Why businesses should recycle enterprise devices

Sustainability should be a consideration at every stage of the device lifecycle, and this doesn't stop at device retirement. Recycling enterprise devices offers several benefits.

Device disposal requires as much consideration and planning as provisioning or management, especially as safety and sustainability factor into the process.

Sustainability is a growing concern for many organizations, but enterprise technology continues to be a major contributor to high carbon emissions and other environmental issues. The September 2022 McKinsey & Company report "The green IT revolution: A blueprint for CIOs to combat climate change" analyzed this connection. According to the report, end-user devices are responsible for emitting approximately 115 to 125 megatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases per year.

E-waste is another key aspect of this, which has a range of negative effects for organizations, as well as the environment. Improper device disposal can be hazardous to human health, contribute to toxic landfills, put data security at risk and waste valuable materials. In some cases, it's even illegal: 25 states and the District of Columbia currently have e-waste laws in place.

To prevent these consequences and reap some additional benefits, organizations should put thought into how they approach IT asset disposition (ITAD) and prioritize recycling.

4 key reasons to recycle enterprise devices

There are several reasons to recycle enterprise devices, and understanding these reasons can help IT administrators make recycling a basic part of the device lifecycle. Some important considerations for admins include safety and legality concerns, data security, potential cost savings and brand reputation.

1. Improper e-waste disposal is unsafe and sometimes illegal

Many electronic devices contain as many as 60 precious metals and elements, so throwing them out or incinerating them at end of life (EOL) isn't an easy, harmless fix. Handling these metals is extremely difficult and often hazardous to the environment. Melting down or incinerating electronic devices, for example, adds lead to landfills and emits toxic fumes and gases that are a major driver behind environmental degradation.

To avoid fines and other penalties, organizations must be careful to follow the e-waste regulations that apply to them.

These hazardous elements can also be harmful to human health. In addition to lead, other carcinogens, such as mercury and cadmium, are present at high levels in many devices. Several components of smartphones and PCs contain toxins and carcinogens, and exposure to these materials has been linked to serious adverse health effects.

In response to these dangers, many governments have passed e-waste laws. To avoid fines and other penalties, organizations must be careful to follow the e-waste regulations that apply to them. In the U.S., these laws typically establish an extended producer responsibility program, where the manufacturer is responsible for taking devices back at EOL and properly recycling them. There are some exceptions, however, such as California's advanced recycling fee program. Under this program, the consumer must pay a nonrefundable recycling fee when they first purchase a device.

Similarly, the EU enacted the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in 2003, requiring member states to meet certain goals for the collection, recovery and recycling of e-waste. The directive leaves it up to member states to decide how to meet these goals. Because e-waste laws vary from country to country and state to state, admins must scrutinize the policies that affect them and plan their device strategy accordingly.

Chart showing the layers of the manufacturing process for an IT product
The process to manufacture new devices uses a lot of energy and depletes natural resources. It's possible to offset this problem through recycling.

2. Device recycling can offer better data protection

With any enterprise device, data security is a significant concern. When a device is at EOL, it can still contain sensitive data. Therefore, security principles are no less crucial during this stage. IT teams must follow the proper security procedures to maintain data protection and compliance through the device retirement process.

Rather than thoughtlessly throwing out enterprise devices or storing them away in an office basement, admins can make sure that they destroy the right data in the right way by creating an in-depth device recycling strategy. Organizations can also turn to an ITAD provider or electronics recycling service as a third-party option. Recycling takes every component of the device into account, giving a clear view of any data that hasn't been properly destroyed and any hardware that IT can reuse or repurpose.

3. Reusing or reselling device parts saves money

The business benefits of recycling can also extend to cost savings. Repurposing or reselling enterprise hardware can improve an organization's bottom line in a few different ways. It's possible to save money by reusing device components that are still functional or to make money by selling those parts. Even if a component isn't functional anymore, it might contain raw materials that are still valuable and useful if an ITAD provider extracts them.

While recycling enables organizations to get the most out of individual device parts, there are also ways to fully repurpose an old device. For example, if an organization wants to deploy VDI and has PCs or tablets that are still in decent shape, IT can convert those devices into thin clients. The flexibility to reuse or resell either whole devices or their parts makes it easier to avoid new purchases and reduce overall costs.

Chart contrasting the linear economy with the circular economy
By recycling devices, organizations can contribute to the circular economy -- cutting down on the amount of waste they create and raw materials they consume.

4. Sustainability efforts improve brand reputation and employee engagement

Sustainability has become an important consideration for many when choosing which organizations to buy from and work for. As a result, sustainable marketing has become a valuable tool for organizations to increase brand loyalty and improve employee engagement. It enables business leaders to show that they care about their environmental impact and are working to make positive changes. Consumers are more comfortable supporting a brand that aligns with their values; employees are more satisfied at a job where they feel they are upholding their values.

When adopting environmental initiatives, it's important to take active steps to become more sustainable and be wary of greenwashing. Any organization can say it plans to reduce its carbon footprint, but that means nothing unless business practices are putting those sustainability goals into action. A device recycling program is one method for organizations to reduce their environmental impact in a real way without greenwashing.

Recycling is a critical element of the circular economy, which enables organizations to create less waste and conserve resources. Processing and repurposing recycled materials uses less energy than it does to produce new products. This benefits the environment in a way that consumers and employees can recognize and verify with data.

Sustainable device management and its advantages are also applicable before an endpoint reaches its EOL. First, IT teams should try to source devices with lower carbon footprints, deploy fewer devices and extend device life. Factoring sustainability into every part of IT management is vital if organizations want to fully reap the benefits of enterprise device recycling.

Katie Fenton is associate site editor for TechTarget's Mobile Computing, Enterprise Desktop and Virtual Desktop sites.

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