Do you have a pile of old PCs that have given up the ghost? Are your laptops limping along on their last legs? What about that old fax machine gathering dust? Your business may end up with computers, monitors, laptops, printers, tablets and other electronic devices that need to be disposed of.

But getting rid of old equipment is not so easy; you can’t just throw your computer away. Luckily there are lots of options for disposing of your old equipment in an ethical and green way.

Global implications

In the UK, currently, we have to abide by the EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), which states that computer hardware cannot legally be sent to landfill. The European Commission expects e-waste to grow to 12 million tonnes per year by 2020. And due to the components in the waste, this poses a serious risk to health and to the environment.

There are various elements within a computer that are either environmentally toxic, such as mercury, lead and arsenic, or valuable, such as copper, aluminium, and gold. The result is that the majority of the e-waste ends up in emerging and developing countries for salvage.

An electronic device dumped or recycled in the UK will most likely end up in Ghana. China, which used to take a large amount of e-waste and extract the valuable materials, is tightening up its rules. A crackdown called Operation Green Fence, launched in 2013, inspects imported waste for circuit boards, reclassified as “hazardous” waste. This has put some Chinese e-waste processors out of business, and is changing the global waste trade. Which has, in turn, led some to speculate that more waste is now directed to other developing countries, perhaps illegally.

So, how can we dispose of our equipment responsibly?

Step one: Securely destroy data

A big concern when getting rid of your old computer is making sure important and private data doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Due to the Data Protection Act, you will need to ensure that any data you have in the hardware is properly wiped before getting rid of it. That includes all hard drives, back-ups and CDs or DVDs. Watch out, as back-up tapes can often be overlooked in this process.

Backup or copy off all the important data and then wipe the hard disk using a suitable piece of software – just deleting files and emptying the bin will not erase your data securely.

One of the most widely used programmes is DBAN. This open source disk wipe tool is used by the US military, and can be run on any operating system – MAC or Windows. However, some people find DBAN quite daunting to use; it requires relatively good knowledge of creating a Boot Disk, which can be complicated. Please do speak to us if you would like help with this as we use DBAN extensively.

There are also lots of alternatives to DBAN; a list is available here. But be careful – in 2016, a study found 78% of refurbished or sold hard drives examined still had personal or business data on them! We’ll go into this data removal process in more detail in an upcoming blog post.

Step Two: Donate, Recycle or Re-use.

Is your equipment working & aged five years or less? Then consider either ComputerAid, or Computers for Charities. They refurbish items, securely removing data, and provide them to charities working in the UK and abroad.

Sites such as FreeCycle or Freegle can also help you connect with individuals who could take your old equipment off your hands.

Otherwise, many hardware companies, such as HP and Dell, run their own recycling programs.

But perhaps the easiest route is to use a professional IT recycling company. These organisations will manage the whole process for you, including secure data destruction, and quite often for free. Check out ecogreen IT recycling or Tech Recycle to get a better idea of what these companies offer.

Reduce use

Improvements in cloud technology mean that it is no longer necessary for every member of staff to have a large computer tower hiding under their desk.

Thin Client computers use 90% less power than a traditional PC and reduce the amount of hardware that you need in your office. These machines are also easier to manage and more reliable, and go hand in hand with cloud computing, meaning almost nothing is kept on site.

We have deployed many Thin Client systems for our clients; have a chat to us about whether this might suit your needs.


In Conclusion

In our modern world, we have to be conscious of the waste that we produce, and the effect this has on our planet and our fellow citizens. At Ethical IT, we encourage up to date technology that can make a huge difference to our working environments, productivity and the happiness of our colleagues. But we also want to make sure that the whole process of updating your equipment is done in a thoughtful way.

If you would like to know more about updating your current IT equipment or what to do with your old hardware, please contact us at


Further Reading

Have a look at our Ethical IT Knowledgebase for further guides and support on IT Security, Data Protection, Cloud and many other topics, all available totally free.

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