Recycling has become a part of our day-to-day lives, writes Takalane Khashane, Managing Director, Iron Mountain South Africa. 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 is supporting a widespread shift toward a circular economy.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) suggests that transitioning to a more circular economy has the potential to create value across all sectors of the South African economy. Opportunities exist to decouple development from resource consumption and in so doing, improve the local and global competitiveness of our manufacturing sector; improve food security through regenerative agriculture; create more sustainable, liveable cities; improve economic development through efficient mobility systems, and decouple economic development from the demands placed on our energy and water systems that are already under considerable strain in South Africa.

The circular economy is about sustainable resource management, therefore organisations need to think about how they can adopt better recycling behaviours and circular principles within their operations, and the benefits of doing so. As digital infrastructure spreads in the workplace, critical to this will be the managing of IT equipment.

The scale of the problem

E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream and e-waste management is a big challenge for many African countries due to a lack of awareness and environmental legislation as well as restricted resources. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all the commercial airliners ever made, with current trends such as hybrid working fuelling predictions of 120 million tonnes per year by 2050.

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% of this resource is formally recycled. The value of raw materials in Africa’s e-waste is approximately $3.2 billion.

This means there are missed opportunities, both environmental and commercial, for businesses to embed circular principles into their IT operations. The good news is that there is a growing move towards a circular economy in Africa – and South Africa. The African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEA), of which South Africa was a founding member, supports five sectors that have the greatest potential to drive the circular economy in Africa: food systems, the built environment, fashion and textile, electronics, and packaging. ACEA identified the development of the e-waste recycling industry and substantial collection facilities as an immediate opportunity for increased circularity and to drive new green job creation.

When considering the lifecycle management of your company’s IT assets, a more sustainable approach can offer several benefits.

3 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 meet their 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 sustainability credentials, those who embrace sustainable solutions will have the edge.

Manufacturing new hardware accounts for over 70% 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. Businesses can make a tangible impact not just on their operations but on the planet at large.

  1. 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.

For those IT assets that can’t be given a productive second life, their value can be extracted through recycling. 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, 340-350kg of silver and almost 34kg of gold can be extracted.

  1. It can keep your data safe

As well as the 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. These assets can hold sensitive and confidential data and inflict severe reputational damage.

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 are: 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?

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.

Share This