Clearing out the IT cupboard
Ethically disposing of old IT equipment can not only release significant value but also support an organisation’s environmental strategy, explains Graham Nye, Managing Director, Chiltern IT.
How much outdated, unused IT equipment is still being retained, just in case a component part comes in useful one day or out of laziness because disposal is a chore? For most organisations a significant, and costly, amount of office space is taken up with dusty bits of kit that are highly unlikely to ever see the light to day. Furthermore, some may even have value on the second user market. So why keep them?
For most companies the problem is inertia combined with a lack of clear responsibility. With such equipment now valueless on the balance sheet, there is no drive from finance to recoup any outstanding investment; while the IT Manager has a deluge of far more pressing and critical issues to address.
But times are changing, fast. July 2006 saw the introduction of the Restriction of Hazardous Substance Directive (ROHS) legislation, under which certain types of IT equipment have to be treated as hazardous waste. Furthermore there is a growing awareness at board level of the need to adopt and impose ethical policies for recycling and asset disposal.
Organisations need to evolve beyond the haphazard strategies for waste disposal. By proactively embracing organisations that pledge to reuse and recycle 100% of equipment and undertaking regular, routine disposal organisations can actually realise quantifiable asset value while supporting environmental goals.
In a cost conscious economy with IT Managers constantly implored to squeeze just a little more value from the budget, it seems extraordinary that the majority of organisations are actively overlooking a potentially valuable source of revenue. Indeed, if nothing more, by removing the stacks of unused and outdated IT equipment, a company can recover a significant – and valuable – proportion of office space.
Indeed, not all of this equipment is worthless. Treated appropriately it can be refurbished and reused or split into its component parts and recycled. Either way, it can offer some financial value.
Yet for most organisations on the rare occasions IT asset disposal is considered – such as during an office relocation – the issue is one of cost; and it appears significant. Using the traditional skip-based approach of disposing of such goods – often alongside any other ‘valueless’ pieces of office equipment – is highly expensive. With waste disposal firms charging a fortune simply to take the goods away it is little wonder that organisations continue to lock equipment away in a dusty cupboard or ten.
In an increasingly environmentally conscious corporate environment this out of sight, out of mind approach to asset disposal is uncomfortable and, frankly, risky. Stories now abound of young children across China and India holding circuit boards over fires to melt off components for reuse – inhaling lethal fumes in the process. Just as the majority of organisations fear being tainted with any ‘sweat shop’ label, they are increasingly concerned about the risk of association with this kind of child exploitation as a result of poor IT asset disposal processes.
Simply handing over redundant IT equipment with no idea whether it will end up as landfill or contributing to unethical working practices across the globe is an unacceptable practice for a growing number of organisations.
With no clear responsibility within an organisation for asset disposal, the role is typically passed between finance, facilities management and IT, with each hoping someone else will take control. However, since the introduction of the Restriction of Hazardous Substance Directive (ROHS) in July 2006, environmentally aware asset disposal has become more than a corporate objective – it is now a corporate imperative.
Under ROHS certain types of IT equipment, including monitors which have a high lead and phosphorus content, have been reclassified as hazardous waste. These assets cannot now be thrown away with general office waste and must go through an accredited disposal route.
Fines are in place and the limitations are strict. Indeed, any organisation throwing away more than 200Kg a year – the equivalent of ten large or 15 standard sized monitors – is now classified as a waste producer and must register with the Environment Agency.
In this fast changing environment, the typically haphazard approach to IT equipment disposal is no longer adequate. Organisations need to be far more proactive and aware of just how those assets are treated once off site. With the right approach it is possible to achieve 100% reuse or recycling of this equipment, ensuring nothing ends up in landfill – or in the hands of the unscrupulous.
If equipment is still current, it can be refurbished, tested and resold either in the UK or abroad for spare parts. If older, with no value in the spare parts market, it can be broken down into the component materials such as aluminium, copper and plastics and recycled.
Critically, an Environment Agency accredited organisation can ease the responsibility for ROHS compliance by providing a duty of care transfer and register on behalf of the organisation as a waste producer. Such organisations should also guarantee data security by offering data wiping service – either via a LAN before removing the equipment from the organisation or after removal.
The shifting tide of environmental awareness is beginning a sea-change in the waste disposal industry. But there are still far too many organisations out there charging a fortune simply to collect waste, ransacking it for the most valuable components such as copper and dumping the rest in landfill. If organisations want to feel confident that they are meeting ethical corporate pledges, this approach is hardly adequate – especially when 100% reuse or recycling is available.
And there is another incentive to take the right approach. While ethical concerns are undoubtedly pushing the issue of robust, trusted and environmentally sound asset disposal strategies higher up the corporate agenda, there is also a major cost implication. If organisations are simply storing up equipment long term ultimately to send it off in a skip, they are adding unnecessary business cost.
Yet by undertaking a regular, routine disposal process, it is possible to offset the costs of disposal by realising some of the value in the equipment. The earlier the unused assets are disposed of, the more chance a company has of realising some value. So why wait?