Waste not want not

By recycling unwanted equipment and ensuring disposals are environmentally friendly, manufacturers can boost their green credentials and save money, says Graham Davy

The manufacturing sector has become more environmentally aware, as its customers are becoming more discerning about their purchases and basing their buying decisions on green performance and practice.

So firms that are proactive in implementing an environmental programme will not only improve processes and systems but also demonstrate to stakeholders that they are taking their business relationships and reputation seriously.

Those who do not will have to change their outlook rapidly as, with the increased amount of environmental legislation over the last few years, the trend is set to continue.

The most recent EU law, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, offers organisations the opportunity to improve processes while bolstering their corporate social responsibility credentials. The directive has put the electronic recycling ball firmly in the court of the business community.

Organisations need not see this as a burden — regulations such as WEEE should be considered a commercial opportunity. The directive can help companies improve their processes, systems and corporate social responsibility and also allow them to make cost savings, such as expanding the lifespan of the operating infrastructure.

They need to consider end-of-life equipment as assets, which still have a value or a use, not as waste that should be discarded.

So what are the options for manufacturers looking to maximise their end-of- life assets?

The implementation of the WEEE Directive has raised the awareness of recycling and asset management but, as the business world continues to rely on IT and more information is held electronically, many organisations are still unaware of the benefits of recycling their end-of-life IT equipment. Therefore, manufacturing organisations with redundant IT equipment such as laptops, computers and servers to dispose of, should be considering an asset management programme.

If they choose to refurbish their equipment it is electronically ‘data-purged’, to ensure that any information previously held is removed. The units are then refurbished to ‘as new’ status, which can include the replacement of broken parts and reloading of software to the organisation’s standards and wishes.

If the business no longer needs the equipment, the units could be re-used through re-marketing programme. The machines would be refurbished as outlined above, with any identifying marks removed. The asset management company would then sell the units on to a third party, sharing the profit with the disposing business.

The total destruction of equipment will involve pre-shredding to 40mm strips before secondary granulation down to 20mm flakes. The material could then be finely granulated to pieces as small as 6mm in size, where security requirements are a must.

All computer waste emanating from the process should be disposed of in accordance with the criteria laid down in the legislation.

While large-scale manufacturing and plant machinery is not covered by the WEEE Directive, organisations in the sector should use the introduction of such environmental legislation as a catalyst for looking at how they make the most of their redundant equipment.

Traditionally, when manufacturing equipment has come to the end of its life, decommissioning and disposing of the machinery has been an expensive process.

This cost and the effort involved has also helped to focus manufacturers’ minds on the fact that end-of-life equipment is waste — a view that should be revised, especially with the current high prices in the metals market place.

Unlike the IT equipment used in the back-office function, end-of-life industrial machinery typically cannot be reused as readily — either due to the cost of refurbishment or the stringent health and safety rules that govern the sector.

Therefore, the worth in the end-of-life equipment comes from its intrinsic value — the value of its components when broken down such as precious metals like copper, gold, aluminium, steel and platinum.

With the current high metal prices, metal recyclers will be keen to talk to manufacturing businesses with equipment to dispose of, and will pay a premium for the equipment. The money received in return for equipment, which was originally viewed as waste, could then be re-invested in the production infrastructure.

Finally, if security and cost savings are not reason enough for companies to reconsider how they deal with their end-of-life IT equipment, then environmental best practice should be.

Whether it is redundant IT or manufacturing equipment, by considering machinery as an asset, organisations in the sector can reap the benefits — whether it is for the good of their reputation, budgets or the environment.

Graham Davy is global chief executive of Sims Recycling Solutions