In today’s digital age, IT asset disposition (ITAD) is essential in transitioning information communications technology (ICT) hardware toward the circular economy.
Much like the two that came before it, the third industrial revolution (the digital revolution) has given us technological advances, even changing how and where we work. However, there are challenges that need addressing in the wake of such periods of accelerated innovation.
What can our past, tell us about our future?
The conception of the first computer is attributed to Charles Babbage, who, in 1822, proposed his difference engine to the Royal Astronomical Society.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, the president of the Michigan Savings Bank, Horace Rackham, advised Henry Ford’s lawyer that “the horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.” Initially, Ford only produced a few cars each year, but the second industrial revolution had arrived. The implementation of a basic assembly line rapidly boosted annual output to over 200,000 cars a year; by 1920, production was exceeding one million cars every year.
Similarly, the early realizations of Babbage’s vision manifested in computers that would fill rooms; in 1977, Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corp, famously stated that “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
Fast forward to 2021, and 277 million laptops and nearly 160 million tablet units are forecast to be shipped.1
At the time of the first industrial revolution, it must have seemed inconceivable that this would kick-start coal on its trajectory to becoming the single largest factor in the increase in global temperature; or that the combustion engine born out of the second industrial revolution would go on to be a massive contributor to global warming; or that the difference engine would forge a path for the third industrial revolution, which is now contributing to the fastest-growing waste stream on the planet, e-waste.
While some of these issues may now seem obvious, few people are as immersed in the data related to the IT hardware that drives the digital revolution. It is not yet widely understood how critical ITAD is in delivering a circular economy for ICT equipment.
But what exactly is ITAD? Why is it so important for tackling these issues?
What is IT asset disposition?
IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) is a specialist practice dealing with technology assets such as laptops, desktops, tablets, enterprise equipment, datacenter cloud equipment, and smartphones at the end of their first lives in ways that mitigate risks arising from compliance, data security, and environmental responsibility.
An ITAD vendor starts by employing secure reverse logistics and specializes in the process of streamlining the refurbishment and disposition of assets through remarketing. Where this is not possible, spare parts harvested from these assets can give components a second life. Where recycling is required, valuable materials from IT hardware can be extracted by using cutting-edge recycling techniques, replacing the need for virgin materials.
Disposition, not disposal
ITAD is often misinterpreted as IT asset disposal, which does not fairly represent the true ethos of the ITAD process. Disposition means transferring property to somebody else, which aligns with the waste hierarchy principles of reusing and extending the lives of IT assets wherever possible.
Doing more, with less
The Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey 2020 found that boards are continuing to keep a close eye on how global IT leaders can improve operational efficiency.
A reputable sustainable technology lifecycle solutions provider can help by working with clients to review assets and offer guidance on when to refresh them based on their residual market value. Moreover, they ensure that teams are able to work efficiently on their company IT hardware.
This approach is also good for the environment, as the most desirable outcome for any IT hardware is extending its use. This aligns closely with the waste hierarchy principle that every asset that is remarketed and kept in use for longer is good for the planet.
Closing the gap
There is an additional good that can arise from remarketed assets, as an organization can elect to donate used IT hardware to charitable causes such as Close the Gap. This ensures that these IT assets not only benefit from a prolonged life; they are also delivered to recipients who would otherwise not have access to such technology.
Where remarketing is not possible, there are still opportunities to close the loop. Rightly, fewer areas are coming under more scrutiny than the rising issue of e-waste. The Global E-waste Monitor reported that e-waste is now the most rapidly growing waste stream, almost doubling in only 16 years to weigh 53.6 Mt in 2019. Of this waste, only 17.4% is formally documented. The World Health Organization has gone on to report that e-waste is now having adverse health effects on millions of children.
A sustainable technology lifecycle solutions provider should have its own certified facilities to ensure that this waste, which is classified as hazardous by most governments, can be treated correctly.
This is no easy task, given the complexity of the make-up of IT hardware and requires constant innovation to ensure that as many materials as possible are recovered from this hardware.
What are we doing at TES?
At TES, we are determined to align our actions with our vision, mission, and purpose. We want to be a global sustainability leader. Our mission is to make a decade of difference by securely, safely, and sustainably transforming and re-purposing one billion kilograms of assets by 2030.
To us, it’s about protecting, providing, and preserving. This is our version of taking care of people, planet, and profit.