Recycling computers Council recycling advice

Our investigation shows the quality of advice and availability of services varies dramatically from one council to the next. 

old computer monitor

There’s no guarantee PCs will be recycled once they’re taken away

Perhaps, more worrying, is the lack of knowledge and advice on how to dispose of the data stored on your computer. This could mean the local tip becomes a hunting ground for would-be identity thieves.

Councils investigated

To find out what advice councils would give us about where and how to recycle PCs, we contacted 109 councils in nine different regions between 24 October and 5 November 2007, asking how to get rid of an old computer and monitor.

The majority of local councils that’ll recycle your computer will collect your PC from home, with just under two thirds charging a fee.

Will your PC really be recycled or just thrown away?

But there’s no guarantee PCs will be recycled or reused once they’re taken away. One in seven councils couldn’t tell us what would happen with the computer after it was collected. ‘I don’t know what they do with it,’ admitted one. ‘If the guys come and get it from your house, then they take it to the site [tip]. I’m not sure whether it’s recycled or not,’ he said.

Only two fifths of councils who said they’d recycle a computer could tell us with any certainty that equipment would actually be recycled, a third mentioned that something else would happen to it. ‘If the council collects them they just end up being scrapped,’ said one. ‘They just literally go into the landfill; they get smashed apart.’

Another council was quite aware of its stance on disposing of computer equipment. ‘Things like tellies and computer monitors do have to be disposed of correctly because of the tube. We say that the other parts of the computer can go into your wheelie bin and just be crushed in the crusher.’

Stirling Council was particularly helpful, saying that its landfill site has a special area for recycling electricals.

Councils' advice on removing data safely

We also wanted to know what advice councils would give us about removing information from our computers before we sent them for recycling. Worryingly, most councils we spoke to didn’t seem overly concerned or knowledgeable about the safety of personal data stored on old PCs.

When we asked whether we should delete our data before sending the computer for recycling, a general trend was for councils to say ‘It’s up to you’ or ‘I suppose so’. Of those who did offer advice, few gave helpful suggestions, despite good intentions.

Misleading advice

When we asked about whether we should worry about deleting our data, one said: ‘No, it shouldn’t be a problem really... they don’t recycle it I don’t think, so there’s no use... if you wanted to be very safe, you could delete everything but otherwise I don’t think it’d be a problem just leaving it.’

Another told us: ‘You can easily uninstall any information that you have put on there.’ Technically, both of these answers are misleading for consumers. A knowledgeable identity thief could easily recover deleted or uninstalled files (see the ‘Erasing PC data’ section).

Once, when we asked if we needed to ‘clean’ the computer, someone told us ‘Oh no, you just leave your screen, the monitor, out as it is for collection. You don’t have to clean it or anything.’ By comparison, Oxfordshire County Council could tell us that hard drives would be wiped when collected and actually mentioned the Weee directive.