How might we improve the sustainability of computing?

While recycling minimises the harm that waste disposal might otherwise cause, it does not help lengthen the products' lifespan. There is growing interest in how e-waste can be reused, before being recycled, within organisations that produce a lot of computer-based e-waste. This issue is often left in the too hard basket - noone has the time or energy to work out what to do with old computers.

Three of our Information Technology staff, Team Leader Hamish Smith, Principal Lecturer Peter Brook, and Systems Administrator Rob Broadley, developed a model as a framework to start tackling this problem for Otago Polytechnic's computer waste, in line with our commitment to sustainability. The first step in the process was assessment of the condition of an old computer, with one of three results:

  • the system is refurbished with an operating system and other software to be donated; or
  • if the first action is not possible then the system is stripped for parts; or 
  • the system becomes e-waste.

The model itself needed to be sustainable. The team relied on donated resources and the volunteered time of students, who are learning to be sustainable practitioners. A pop-up approach was adopted, working when and where space was available. Refurbished computers are donated, mainly to charities and other not-for-profit organisations, with no warranty and on condition that they may not be sold. The project has been a win/win/win/win for Otago Polytechnic, the students, our community and our environment.

July 2020

Image credit: Hamish Smith, used with permission.