So, I have done when free is not free to death, and despite the temptation to do so I will not repeat myself, but let me run through a very illustrative scenario I have just stumbled across. It is not so much about the free this time as about the doing good for free myth.
I just spoke to an architect who told me that his old gear is collected for free, after he has removed and destroyed all the hard drives. He got a tick there, protecting his data security. But when I asked him about paperwork he was less convincing I am afraid.
He told me who he used and I looked them up before getting back to him with some cold, hard truths.
Firstly, he takes care of his data but he cannot prove it. He has no paperwork, and the machine disappears, headed to reputable WEEE treatment facility, allegedly. I have no reason to doubt that as the web site mentions some people I know to be ok, but I am a little suspicious as he is not getting any waste transfer notes or asset lists.
The waste transfer notes are the law. A bit tedious but nevertheless the law. If you are carrying waste, and by calling in a recycler that is what you are doing, the person collecting it from you must provide you with the paperwork that says they are licensed to transport that particular flavour of waste and that they are taking it somewhere where it will be properly treated.
This is why we in eReco land always ask what we are collecting. Not because we are worried about one more box of broken keyboards or another monitor, but because if you say ‘battery’ or ‘laptop’ or even ‘old lighting strips’ that is another category to put on the form. Technically, if caught transporting something not covered on the notes, we can be fined and risk our license. And so can the person we collected them from.
The asset lists are important too. Ideally when we book everything in, it matches up with what we were asked to collect in the first place, and we do clever little things like add serial numbers as well so that you have an instant audit trail should something go wrong down the line. Look officer, we asked eReco to get 20 PC’s on such and such a date and here is their asset list saying they tracked it into their warehouse with the serial number. Case closed, oh and yes, here is the transfer note as further proof.
Except our friendly neighbourhood architect hasn’t got a waste transfer note, or indeed an asset list from his service provider. So legally it is all still down to him.
Then we have to consider what happens next. His ‘free’ supplier has just collected a load of PC’s with no hard drives in them. So either they do quite a bit of work, and incur costs, finding a new hard drive and then making sure it all works, so that they can sell it, or indeed generously donate it to a charity (without covering their collection costs or anything else) or they put it on a pallet and sell it as a job lot to Arthur Daley, no questions asked.
The going rate for that is about £200 a pallet I believe. But how else is this wonderful, free and supposedly charitable service going to cover its costs?
I will be generous and accept it is a charity. But even charities have costs to cover. So how do you do that on the shells of PC’s? Scrap value about £4 on average. The answer is you do not. You cannot unless you are going to break WEEE regulations and sell the kit on to someone who is going to export to a less controlled environment.
So my friend the architect is not feeling so smug anymore. His free, green charitable service is not looking quite so great now. For a start, he is giving away money. Architects commonly have some chunky kit, and if anyone is going to cover their costs via remarketing it is usually businesses like that. Secondly, he is breaking the law. Not a huge breach, as his data is safe, but a law nevertheless and companies do not like that sort of thing on their conscience (or public record). Thirdly, he is adding to landfill in Africa, and most architects are quite green, he won’t like that at all.
I have said it before and I will say it again, free is impossible. Someone always pays.