E-waste. What about our university’s electronics?

Source: e-waste collective

At a university with around 35,000 students and employees there are also many computers, phones and tablets about. Each device is written off every several years to make space for new, improved electronics. But what happens to all the old devices? Wim van den Berg, Co-ordinator Work Area Support of the ICT Shared Service Center (ISSC), answers some of LUGO’s questions.

By: Aoife Fleming

What does the lifecycle of electronic devices within the university look like?

Wim: Since 2014 the ownership of devices lies with the faculties. This means that each faculty can decide when to buy new devices and when to get rid of old. We recommend buying new computers every four years but in practice this can vary a lot. For example, the budget of the faculty of science is very dependent on research funds, so some computers are seven years old and have been handed down to students or researchers.

Does sustainability play a role in the acquiring of electronics?

Wim: Every four years a committee draws up criteria for the devices, sustainability is definitely a part of this. When selecting a new producer we look at various aspects of sustainability. For example, how are the computers packed and transported, what materials are they made of and how much energy do they use? In the end the producer with the most favourable deal, which also means looking at the finances, gets a contract for one year.

What happens to the computers when they are written off?

Wim: We have a contract with a Leiden based company called Infotheek. We collect all the devices and then Infotheek takes care of the rest. They wipe all the data from the devices so they’re untraceable to the university. Infotheek also refurbishes old electronics which means that our old computers can be reused again in schools for example. This process works well for computers, with tablets and phones it’s harder. Old phones end up in a drawer or are handed down to an employee’s cousin. Unfortunately this means that I don’t have any idea whether these devices are recycled responsibly or whether they just end up in the bin.

What possibilities do you see to ensure a responsible recycling for phones and tablets?

Wim: There are around 7500 work places in the university, which means it’s virtually impossible to account for everything that happens. The best way to get a grip on the recycling of old devices is through regulation. A better collaboration between the ISSC and the Staff- and Organisation Services is key to this. The S&O Services are the ones who deal with an employee leaving the university. At that point there is a good opportunity to take the electronics back again and make sure they are recycled responsibly. I also see the Funky Phone Challenge that LUGO is participating in as a great initiative to prevent phones from ending up in the bin. In the end we live in a time period where it’s not possible anymore to lack behind on the subject of sustainability.

 

Do you have an old phone at home? Bring it to the e-waste arcade and set a new high score! The Funky Phone Challenge continues until the 8th of February.

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