Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Price of Everything and the Cost of Nothing

One episode of QI focused on the many interesting things inside an average mobile phone. Including a tiny speck of gold, no less. It was an interesting discussion, with some good jokes, but it is typical of the sort of chitchat that gives recycling real problems.

It left me with the impression that anyone recycling old mobile handsets could very well end up with a considerable amount of money, some of it at my expense. So, although I don’t have the audience of Stephen Fry and Alan Davies, let me share something with you to achieve some balance.

EReco has gained a reputation in the printer world for extracting the most value out of second hand equipment. We are quite good at it, and our client base reflects that, I am pleased to say. The office printer is a much used and abused device. Despite all the guff about paperless offices, most of us still churn out lots of printing and big organisations often refresh their assets accordingly. So hot off the press, having just done several pricing exercises, here are some facts.

Modern printers have memory so they have to be wiped. Not a problem, we can do that, but unfortunately that tends to corrupt the software in the case of printers. It can be replaced but the cost is not always worthwhile. And here’s why.

The market value for a used printer is not high. Because everyone knows they get a lot of use from their first owner, even in tip top condition, with software undamaged, £50 is about it. At the other end of the scale, if it is completely knackered and we have to reduce it to its constituent parts, we will get around £5. If there is gold in them thar hills, there ain’t much!

Before we get to that stage, we have to collect the thing and wipe the data. That costs more than the lowest scrap value, hence why we charge for collection and data erasure. However, if we can sell your old stuff, we share the profits after deducting our costs.

But don’t get excited, recycling will not make you rich either, I promise. That is not the point. The idea is to do it responsibly for the lowest cost. I am not going to give you any Green lectures because there are enough people doing that. All you need to know is that a WEEE recycler like us will not put anything into a landfill unless they really have to (and that is not much but there are still a few things that have to be buried). We work really hard at extending the lifecycle of everything we get our hot little hands on, because that is the best option for the environment.

But you should not be worrying about a few quid to do something for the environment. On two levels that is not the thing to worry about. Firstly, you have done your bit and secondly, the cost of not doing it properly far outweighs the negative cost.

Because...let’s say you get rid of some old printers to a bloke who is prepared to collect them for nothing. He says all the right things and he has a nice smile. So you say yes. But he doesn’t wipe the memory and some clever ne’er do well uses the information and you get caught. Which is exactly what happened to the now defunct NHS Surrey Trust and my local hospital. Except in their case it was PC’s and not printers.

Patient records ended up in the public domain and they were fined a lot of money. £200k. Two hundred thousand pounds. And it costs £5 to wipe a hard disk. And you get the paperwork to prove you have followed all the regulations. And all of these problems are caused by people not wanting to pay to get rid of something they think has value.

The old cliché about there being no such thing as a free lunch still holds true.