A Small Business’s Guide to Disposing of E-Waste

WEEE - hoe to get rid of old electronics PC laptopMany small businesses up and down the country have a corner or storeroom where dead or unused electronic kit sits, unused and gathering dust. Many of us keep it there because, hey you never know, it might come in handy for spares one day. But it never does and ends up sitting there for years.

In this guide, we look at everything small businesses need to know, including legal obligations, when it comes to disposing of their e-waste (however long it’s been sat in a cupboard).

When it does come to disposing of old electronic kit though, many small businesses don’t really know what to do with it. Many more still aren’t aware that there are laws that since 2003 there have been rules on disposing of Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) which mean that it mustn’t be dumped in general waste.

WEEE Scope

A number of different items fall under the heading of WEEE. Essentially, it’s anything that needs power, either from the mains or from batteries. This covers a wide variety of equipment including computers, phones, printers, peripherals such as keyboards and other electronic gadgets including electric clocks, radios or TVs.

Items covered by WEEE should display the crossed out wheelie-bin logo to show that they shouldn’t be put into general waste.

The principal reason as to why there are special rules for disposing of this kind of equipment is that it can contain hazardous substances such as lead and mercury that need to be properly dealt with rather than dumped in landfill.

In addition, electronics can contain precious metals such as gold and copper in their printed circuit boards which can be recovered and recycled. Other parts including steel and aluminium cases can be recycled too.

Disposing of Electronic Waste

So, how do you get rid of your old electronics? To some extent, this depends on what the equipment is and what condition it’s in.

If you have a computer such as a Macbook or Windows Desktop that is being replaced but is still working condition, then it could be sold or passed on to a charity or to a specialist company that is able to refurbish it and sell it on.

If you have a large quantity of non-working kit, there are specialists that can collect it from your premises and take it away for you. For smaller quantities, you could take it to a local recycling site. Most local authorities now have WEEE recycling schemes that will accept a wide variety of kit.

Safe Data Disposal

While it’s important that your business’s E-waste is disposed of safely from a physical point of view, it’s also vital to deal with any data that it may contain. While it’s good to get rid of your old equipment, you don’t want to let your company’s and customer’s data go along with it.

If you have a computer that is still working, then you can boot it up and wipe the drive. It’s not sufficient to just delete the files or even format the disk, as things can still be recovered with the right tools. Newer versions of Windows and MacOS have built-in features that allow you to overwrite the contents of the drive multiple times to ensure that the data is safely destroyed.

For older machines, there are tools you can download (DBAN, for example) which create a bootable CD. Using this you can start the computer independently of the operating system and safely erase the hard drive.

If the computer isn’t working, you should remove the hard drive before disposal. There are specialist companies that can destroy hard drives for you, or you can do the job yourself. Exposing the disk to a strong magnet is one way of doing it, or removing the outer cover to expose the disk platters should ensure that – due to the fine tolerances involved – the disk is rendered unreadable.

Not only computers hold sensitive data

Remember that it isn’t only office computers that may contain sensitive data. If your company owns old external hard drives, these need to be erased before disposal too.

And don’t forget equipment such as routers that may contain the access settings for your network. On these, you should perform a factory reset to ensure that all of your information is safely removed.

The same applies to solid state devices such as smartphones and tablets. Remove any memory or SIM cards and perform a factory reset on the device before disposing of it.

Any smart devices that have been set up to access your network – TVs, digital assistants, IP security cameras, etc – also need to have their memories reset so that you don’t inadvertently give away the address and passwords for your network.

The problem of E-waste is only likely to get bigger in future, it’s therefore important for us as small businesses owners to ensure that we all do our bit to dispose of our old IT and electrical equipment safely and responsibly.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Rob Weller, the founder of professional computer recycling and refurbishing business, Money 4 My Tech. You can connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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