Reduce E-waste and Maximize Asset Value Recovery When Decommissioning a Data Center

Decommissioning an enterprise data center is a large and complex project that requires hundreds of hours of effort and specialized expertise. IT departments are responsible for migrating applications and workloads, securing sensitive data, and physically removing IT assets from existing facilities, often within tight schedules and specified budgets.  Once the assets are removed, however, enterprises must have a plan to reduce the volume of materials that end up in landfills. E-waste is a growing global problem, and enterprises have a responsibility to properly resell, recycle, and dispose of IT assets and critical infrastructure.  With an effective IT asset disposition (ITAD) strategy, enterprises can not only keep e-waste from being dumped in landfills but also maximize the asset value recovery from equipment, hardware, and components that have been removed from the data center. 

The Growing E-waste Problem

E-waste is the collective term used for electronics that are at or near the end of their useful life. The term includes everything from household electronics and consumer smart devices to enterprise data center assets and IT infrastructure.  The EPA defines the term further, recognizing that there is an inherent value in the materials, components, and metals that can be reused, refurbished, recovered, or recycled.  E-waste is a rapidly growing challenge as electronic devices and data centers become more common. A 2020 UN report found that 53.6 million tons of e-waste were produced in the previous year. The same report also predicted that the volume of e-waste will grow to more than 74 million tons by 2030 – double the amount produced in 2014. China, the US, and India were the largest producers of e-waste, combining to account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s total. 

The Environmental Costs of E-waste

Electronic devices are made with many different materials. Some, including gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, neodymium and other rare earth elements are highly valuable to recyclers, and the amount of these precious metals and other materials that can be recovered is significant. The EPA suggests that one metric ton of circuit boards contains 40 to 800 times more gold than one metric ton of ore.  On the other hand, however, e-waste also contains toxic and damaging materials that can cause serious harm to both people and the environment if leached into water supplies or released into ecosystems. Among these are heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, polluting materials such as PVC plastics, and hazardous chemicals such as arsenic. 

Reducing E-waste and Maximizing Asset Value Recovery

Enterprises are in a unique position to reduce the volume of e-waste dumped in landfills through effective reselling, recycling, and disposal of IT assets.  Unfortunately, many organizations simply do not have the people, processes, and expertise available to manage the disposal of IT assets in-house. Obsolete and unused assets often end up sitting in storage rooms because enterprises are unsure what to do with them and do not want to re-recognize the assets to recover any residual value. As a result, only 23 percent of enterprises look to resell IT equipment, while a full 26 percent dispose of it without attempting to recycle.  To help overcome these challenges, enterprises can turn to a trusted, experienced, and certified IT services partner who can guide them through the ITAD process. However, not all ITAD providers are created equally, and enterprises should conduct due diligence to confirm they can deliver on their promises. A recent report showed that 40 percent of e-waste given to recyclers was not properly disposed of. Given this, enterprises may be contributing to the problem even when they believe they are doing the right thing.  Instead, look for a partner that brings a deep understanding of the data center environment, the business reasons for decommissioning the data center, and the value of the assets that are being removed. They should also have established relationships with trusted recyclers, provide complete visibility into the chain of custody for all assets, and produce clear documentation and proof of data sanitization or destruction. 

Keeping E-waste Out of the Landfill When Decommissioning an Enterprise Data Center

Beyond being the right thing to do, enterprises that value environmental, social, and governance responsibilities must ensure that they follow these values when decommissioning the data center.  In most cases, physically removing the equipment from the facility is the easy part. But before this can take place, enterprises should develop, communicate, and implement a clear plan for how to manage e-waste, how to maximize asset value recovery, and how to ensure that assets without residual value are properly recycled.  Not only does this help to offset the costs of the decommissioning project, but it also contributes to solving the growing problem of e-waste. 

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