When Recycling Computers Means Scrap Metal

Until two weeks ago I believed our local council gave used computers to organisations for reuse and recycling. I based this belief on the Barnet website, http://www.barnet.gov.uk/ which states that computer and home office equipment – and I quote – “are collected by organisations for reuse and recycling”.

However, this was not my experience when I took one of the family’s many PC castoffs to be recycled – or so I thought. If I had imagined it was going to help a poverty-stricken village in Africa or some other place too hot to mention, I was mistaken.

For as I made my way to the corner where so many of our technological cast-offs end up, I could clearly hear, in the distance, the unmistakable sound of a man.

“Chuck it in the scrap metal mate”.

I turned around with all the dignity a man carrying a desktop computer can have, and pointed out that I believed the council policy was to recycle used computers.

“Nah, mate. People keep putting them down with the electronics, but we just chuck them in the scrap metal anyway”.

I complied, and made a mental note to check this ‘fact’ with the local authority, who seem to be trying so hard to reduce waste. And I did so, and I’m waiting for a response to this evening’s email. While throwing this piece of ‘scrap metal’ into the giant skip I pondered over the fact that, so few years ago, an incredibly complex and clever piece of equipment like this would have been someone’s prize possession, probably even belonging to a private company and definitely costing thousands. But even for that money I couldn’t have acquired one, as the best on the market wasn’t even that fast, just a few years ago.

Today, such an item is simply not good enough, not even worth taking to bits for someone else to deal with.

The way people round here behave, you’d think there were way too many computers in the world, but according to Computer Aid International, a charity that distributes PCs to the developing world ([http://www.computuraid.org/] )

“The digital divide that currently exists between the developed and developing countries is enormous. Latest World Bank research shows that there are 5 or less computers per 1,000 people in the vast majority of Sub-Saharan African countries. This figure is also applicable to the South Asian sub-continent.”

Here in the UK well over half of households have at least one PC, more than that in ours.

Is there a link between our attitude towards used technology and our attitude to everything else around us? I believe so, but that’s another topic for another day.

By the way, the Council seems to be doing something with the monitors. I saw these loaded onto a pallet at quite a rate. It’s quite hard for them to keep up with the number coming in.