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Repair and reuse: Comtek addresses the mounting problem of e-waste

7th March 2011
Wales-based telecoms and communications repair service Comtek is preventing hundreds of tonnes of e-waste ending up in landfill every year. Emily Smoucha reports.
When the Canadian technology giant Nortel Networks Corp was sold off following bankruptcy, the company had a lot of IT equipment going to waste. It would likely have all ended up in landfill had the Nortel administrators not called in the services of a UK-based company that has been campaigning to end the throw away culture of the modern world for some years now.

Comtek is a telecoms and communications repair service. Last year alone, it prevented 300 tonnes of toxic materials from reaching landfills. The company is able to do this by repairing information and communications technology (ICT) rather than throwing it away.

"We help prolong the life of computer equipment," Phil Mackay, Comtek sales director told GreenWise.  

Comtek believes that whenever possible, it’s better to repair electronic equipment so that it can be reused rather than thrown away. When producing electronics, heavy metals and toxins, such as mercury, lead, barium and others, are used. When these products are sent to landfills, the heavy meals can contaminate the soil and nearby water supply. Comtek works to prevent this from happening by keeping the electronic equipment in use.

Comtek’s green strategy operates on the opposite end of the spectrum of a product’s life. While many companies are looking to design new products with a lower environmental impact, Comtek is trying to cut down on the need for new products in the first place.  

"I believe that soon major organisations and Government departments will see the advantages of repairs and used products as good practice," says Askar Sheibani, Comtek ceo and managing director. "It also saves money."

Saving money
By training workers to repair technology from major ICT manufacturers, such as Cisco, Extreme Networks, Nortel and others, these companies do not have to replace equipment when there is a problem because Comtek can fix it.

Comtek estimates that through repairs, most electronics can last up to four times as long as their given lifespan. By refurbishing these products, companies don’t have to pay for new equipment as often, and fewer products end up in landfills.

When Comtek was able to purchase some of Nortel’s technology, which was otherwise headed for landfill, the company hired former Nortel engineers so that there would be a continuing support system for the products should repairs be necessary later on.

Promoting skilled jobs
In addition to providing jobs for the former employees of electronics companies such as Nortel, Comtek works to provide jobs and training for people within its own community.
Comtek takes on four trainees from local colleges for each engineer they hire. Over the past eight months, Comtek has hired 18 of these trainees who already have some experience and qualifications in the field. There are also three apprentices working at Comtek and plans to bring in another three later this year are in place.

"These guys are so skilled in identifying all these defective products," Sheibani said of the engineers. "It takes a long time to build that skill, but it’s the kind of sustainable jobs for our people in our community."

Comtek’s efforts are supported by the Welsh Assembly, and the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, opened Comtek’s Nortel repair lab and training facility last November.

"Our policymakers in Government are in a position where they can change perceptions, change practices and make a difference to the mounting problem of e-waste. 

"As a business, we can make a change by creating local jobs, by training staff and being a source of development," Sheibani said. "However, to make a real difference, we need to see a total shift in our business culture. Sustainability shouldn’t start and end at building more environmentally friendly solutions. Policy needs to be created which encourages organisations to make the most of their existing IT assets and to think twice before shelving perfectly usable solutions."

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Repair and reuse: Comtek addresses the mounting problem of e-waste
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