BCS warns of environmental impact of Vista upgrade

Companies should look to IT charities such as Computer Aid to dispose of their old machines safely when planning upgrades or migrations

Companies that opt to refresh their PCs following an upgrade to Microsoft Vista should ensure that they dispose of old machines in an environmentally responsible way, according to the British Computer Society.

Although some analysts and commentators claim that businesses are not going to rush to deploy the operating system until at least the first service pack is released, the British Computer Society (BCS) is urging companies to begin planning now for the disposal of any machines that need to be replaced during an upgrade.

Nigel Shadbolt, BCS president, said the release of Vista could eventually see large numbers of PCs being upgraded with many old PCs discarded. "PCs contain many toxic components, so if they end up in a landfill we are creating a real problem for the future. It can be really easy to pass on the old machine to be reused, and if it's beyond use, to recycle it," he said.

The BCS is advising companies to think about disposing of old PCs through organisations such as UK IT charity Computer Aid, which refurbishes machines for use by schools and the public sector in the developing world.

Tony Roberts, chief executive of Computer Aid, claims that every PC refurbished by the charity will work productively for at least three to four years. The charity has provided over 80,000 such PCs to the developing world so far and has set itself the target of shipping 100,000 by its tenth birthday in October 2007.

As well as the impact of Vista on upgrade cycles, the BCS claims that upcoming legislation such as the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive will also impact businesses' approach to IT disposal and recycling.

The directive, which is due to be enacted into UK law in January 2007 following successive delays, will see producers, retailers and consumers forced to contribute to the safe and environmental disposal of electrical equipment.

Computer Aid's Roberts said that environmental enforcement through legislation such as the WEEE directive is vital if the UK is going to catch up with other more environmentally conscious countries. He claims that the UK has failed to meet the implementation deadline set by Europe due to manufacturer and producer disagreement about the financing mechanisms.

"Computer Aid strongly urged the UK Government to bring forward the implementation of this legislation, which is intended to regulate the industry and drive the e-waste cowboys out of business," he said.

Roberts added that when companies decide what to do with their old PCs they need to be very careful that they deal with reputable companies that can document their waste streams.

"There are a lot of unscrupulous waste traders out there and claims that PCs will be donated to charity need to be authenticated. Some companies are paying lip-service to the environment and charity donations as a way of taking commercial advantage," he added.