This snapshot, taken on
, shows web content acquired for preservation by The National Archives. External links, forms and search may not work in archived websites and contact details are likely to be out of date.
The UK Government Web Archive does not use cookies but some may be left in your browser from archived websites.
Department of Trade and Industry




Unwanted Computer Equipment:

A Guide to Re-use

  (Updated May 2001)

This guide has been researched and written by AEA Technology Environment for the Department of Trade and Industry.

The DTI and AEA Technology Environment can give no assurance that the information supplied in this document is accurate or complete, and no legal responsibility is accepted for any errors, omissions or misleading statements.


By Patricia Hewitt MP, Minister of State for Small Business and E-Commerce in the Department of Trade and Industry.

It gives me great pleasure to publish this guide which outlines practical steps to refurbishing and re-using unwanted IT equipment. I would like to thank those organisations involved in the computer re-use schemes for the invaluable information provided to the survey. This guide, intended as a source of advice and guidance on the benefits of refurbishment and re-use of unwanted computers, also identifies significant market opportunities for those engaged in the business of refurbishing computers. The guide includes a number of case studies with examples of UK and overseas refurbishment schemes and addresses key issues such as data protection and liability for the final waste management when the equipment eventually reaches the end of its working life.

In the light of the proposed EU Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), which seeks to increase recycling and re-use of electrical and electronic equipment, this guide illustrates the fact that a number of UK organisations have already made a good start by dramatically increasing the rate of refurbishment during 1999. Refurbishment and re-use of old equipment offer both environmental and social benefits. Environmental benefits include the conservation of natural resources such as raw materials and energy as well as a reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill. Refurbishment also offers social benefits such as providing computers at lower cost to individuals or organisations who may not be able to afford to buy new equipment. In addition, many community-based schemes often provide training and employment opportunities to the long term unemployed.

I commend this guide to those organisations which are considering donating IT equipment to or purchasing IT equipment from the refurbishment sector.


The total annual waste arisings of electrical and electronic equipment in the UK have been estimated to be in excess of 900,000 tonnes.  Computers, workstations and systems account for nearly 14% of this waste arising.  Re-use of computer equipment wherever possible could greatly reduce this waste.


“It does not make sense to scrap all unwanted IT equipment when a certain proportion may have great value for second users like schools and charities. Provided refurbishment is carried out in a professional and environmentally responsible manner, these machines should be put to good use. By carefully selecting a refurbisher, we have found that a high quality, auditable and secure service can be obtained for negligible cost.”

(Roads Service, Department of Regional Development, Belfast) 


For many large companies and organisations, the increasingly frequent upgrading of their computer systems creates problems and costs for storage and subsequent disposal of their unwanted computers. What should a company or organisation do with old, unwanted computers?  One option is to ensure they go for re-use.  Many large companies may wish that their old computers could be put to a second use which benefits society and/or the community.  This approach can demonstrate a donor company’s social responsibility and can generate public relations benefits.

Many companies and charitable organisations in the UK accept old computers, refurbish them, and supply them to various markets.  The commercial asset management of the old, unwanted, but still working computers is increasingly common (indeed, many of the computer manufacturers have take-back centres or operate asset recovery programmes tailored to customers’ needs).  On the other hand, non-profit-making refurbishers rely on free or charitable donations of old computers to run their service.

Potential donors of old, working computers can have various concerns about making sure that their equipment ‘goes to a good home’ and ensuring that their good name is not harmed (through association with poor quality refurbishment).  Typical concerns are:

  • To which end-markets does the refurbisher supply?
  • To what levels of refurbishment is the equipment subjected?
  • To what standards does the refurbisher work?
  • Does the refurbisher guarantee data-security and/or confidentiality?
  • Who takes on the liability if refurbished equipment should go wrong during second use?
  • Who takes on responsibility for end-of-life management of the equipment?

End-users of refurbished computers tend to be more concerned about the price they pay for the equipment, the specification of the equipment offered, what software is being offered, how reliable the equipment is likely to be (and the level of warranty offered), and the level of after-sales support available should technical advice or repairs be necessary.

Based on responses to our survey, a growing market for refurbished computers exists, and the number of machines refubished each year has increased five fold since 1996.

Figure 1 - Growth in UK Computer Equipment Refurbishment

The marketplace is in a constant state of flux.  Prices for refurbished computers can vary enormously within a range between prices of cheap new equipment and material scrap values, depending on supply and demand levels.

