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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October round-up at Computer Aid International

Successful first open-day at the warehouse

We refurbish computers at our warehouse in North London

We opened up the warehouse to our donors to see exactly what goes on at our warehouse. Guests took a tour of the warehouse, saw the data wiping and refurbishment process from start to finish and heard from our projects team about where our computers go. If you would like to attend the next workshop on the 21st November, you can register by visiting

Setting up a stall at the National Archives

On 12th September, The National Archives kindly asked us to exhibit at their eco-day. Green suppliers were invited to share with staff and the public about how they are supporting the National Archives with their sustainability programme. The day proved to be a great way of engaging with all manner of stakeholders on the topic of ICT refurbishment.

Latest receivers of computers In October

Our donated computers departed for a number not-for-profit organisations including to:

• Schools in Zimbabwe through our partner the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet). UNESCO ASPnet was Founded in 1953, it is a global network of more than 9,000 educational institutions in 180 countries. Member institutions – ranging from pre-schools, primary, secondary and vocational schools to teacher training institutions – work in support of international understanding, peace, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development and quality education in practice.

• Computers For Schools Kenya (CFSK) where they are being used for schools in Kenya.

Students receiving Moodle training on Computer Aid computers at Stella Maris

• Stella Maris Polytechnic where they are being used to encourage and train students in ICT in Liberia.

• Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID) where they are being used to provide computer and ICT trainings to junior and senior secondary school students in Sierra Leone.

• Bwafwano Integrated Services Organisation (BISO) where they are being used for to provide an internet resource for the school and to assist teachers with preparation of lessons in Zambia.

Farewell CRTs We have now made the decision at Computer Aid International to no longer accept those large, cumbersome monitors, also known as CRTs. They have now become largely obsolete and the transportation costs have ensured that we can no longer send them over. They are also more expensive to recycle and so for these reasons we have to turn them down. To see what our current minimum spec for donated computers is please visit our website for equipment accepted.

A visit to our Chilean partner, Chilenter

Chilenter warehouse entrance

I blogged a few weeks ago on the importance of partners to Computer Aid’s work and a recent visit to Chile provides one of the best examples.

Chilenter is the result of an initiative by the First Lady of Chile to create a number of social foundations – 7 in all – to promote various social initiatives, in this case access to technology by schools, colleges and community organisations.  Chilenter won the tender to promote the goals of the foundation and has been in existence since 2002.  It works with Enlaces, a parallel Ministry of Education initiative to improve the education system through ICT, and takes the lead in Chile on supplying PCs to schools and colleges. Continue reading

ICT and Environment – Waste Side Story, Skopje, Macedonia

I’ve just got back from two days in Skopje, where I attended and presented at the ICT and Environment – Waste Side Story conference. The conference was organised by the Balkan e-Waste Management Advocacy Network (BEWMAN). Computer Aid has been working alongside BEWMAN for the past 18 months to tackle the e-waste problem in the West Balkans, through improved policy and practice across the region. The network is funded by the European Union.

The conference was the final part of the two year funded project and it brought together experts in sustainable IT and e-waste from countries across the Balkans and Europe.

Lovely Autumn view of the Vardar River from outside the conference centre in Skopje

I found the conference very interesting, there were some very good and insightful presentations.
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Computer Aid launches an advocacy guide on e-waste

Computer Aid recently launched a guide on how to conduct e-waste advocacy at the UN’s Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The guide is intended for NGOs and civil society groups anywhere in the world to help them campaign for improvement to current systems in their countries and put an end to the harmful social and environmental impacts of electronics.

The problem

The statistics are scary, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that globally we generate around 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year and, with current trends in electronics design and manufacture driving rapid replacement cycles, this only seems like it will continue to get worse.

Why is Computer Aid concerned?

Of particular concern to Computer Aid is the impact that e-waste has on communities and the environment in developing countries, where we predominantly work. Computer Aid exists to reduce poverty through practical ICT solutions and we work in some of the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world, providing ICT for use in educations, health and agriculture. However, as well as providing essential IT to these communities, we want there to be safe and environmentally friendly facilities for them to get their electronic waste recycled, once it has reached its end of life.
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