The E-Waste Dilemma: Where Do Broken Computers Go?

That question gets pretty complicated based on where you live, and whether you’re talking about individually-owned computers or those held by large corporations. If you live in a country where there are electronic waste facilities nearby and you don’t have overseas relationships, you may want to stop reading this article now.  But what if you’re a tech enthusiast helping start-up programs in low-resource parts of the world?

OldComputersMy name is Neelley Hicks and I work as the Director for ICT4D Church Initiatives at United Methodist Communications, the communications agency for The United Methodist Church. We have relationships with people and ministries around the world and have a moral mandate to care for the earth. So this is an important question to ask, in this era of emerging technologies, that can make a big difference in quality of life for those who’ve been most left behind by the information age. I’ve been reaching out to colleagues who are fluent in e-waste policies to look at how we can be environmentally responsible, while still promoting the use of technologies for social good in low-resource areas. Here are some good practices I’ve found:

1) Determine What Is Right for the Context

If you think that the computers that work well in your regularly air-conditioned office are going to benefit the program you’re supporting in Africa or Haiti, think again. Instead, look at newer low-energy computers that survive high-heat, humidity, and dust and that run on batteries for extended periods of time. They’ll last longer, fulfill intended purposes better, and keep some of the toxins found in old computers out of areas that don’t have local e-waste management. If you still want to re-use an old computer, consider using it in a similar context – there may be a program right down the road from you that will really appreciate the donation!

2) Local Repair, Local Maintenance

If you donate or install technology overseas, what’s going to happen when you leave? Have you connected reliable ICT specialists with your program, or will users have to wait until you visit again for questions to be answered and repairs to take place? You can find certified specialists through Inveneo in 25 different countries. Also, NetHope provides a good network of in-country technicians, and they have an ongoing program to build field capacity. Consider strengthening in-field capacity and ICT knowledge during installation – not only will equipment be used to greater capacity, but you may also spark some new income-generating ideas for the programs you care about.

3) Rebuild Computers and Build Local Workforce

One broken component doesn’t mean the whole computer is bad. Maybe this is a good opportunity for a local university to dissect, test, and retain the good parts. In time, there will be enough good parts to make a whole computer that could be sold locally or used at the university. Along the way, knowledge will be gained – helping local workforce development.

United Methodist Communications is hosting an ICT4D conference September 3-5, 2014, focusing on how to implement successful tech projects in low-resource areas. Join the discussion with others who care about living into this technological era equitably and responsibly. Go to to learn more.

Have other e-waste tips to share? Add comments below to be considered for inclusion during the conference.

  1. Posted by Jana Melpolder on July 2, 2014 in the categories: Healthcare, News
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