The future of IT is circular

Recycling has become a key part of our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s the ritual of sorting our household waste or making the switch to reusable products, taking proactive steps towards sustainability goals by managing waste is already ingrained in our behaviour.

This behaviour supports a widespread shift towards a circular economy, defined as a system that eliminates waste and pollution and circulates products and materials at their highest value, whether that be products used in the home, commercial goods or IT equipment.

As we head into Recycling Week (7-13 November in Australia), brands and businesses will be thinking about ways to help motivate consumers to recycle more of the right things, more often. 

Yet, to have substantial benefit, organisations need to think about how they can adopt better recycling behaviours and circular principles within their own operations, and the benefits of doing so. 

With digital upgrades showing no sign of slowing within Australian workplaces, critical to success will be the circular management of technology equipment. 

The scale of the problem

E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. Globally, around 57 million tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2021, the equivalent of 800 laptops being thrown away every second. In Australia e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream, ranking as the fifth-highest producer in the world. 

Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the annual value of global e-waste, including IT equipment and electronics such as computers, laptops, phones, hard drives and tablets, is worth over $62.5 billion. And yet, less than 20 per cent of this resource is formally recycled.

This means there are missed opportunities, both environmental and commercial, for businesses to embed circular principles into their IT operations. When considering the lifecycle management of your company’s IT assets a more sustainable approach can offer a number of benefits.

Three benefits of secure IT asset recycling and disposition

1. It can help you meet your sustainability goals

Now more than ever, businesses are under pressure to address sustainability challenges and tackle climate change head-on. 

Research on organisational  resilience, conducted by Economist Impact with C-Suite executives, found sustainability to be a top five business priority, alongside areas such as digital transformation and cybersecurity. 

As businesses develop and communicate their own sustainability credentials, those who embrace sustainable solutions will have the edge. 

Manufacturing new hardware accounts for over 70 per cent of carbon emissions in the IT industry and e-waste recycling services, such as those offered by Iron Mountain, mean IT assets are demanufactured into commodity categories. 

In fact, every tonne of e-waste that is recycled can avoid around two tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. From hyperscalers to corporate offices, businesses have the ability to make a tangible impact not just on their own operations, but for the planet at large.

2. It can save you money 

A circular economy relies on the notion that retired assets should be treated as  valuable commodities.

By safely recertifying and remarketing decommissioned equipment, businesses can recuperate maximum market value from end-of-life IT assets through remarketing or redeployment. 

While products may come to the end of their lifecycle, their use does not have to. In fact when working with a certified disposal partner businesses can benefit not only from reduced data breaches and carbon footprint, but they can also gain significant resale value with a Sydney based civil engineering organisation gaining $880,000 in annual revenue from resale.

For those IT assets that can’t be given a productive second life, their value can be extracted through recycling internal components. Valuable materials commonly used within electronic devices, such as gold, silver and copper can be extracted and repurposed. For example, for every one million mobile phones, 15-16 tonnes of copper, 340-350 kilograms of silver and almost 34 kilograms of gold can be extracted.

3. It can keep your data safe

As well as environmental challenges associated with e-waste, businesses can face a number of data security risks if, at their end of life, IT assets are not managed responsibly. 

Often assets hold sensitive and confidential data, which if breached, can result in serious fines and inflict severe reputational damage. It’s no surprise then that the Economist Impact survey lists cybersecurity as a top priority for businesses. When looking for a partner to support IT asset disposition, it’s important to do your research to make sure their services are secure and fully compliant. 

Some key questions to ask include: is there a secure chain of custody that allows you to track assets as they are being processed? Will you receive an auditable certificate of data destruction? Are your IT assets being disposed of ethically, responsibly and compliant with regulations? 

The circular economy today

Recycling Week this November is a chance to think about how you can adopt more circular solutions within the workplace as well as the home. End-of-life IT equipment doesn’t have to be a challenge, but an opportunity. 

Tackling IT asset disposition responsibly and securely is a win-win, helping you to meet some of the business world’s key priorities, from sustainability to cybersecurity, while also creating an internal revenue stream to fuel future growth. 

As suppliers, consumers, individuals and companies, we can’t reverse the impact that e-waste has already had on the environment, but by embracing a more circular future for IT, we can push towards a more sustainable system for the products we use.

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