IT asset disposition (ITAD) is essential in transitioning information communications technology (ICT) hardware toward the circular economy.
Like the two before, the third industrial revolution (the digital revolution) facilitated rapid technological advances, changing how and where we work.
Editors Note: Updated February 2024 to include progress on TES's Decade of Difference Goal.
However, such periods of accelerated innovation come with challenges that need addressing.
What can our past tell us about our future?
The conception of the first computer is attributed to Charles Babbage, who proposed his difference engine to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1822.
Around the turn of the 20th 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 yearly, but the second industrial revolution had arrived. Implementing a basic assembly line boosted annual output to over 200,000 vehicles annually, and by 1920, production exceeded one million cars per 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, "there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
Fast forward to the modern day, and over 435 million computer device shipments are expected worldwide in 2027.
At the time of the first industrial revolution, it will have seemed inconceivable that it 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’s not yet widely understood how critical ITAD is in delivering a circular economy for ICT equipment.
But what exactly is ITAD? And why is it so crucial to tackle these issues?
What is ITAD?
ITAD is a specialist practice dealing with technology assets such as laptops, desktops, tablets, enterprise equipment, data center cloud equipment and smartphones at the end of their first lives. The assets are handled 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 streamlining the refurbishment and disposition of assets through remarketing.
Where this isn’t possible, IT spare parts harvested from these assets can give components a second life. Where recycling is required, vendors can extract valuable materials from IT hardware by using cutting-edge recycling techniques, replacing the need for virgin materials.
Disposition, not disposal
ITAD is often misinterpreted as IT asset disposal, which doesn't 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 Nash Squared Digital Leadership Survey 2022 found that boards believe improving operational efficiency is top of the priority list for technology in 2023 and beyond.
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. They also ensure teams can work efficiently on their company's IT hardware.
This approach is good for the environment, as extending an asset’s use is the most desirable outcome for any IT hardware.
This aligns closely with the waste hierarchy principle that every asset remarketed and kept in use for longer is good for the planet.
Closing the gap
An additional good 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 these IT assets not only benefit from a prolonged life — they’re also delivered to recipients who would otherwise not have access to such technology.
Where remarketing isn’t possible, there are still opportunities to close the loop.
Few areas are coming under more scrutiny than the rising issue of e-waste. There’s over 347 Mt of unrecycled e-waste on Earth in 2023, and only 17.4% of e-waste is known to be collected and properly recycled.
The World Health Organization has also reported that e-waste is now having adverse health effects on millions of children.
A sustainable technology lifecycle solutions provider should have certified facilities to ensure that this waste, classified as hazardous by most governments, can be treated correctly.
It's a challenging task, given the complexity of the makeup of IT hardware. It requires constant innovation to recover as many materials as possible from assets.
How ITAD works with TES
ITAD is no longer just about the end of the IT asset lifecycle. In a sustainability-focused business environment, ITAD has a crucial role to play throughout the entire IT asset lifecycle.
Here’s how a typical ITAD process works from start to finish with TES:
What are we doing at TES?
At TES, we’re 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 repurposing one billion kilograms of assets by 2030.
In 2022, our second mission year, we are pleased to report that we are on track to achieve our 2030 target with 106,391 metric tonnes of assets recycling, reused/resold. In asset terms this volume in tonnes translates to over 3,676,000 assets and 5,000,000 parts and accessories processed.
To us, it’s about protecting, providing and preserving. This is our version of taking care of people, planet and profit.