When disposing of your old computers as a domestic user you can either use a private company or your local tip or recycling facility. If taken to your local tip, computers and other electrical items will have a designated container, most commonly sign posted as “Electrical Waste”. Within the container will be numerous items including desktop pc’s and laptops.
So what actually happens to this electronic equipment?
In the UK electrical waste is governed by European Legislation called the WEEE directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). This ensures that private and public recycling facility treat electrical waste in the correct manner and follow a set of best practise guidelines of what to do with the equipment.
If we look at the best practice guidelines for what happens to a computer when sent for recycling the following occurs. Once transported back to an electrical waste recycling facility, the first stop for the waste would usually be a weighbridge or set of scales to report on the total amount of waste collected. This will then be reported back to the holder of the waste on their waste paperwork. Now the equipment can be emptied from the container and be sorted.
Segregation and Grading
The computers from the load would be segregated along with other electrical waste types and be graded. Complete computer units will be tested to check functionality, electrical safety and their ability for reuse. Any data storage devices such as hard drives at this point should be wiped and treated, but do not take this for granted. The computer is now designated as working and will either be sold for reuse or donated to good causes. This may be in the country of origin or exported as good working equipment.
Computers that have failed the working functionality test, are damaged or not complete will be assessed as to whether they could be fixed and the parts they would require. If fixing is feasible and cost effective the computer would then go back into the working reuse load for reuse after being fixed. If the computer fails at this point there are two options for the computer, to remove good working parts for reuse or to recover the items from the machine. Non working equipment should be repaired or recycled in the country of origin as not to export non working equipment or waste to another country that does not have the same detailed and environmentally friendly best practise guidelines.
Multiple Componants Recycling
Computers contain a whole manner of components, some of which valuable as materials for reuse. So non-working equipment should be recycled to recover the materials. Companies will either recycle a computer via machinery that will mechanically separate plastics, metals and components of the computer or strip them by hand to perform the same function. Once segregated the items will be sent for remanufacturing of the plastics, metals and other components.
So whether you recycle your old equipment using a private company or within your local council run tip, the outcome of the equipment should be the same. Working equipment should be reused, non working should be repaired, if viable or recycled to recover the materials.