We need to talk about e-waste. 

The rise of electronic waste has reached a crisis point in recent years. Millions of unwanted tech products approach the end of their life cycle every day – but most of these devices don’t enjoy a happy ending.

Global e-waste is expected to rise from over 61 million metric tonnes in 2023 to just under 75 million in 2030, and sadly, it’s estimated that as much as 85% of this e-waste – from laptops and smartphones to printers and office electronics – will be sent straight to landfill.

This issue hits UK businesses particularly hard. As the world’s second-worst culprit for e-waste in 2022, the UK is well on its way to becoming the top offender by 2024, according to U-Switch. It’s clear that not enough of us are doing our part to tackle this crisis head-on – businesses included.

Why the urgency?

So, you have a pile of old tech lying around the office. Why shouldn’t you just ship it off to the nearest landfill?

Well, to start, it’s destroying our planet. The same study from U-Switch estimates that the average smartphone has contributed 93kg of CO2 to the atmosphere by the time it becomes e-waste – and those figures will add up if you think about the amount of unwanted tech in the average office.

Secondly, it’s destroying your business’s credibility and reputation. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance has become increasingly important over the years. Customers now gravitate towards businesses that can demonstrate a real commitment to improving the world around them. 

For other stakeholders – employees, partners, investors – strong ESG credentials have also become the focus of attention. Employees no longer want to work for businesses that pollute the environment, and as the UK government pledges to cut its carbon emissions by 68% before 2030, investors today won’t look twice at a business that lacks a sustainable future.

The challenge

For most businesses, disposal of old tech may seem like the only viable option. Today’s business landscape is evolving rapidly and devices need to be kept up to date in order to tackle current challenges.

Let’s take cybersecurity as an example. The volume of cyber-attacks against businesses has risen dramatically in recent years, and businesses need access to the latest tech if they want to safeguard themselves from sophisticated hackers looking to access their data. This issue also affects higher education institutions and others.

Software updates used to provide a somewhat practical solution. However, when Microsoft announced that the Windows 11 system would support only 8th-generation CPUs and up, it meant that some of its most popular devices would be unable to run this operating system. It’s a trend we’ve seen before in the tech industry with the likes of Apple and its strict update policy, which places an expiration date on which devices can run the latest OS, creating even more of a need to replace old tech with newer models. 

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The solution is circular 

When we paint this picture it seems like businesses are being backed into a corner. Surprisingly, however, there are still ways to keep up with today’s fast-moving tech cycle while upholding your commitment to sustainability and reducing e-waste. 

Rather than chucking your old 6th and 7th gen CPU devices into the bin, for example, stop and think: are there organisations which could repurpose these devices instead? In most cases the answer is yes, so sending these devices to a circular IT provider to be refurbished and repurposed is a far better option than consigning your unwanted tech to landfill. You may even earn cash rebates to spend on newer devices.

Tech devices that are beyond refurbishment can also be put to good use in the right hands. A responsible recycling provider can recycle plastic cases into cups or help to extract scrap metals from circuit boards for use in coins and jewellery. 

It’s essential to do your research and choose a circular IT provider that is transparent about its IT Asset Disposal processes. Do they offer complete traceability for your disposed tech? For some, a ‘zero to landfill’ offering may apply to the UK only, so beware of any companies that ship e-waste abroad, as there’s a chance it could end up in a landfill eventually.

The bottom line here is that the e-waste crisis is a problem we, as a tech industry, have created. It’s important that everybody – consumers, businesses and IT providers – now work towards a solution before it’s too late for our planet and generations to come. 

Although the tech sector always needs to work quickly to keep up with new challenges, throwing unwanted devices into a landfill will never be the answer. Instead, we must think about how we can extend product life cycles by re-housing devices in new organisations and recycling responsibly with partners that innovate – and that means remaining vigilant when choosing a recycling partner.

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