A lack of data erasure services is the main barrier to people recycling their old tech equipment, according to electronic waste experts running the Tech-Takeback pop-up.
Tech-Takeback was collectively founded by three companies – computer data erasure firm EraseMyData, free online re-use network Freegle, and circular economy environment specialist Soenecs – to allow people to get rid of unwanted technology in a secure way.
Over the course of its second London event, which took place on 10 and 11 January, Tech-Takeback collected 1.33 tonnes of old technology from 113 households, taking the total collected from seven events to nearly 11 tonnes – the equivalent of saving seven tonnes of CO2.
“Fundamentally, it’s about building a circular economy, but the main priority of the London event was data erasure,” said Soenecs managing director David Greenfield.
“One of the main barriers that makes people hold on to their tech is that they’re worried about what’s on it. We had someone come in today with a PC they’ve had for 15 years because they were so worried about the data,” he said.
Unlike linear economies, where products are made, used and then disposed of, alternative circular economies emphasise the need for resources to be used for as long as possible before being recycled and re-used in other products.
Accessible data erasure
Due to its partnership with City of London Corporation, which hosted the London event, the Tech-Takeback team was able to offer free data erasure services, as well as a certificate of the erasure for a £5 fee.
Once the data erasure process is completed, the team triages the equipment to assess whether it can be given a second life as is or if it needs to be recycled.
The items are weighed as part of a rigourous auditing process to ensure that every part of the machine is taken for re-use or recycling.
“We’re looking to see how we can make the Tech-Takeback [events] more regular. People are normally really keen to use the service because they’ve been looking for something like this for a while, so we know there’s demand out there,” said Greenfield.
“My main ambition is to turn it into a mobile service, so we have a vehicle going around where people can drop off their tech.”
A lack of movement
Tech-Takeback started in Brighton and Hove, where the three founding companies were awarded £500 by the local council to run the pop-up.
Tech-Takeback subsequently won a grant from the UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) fund, worth £25,000, which was used to run an additional five pop-ups.
Jeremy Simons, City of London Corporation
According to Greenfield, there is so little movement on dealing with electronic waste because many technology companies see it as a burden that is not part of their core business.
This leads to many materials, such as the rare earths and metals contained in laptops, being lost in shredders designed to recover other components, such as steel.
“It’s going to need a lot more impetus from the tech giants to push this issue. They are on the journey and they are buying into the circular economy as well, which is great, but being brutally honest we have to ensure it’s not just a green wash – you actually need action,” said Greenfield.
While a number of technology companies do run similar take-back schemes, including high street retailers Curry’s and PC World, Greenfield said “very few of them publicise them”, so people tend not to use them when getting rid of old tech equipment.
“Electronic waste continues to be a real threat to us all, damaging the environment through land, air and water contamination,” said Jeremy Simons, chair of the City of London Corporation’s environment committee.
“Tech-Takeback gives city workers, residents and businesses a new way of disposing of their tired tech responsibly. Through this partnership we are playing our part to help the city’s local community become more sustainable.”