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What Is E-waste and How Much Does It Cost IT?

The world generates about 40 million tons of e-waste per year—the equivalent to throwing away 800 laptops every second—and e-waste now comprises 70% of our overall toxic waste.

The costs aren’t just environmental. They also affect IT, resulting in massive inefficiencies that lead to poor bottom-line performance.

Let’s dig into what e-waste is, why it’s such an issue, how much it costs IT, and what can be done about it.

What Is E-waste?

E-waste is any electronic product that is no longer needed and gets discarded because it can’t be fixed, is incompatible with newer technology, or has become obsolete and reached its end of life. E-waste can be any electronic product, including hard drives, computers, smartphones, televisions and monitors, networking switches, storage arrays, and more.

E-waste, like all other waste, usually gets incinerated or ends up in a landfill after getting thrown away. This means that, if handled without the right safety precautions, it could end up decomposing in the soil, which can lead to chemicals leaching from the product into the soil.

Related reading: Efficient IT Infrastructure Saves More than Just Energy Costs

What Causes E-waste?

Innovation and the need to make space for new technology causes e-waste. As technology evolves and improves, businesses want the competitive advantage of the latest products. Technology that is slower and less efficient is replaced with modern versions, resulting in products that are becoming obsolete on an annual basis, if not more frequently.

The United States alone generates about 6.9 million tons of e-waste per year. The World Economic Forum estimates the world will generate roughly 81.6 million tons of e-waste yearly by 2030.

What Is E-waste in the Data Center/Data Storage?

The data center and data storage sectors are significant contributors to e-waste due to the constant hardware upgrades and replacements needed to meet increasing computational demands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data centers are responsible for a considerable portion of e-waste, making it crucial for the IT industry to address this issue proactively.

How Is E-waste Affecting the Environment?

E-waste poses numerous environmental hazards when not disposed of correctly. Many electronic devices contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants, which can contaminate soil and water if they leach into the environment. Improper disposal methods, such as incineration or landfilling, can release these hazardous materials, leading to severe health risks for both humans and wildlife.

Additionally, the energy and resources used in manufacturing electronics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion. Reducing e-waste is therefore critical for mitigating environmental impacts.

Can E-waste Be Recycled?

Yes, recycling is an essential component in the fight against e-waste. Proper recycling not only helps recover valuable materials but also reduces the harmful effects on the environment. Many materials found in electronics, including precious metals, plastics, and glass, can be recycled and reused in new products.

Organizations such as Waste Management World and GreenBiz promote e-waste recycling initiatives that help raise awareness and encourage responsible disposal methods. Additionally, governments and non-profit organizations often organize e-waste collection events to facilitate proper recycling.

How Much Does E-waste Cost IT in Terms of Fees and Fines?

The cost of e-waste for the IT industry goes beyond the financial implications of recycling and waste management. Companies that fail to comply with e-waste regulations may face fines and penalties, tarnishing their reputation and eroding customer trust. The improper handling of e-waste can also result in legal liabilities and potential lawsuits.

To avoid these costs, companies must adopt sustainable e-waste management practices and ensure their electronics are disposed of responsibly through certified recycling partners.

How Can IT Minimize E-waste?

IT departments can take several proactive steps to minimize e-waste and reduce their environmental footprint, including:

  • Responsible purchasing: IT teams can prioritize the buying of durable and upgradable products, extending the lifespan of electronics and reducing the need for frequent replacements. They can also prioritize efficient IT infrastructure that requires less hardware.
  • Recycling programs: IT teams can establish and promote recycling programs within the organization, making it easier for employees to dispose of electronics responsibly.

What Is the Right Way to Dispose of Electronics?

The right way to dispose of electronics is through certified e-waste recycling programs. Look for reputable recycling facilities that adhere to environmental standards and regulations. Many manufacturers offer take-back programs, allowing customers to return old devices for proper recycling.

How Does Pure Storage Technology Reduce E-waste for IT?

Pure Storage, a leading provider of all-flash storage solutions, has taken significant steps to address e-waste and promote sustainable practices. The efficiency Pure’s infrastructure can provide also reduces the need for supporting components which would need to be disposed of, too: controllers, fans, switches, power supplies, etc.

Pure Storage also offers:

  • A product recycling program: Pure Storage operates a comprehensive recycling program, ensuring that end-of-life products are recycled responsibly, reducing their environmental impact.
  • Improved storage densities and data reduction technologies like compression and deduplication: Pure Storage customers need far fewer devices to meet a given performance and capacity requirement. Expected increases in storage density could mean up to a 10x capacity advantage over COTS SSDs by 2025. Also, locating and removing excess stored data also reduces the need for additional hardware.
  • Product longevity: Approximately 97% of arrays deployed six years ago are still in service today, thanks to our Evergreen//Forever™ program. By offering non-disruptive upgrades through our Evergreen® subscription portfolio, Pure Storage extends the lifespan of its products, reducing the frequency of replacements and e-waste generation.

Sustainability and the Pure//E™ Family: The Pure//E Family is the perfect replacement for unsustainable spinning rust. FlashArray//E™ reduces e-waste by up to 85%. This substantial reduction is the result of enhanced product durability and fewer hardware upgrades.

Conclusion

E-waste is a growing concern for the IT industry, with far-reaching environmental and financial implications. Addressing this challenge requires a concerted effort from manufacturers, consumers, and policymakers to promote responsible recycling practices and sustainable product design. By adopting eco-friendly strategies, embracing recycling initiatives, and investing in longevity, the IT industry can significantly reduce its contribution to the e-waste crisis and protect the environment for future generations.

Read the white paper to learn more: Efficient IT Infrastructure Saves More than Just Energy Costs.

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