Less than half of second hand PCs will find new home

Firms missing out on environmental, commercial and development benefits associated with PC re-use, according to new report

Less than half of the PCs that are retired each year will find a second home, according to a new report from IT industry analysts Gartner.

The study found that just 44 per cent of 197 million PCs that were retired in 2007 were re-used, while only one in five found their way to developing markets, despite strong demand from those economies for second hand PCs.

The research will reignite fears that many of the PCs that are donated or sold for re-use are instead being broken up, or even illegally shipped to scrap yards in the developing world.

Ensuring IT equipment is re-used is widely regarded as the most environmentally friendly means of disposing of unwanted kit, as using machines for their full working life helps reduce demand for new raw materials and components, and should result in a net cut in carbon emissions.

Re-use charities such as Computer Aid International also claim that donated PCs can help to support development projects, such as schools and hospitals, in emerging economies.

However, there have been numerous scandals in recent years highlighting the extent to which the practice is exploited by companies shipping PCs to developing countries where the machines are then broken up in hazardous conditions rather than re-used.

The Gartner research appears to confirm that despite demand for second hand PCs far outstripping supply, the bulk of PCs going into the secondary market are either being recycled or in some cases illegally dumped.

The report argues that there is a financial as well as an environmental incentive for firms to embrace re-use, claiming that a refurbished three-year-old PC can offer a profit margin of between $10 (£7) and $50.

However, the report notes that export tariffs and high transport costs are stopping many recyclers and waste management firms from offering re-use services, while a confusing patchwork of environmental and data loss legislation is similarly restricting the number of PCs firms are willing to donate or sell for re-use.

Meike Escherich, principal analyst at Gartner, said that the supply of PCs for re-use was likely to be cut still further as the recession begins to force firms to delay purchases of new PCs. "In times of uncertainty and recession, we expect replacements will slow down with demand increasing and supplying decreasing," she said.

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