This handbook is a guide for those companies and organisations contemplating offering their unwanted computers for a second use.  It contains sections on types of refurbishment activity in the UK, examples of schemes operating in the UK, examples of overseas refurbishment experience and a directory of companies and organisations claiming to be actively engaged in computer refurbishment in the UK.  The directory has been compiled from the responses to a survey of UK refurbishers, conducted on the Department of Trade and Industry’s behalf, in January and February 2000.

Levels of Refurbishment

Potential donors of old, working computers, particularly large responsible companies, are naturally very keen not to become associated with a system which could become branded with a reputation for poor quality and reliability.  To overcome these concerns, it is important that their old equipment is transferred to a reputable refurbisher.  Before donating computers, a company should ascertain which refurbishers can offer a service commensurate with its expectations.

Quality Standards

Many of the refurbishers surveyed operate to the quality standard ISO 9002.  Several of those who didn’t have this accreditation were either considering or seeking accreditation to this standard.  Since our last survey, some refurbishers have also achieved accreditation to ISO 14001 environmental management systems standard.  A few refurbishers were considering EMAS accreditation.

Checks Carried Out

On receipt of unwanted computers, almost all refurbishers carry out electrical safety testing.  Checking for viruses is also very common, although some refurbishers claim to ‘wipe’ all software from the computers thereby making virus-checking unnecessary.  The majority of refurbishers surveyed carried out ‘Year 2000’ checks and upgraded equipment where required.  A few refurbishers also offer software auditing, data destruction, debranding or component recovery.

Data Security

Disk wiping is a critical issue, particularly when computers come from corporate sources.  The need to ensure that all information has been removed is paramount.  Simply deleting files under DOS or Windows does NOT actually delete those files – only the file names are removed from the disk’s index.  The data contained in the files remains stored on the disk.  Furthermore, the name, location, date and time stamp of each file may still be available in the system (swap) files.  If this data is not overwritten before turning off the computer, these swap files could be viewed by anyone with access to the computer.

If a computer is to be refurbished, there are a number of available methods for ‘file wiping’ or ‘overwriting’ deleted files.  These methods erase files by overwriting disk memory (usually with ‘1’s and ‘0’s) several times followed by verification.  Suppliers can request that refurbishers use a particular disk wiping program, or request that the disk is removed and destroyed.

In addition, if a computer or its components cannot be refurbished, and consequently is to be recycled or disposed of, it is essential that the disk is removed and destroyed to make sure that confidential information cannot be recovered.  This shredding process can allow any aluminium to be recovered.

Companies are becoming more aware of these data security issues and should be looking for refurbishers who can provide a fully audited service.  Data wiping also removes any software from the disk.

Software Issues

Although most refurbishers are quite capable of installing software provided the licences are in order, only a few offer loading of licensed software as part of their service.

Specifications of Equipment Offered

The demand for refurbished computers is mostly for the highest specification at the lowest price.  Consequently, most refurbishers tend to process medium and high specification computers in order to satisfy this demand.  In general the aim is to supply computers with enough memory to run Windows-based software.  However, some refurbishers surveyed were able to find markets for lower specification computers where end-user needs did not demand the very latest software.

Unusable Computers

A certain percentage of computers received by refurbishers surveyed was deemed to be unfit to repair.  Disposal routes chosen by refurbishers tended to vary between ‘disposal to landfill’ and ‘dismantling for spares and recycling’.  Some refurbishers with metals recovery businesses were able to recycle in-house.

Who takes on the liability?

This is an important question for donating companies and organisations.  Many refurbishers offer to take on the liability for the equipment which they receive.  However, some responses to our survey suggest that this is not a crystal-clear area.  Companies and organisations with unwanted computers to donate are advised to check precisely on their potential exposure to liability.

Who takes on the End-Of-Life (EOL) responsibility?

Things are moving forward within the European Union on a proposal for a Directive on end-of-life management of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).  Companies and organisations with unwanted equipment on their hands should be aware of, and keep up-to-date with these developments at the European level.

After-Sales Service

The level of support offered with refurbished computers is a major concern for end-users.  This may also be a major concern for donors, especially when they wish to direct their unwanted computers to a particular social or beneficial use where provision of a good after-sales service adds to the perception of quality, thus reflecting back on themselves.

Many end-users require a working computer which they can install simply, plug-in, and operate without hassle.  Usually, they are not technically-qualified to deal with hardware, operating system, or software problems which might arise.  Advice without ‘techno-speak’ may be needed from time to time, and a repair service may also be needed (preferably covered by a warranty).

Some refurbishers surveyed stated that they offer a help-line service for advising and helping end-users overcome their technical problems.  It is noteworthy that a national scheme to supply refurbished computers to schools in the Netherlands (see Overseas Experiences) identified this aspect as a vital condition for success of the scheme, and set out to provide a 24-hour help-line service for schools encountering problems.

