UK IT charity Computer Aid International has shipped 200,000 PCs and laptops to schools, hospitals and charities in developing countries since 1998, and is appealing for another 50,000 PCs and laptops this year for use in Africa and Latin America.
The average large company in the UK disposes of an average of 542 computers per year, according to the charity's research. But while the UK gets rid of several million working machines every year, in sub-Saharan Africa there are only 25 PCs per 1,000 people, and the charity argues there is a huge opportunity to use these refurbished PCs to reduce poverty.
Most of the donated PCs are used in education, giving children and adults the IT skills they need for further education and to get better jobs. Access to PCs also allows rural doctors to connect to specialists in city centres, while the computers can also allow farmers keep up to date with weather forecasts and find new markets for their crops.
About 95 per cent of donations to the charity come from businesses, with individuals providing the remainder. Supermarket group Sainsbury's is Computer Aid's largest PC donor to date, having given more than 11,000 items of equipment over the past three years.
Although the charity receives donations from hundreds of organisations each month, most companies worried about data security still prefer to crush machines instead of recycling them. Other companies try to resell their old kit, but Anja ffrench, director of communications at Computer Aid International, said donating this equipment to charity has a far greater value, with a single donated PC sufficient to train 60 children in IT.
ffrench said more could be done with Europe's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations to encourage reuse of old hardware: "If there was a target for reuse in the WEEE directive, it would be an incentive to donate equipment for reuse. Currently there is no such target, unfortunately. The WEEE legislation does state, however, that companies should prioritise reuse over recycling, but there is no actual incentive to do so."
Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.