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How To Recycle IT Hardware and Other Server Room Devices

There are many reasons why server rooms and datacentres can generate a high volume of materials for recycling. These can include equipment upgrade policies, shrinkage and general consumable replacements.

Most servers have a 3-year warranty and with datacentres typically operating a 3-5 year replacement policy, this means that we can see many servers, computers and associated IT peripherals requiring collection and recycling. Server users may upgrade every 3-5 years so that they keep their kit current, always have the latest energy efficient systems, stay inside manufacturer’s warranty or simply want more powerful systems.

Shrinkage can also occur through virtualisation. Traditional datacentres switching to a virtualised environment can see a 50-60% reduction in the overall physical space required for their server facilities, as they deploy virtualised servers within a smaller number of rack cabinets. Here not only redundant servers may need removal and recycling. Rack cabinets and cabling can also fall victim to virtualisation.

Within the datacentre facility support systems including critical power and critical cooling can also have consumable items including batteries and filters. A typical UPS system will have a 5 year or 10-year design life battery and these will require complete replacement within years 3-4 and 7-8 respectively. Full UPS refurbishments can be required around year 10-12 with fans and capacitors replaced. The alternative is full UPS system replacement or upgrade to a more energy efficient system. In either case there will materials to be collected and recycled.

In terms of UK waste stream, IT and other forms of electronic hardware represent one of the fastest growing waste streams and industry sectors. This is not just to the reasons cited above but the overall development pace of technology and falling prices. In advanced countries like the USA, over 20 million PC are made obsolete and pushed into waste streams per annum.

IT Equipment Recycling

The term ‘IT equipment’ covers many types of computing equipment including servers, computers, monitors, keyboards, storage devices, switches and routers. In addition, there are power cords and network interfaces as well as data cables and patch panels.

Another term of IT equipment waste is e-waste and such cannot simply be binned and sent to landfill sites. IT systems general contain a mixture of materials including plastics and metals some of which contain toxic substances and heavy metals which can be classed as hazardous waste if they are not treated and disposed of as recommended by government, industry and manufacturer guidelines.

So, what is the typical desktop PC made from in terms of materials. The highest component is ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals in a proportion of 32-18% typically. The next component is plastics which make up around 23% of most computers and servers. Surprisingly the rest of the materials can be classed as glass and off course PCBs (printed circuit boards). In terms of PCBs the solder should be lead-free but a typical computer can contain up to 2Kg of lead and together with the other components this make traditional computers difficult to recycle with more modern systems adopting an eco-friendlier approach to component sourcing and end-of-life disposal.


In the EU, there are two directives that govern and regulate use of substances and their recycling. The first is known as RoHS and this stands for the Restriction of Hazardous Substances. As the name implies the directive restricts manufacturers from using certain materials and substances in new electronic and electrical systems. In July 2011, the original RoHS Directive 2002/95/EC was replaced with the RoHS Directive 2011/65/EC (known as RoHS 2 or RoHS Recast). The latest amendment to the standard expanded and clarified the exemptions list.

The second is known as WEEE and covers Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. The directive puts the responsibility for recycling at end-of-life at the door of the manufacturer and stipulates that those who recover or treat such waste must store, collect, treat, recycle and dispose of WEEE-listed materials separately from other waste. When disposing of WEEE-listed materials proof of transfer must be given from the waste management company to prove that the was treated, recycled and disposed off in an environmentally friendly way.

Waste Management Companies

At Server Room Environments, we work with several specialist and general waste management companies. We use suppliers with waste carrier licenses from the Environment Agency to take items classified as waste to a waste management company facility. Here the loaded vehicle is put onto a weight bridge and the weight recorded. The goods are them unloaded and the vehicle is then reweighed. The waste management company then pays a sum for the waste. This works well for metal and products with metal in such as batteries, metal server cabinets and UPS systems.

Rather than take the collected goods to a waste management company we can also arrange of recycle skips and bins to arrive at site or one of our depots. Each skip or bin is identified for a product type and when full will be collected by the provider and returned to their waste processing facility. On arrival and estimate is made of the materials returned and a waste transfer and disposal note provided as proof of the transfer.

Manufacturer Returns and Disposals

WEEE and RoHS have forced manufacturers to incorporate end-of-life management and recycling into their new products, environmental policies and many now operate their own recycling schemes. This not only helps the manufacturer to comply with the directives but also to engender brand loyalty.

Donate To Charity

Another alternative for working devices is to offer them to schools and charities. Whilst they may not be accepted in developed countries, charities operating in third-world environments will generally accept such devices provided they pose no hazards or threats to the users.

Security and Data Erasure

A very important aspect to consider when disposing of IT hardware is data erasure. Industry leading procedures exist (CESG) when it comes to erasing hard drives and destroying systems to prevent your data being recovered and distributed for criminal purposes. Once erased and disposed of, a data erasing service will provide a complete data erasure report and certificate. The certificate should also list the equipment including model and serial numbers and be archived for up to seven years in case it is necessary to retrace a product’s end-of-life disposal. As well as erasing data, shredding services should also be applied to hard drives and tapes up to 6mm to meet security and government requirements.

There are many reasons for wanting to dispose and recycle IT equipment and the pace of development of server technologies and gadgets in general is leading to a greater number of devices to recycle each year. Governments and industry bodies have introduced statutes and guidelines with penalties for non-compliance. Even when recycling cannot recover all materials and substances, society must reduce its compliance on landfill and ensure that hazardous substances are disposed of in a such a way that they cannot seep into the food chain or cause hard to individuals and society, whether in modern or third world countries or their adjoining lands and oceans.

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