Why is it Important to Ethically Dispose of IT Hardware?
IT hardware is constantly updating and upgrading. The timespan for people to adopt new technology is shrinking, and incessant upgrade cycles have us racing to get our hands on the latest technology. We consistently cut our devices lifespans short to buy shiny new ones. On average, laptops and desktops are replaced every 3 years, yet most are useful for around 6 to 7 years! Smartphones should last for 5 years; however, we all struggle to resist the 2-year phone upgrade plan.
Because of this, the production rate of electronics in 2021 is far beyond what we have ever seen before. This year, there is set to be over 1.5 billion smartphones, 277 million Laptops and 160 million tablets shipped to end-users. With all these new devices in the market, what happens to the old ones?
Unfortunately, a lot of these devices end up sat in our cupboards and draws collecting dust. According to a recent study conducted by BT nearly half of all Brits have bags full of used electronic devices and over a third don’t know how to recycle them. Even worse, 74% of Brits admit to having thrown electronic devices into bins set for landfill!
Critical materials shortage
Well, let’s start with the electronics sitting in your cupboard at home. These devices will contain valuable resources, some of which are finite. Did you know that 6 of the key elements used to make mobile phones will run out in the next 100 years if parts are not properly recycled? We are also facing a major chip shortage which is wreaking havoc on supply chains around the globe. Chips are used in everything from cars to smartphones to games consoles (including the elusive PS5!); we are completely reliant on them in our day to day lives. Chips usually take around three months to make and require dust-free rooms, huge factories, and multimillion-pound machines. They are not easy to manufacture!
The cupboards of Britain are a treasure trove of valuable IT materials. Getting these devices out of the cupboards and into the hands of ethical recyclers, secondary users or ITAD vendors could help massively in fighting the critical materials shortage.
Now let’s talk about the IT devices that are being put in the bin and sent to landfill. Unfortunately, this happens far too often, in 2019 around 54million tonnes of e-waste was produced and only 17% of this was recycled sustainably. E-waste represents the fastest growing waste stream on earth. This waste is dumped in landfill where the toxic materials inside, like lead and mercury, can seep into the ground and make their way to water sources, resulting in devastating effects on wildlife and nearby communities. In addition, the valuable materials inside the devices (e.g Gold, Copper and Mercury) are lost, resulting in millions of pounds just being thrown away. In 2021 the price of copper has risen by about 21% due to the increased demand for the metal in renewable power generation and the development of electric vehicles. So, it is not only bad for the environment to throw away electronic devices, but also for your wallet!
In truth, even electronics recycling doesn’t really cut it. It brings up other issues including air pollution, human exploitation, and information security breaches. Extracting the valuable materials from e-waste is not a straightforward process, it often involves burning the surrounding plastic casing. This process releases harmful chemicals and particles into the atmosphere which can cause respiratory diseases in humans and irreversible damage to ecosystems.
There is also a huge issue with human exploitation in the world of e-waste recycling. Illegitimate e-waste recyclers put their workers in extremely dangerous situations and often deny them basic human rights. Finally, most e-waste recyclers cannot guarantee full data erasure. If the device is not disposed of properly, sensitive personal or business data can be leaked. Not disposing of your devices properly could compromise your data security!
Refurbish, Reuse or Recycle your IT Equipment
To summarise we must dispose of our used IT hardware ethically. Failure to do this contributes to air pollution, soil pollution, water pollution, materials shortages, human exploitation, and increased carbon emissions. So, go into those cupboards, get your used devices and either get them repaired, sell them to a secondary user, donate them, send them to an ITAD vendor or send them to an ethical e-waste recycler (but only if they are beyond repair).
The mountain of e-waste grows daily, it will soon weigh more than the great wall of China!
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