Refurbished IT – Waste or Product? Obstacles to the Digital Divide

How IT waste is legally defined or simply understood will increasingly cause conflicts. UK regional differences, lack of global consistency on e-waste laws and illegal practices all compromise the perceived and actual value of old IT. Yet computer reuse can be 20 times more energy efficient than recycling – so how can this be called waste?

At this year’s ICT for Sustainability Conference in London we hosted a roundtable discussion centering on this issue, encouraging a discussion from all sides. Chairing the day’s discussion was Phil Conran of 360 Environmental.

Upgrading to replace ICT equipment with the latest technology is ever-present in developed countries, resulting in Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) becoming one of the largest growing waste streams. The demand for equipment to address the growing digital divide is ongoing as well, but with governmental regulations in Europe imposing requirements to recycle items deemed as ‘waste’ rather than refurbish and reuse them, are we missing an opportunity to extend the life of good equipment, mitigate a growing waste problem, and make positive change in communities with limited access to ICT?

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The Making of ‘The Man Without a Laptop’

Computer Aid has recently launched an appeal for laptops. Large requests from the National Teacher’s Institute, Nigeria and The Oasis Group Foundation, Ghana who empower underprivileged societies have left us very short of donated laptops. To this end, we created a short film in order to try and engage potential laptop donors into using us to dispose of their unwanted or surplus ICT equipment. Continue reading

Guest blog from PC donor, Hornsby House School!

Hornsby House have just donated their unwanted ICT to Computer Aid and Alistair Gerry, Assistant Head and Head of ICT at the school, contributed the following to our blog.

“As Head of ICT at Hornsby House School, an independent co-educational prep school for 4-11 year olds in Wandsworth, London, I know how important ICT is to children in the UK. It’s essential for all the pupils at our school to gain a good understanding of ICT and to start learning the skills required in the wider world – and the children here use ICT for everything from researching projects to playing games, reading and art. Having seen the benefits that computer skills can bring to our pupils, we wanted to help ensure children in developing countries also get the chance to learn these skills as IT literacy is essential for children the world over.

 “As part of the school’s five-year plan for expanding our ICT facilities, we replaced and upgraded 36 computers and, instead of sending them to be recycled, we wanted to make sure that they could be used by children in developing countries who also need to learn these essential ICT skills but have far less access to computers than children in the UK.

“We decided to donate the 36 computers to ComputerAid so that they would have a new lease of life. These ex-Hornsby House computers were collected, data wiped and refurbished and are now on their way to a range of projects around the world, including Chilenter, an organisation in Chile, whose aim is to ensure that schools in the poorest and most isolated areas have access to ICT.

“We are very happy that these computers will contribute to the excellent work being done by ComputerAid and their partner organisations in developing countries and hope to be able to make further donations to ComputerAid in the future as we continue to replace our school computers every four years.”

Thanks to Hornsby House and all our other donors for your equipment this year, it’s very much appreciated!

Why the European Parliament should hold firm on reuse

Significant changes around the reuse of WEEE could be on the cards as MEPs will be voting on the WEEE directive later in the year (see our blog explaining the EU legislative process).  The European Parliament’s (EP) draft report was recently published and the final version is due to be adopted by the EP’s Environment Committee by 4th October 2011.

The EP’s draft report is very welcome as it calls for the establishment of reuse targets. Although the current WEEE Directive does recognise the superior environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, as it contains language that prioritises reuse, there are no specific targets which means that, unfortunately, recycling often becomes the practical reality. The EP has proposed that the new directive would contain separate reuse and recycling targets, and, although some of their suggested reuse targets are far too small (at just 5%), it constitutes an important first step to prioritising reuse over recycling.

We strongly believe there should be targets for reuse, for a number of reasons. The WEEE legislation is based on the waste hierarchy which encourages the prevention of waste, followed by the reuse and refurbishment of goods, then value recovery through recycling and energy recovery being the final option. Mandating reuse targets would help ensure that reuse actually occurred and that disposal of e-waste reflected the priorities in the waste hierarchy.
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The potential of ICTs based education in developing countries

Thousands of computers have been deployed over the last 10 years by Computer Aid and our partners into schools and colleges across Africa and Latin America. We have seen students eagerly yet tentatively approach a computer for the first time and quickly develop new skills which allow them to discover knowledge whilst improving their employability and higher education prospects. Our focus and vision should not simply be of ICTs, but of better education delivered through the integration of ICTs in teaching and learning processes. Recently I have been working closely with some of our partners in developing countries and financial donors to understand the role of ICTs in education and how we can facilitate a transformation in the student learning experience. Drawing on research and reports on ICTs in education in developing countries, this post will outline the potential and the shared vision and commitment required to achieve it.

ICTs play an important role in forms of traditional learning. ICTs can enhance traditional teaching of subjects as sources of teaching materials or through the use of multimedia presentations to deliver lectures and classes. Many implementations of ICTs in education focus on equipping both students and teachers with basic IT skills, learning how to use word processors, develop spreadsheets and reply to emails. These skills are vital for individuals to access opportunities in both employment and further education as a number of developing countries integrate ICTs into their wider economic activity. Focusing solely on delivering these basic IT skills or enhancing existing teaching however fails to fulfil the transformational potential ICTs have in shifting the focus of education away from teacher-centred lecture-based instruction to student-centred interactive learning.
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