Most of the refurbishment companies surveyed offered warranties of between 30 and 90 days on their refurbished equipment (the scheme in the Netherlands offers a 2 year warranty, and the Computers within Reach scheme requires a 1 year warranty).  Most refurbishers offer a return-to-base repair service sometimes with the provision of a help-line.  Some supply a replacement computer whilst repairing and restocking the old computer.

Almost all refurbishers claim that they have no problems with supplies of spares.

Social Benefits of Refurbishment

Business in the Community is a unique movement of companies across the UK committed to continually improving their positive impact on society. Business in the Community has a core membership of 650 companies, including 75% of the FTSE 100.

Business bridging the digital divide

The development of the digital age is improving communications across all communities and will give greater access to information than ever before. It is estimated that 500 million people globally will be online by 2003. The downside is that these people will be those who already have the interest and the resources. The technology that can create greater opportunity for social and economic regeneration could leave some people out. Whole sections of our communities could be excluded from using new technologies through a combination of fear, lack of opportunity, skills or resources.

Recycling computers is one way that businesses can help bridge the digital divide, by providing resources for community groups. It is very easy for businesses to take this a stage further and to reap real benefits for both company and employees and to have a dramatic impact on their local communities.

Have you wondered why so many companies are investing in their community?

Do you want to attract and retain motivated people?

Do you want to help to bridge the ICT skills gap?

Business in the Community, through its comm.unity campaign, can help you realise the benefits for your company, your employees and community. They can show you what other companies have done and help you to learn from their successes.

Why Corporate Community Investment?

Business partners, investors and future employees judge a company on a wider range of criteria than ever before. MORI  research in 1998 found that when forming an opinion about a company, 77% of people think it is important to know about the company's activities in society and the community. Involvement in projects with a specific ICT focus can deliver both general and specific benefits:

Benefits to business:

  • Reinforce brand identity and profile
  • Recruit and retain motivated and loyal people
  • Create opportunities for team and individual development
  • Help established new markets
  • Improve the ICT skills available in the labour market

Benefits for your employees:

Improve ICT skills

  • Improve ICT skills
  • Develop leadership potential
  • Improve communication skills
  • Broaden experience
  • Improve self-esteem

Benefits for the community

  • The ability to use and benefit from services available on the Internet Improved ICT skills
  • Stronger more viable charity and voluntary sector support
  • Empowered individuals and flourishing communities
  • The ability to create content on the Internet that reflects local interest  

How? Your company can be involved by:

  • Promoting employee volunteering
  • Giving free professional services for an agreed number of hours/days
  • Developing long-term strategic relationships with a voluntary organisation or community group
  • Mentoring individuals in the use of computers
  • Placing a representative on a voluntary organisation management committee

comm.unity helps to put your company's skills and resources into developing the community's ability to use technology effectively. Ask for our publications or for details of events where you can find out more about how companies are bridging the digital divide.


Address: Business in the Community
  Crossley Mill
  New Road
  Hebden Bridge
  HX7 8AD
Tel: 01422 843792

Markets and Applications for Refurbished Computers

The main markets for refurbished computers are education (schools, libraries, training centres), charities (administration and use by the disabled), households and small businesses in the UK, trade sales and export to developing countries.

This section describes the application of computers in each of these markets, the specification of computers required, the suitability of refurbished computers and any specific issues associated with the use of refurbished computers.

Examples of schemes to provide computers to schools and disabled people are given later in this handbook (see case studies).


The use of computers in schools is growing rapidly.  Where computing used to be a specialist subject taught in a dedicated classroom, schools are now using IT throughout the curriculum.  The increasing availability of information from the internet and from multimedia software on CD-ROM has provided a vast resource of educational material for primary and secondary schools. 

“We believe that there is a strong case for refurbishing and recycling first-class computers which meet the requirements of schools”

(Royal Bank of Scotland)


Most schools now recognise the potential of IT in the classroom but many do not have the resources necessary to realise that potential. Some schools still use very old computers that are not compatible with modern operating systems and software.  In addition, many schools have too few computers for a whole class of children to use, which makes it difficult to integrate IT into lessons. These problems are particularly acute in primary schools where the average age of computers can be higher than the average age of pupils using them. At the other end of the scale, several pioneering schools with greater resources are using computers routinely in most subject areas and exploiting innovative learning opportunities such as emailing schools overseas and even communicating with astronauts in orbit.

