The WEEE Directive? Surely you’re taking the pi…
Not at all – this has nothing to do with euphemism, it stands for the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive.

And what’s it all about?
It’s about introducing measures to force companies and individuals to dispose of electrical equipment such as computers in a responsible fashion.

Such as throwing them in a skip or fly-tipping in a lay-by?
Very droll. That’s exactly the sort of thing the Directive is aiming to put a stop to. Every year around 1.5 million PCs find their way into landfill sites. At the current rate that represents an environmental time-bomb.

So how should these items be disposed of?
In one of two ways. They should either be recycled component by component, ensuring any toxic or hazardous elements are ‘made safe’ – such as heavy metals. Or alternatively they should be reconditioned and given a new lease of life.

One organisation – Computer Aid International – will take your old PCs, service them, ensure they are wiped of any of your data and then send them off to schools and community projects in Africa. The data issue is also very important as a large number of PCs are still scrapped with hard disks loaded with sensitive information.

So that must be the better option, right?
Undoubtedly. The replacement cycles for PCs in the West means many are judged obsolete long before they would naturally stop being of any use. As such there are many good causes out there who could make very good use of them. Such initiatives will, over time also help to close the growing digital divide between the developed and developing world and will help to force progress in some of the world’s most neglected countries. Rwanda is one country where Computer Aid has particularly active.

But, these computers will eventually become obsolete – even in Africa, right?
Of course, but not for some time.

So aren’t we just shifting the ultimate burden to recycle unto these poorer economies?
That’s actually a very good point and there is obviously some truth in that. However, what you have to balance out are the economic advantages of receiving so much computer equipment up front against the costs down the line associated with recycling. Also, surprisingly, many of these countries are actually well-prepared for the task of recycling and their economies such that there is relatively high sell-on value in the materials they extract from PCs. But if people can’t be bothered contacting charities who recondition PCs what are the options for them?
Well firstly it’s worth stating that they are incredibly lazy if that is the case but they will still be required to do something more constructive than dump the equipment in a skip outside their office – or face fines or other measures. The PC will have to be collected by or taken to somebody qualified to break it down and make safe all components.

And who will pay for that?
This is where is gets a little more complicated. There is talk of the manufacturers footing the bill – the Dells, HPs, IBMs and Apples of this world. But of course consumers are aware those costs will likely be passed on to them in some way, shape or form. There is also talk of local councils having to foot the bill and set up schemes such as those to recycle glass, paper and plastics. But again it goes without saying that consumers will likely pay more at the end of the day in terms of council tax.

I’m spotting a pattern here…
Indeed. There is a very good chance that for all the grants, manufacturer taxes, donations and subsidies that the consumers and businesses will pay a little more for computer equipment under the WEEE Directive.

Well it is and it isn’t. Of course none of use wants to pay more for anything, but in the past we have all probably been slightly irresponsible with such and matters, so perhaps it isn’t too much to ask that we pay an extra pound or two for the proper disposal of such items.

And when does this all come into effect?
Another good question. The UK has already missed one deadline which passed almost unnoticed in August.. Then the DTI said ‘October’. So any day now.

So anybody thinking of replacing their PCs should rush out and do so now, while they are still allowed to skip the old stuff?
It’s likely there may be some who feel that way, but I would urge them to contact Computer Aid International who would be more than happy to hear from them and would ensure their PCs found a very welcome new home.

Imagine the glow of being environmentally friendly and doing something good for the developing world – it’s a double-whammy of conscience easing proportions.

If you’re interested in donating your old computer(s) to Computer Aid International, click here for more information.