Why we need to eradicate “waste” from the dictionary
The earth’s resources are limited. Since the turn of the millennium, the world has been using its natural resources at an alarming rate. The global material footprint has grown from 54 billion tons in 2000 to 92 billion in 2017, a 70% increase (UN Statistics, 2019). As world leaders embark on the ‘Build Back Better’ agenda after COP26, there remains a glaring lack of discussion on the protection of natural resources – which forms the backbone of the very meaning of the word sustainability.
Operating with the possibility of producing “waste” is irresponsible and industries must learn to manage the global raw materials and rare earth minerals we have before supplies soon dry up. But how do we currently define waste? And why is it fundamentally problematic?
Challenging the definition of “waste”
The dictionary definition is: “Materials that are no longer needed and are discarded.” But more poignantly, the act of “wasting” something is defined as: “The act of using something in a careless or wasteful manner, causing its loss or destruction.” First, when something is no longer needed, why is it just thrown away? And two, if the very definition of waste refers to acting carelessly and unnecessarily, then we really need to change the way we approach the subject.
As the importance of reuse begins to rise on the media and corporate agendas, the need to conserve resources and minimize careless and unnecessary waste has never been greater. Ultimately, our approach to manufacturing new products and materials must begin to change with this movement, and it is through innovation and disruptive technologies that we can begin this transition. So whereas the definition of waste previously discounted the value left in materials beyond their original lifespan, we now need to use the value of all material assets and look beyond the commercially defined lifespan. to pave the way for the redistribution of resources.
Getting back to business after the pandemic is no easy task, let alone driving the growth that propels businesses to new heights. There’s never been a more critical time for leaders to discard old definitions and lean toward implementing disruptive technologies that improve outcomes while meeting broader sustainability goals.
Technology as a force for change
Pointing to the tech industry as a focal point, its current model of “take, make and replace” has created a mountain of e-waste (e-waste), 57 million tons per year (WEEE Forum, 2021) actually heavier than the Great Wall of China. As the fastest growing (Statista, 2021) waste flows around the world, it is clear that action needs to be taken.
Yet the reality is that old technology products are not “waste”. The value of every ancient technology is enormous, rich in valuable natural resources, and incredibly useful for future production. With supply chain crises around the world, such as the global chip shortage the abundance of old, dormant technologies plays a vital role not only in meeting demand, but also in preventing them from becoming waste.
One of the ripple effects of the pandemic and the shift to working from home is the unprecedented increase in demand for enterprise-level equipment. This, coupled with the commercial complexities of Brexit, means supply shortages are having a visible impact on businesses. So, as the world moves towards this hybrid work system, global IT supply must keep pace, and one easy way to meet demand is to use dormant technology. Only 17.4% of global electronic waste (E-Waste Monitor, 2020) is collected and properly recycled, but this alone represents US$10 billion in raw material value. With an estimated total value of US$57 billion for raw materials in global e-waste, the tech industry is sitting on a circular economy gold mine.
The challenge now lies initially in changing perceptions of second-hand technology. From that of a second-hand item to materials that have simply reached the end of their original useful life for their current owners. But also the need to ensure that second life products go beyond simple refurbishment or repair to ensure they have a fully extended second use and minimize their overall environmental impact.
The solution already exists
There are now real alternatives to both ‘waste’ and ‘new’ that push the boundaries of traditional processes and challenge the discourse around used devices. Refurbishment is the process of giving a product a second life by putting it back into the manufacturing process to bring performance levels back to their original level. More recently, our circular refurbishment process was the first of its kind in the computer industry, receiving a British Standard ISO 8887-211 classification that marked a massive change in the perception of second-hand devices and a new era of opportunity. This disruptive process goes beyond repairs and provides a viable alternative to new, helping the tech industry create a circular economy where old products don’t become waste.
With the rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer taking on a larger role in the executive suite, processes such as refurbishment are now prioritized to help decarbonize business assets and help achieve net zero goals. It’s an exciting time for the industry as a whole, with Apple is committed to repair older products for free, to Samsung stating that they build sustainability into everything they produce; the technology industry is now at the forefront of being a leader in the circular economy.
Create an alternative to waste
The reality is that if we want to challenge the negative and latent connotations associated with the term ‘waste’, there has to be another way of looking at materials and products that have passed their original life cycle. As we reframe our view of garbage in an effort to close the production loop, we can begin to eliminate garbage from the dictionary altogether. Our Circular Computing experts have suggested a term to replace it with “next generation resources”.
If the natural resources are in their first life, then the next generation resources are those that have been given a second life, then a third, a fourth, and so on. When these materials have exceeded their use value, they can be recycled or disposed of appropriately and not discarded carelessly. In doing so, we are creating a viable circular economy where waste is just a fever dream and the earth’s precious natural resources are preserved for generations to come.
Removing the possibility of waste will not only be good for our planet, but also for business growth and innovation, with the opportunity for business leaders to now play an active and less passive role in driving this charge. instead of waiting for government goals to dictate their path to sustainability. .
Steve Haskew, Head of Sustainability and Social Leadership, Circular Computing
In his role as Head of Sustainability and Social Leadership, Steve Haskew leads the definition, development and implementation of the CSR strategy for circular computing. His vision is a key driver of the company’s growth and ultimately aims to reduce the carbon footprint.
While spearheading Circular Computing’s sustainability strategy, Haskew was the driving force behind Circular Computing’s first industry milestone, which saw the company receive the renowned BSI Kitemark certification. It also helps the company achieve other sustainability goals, including funding the planting of one million trees by March 2023 and achieving a net zero carbon footprint by 2030.
An industry veteran of over 40 years, Steve’s career to date has spanned many roles and responsibilities including pioneering and defining the role of ITAD (IT Asset Disposition), Reverse Logistics and principles of reuse in the 1980s and 1990s.
As a keynote speaker on decarbonization and circular economy strategy, Steve has directly helped reshape the way enterprise computing is produced and consumed, changing behaviors to create meaningful sustainability impacts that can be measured and reported.