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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WEEE Directive recast – explaining the EU legislative process

Big changes to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive are essential if we are to mitigate the environmental and health risks posed by e-waste. With the EU expecting to generate around 12 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment per year by 2020, we are hoping that a bold approach in addressing the looming e-waste crisis will be taken. Currently only one third of e-waste collected in the EU is being treated according to the requirements of legislation. The rest goes to landfill (13%) and potentially to sub-standard treatment inside or outside the EU (54%). Illegal trade to non-EU countries is still widespread.

However, while the issue itself is clear enough, making a change to a European Directive is far from being a clear or simple procedure. There are numerous stages and procedures to get amendments pushed through. We’ve outlined below the process so far, including the latest developments (which happened just a few days ago) and the next steps to (we hope!) simplify matters.
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