We travelled up to Arnos Grove – an area of London I’d never been to before. My companion was Melinda Watson, who has set up the E-Waste Campaign with me. We’d arranged to look round the office and depot of Computer Aid.
The factory floor was piled high with computer parts – hard drives, circuit boards, screens and wires. Computer Aid takes in about 30,000 computers a year. When they’ve been refurbished, most of them are destined for countries in Africa and Latin America.
The idea is to re-use the equipment to help ‘alleviate poverty’ – by supplying schools, hospitals and similar institutions. Computer Aid also offer software solutions too – and training.
I was most impressed by the on site workshop, almost entirely manned by volunteers. They were separating parts, repairing faults and generally refurbishing equipment, so it could be used again. Apparently, the average after-life, for what they send out, is between three and four years. Anything prior to 2002 is considered to be too old for repair. These are recycled along with other unrepairable stuff.
Computer Aid get most of their machines from businesses – but they do accept donations from individuals too. The problem is that they don’t have a budget for collection – so if you want to donate your old equipment, you have to get it to them. Having said that, it’s not very expensive to transport and the ‘feel good factor’ is huge.
Considering the number of computers that are chucked out each year, it’s surprising that Computer Aid, don’t get more. Many businesses don’t have any idea what’s happening to their E-Waste. And that’s a big problem. Even when they assume that it’s being recycled, it’s quite likely to end up in massive waste dumps in far flung places, with children sifting through the toxic components.
Actually, there’s so much abuse in exporting E-waste that many countries are beginning to refuse to import even refurbished computers. In Uganda, for instance, Computer Aid is one of very few organisations who have permission to bring in equipment because they’re a trusted supplier.
At a government level there appears to be complacency. The WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) Directive sets targets for recycling. But it doesn’t stipulate that the recycling should happen in the UK – in fact it’s actually cheaper to export it. And there’s very little checking to verify what happens once it leaves our shores. And another problem is that there’s currently no target in the legislation for re-use. Computer Aid estimate that about 75% of the equipment they receive is good enough to be used again. An amendment to the WEEE Directive is coming in which sets a target of 5% (only!) to be re-used.
We need more Computer Aids. More re-use. More recycling. And much more happening in the UK. Join our E-Waste Campaign to help sort this out. We’re not just focused on computers though – we’re looking at all E-Waste from hair driers to toasters and from electric drills to cameras. (The E-Waste Campaign became E For Good, which is no longer operating – Nov18)