The Government has recognised the need to improve IT access in schools with the launch of the National Grid for Learning (NGfL). Under the NGfL, an overall £1 billion will be spent up to 2002 on support to NGfL and various initiatives such as training for teachers and librarians. The Government aim is for all schools to be connected to the internet by 2002. Additional priority has also been given to teaching IT skills to trainee teachers and improving the quality of curriculum-focused software for primary schools.

Most schools and local education authorities prefer to buy new computer equipment which can support the latest software.  However the high cost of new equipment and the competing demands for school budgets mean that most schools have fewer new computers than they would like.  Refurbished computers offer a possible solution.

By using refurbished computers, a school can achieve potentially a higher computer to pupil ratio than can be achieved through purchasing new equipment, thus giving more scope to incorporate IT into the classroom. 

Refurbished computers need not be an alternative to new computers; instead they can be used together. For example, a Local Area Network (LAN) can comprise a new high specification server providing software and data storage and a number of lower specification refurbished machines acting as workstations.

Experience from existing schemes in the UK and overseas has shown that the following factors are important to the successful application of refurbished computers in schools:

  • Computers should be capable of running windows based software, preferably with a CD-ROM and a modem for internet access. A minimum Pentium processor, 16 Mb RAM and 500 Mb hard disk specification is recommended.
  • Schools should be advised on the best way to install and, if appropriate, network the computers. LANs may be a good option but there can be difficulties if different types of computer are networked together.
  • Documentation should be provided with the computers. This will enable teachers to make the most of the equipment and solve minor technical problems. A telephone help-line is also valuable.
  • Staff training may be helpful, particularly in smaller schools where teachers have limited experience of computers. 
  • Repair and maintenance should be the responsibility of the computer supplier. Schools often have one or more teachers  with the necessary skills to solve IT problems but it takes them away from their teaching responsibilities.

The National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE) have produced a practical guide[1] for schools considering using refurbished computers.  Indeed, there are a number of organisations that can provide teachers and local authorities with practical advice on the use of IT equipment in schools.  Contact details for these organisations are given at the back of this handbook.

Other Educational Applications

Libraries have traditionally used low specification computers for cataloguing applications.  But they are now increasingly involved in encouraging IT access for all through the provision of information on CD-ROMs (local information, encyclopaedia, etc.) and internet access.  Library computers are now used by the general public during the day, often as their first experience of computers, and by schoolchildren looking for help with homework projects during early evening and weekend.  A £20 million plus matching funding initiative exists under the NGfL for training of librarians.

As for schools, the minimum specification is typically Pentium processor-based and local networking with some newer machines may be beneficial.  Many libraries benefit from donations of new or used computers from local companies.  Such donations allow the library to provide additional services and help the company to raise its profile in the local community.

Community centres and job clubs offer people their first experience of computing and also give opportunities to train in basic IT skills such as word processing to boost employment prospects.  Refurbished medium specification computers are often perfectly adequate provided they can run at least Windows-based software and compatible application software.  This is particularly valuable for people with basic secretarial skills who are returning to work after some years away.

Computers within reach

This is a Government initiative for low income learners and families which aims to help them break the cycle of information poverty.  The objectives are to increase the employment prospects and learning opportunities for individuals and families who have little or no access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT).  The initiative is intended to benefit those receiving state benefits whose immediate need for use for a computer is to look for, train for, or to help retain, employment regardless of age or disability.

Within its overall aims the initiative seeks to:

  • Encourage and support ready access to, or ownership of, low cost computers by job seekers, learners and  families on low incomes
  • Promote employability and access to learning through the development of computer literacy and the acquisition of new skills
  • Encourage the involvement of the ICT supply industry in the scheme, for example through the contribution of unsold equipment or software and licenses for use by low income learners and families unable to afford the latest specifications.

Computers within reach was included in the March 1999 budget as a £15 million, three year pilot scheme.  DfEE will provide a subsidy per computer to computer refurbishing organisations and ICT suppliers working with local community and voluntary groups to supply at very low cost, or loan, good quality reconditioned and unsold computers to job seekers, low income learners and families.  Computers within Reach will run until 2002.

There will be a series of pilot projects across the country bringing together employers, computer recyclers and ICT suppliers with community and learning organisations.  It will put good quality reconditioned computers into the hands of job seekers, individual learners and families who could not otherwise afford them.  The initiative will also support the environment by preventing the waste of useful resources.

The specification for the computers has been set at a high level as the scheme will run until 2002.  The hardware requirements are:

  • minimum 133 MHz Pentium processor (or equivalent   Mac system)
  • multimedia capability
  • a 56K modem
  • A inkjet printer.

The software requirements are:

  • Operating system (windows 95/98 or MacOS)
  • Up to date virus scanning package
  • Internet browser.

Suppliers will install the computer at the purchasers home, and connect it to the internet.  The warranty covers maintenance for a minimum of one year, and replacement in the event of failure within one year.


The DfEE is also investing an extra £25 million for IT skills training.  Some of those eligible for computer packages under the pilot schemes will therefore be able to get training for a recognised qualification in IT as well.


Charities may use computers for administration and stock control, or they may pass them on to disadvantaged groups or individuals such as the disabled.

There is generally a low level of IT use within charities, with the exception of head office administration in the larger organisations.  Many small charities and major charity shop networks use paper-based administration systems which are easily understood by the volunteer workforce, many of whom are retired and have had no experience of computers.  This situation may change in the future as IT awareness increases, and this could lead to a significant market for moderate specification refurbished computers, perhaps networked to a head office or central depot.

There are many applications of computers for the disabled.  The application and the specific needs of the individual will determine whether refurbished computers are appropriate.  Some typical examples are given below.

Occupational therapy

Many disabled people are housebound for much of the day and a computer can provide therapy as well as being an invaluable tool in some circumstances.  Games and word processing are the most common applications with requirements varying from basic machines to high specification computers suitable for multimedia games.  Simple modifications to the mouse or keyboard may be required to help those with hand and arm mobility problems.

Special needs education

Schools for the disabled use computers in similar ways to mainstream schools, with graphics and sounds particularly effective for children with learning difficulties.  Physically robust machines are generally required.


Retraining in IT skills is sometimes appropriate for those who have suffered an injury which means they cannot continue with their previous job, e.g. a spinal injury or stroke.  Laptop computers are particularly suitable for this application as patients on bed rest can use them, and they can be loaned to people in their own homes.

Enhanced communication

People with speaking or writing difficulties can use computers as an aid to communication.  Email and computer generated voice systems are used by those who can’t speak and speech recognition systems allow paralysed people to write letters and even books.  However, such specialist applications tend to be very memory intensive and only the latest computer technology can cope well.  Only the highest specification refurbished computers are therefore likely to be suitable.

Businesses and Households

There is a growing market in the UK for refurbished computers for businesses and households.  This market is served by a range of companies as their main business or as a sideline to the sale of new computers.  A selection of companies involved in computer refurbishment and used computer sales is given at the back of this handbook.

The market is still fairly limited because most businesses and individuals prefer to buy new computers with ready installed software and technical support.  Refurbished machines will only be considered if they offer a significant cost saving to consumers.  This means that refurbishers can only make a profit if they can obtain computers at low or zero cost. 

Most businesses and private users specify high-specification computers with a modem for internet access.  However there may be niche applications with lower computing demands, for example travel agencies linked to a central booking system.

In the USA a market has developed for second computers in households.  Parents with a high specification multimedia PC are buying another computer - not to be used by the children - for letter writing and household management.  Refurbished machines may be ideal for such an application.

Export to Developing Countries

The main markets for computers in developing countries are schools, small businesses, community projects and health centres.  User requirements for these applications are broadly similar to the UK, as most of the software is international.  However, as equipment standards are lower in many countries, low and medium specification machines are often acceptable.

A number of refurbishing companies sell direct to markets in Eastern Europe and there are also some charity schemes that provide computers to developing countries.  Reliability is a key requirement as there may be few trained technicians available in the area.  Some charity schemes work with local agencies to provide installation and technical support.

Case Studies in the UK

Donating your computers

Dataserv-CES provide services to charities at cost, and our role as a co-ordinator has produced a very helpful service for the charities and for the donors.

Beth Stelling, Contract Sales Manager, Dataserv-CES


Companies are often interested in donating equipment to charities either in their local area or to a national organisation who co-ordinate donations for them to various causes.  Charities have very different focuses for their donations, and although a company has a large quantity of equipment to donate, their preferred charity will not want some of the equipment if it doesn’t meet a minimum specification.  However, other charities may have lower specification requirements.  In order to more closely match donations to requirements, Dataserv-CES have worked with a number of charities, including;

  • In Kind direct (formerly Gifts In Kind) - a large international charity who donate to other charities needing to set up offices or other facilities.
  • Free Computers for Education - they donate equipment to schools and other educational institutions. They are focused on providing technical advice about thin-client technology which can make older computers (386/486) perform like a new Pentiums with access to the internet for each student.
  • Computers for Africa – they donate equipment to schools and charities in Africa and involve school children in the UK in preparing the computers and in setting them up.

Under this scheme, companies donate to registered charities of their choice, and charities get the equipment they require.  Dataserv offer support to the donor in explaining any charges for transport or refurbishment, and provide follow up technical advice to the recipients of the equipment. The costs are met by either the company donating the equipment, the charity accepting the equipment or the recipient of the equipment.

Address: The Niven Suite,
  The Mansion,
  Ottershaw Park,
  Surrey, KT16 0QG
Tel: 0800 052 6179
Fax: 01932-874068


Free Computers for Education

In Kind direct

Address: PO Box 140
  20 St Mary at Hill
  EC3R 8NA
Tel: 020 7204 5003
Fax: 020 7204 5551

Computers for the Disabled

Computers for the Disabled is a registered charity that provides computers for disabled individuals and groups in Essex.  Started about four years ago, the scheme now provides about 200 computers each year and employs twelve volunteer staff.

The scheme obtains computers at low or zero cost from local households and businesses. It then checks the machines for electrical safety and Year 2000 compliance before passing them on to local groups and individuals who have requested them.  The scheme takes no profit and the computers are sold at cost price, which is typically £0-200.  Most of the computers are 3-6 year old medium specification machines, although some higher specification multi-media computers are also provided.  

Once installed, the computers belong to the disabled person or group.  If there is a problem then they can usually be repaired at a small cost or free of charge by Computers for the Disabled.  In this way the scheme provides valuable occupational therapy and computer-based education.

“We need help from companies offering our charity PCs and all parts so we can continue the good work.”

Paul Harris


Paul Harris

Address: 41 New Waverely Road
  Noak Bridge
  SS15 4BJ
Tel: 01268 284834
Fax: 01268 284384







Tools for Schools

Tools for Schools is a wholly independent charity, and is a social initiative committed to helping industry fill the ICT skills gap. Tools for Schools aims to play a part in equipping the future workforce with the skills needed for the ‘knowledge economy’, by enabling schools to give their pupils access to computers in sufficient numbers to make a difference.  A single computer shared by dozens of pupils is considered to be unacceptable. Like textbooks, computers should be seen as a basic learning tool, and not as an added luxury.

All Tools for Schools computers are intended to supplement a school's existing computers, and not replace old computers or funds for new purchases. With Tools for Schools, several high quality, refurbished computers can be purchased for the price of a new one.

As a registered charity, Tools for Schools is committed to giving schools high quality computers at low cost. Tools for Schools charge schools a nominal fee of £50 per machine and subsidise the rest of the cost through sponsorship.  Companies and other organisations interested in donating computers that meet the required technical specification (486s and above) can benefit because, nowadays, they need school leavers and university graduates to be ICT-literate.  The country also benefits because the economy is dependent on a skilled workforce for contributing to the nation's overall competitiveness.

Tools for schools is committed to giving schools computers which, when complementing new hardware, can make a significant addition to a school's ICT investment and development plan.  Tools for Schools computers are refurbished professionally, tested rigorously, are year 2000 compliant and meet strict quality control criteria.  All computers come with a one-year replacement warranty, and are accompanied by full instructions on safe and effective installation.


Dorian Jabri

Address: Tools for Schools,
  12-14 Berry Street,
  EC1V 0AQ
Tel: 020 7689 1990
Fax: 020 7689 1991








Overseas Experiences

The Netherlands

Stichting Furbie Computers

Following the enormous success of the Stichting Computerbemiddeling Onderwijs (SCBO) project, which set and achieved a target of placing 75,000 refurbished (‘Furbies’) computers into schools by April 1999, the government of the Netherlands requested the project to be enlarged to encompass all social, cultural and welfare sectors in the country (i.e. non-profit organisations unable to afford new computers and enough of them).  Education, however, remains the highest priority.  The name was changed to Stichting Furbie Computers to reflect their change of emphasis.

In order to enlarge the project, many more computers needed to be donated.  To stimulate donations, the Ministry of Finance introduced a tax measure, which allows a company donating 486 or higher computers and SVGA monitors to get a credit for each computer donated.  This credit can be used to reduce the company’s tax bill on company profits.  This initiative helped Stichting Furbie Computers to obtain 85,000 donated computers in 1999.

30,000 of these computers were supplied free of charge to primary schools with the help of a Fl20 million subsidy from the Ministry of Education. Stichting Furbie Computers is discussing with the Ministry how to provide at least a further 30,000 computers.

The minimum specification delivered by Stichting Furbie Computers is a Pentium 75 to 166 MHz, 32 Mb ram, 1 Gb hard disk drive (minimum), 40X CDROM, soundcard and speakers, SVGA 15” monitor, mouse, keyboard, Win95, 2 years warranty.  The price charged is Fl650 (about £185).

The project is booming.  We get a lot of orders, but also a lot of requests to deliver computers for social projects.  Our project solves the problem of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.  

Hans Moot, Director, Stichting Furbie Computers.


There has been a great deal of interest in this project, leading to developments abroad (for example, Belgium, Italy and Scotland).  These developments are not on the same scale as in the Netherlands as yet.  However, the Scottish Furbie Foundation encountered serious difficulties due to lack of support, and has been shelved.


Hans Moot (DIrector)

Address: Stichting Furbie Computers
  Bezuidenhoutsweg 12
  Postbus 93002
  2509 AA Den Haag
Tel: +31 70 349 0575
Fax: +31 70 349 0502








Two examples of organisations active in the field of refurbishing old computers in the USA for charitable use are:

Share the Technology

Share the Technology is a New Jersey non-profit making organisation, which operates a national computer donation database.  It aims to bring together donors and recipients (e.g. non-profit making organisations, people with disabilities, schools etc.) to salvage working 486s, Pentium PCs and PowerPC Mac computers rather than letting equipment go to waste.  The database lists computer donation requests and offers not only in the USA but also in other countries.  No charge is made to ‘post’ an offer/request listing.

The database can be accessed and searched through the Internet and instructions are provided on placing an offer or a request on the list.


Share the Technology

Address: PO Box 548
  Rancocas, NJ 08073
Tel: +1 856 234 6156
Fax: +1 856 234 5809








StRUT (Students Recycling Used Technology) started in Oregon, in 1995, when a school started refurbishing computers donated by Intel.  These refurbished systems were then donated to local schools through the education department.  The StRUT programme has now expanded nation-wide.  Supported by a grant from  the Intel Foundation, the StRUT Alliance supports student recycling  programmes across the USA. Programmes now exist in Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Massachusetts.

Over 15,000 computers have been donated, and over 10,000 computers have been refurbished and placed in classrooms.  Students receive hands-on  experience in building, repairing, and supporting computers that are  donated or built from donated  components.  Training is designed to help students obtain technology qualifications and/or can lead to college pre-engineering programmes and a career in information technology.  Nearly 1,000 Students receiving technology skills and experience

Address: 5825 NE Ray Circle
  OR 97124
Tel: +1 503-640-6220
Fax: +1 503-614-1284
General Information:








Guidelines & Regulations

Electrical Equipment (safety Regulations) 1994

The safety of refurbished or second-hand equipment is controlled by these  regulations.  All persons who supply electrical equipment in the course of business, including auctions, must ensure that the equipment is safe.  Whilst there is no mandatory requirement for refurbished or second-hand equipment to undergo any safety testing, suppliers will want to ensure that the equipment is safe so as to avoid committing an offence under the Regulations.  The safety requirements of the Regulations cover all aspects of safety and are not limited to electrical safety.  Further guidance is available from local authority Trading Standards Departments.

Handling & Transport

No specific health and safety legislation exists on how goods should be transported unless they are classified as hazardous, but guidance is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Employers are required, through the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, to ensure that activities involving manual contact with hazardous materials are avoided where this is reasonably practical.

Waste Management Licensing and Regulation

The UK interpretation of the EC waste framework Directive is that if a substance or object continues to be used for its original purpose, even after minor repair or refurbishment, then it is not waste.  Consequently, vehicles transporting refurbishable items to refurbishment premises do not need to be registered as a waste carrier.

Refurbishment premises where the principal function is the refurbishment of computers would not generally be considered to be a waste recovery operation.  It follows that a refurbisher not carrying out a waste disposal operation or waste recovery operation would not need to inform the Environment Agency or SEPA of their activities.  If a refurbisher cannot refurbish a machine, and sends that machine for recycling, then the refurbisher would not need to be licensed.  However, if a refurbisher was dismantling a significant number of machines on their premises to obtain spare parts, this could be seen as a recovery operation, which would mean that the refurbisher would need to obtain a licence.  Guidance on this issue can be obtained from the Waste Policy Section of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Frequently Asked Questions

All our computers are leased. Does this guide apply to me?

Yes.  If you think that the computers you have used should be donated to good causes, then perhaps you should be considering re-negotiating your leasing arrangements to enable this to happen.

Our computers are old. Does anyone want them?

Probably, if they are still working.  A number of refurbishers are able to find markets for old, low-specification computers where having the latest technology is not essential.

My company has a number of non-PC computers it no longer needs.  Would refurbishers be interested in these?

