Tech and the Circular Economy

Posted on December 17, 2019
Archive : December 2019
Category : Blog

Tech and the Circular Economy

By Graeme Hawkes, Business Development Manager of Capito Ltd

Our Business Development Manager Graeme Hawkes discusses the importance of environmental responsibility in the tech sector - we would love to hear your feedback.

With recent headlines including David Attenborough’s warning to world leaders about plastic usage, Extinction Rebellion’s demonstrations around the world, and real-life instances of global warming being evidenced, the focus on sustainability and our environmental impact has never been more pronounced.  The current threat of our historically wasteful behaviour is real, and people are really starting to sit up and take notice.

The Scottish Government have always been very vocal in their vision of us being a carbon neutral country by 2045.  To this aim, they have recently set up a Public Procurement Group focusing on climate change.  Through regular reporting on achieving this carbon neutral goal, this initiative will ensure that public sector bodies not only take it into consideration but are held accountable. 

So, where does this sit with technology and what can be done about it? 

Digital waste has grown exponentially over the past decade due to consumers constantly demanding the latest and greatest technology.  At the same time, the storage of data — such as e-mails, pictures, audio and video files, etc. — has shifted from physical locations to online, or cloud, storage methods, meaning that many once-commonplace pieces of storage equipment are now obsolete.

However, upgrading your IT hardware does not mean that the old kit should be shoved in a skip, ultimately destined to end up in a landfill site in Asia or Africa.  To address this issue, much more attention must be given to how we securely and responsibly dispose of legacy hardware. 

An example of a new method that is particularly interesting is bioleaching, which uses bacteria to remove copper, gold and other metals from chipboards and components.  Although this is very much in the research and development stage at present, scaling this production could be a real game-changer in helping to recover and reuse more of what we dispose of, while reducing the amount of digital waste being sent to landfill.

This is all part of a global push to move from a traditional linear economy of “take-make-dispose” to a circular economy model where waste and pollution is eliminated, and resources are kept in continuous use. 

Digital waste and sustainable IT is something that every business should be aware of, with an overall target of achieving a circular economy and becoming carbon neutral. 

In addition to the usual responsibilities, such as data protection and security, moving materials higher up the waste hierarchy must now be a major consideration for all companies when implementing a tech refresh.  In addition to the above example of removing metal components for reuse, you could also investigate ways of monetising an existing waste stream, and ensure that electronic waste is being disposed of in accordance with the applicable legislation, such as the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.  If your tech products are supplied on a wooden pallet, could this later be resold to a furniture maker who could give it new life as a bed frame?  Could legacy devices be securely wiped and donated to a local school or charity?  Could the plastic casings be melted down to be used as materials for playground equipment?  Could you incorporate artificial intelligence into your supply chain to identify areas that could be optimised?

Another approach to a circular economy model is to use a “Product as a Service” strategy for your IT hardware.  This allows you to concentrate on consumption of software while allowing your sustainable IT partners to provide secure disposal of your legacy data and recycling of as many components of your legacy equipment as possible.

The environmental impact of everything we do is now under scrutiny every single day, meaning that circular economy and sustainability factors must be a vital consideration to all businesses with their ongoing hardware purchasing.  If managed properly, this will bring a decline in the amount of digital waste being sent to landfill sites around the world and strengthen the circular economy in the IT sector.

Being more environmentally responsible is no longer a “nice to have” or something that lets you tick a box.  It’s now a key part of being a sustainable business as we go forward into the next decade.