The beginning of the end

According to CKS Recycled Technology, asset tracking end of life IT equipment can help manufacturers comply with environmental legislation.

Acquiring and managing assets is an important function for managers in all sectors including manufacturing, and most companies maintain asset registers and track the use of the asset through its life within the organisation. But what happens at the end of the useful life of a PC, and how does the raft of waste disposal legislation affect how companies must in future, decommission equipment? It is estimated that 80 per cent of IT equipment is still being consigned to landfill every year by British industry and along with the rest of UK business, manufacturers will soon have to face a number of new regulations – for which many are woefully unprepared.
Most managers realise that electrical equipment can be hazardous to the environment and there are a number of materials used in IT components that can be dangerous if not properly disposed of. Among them are beryllium, mercury (used in switches and relays), cadmium, sulphuric acid and both lead and berium found in the CRT glass fitted in monitors. Legislation already exists to control the disposal of these substances but the government will shortly be issuing a consultative document about how the UK will implement the WEEE Directive.

The European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive completed its passage through Europe in May of 2002 and is now passing through the UK legislature. It is likely to cost British industry somewhere between £200-400M to comply with the directive and its implementation will make landfilling of computer equipment illegal in the UK. As a result, organisations will have to think carefully about how to deal with redundant PCs and peripherals. The legislation is due to be produced in the spring of 2004 although companies may have until the summer of 2005 to demonstrate compliance.

Northamptonshire-based CKS Recycled Technology is one of Britain’s leading IT recycling and refurbishment organisations. Its managing director, Mike England, understands the issues presented by ‘end of life management’ of IT equipment. Mike says: “There are a number of important elements in the proper disposal of IT equipment. The issues of environmental protection, data security and residual value recovery are well rehearsed. More and more, however, companies are picking up on the internal management cost of ad-hoc disposal, as well as the very real corporate financial benefits of effective asset tracking”.

Most organisations have efficient processes for buying and maintaining IT equipment but few take as professional an approach to disposal. As a result, they leave themselves open to excess maintenance costs, asset management issues, data protection risks and even theft and petty fraud. Key to the proper disposal of IT equipment is compliance with the Data Protection Act. Professional IT waste management companies will collect material from the client’s site and refurbish or recycle it. This will include data wiping the hard drives using approved data wiping tools which far exceed the specification of the typical software which is generally available through retailers. Any disks that cannot be effectively wiped are simply destroyed so organisations have the guarantee of complete data security.

Most equipment is then re-marketed with any residual value, after charges, being returned to the client. Under certain circumstances it is possible to make money from professional asset disposal. Mike continues: “New assets are glamorous, clean and tend to come in controlled batches. They command management focus. Redundant assets on the other hand, generally receive less attention and managers are notoriously bad at taking assets off company asset tracking systems. They become a low priority, and are often disposed of in an ad-hoc fashion”.

Without a proper audit trail, organisations may lose track of redundant assets and forget to delete them from their asset registers. For IT equipment this may well mean continuing to pay insurance and maintenance contracts as well as software licenses on machines they no longer own. As part of the service, CKS will provide a complete list of the assets disposed of which will effectively act as a double check on a company’s own asset control procedures. This feedback can be paper-based but most clients take a monthly electronic transmission which they can use to cross reference their databases. Additionally, clients can access a complete asset audit trail which, in spreadsheet format, can prove invaluable when dealing with audit queries and security checks.

And what happens to the redundant equipment? Most can be refurbished and is sold on to dealers in the UK and abroad. What cannot be used again is carefully recycled or disposed of in compliance with waste disposal legislation. Some lower specification machinery finds its way through charitable channels to provide Information Technology training for schoolchildren in Ghana. At any one time over 70,000 students between the ages of six and 16 are working with CKS supplied equipment in 64 schools across the country, but CKS also has channels in Romania, Latvia, Russia, and Pakistan.

Mike England comments: “Professional disposal of information technology is about more than just computers, it’s about ensuring compliance with legal and environmental standards but more importantly for many organisations it’s about reducing the cost of ownership and allowing a company’s expensive IT resource to focus on key business issues. Companies can use an organisation like CKS to take the hassle out of disposing of their electrical equipment and even make money from being environmentally friendly.

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