developing world, and the UN's Environment Programme is alarmed at the amount of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals that end up in Africa, Asia and South America.

Non-renewable resources

As well as being harmful to the environment, many computer components are made up of non-renewable resources. Recycling computers means we are able to save these precious materials and reduce the amount that needs mining.

Protecting ourselves

It's essential to keep computers out of landfill sites to protect the environment and conserve precious materials, but it's also essential to protect ourselves. Almost all of us use our computers to access sensitive and confidential data, such as our bank account details, and if we throw our computers into landfill, we leave them exposed to criminals who can use the data to commit fraud. By ensuring our computers are recycled, we can be confident that all sensitive data has been destroyed.

How to dispose of computers

The UK Government brought out new WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations in 2007 that stipulate all WEEE items, including computers, must be stored, collected, treated, recycled, and disposed of separately from other waste.

There are three options for disposing of your computers: returning the item to the manufacturer, taking it to a professional waste disposal facility, or donating it to charity.

Under WEEE regulations, computer retailers are providing free take-back facilities for any customer who has purchased a new product. These items are broken down and sorted according to materials, with many materials being used in new products. This type of recycling is very convenient for the consumer. Generally, items must be returned within 28 days of buying your new product.

Professional waste disposal works in a similar way, but there are a number of cowboys operating. Ensure the company you use is licensed and complies with WEEE regulations.

Finally, many non-profit organisations will accept old computer equipment, refurbish it and supply it to community organisations or send it to the developing world. You may need to pay for the equipment to be collected, and you must ensure that all data has been securely wiped from your hard drive using specialist software.

Technology is great, but think carefully about the environmental impact next time you update your computer, and make sure you recycle your equipment according to WEEE regulations.

Thanks to RRC training for this blog. They run a range of construction health and safety courses.

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