TECHNOLOGY has swiftly become one of travel agents’ main weapons in the battle to stay ahead of the competition.

Technology becomes obsolete fast, though, and very little thought has been given to how all this computing hardware should be properly disposed of once it has reached its sell-by-date.

The situation is set to be brought into sharp focus when new legislation comes into force early next year.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive is a Europe-wide rule on how IT kit and other electronic gear should be disposed of in a responsible way.

While the finer details of the UK version of the law are still to be ironed out, the onus is expected to fall on manufacturers and retailers to make adequate provision for disposal, bearing in mind a typical desktop PC and monitor contains numerous poisonous elements such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

“Suppliers will have to take away any IT kit they sell you”

According to Clare Snow, director of the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling, this means after next year suppliers will have to take away any IT kit they sell you once it has reached the end of its useful life.

The law makes provision for older ‘historical’ computer equipment, stating when you buy a new piece of IT equipment, your supplier will be obliged to take away an equivalent piece of kit for disposal.

Some IT manufacturers already have established take-back processes. Hewlett Packard claims to have been recycling computer and printer hardware since 1987, while Dell said it already takes back more than 10% of the hardware it sells in the UK.

Circuit boards contain potentially harmful substances like lead and mercuryOther suppliers will make alternative arrangements, and according to Paul Goodman, a consultant at recycling consultancy ERA, may even try to pass on these end-of-life responsibilities to you, the end user, in their terms and conditions.

“Check the small print in your contracts. It is important that you are aware of what arrangements your supplier has made,” he advised.

The majority of suppliers, however, are expected to employ third-party companies, known as compliance schemes, to collect computer equipment on their behalf.

One such company is Valpak, which is working with clients such as Dixons and Comet, to set up a national network of collection points.

the green debate logo - 270406Business development manager James Skidmore said there are a number of things travel agencies can do with old computers before they even get to companies like Valpak.

“Why not offer old PCs to staff for a knock-down price or sell them to a specialist refurbishment company that upgrades computers? Or you might just want to donate them to a local charity,” he said.

This imaginative thinking around IT recycling has even reached the manufacturers that will have to bear the brunt of the WEEE Directive costs.

According to Friends of the Earth senior waste campaigner Claire Wilton, manufacturers are looking closer at environmentally-friendly product design, to aid the recycling process.

Eco-design features include using fewer raw materials, creating products that are more energy efficient, and including parts that can be recycled easily.


Do you know what’s lurking inside your IT equipment?

Harmful substances: lead, mercury, cadmium, polybrominated diphenlethers.
Found in: circuit boards, connectors, cables.

Old-style CRT monitors
Harmful substances: lead, hexavalent chromium, barium.
Found in: glass, soldering.

Flat-panel monitors
Harmful substances: mercury, lead. 
Found in: light bulb, switches

Source: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition