Electronic waste is a big issue. According to a survey by the Royal Society of Chemistry, 51 per cent of UK households have at least one obsolete electronic device, while a staggering 45 per cent have at least five.
With new versions of laptops, tablets and smartphones arriving on the market to encourage people to ditch their current device and upgrade, this is perhaps not surprising.
It’s a situation that schools know well, too, as they have to ensure that devices used by pupils and staff are up to date and able to properly use a raft of software services key to learning. This is no small task, especially when you consider the cost of replacements and the hassle of dealing with old devices.
Paul Edge, assistant headteacher at Ribblesdale High School in Lancashire, where over 1,000 pupils are on a one-to-one device scheme, knows these issues well, but says that since moving to a trade-in scheme the school has drastically improved how this is managed.
“Using a trade-in scheme allows us to support the sustainability of our one-to-one scheme so every pupil has a device that can support teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom,” he says.
Replacing old edtech
When pupils start at the school, parents can trade-in a personal device they may have at home to receive up to £100 off the price of the laptop pupils at the school use. They are then offered the chance to trade-in this school laptop again after three years under the same terms for a like-for-like replacement.
“This knocks around a fifth off the price [from £470 to £370] and, considering that the device they get is a mid-range device with three years of accidental damage warranty, it’s a deal that really adds value for parents,” says Mr Edge, who adds that when this cost is spread over as long as 36 months it makes it affordable to parents at around £10 a month.
“I think a lot parents will have devices sat around at home so if they can repurpose them into the trade-in that’s all for the better really.”
For the school the benefits of this are clear. It is able to outsource the management of the device trade-in scheme to a third-party, reducing its requirement to deal with e-waste and ensuring that it is operating sustainably, while boosting its buying power.
“We considered devices going to a computer recycling centre to be reused but that gets very messy, so this [the trade-in scheme] is a lot cleaner and more straightforward in terms of the process that we have to go through,” says Mr Edge.
Another school that is also positive on the benefits of trade-ins is Queen Mary’s College in Basingstoke. It recently traded in 201 monitors, 40 laptops and 201 desktops, helping it to update and improve its IT suite, which, Claire Budden, IT operations manager, acknowledges is a real boost for budgets.
“Before when we had old machines we just got them wiped and then they were picked up and thrown away. With the trade-in deal, we are able to get a lot more for our money,” she says.
This also means it’s a lot easier for schools to get rid of their devices as and when they are no longer of use and know they are being disposed of correctly, or reused, to meet their sustainability focus, too.
“We used to have a room where we just left old machines, a bit of a machine graveyard, but now as soon as we have old devices we can offload them, so from that point of views it’s great. And, as we are quite a green school we’re delighted to know they are being dealt with correctly, rather than going to landfill or anything like that,” Budden says.
Of course, getting rid of old devices in any form – whether done by a school itself or through third-party suppliers – brings issues of data protection and privacy into play, as technology analyst Clive Longbottom notes.
“[Schools need to] ensure that all data is securely removed from the device before any moving on of it to another party – mainly to fit in with data compliance. [And] ensure that no personal information on the device is accessed during this activity,” he says.
Mr Edge says using a third party to manage this and ensure devices are meeting the required criteria removes this hassle from a school's workload and, as the trade-in deal his school uses is provided by HP for Education and handled by a partner firm called Freedom Tech, it makes it easy to manage.
“The devices go directly to Freedom Tech’s computer recycling centre where they handle the units, wiping and checking devices to ensure they meet the trade-in requirements of the HP scheme. They then forward them through to the HP trade-in centre on our behalf,” he says.
Tony Fox, head of ICT at Bolton School, also uses trade-in deals and says that the issue of wiping devices is somewhat negated by the fact that almost all content from devices is saved either in the cloud or on the school’s own servers, not the devices, making it easier to trade-in with confidence.
“We used to have to wait until the summer when pupils were not here and then set computers up in the gym and start wiping them and it was a bit of a chore,” he says.
As a result of the newer system, where devices are almost always free of any data – and wiped anyway by the company that manages the trade-in scheme the schools uses – the school is able to just benefit from the financial savings the arrangement offers, which Mr Fox says are considerable.
“We have about 1,000 PCs so are constantly replacing kit on a five- to six-year programme so some years we do about 200 PCs, and using a trade-in deal means we save about £100 a device, which is a big saving when you’re buying so many," he says.
Trading in old devices for new may not be a silver bullet for the electronic waste mountain that exists in the world at large, but it’s a great way for schools to ensure old devices are being dealt with appropriately while also maximising budgets – a win-win situation.