Sustainable IT Transforms E-waste Challenge

Cape E-Waste
Published August 11, 2022

In the digital age, e-waste is a staggering and urgent global challenge. Most companies and organisations are heavily reliant on IT assets that require regular upgrades for almost all operations. Responsibly managing the resulting e-waste is not only a legal requirement but fortunately also a significant opportunity to reap the benefits of implementing sustainable IT and circular economy practices, without impacting the bottom line.

A staggering 50 million tons of e-waste is generated around the world every year, most of which is either incinerated or dumped in landfills. With the pace of technological innovation and the COVID pandemic spiking demand for electronics across the globe, global e-waste volumes are projected to grow to almost 75 million metric tonnes per year by 2030.

Soberingly, less than 20% of e-waste globally is officially documented as properly collected and recycled. That means most electronics being discarded end up in landfills, where the items are incinerated or buried, leaking harmful toxic chemicals such as mercury or lead which pose environmental and health risks.

In South Africa, the National Environmental Management: Waste Act, 2008 stipulates that all reasonable measures must be taken to:

  • avoid and minimise the generation of waste; and
  • reduce, reuse, recycle and recover waste where generation cannot be avoided; and
  • ensure waste is treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound and safe manner.

Circular economy practices
Meeting this legal – and moral – obligation to address today’s global e-waste challenge requires a transition to circular economy practices, which promote the elimination of waste and yield a range of economic benefits. In fact, in an increasingly sustainable- and ESG-driven environment, the circular economy model is becoming a business imperative.

“To meet the obligations, all South African companies have to reduce and manage their e-waste. Companies need to move from a linear ‘produce, use and discard’ approach to a circular and more sustainable ‘produce, use, reuse and recycle’ approach,” says Kwirirai Rukowo, General Manager of Qrent, a division of InnoVent Rental and Asset Management Solutions.

“Circular economy practices, enabled by innovative business models, manage the first, second, and third lifecycles of IT assets responsibly. This not only maximises the lifecycle of a company’s IT assets but also reduces e-waste, maximises re-use and recycling opportunities, and supports responsible end-of-life disposal. In addition, it allows companies to reap the benefits of sustainable IT, such as reducing costs, meeting sustainability or ESG goals, and improving investor and stakeholder confidence, without negatively impacting the bottom line.”

Circular economy practices in IT Management
Auditing, tracking, and monitoring IT requirements and assets across business units within the organisation provides a complete view of how effectively the entire organisation’s IT needs are being met. The right IT asset tracking solution will collate valuable information, such as accurate data about how many IT assets a company owns, which employees are using the devices, what new devices or upgrades are required now and in the future, and how each asset is disposed of at end-of-life.

As such, tracking IT assets from ‘first life’ purchase, to the ‘second life’ reuse, and to the ‘third’ end-of-life stage disposal, is a crucial aspect of sustainable IT.

‘First life’ Sustainable IT practices: ‘Access’ to equipment
“The traditional model of outright device ownership, funded by expensive CapEx, is fast being replaced by ‘access’ to equipment, found in Hardware-as-a-Service, subscription, leasing, or rental models,” explains Rukowo. “The right model eliminates the hassles of 100% ownership of IT assets, including capital outlay, maintenance, delayed upgrades, and the responsibility for correctly disposing of harmful e-waste.”

Innovative models such as InnoVent’s subsidised finance model helps businesses finance and manage technology assets in their ‘first life’, by eliminating the need for expensive CapEx, so organisations can get the right IT assets for maximum productivity while preserving their working capital and credit lines with banks.

‘Second life’ Sustainable IT practices: Refurbishing or remanufacturing equipment
IT equipment that no longer satisfies the user’s original needs is not necessarily in poor condition or obsolete. This IT equipment can and should be brought back into the circular economy to be repaired, refurbished, or re-used in whole or part for other purposes by other users, extending the lifecycle to extract maximum value.

Giving technology a second life keeps existing IT assets in circulation longer, reduces the amount of e-waste in landfills, preserves natural resources, reduces the quantity of new products being manufactured, drives down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and limits overall environmental carbon footprint.

“This is another benefit of replacing outright device ownership with the ‘access’ to equipment model. For instance, when assets are leased, companies can return the IT equipment before it becomes obsolete. This equipment can then be re-used, repaired, or refurbished by approved Secondary IT market vendors such as Qrent, and put back into circulation, giving it a ‘second life’,” says Rukowo.

“Refurbished ‘second life’ devices also give companies wanting to implement more sustainable IT practices a further opportunity: it provides access to good quality refurbished or second life IT equipment, suitable in any area of the business while delivering cost savings of between 30-50%.”

‘Third life’ Sustainable IT practices: Responsible disposal
The lack of disposal policies can create a large amount of e-waste for companies, that leads to further issues such as data security, space constraints and storage costs.

“Replacing and updating a company’s technology necessitates disposing of old equipment without contributing to environmental hazards while also protecting your data, which requires a more complex strategy,” explains Rukowo. “At the end-of-life stage for electronic devices, a professional and specialised IT asset disposal programme is required to provide secure data sanitisation ensuring confidential data on the devices are safely removed to avoid a data breach; and also, to provide the correct disposal of outdated IT assets.”

Unviable equipment must be disposed of by accredited service providers in an environmentally safe and responsible manner, in accordance with high industry standards for environmental stewardship.

Solutions for all companies
“The InnoVent Group is passionate about helping companies close the loop and reduce their e-waste with solutions for sustainable IT asset lifecycle management. This includes circular economy practices enabled by innovative business models to manage the first, second and third life of IT assets responsibly,” concludes Rukowo.

“Responsibly managing and reducing e-waste is important for companies to meet sustainability obligations and goals; improve environmental credentials and ESG performance; and to unlock the many benefits of implementing sustainable IT and circular computing practices, such as reducing costs, without negatively impacting the bottom line.”

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