Yes, many refurbishers surveyed will take any type of computer.

My company is small and we have very few old computers to offer for refurbishment.  Can they still be refurbished?

Yes, some refurbishers will accept small numbers of equipment.

Why don’t I just offer my old computers to a local school/charity?

Yes, you can, but remember that some refurbishers offer a total service of warranties, support and back-up in the event of problems.  Remember also that your local school/charity may only be interested in a small proportion of your old equipment.

My company has unwanted computers to offer for refurbishment.  How do I go about this?

The following checklist may be useful:

General questions:

1.    What are my existing arrangements for disposing of old computers?

2.    What are my current computer disposal costs?

3.    Do I want to change this arrangement?

4.    How much will it cost to send my old computers for refurbishment? (transport, processing charges)

5.    Data security - what guarantee is there that all my data will be fully erased?

6.    Where do my liabilities stop?


Asset recovery route:

1.    Will the refurbisher take ALL my unwanted equipment?

2.    Under what conditions will the refurbisher pay me for my old computers?

3.    How confidential is the refurbishment service?

4.    Does the refurbisher provide an asset recovery report on all the equipment which I have sent to him?

5.    What happens to old computers which cannot be refurbished - recycled or dumped?


Donation route:

1.    I’ve decided to donate to good causes.  What costs are involved?

2.    What will it cost me to have my refurbished computers offered free of charge to good causes?

3.    What range of good causes can the refurbisher supply to?

4.    I want my donated computers to have a reputation for safety and reliability.  What checks does the refurbisher carry out?  e.g.

  •   Electrical safety   checking
  •   Year 2000   compliance
  •   Virus checking
  •   Data removal   from hard drives
  •   Hardware testing
  •   Debranding
  •   Upgrading

5.    Is a site/process inspection possible?

6.    How do I go about donating to local good causes?

7.    Can I direct my donations to specific good causes?  How do I check this has happened?

8.    Can I donate software which we no longer use?

9.    Can I have my old computers marked “Donated to “x” by “y”?


Useful Web Sites

For web sites of individual refurbishers, see directory.

Parents, Educators & Publishers (PEP).  Lists computer recycling programmes      (USA, Canada and some international).

     ICER (Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling) directory of      equipment recyclers.

     US Environmental Protection Agency, Common Sense Initiative, computer      recycling site.

     Recyclers World - computer recycling section.

     USA Computers for Learning Programme

     UK National Grid for Learning.

     Department of Trade and Industry

Useful Contacts

1.  British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA)

Address: Milburn Hill Road
  Science Park
  CV4 7JJ
Tel: 01203 416994
Fax: 01203 411418







2.  Department of Trade & Industry

Address: Environment Directorate
  151 Buckingham Palace Road
  SW1W 9SS
Tel: 020 7215 1036
Fax: 020 7215 5835






3.  Department for Education & Employment (DfEE)

Address: Sanctuary Buildings
  Great Smith Street
  SW1P 3BT
Tel: 020 7925 5555
Fax: 020 7925 6000






4.  Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER)

Address: 6 Bath Place
  Rivington Street
  EC2A 3JE
Tel: 020 7729 4766
Fax: 020 7457 5038








5.  Learning and Teaching Scotland

Address: 74 Victoria Crescent Road
  G12 9JN
Tel: 0141 337 5000
Fax: 0141 337 5050







6.  National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (NAACE)

Address: PO Box 60
  West Midlands
  DY4 0YS
Tel: 0121 530 9732
Fax: 0121 530 9732








7.  National Information and Learning Technologies Association (NILTA)

Address: c/o Leeds College of Building
  North Street
  LS2 7QT
Tel: 0113 234 3598
Fax: 0113 234 0879








Directory of Refurbishers in the UK

The refurbishment business is undergoing rapid change, and many organisations are entering or leaving the refurbishment business.  A survey carried out in January and February 2000 identified over 70 organisations (either companies or charities) which refurbish computers, and the directory is based on those organisations that responded to the questionnaire survey.  Companies with unwanted computers to offer for refurbishment should ascertain for themselves refurbishers who can offer a service commensurate with their expectations.

Although most of the refurbishers in the directory refurbish personal computers, there are refurbishers who specialise in refurbishing larger systems, and these are listed separately in the directory.

There are also a number of companies who recycle old computers, and a list of these can be obtained through the ICER web site –

UK Map showing refurbisher locations (779Kb)

Alphabetical list of organisations (this list is also available in PDF format (29Kb))

[1] NAACE, “Refurbished Personal Computers for Schools”



Back to the Business support page

Top of page