Explaining e-waste (and how to avoid it)

January 8, 2020 4 minute read

The world is waking up to making smarter, more sustainable choices that impact the triple bottom line – social, economical and environmental benefits. In particular, you’ve probably heard a lot about ethical fashion, and the plastic-free movement. But you don’t hear as much about the business we’re in – sustainable and circular IT. So let’s look at what e-waste is, and how to avoid it.

Let us break it down.


E-waste includes electric and electronic equipment that has been discarded without the intent of reuse, as well as the components that make up these products. Such products are diverse in origin and use – your smartphone or laptop probably come to mind first, but consider larger items like your fridge, or the less obvious, like network routers and switches (which Aliter deals with).

Let’s look at some of the stats, thanks to a recent, enlightening report by the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Globally, we produce almost 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year. The report estimates that approximately 26%, or 13 million tonnes, of which was created by the IT industry in 2018.

Alarmingly, the report says of the global figure, 40 million tonnes are ‘discarded in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated.’

IT products often also contain precious metals (such as gold or silver) and rare materials. And these metals and materials could be recovered, recycled and reused. Incidentally, if they are not, the report says they can contribute to up to 70% of hazardous waste in landfill. What’s more, the manual breakdown and sorting of this waste is often done in unethical working conditions , has consequences on workers’ health and creates local pollution .

Lastly, an immense amount of CO2 emissions are also created to develop electronic products. The report estimates that by 2040 carbon emissions from the production and use of electronics will reach 14% of the world’s total emissions.

E-waste stats that you need to know
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These numbers make a compelling argument for circular IT. If things don’t change across the board – from mining, to manufacturing and consumption – they’ll continue to rise.

Consider this. Whether you recycle your product or simply discard it, if your next step is to purchase a new replacement, the cycle begins again. Manufacturers create to meet this demand. And inevitably, that means more contribution to landfill in the long run.

This is the all-too-common linear life cycle of IT – and it’s contributing to the alarming statistics you’ve just read in a big way.

If possible, reusing IT equipment is typically more sustainable than discarding or recycling it because doing so extends the product’s life cycle.

Reusing a refurbished product helps save the planet because the demand for new product manufacturing decreases, which means a reduction in CO2 emissions.

Plus, the product bypasses landfill and the nasty practices and outcomes that can come with it. This is the circular IT life cycle in action – and it presents the opportunity to make a positive and life-changing dent in the report’s statistics.

The IT life cycle: linear vs circular IT
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All for the circular life cycle, we extend the lives of IT network products. Our clients come to us to buy or sell refurbished IT network products, and in doing so, save a bundle on costs and help us to move closer to our goal of reusing 500,000 IT network products by 2025. Of course, they also contribute to saving a massive amount of CO2 that would otherwise be produced if they opted for new equipment.

Products – like Cisco switches, routers and VoIP systems – come to Aliter, where our certified engineers assess and refurbish them. Our testlab allows clients to trial a configuration tailored to their business needs before purchasing the hardware, and is much less energy-intensive (so another win for the environment).

Lastly, our refurbished products are installed with a new client – and as an added and equal benefit furthering the case for businesses, they save money here too, while supporting the transition to a circular economy.


Whether you’re a company or an individual, continuing to buy new IT equipment when you have the option to reuse or purchase a refurbished product is damaging to people, profit and the planet. And it only gets more catastrophic if we continue this way.

Aliter is on a mission to help inform people about e-waste and circular IT, and day-to-day, we’re proud to say we facilitate the uptake of reusable IT with our clients. We’re also happy to see that conversation and action around the topic is increasing, including discussion around #rightforrepair laws. Take Sweden for example – introducing tax breaks on repairs to everything from bicycles to washing machines.

We hope we’ve inspired you to think twice about buying, selling, and reusing your IT products. Just as you would consider a pre-owned car or house, let’s support the rise of circular IT and the fall of linear IT life cycles.

Let’s make a difference with IT. Are you with us?