People are always asking me where to bring their stuff — old TVs, computer equipment, etc. — instead of throwing it in the garbage. So I’ve decided to start a little series on reuse and recycling. Today, we begin with computers.
The short answer would be to bring old computer equipment to your local ecocentre, because they will dispose of items containing toxic or hazardous materials in an environmentally safe way.
However, if you think there might be some salvageable components, consider bringing your old computer equipment to Insertech Angus.
Insertech is a non-profit organization with a social and environmental mission: it specializes in the collection and refurbishing of IT equipment, while employing and training young adults at risk. Each year, some fifty adults ages 18 to 35 work at salaried positions and receive technical training, as well as social support, to help them integrate into the job market.
In addition to desktop computers, the company accepts LCD screens, laptops, notebooks, and even tablets. They also accept peripherals and computer parts. Technicians verify the equipment, erase the disks, and then repair, clean and upgrade the equipment to create optimized machines that can be used by schools, community organizations, students, the elderly, or other groups or individuals.
“Insertech is an IT solution that is socially and environmentally profitable,” sums up general director Agnes Beaulieu, who helped found the company thirteen years ago. “We use the term ‘solution’ because we cover a range of computer needs.” For example, Insertech also offers repair services, gives courses on how to repair or optimize your equipment yourself, and sells affordable refurbished equipment — “all with a goal to helping people avoid consuming products needlessly.”
Services for companies
The bulk of IT materials collected come from companies. Through its ISO-certified DÉDUIRre program, Insertech offers free pick-up for 15 computers or more in the greater Montreal area, permanent and secure deletion of data from the hard drives, and guarantees maximum reuse of the hardware. If they cannot refurbish the equipment, they will dispose of it in an environmentally sound manner. Insertech can buy the equipment if it’s fully working and possesses the latest technology or, as a recognized charity, they can issue a receipt for tax purposes for the donation of working computers. Companies can also resell the refurbished equipment to their employees.
What percentage of machines can really be refurbished? “It depends on where they come from,” says Beaulieu. From individuals, about 20%. From companies, up to 70%. “Companies use their equipment for 3 or 4 years maximum before switching to higher performance machines,” she explains. Individuals, however, tend to hang on to their equipment longer, often passing it on to a friend or family member. “So by the time we get it, it’s usually pretty old.”
Last year, out of 11,515 units collected (164 metric tonnes), Insertech was able to refurbish 7142 units, or 62%.
One item they cannot do anything with, however, is old, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens. Beaulieu says individuals are better off bringing those to an ecocentre, which will dispose of them (ecologically) for free. Insertech has to charge people $15 to cover the recycling cost.
Repair, refurbish, reuse
Refurbished equipment is an environmentally friendly choice that is suitable for anyone, she stresses. “You can get very good equipment that meets your needs, and in terms of the environment, it’s a very big gesture.”
Beaulieu cites a study conducted by Recyc-Québec which shows that reusing computers is 9 times better for the environment than recycling. In the case of LCD screens, it’s 24 times better. “It’s the manufacturing phase that causes the most damage to the environment,” she explains. “Recycling reduces the use of raw materials, but it still involves manufacturing.”
Insertech also helps extend the life of people’s existing computer equipment. “Often, people don’t realize their equipment can be repaired. Manufacturers are not interested; people are just told to buy new equipment.” For example, she says, many people think that LCD screens cannot be repaired. “It’s completely false. Our success rate for repairing LCD screens is over 70 percent.”
Ultimately, says Beaulieu, her organization wants to convince people of two things: “Yes, it’s important to get rid of your equipment in an ecological way, and not just put it in the garbage, because it contains hazardous waste,” says Beaulieu. “But, while recycling is good, reusing is much better.”