Recycling and reusing IT assets requires ecolabels and data sanitization

Bradley Williams,Director, IT Asset,DMD system

Bradley Williams,Director, IT Asset,DMD system

Ecolabels on hardware and data sanitisation of devices are key to recycling and reusing old IT equipment respectively, helping enterprises avoid unnecessary asset destruction and contributing to increasingly high levels of electronic waste globally

 The World Economic Forum and the United Nations E-waste Coalition estimated in January that roughly 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced each year, with the majority being burnt or deposited in landfills in the world's poorest countries. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent shift to remote working, the majority of the IT employees had to leave their desktops PCs and on-premise devices in the offices, and enterprises had to equip their employees with replacement hardware so that they could continue working remotely.

Experts believe that the need to provide replacement technology to remote workers caused a massive spike in demand for equipment. All second-hand goods sold out; the entire industry saw all inventory sell out; demand was sky-high, and neither the second-hand nor the first-hand markets could meet it. Adding to that, the influx of replacement gear is likely to require an incredible amount of infrastructure to be recycled or repurposed. The manner in which businesses cope with the e-waste problem was already a major concern before the pandemic and it has now triggered a huge procurement push for replacement hardware.

When a piece of equipment reaches the end of its usefulness, organizations basically have three options- to destroy it, recycle it or reuse it. However, although both recycling and reusing a piece of equipment serve the same purpose of bringing the equipment back into the market, recycling is all about re-deploying the same gadget while recycling is the process of breaking it down into its component parts so that they can be redirected back to the manufacturing cycle. The computer manufacturing process consumes around 80 percent of all energy and resources consumed over the whole life cycle of a computer. This means that reuse is critical for decreasing emissions and the usage of limited natural resources like lithium and cobalt are crucial components in common electronic items like phones and laptops. Therefore, to safely redeploy equipment, businesses must first guarantee that all data on the device has been permanently erased. For the equipment to be resold without the risk of sensitive personal data being carried over and accessible to the new user, data has to be wiped 100 percent.  The gadget cannot be properly reused or recycled if the data can still be accessed. Though different types of IT assets may necessitate various data sanitisation techniques, the general objective is the same: erase, report and audit.

Experts believe that to have faith in these processes, businesses must conduct due diligence on whichever ITAD providers they choose to guarantee security protocols. Auditing the data sanitisation process can also assist to avoid privacy breaches. If the organizations do not have a built-in audit trail, it is highly likely that there can be a significant potential loss of goodwill as well as financial penalties if it is infringing privacy legislation. However, when it comes to recycling, organisations must have knowledge of materials in the device to approach it securely, as many rare earth metals are used in electronics which can lead to toxic waste if not handled properly.

“Ecolabels” is one such solution similar to how components are listed on food packages, allowing businesses to know exactly what elements are in their equipment. However, nowadays in the IT sector, it is mandatory to display the materials in the product, the production process and the further steps in recycling and reusing the system. On a consumer level, customers have started demanding organic and correctly made items in the food industry, and the same pattern is likely to be evolved in the IT industry too.

A lack of understanding and awareness is the biggest limitation faced by organizations to adopt sustainable asset disposal practices such as data sanitisation and ecolabels. Experts are receiving a lot of inquiries from customers regarding the environmental effects as they are unacquainted of what to do or where to go and hence they heavily rely on the experts to assist them through the processes. It is also advised that companies should collaborate with a variety of stakeholders to build momentum on these issues, as one company establishing sustainable practices on it procurement standards across supplier chains to standardize or certify ecolabels th s own is unlikely to have much of an influence. For instance, companies could implement rough such collaboration. However, to effectively work with each other, organizations must first get on the same page internally regarding their sustainability goals.

Experts emphasize the fact that sustainability requires organizational buy-in for which a legal collaboration between corporate governance and finance department with IT operations is necessary. If corporations fail to come together and only few people spearhead the initiative then it is not going to get very far at all. Only if  the requirement is from the top down, then it is going to happen. It’s about getting it back into the ecosystem and avoiding landfill as much as possible, which is what affects the environment

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