According to the World Economic Forum, e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, with about 50 million tons of electronic and electrical refuse produced each year. That amount is expected to double by 2050, largely driven by the IoT and the demand for connected devices. Hybrid work environments, online learning, and technologically advanced vehicles are increasing the volume of retired assets. In a world where environmental sustainability is only increasing in importance, the ability to reuse IT equipment — instead of destroying or even recycling it — plays a critical role in companies’ sustainability strategies. This is where IT asset disposition (ITAD) comes in: where asset life spans are extended by redeploying them for alternate uses. According to Market Research Future, the global ITAD market is anticipated to reach $27 billion at a 12% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) by 2025. 

ITAD’s prominence —  and importance — are growing. In 2016, a major hyperscale cloud provider announced that several of their sites were working to divert 100% of their datacenter waste from landfills, in part by extending the life of the equipment through ITAD. Without a robust ITAD plan, companies will struggle to meet their sustainability goals.  

But First, What Is ITAD? ITAD, a practice of responsibly disposing of IT hardware through remarketing or recycling, has developed significantly in the past 20 years. What began as a crude concept where one person came with their truck and took all the decommissioned IT equipment away gradually transitioned to include recycling. Now, it has become a mature market in which companies have begun to realize that the material could generate a return while simultaneously benefiting the environment.

Whether IT equipment is at the end of the line or the company is conducting a clean sweep to overhaul and upgrade their infrastructure, implementing an ITAD program allows for its reuse in a way that is efficient, safe, and sustainable. 

In some cases, 80%-90% of decommissioned enterprise IT equipment — such as that coming from data centers — can be repurposed, leaving only 10%-20% to be recycled. If a server can’t be resold whole, for instance, the only parts that need to be disposed of are enclosures or the rails that hold the server into the racks — everything else can be remarketed, whether it’s a network card, motherboard, or CPU. If data on the HDD/SSD is properly erased, it can be remarketed, as well.

Disposing of Seemingly “Good” Equipment  With the constantly increasing performance requirements of AI and machine learning and advances in CPUs and MCUs, companies must consistently refresh their hardware to keep up — and keep their competitive advantage. 

For instance, hyperscale data center companies, which are some of the largest drivers of cloud growth, can have two or three football fields worth of servers in their buildings. As equipment needs to be refreshed, though, what happens to these servers? This question represents a significant opportunity to properly handle that material in a responsible way. 

This is where a global ITAD solution can be implemented. While hyperscale data center companies have stringent performance requirements and may consider a server inadequate to keep in service, it may be perfectly acceptable for another company. In this case, a company with less strict requirements can gain access to used equipment that is far more advanced than anything they have the resources to buy new. Thus, hard drives from these data centers can be tested, have their data erased, and be serviced and remarketed to benefit other organizations rather than adding to the growing amount of e-waste.

Common ITAD Misconceptions For many companies, dealing with unwanted IT equipment is a low priority. The responsibility is often thrust upon someone who has little familiarity with ITAD and limited capacity to create a dedicated solution that encompasses not only data center assets but those of corporate IT as well. Thus, what often happens is that a haphazard IT-disposal system falls into a place that isn’t environmentally sound, economically feasible, or reliably secure. 

The problem with this approach is that, when physical assets are improperly discarded, a wealth of personal and corporate data goes with them, potentially putting organizations and individuals at risk. Additionally, those dispositioning materials are often unaware of where their former IT assets end up (typically landfills) and that these assets still have a high residual value. 

Data security is understandably a critical concern when it comes to disposing of unwanted IT equipment. For this reason, some rely on shredding and destroying material, such as hard drives, because they believe it is the safest way to avoid a data breach. However, what many fail to realize is that a hard drive cannot be destroyed within a data center because it is a controlled environment. Therefore, those hard drives must be moved somewhere else to be shredded, and, in 99% of cases, this is done by an unvetted third party. This creates a variable — and any variable when it comes to data is a cause for concern. It’s a misconception that shredding is the most secure way to deal with unwanted materials. 

To stress this point further, take these numbers: If a company has a 200-rack decommissioning project, that can equal up to 55,000 hard drives, which, if shredded, result in around four dump trucks of metal that ends up in a landfill — a tremendous amount of waste. Some companies fill warehouses and let discarded or end-of-life equipment sit until the next quarter or the next year. Both of these options are unsound, not only from a financial standpoint, but from security and sustainability perspectives as well.

ITAD Program Best Practices Partnering with a trusted provider of advanced data sanitization and destruction services enables organizations to ensure data safety while exploring options for disposition and remarketing for incremental value.

The right global ITAD partner will have the resources, facilities, and footprint to create customized solutions to meet the specific needs of a company based on the equipment they need to retire and their specific compliance guidelines. For instance, some companies do not allow materials, such as hard drives and SSDs, to leave their property without the data being erased to a set criterion. In this case, they wipe the drives themselves and have their trusted ITAD partner verify the data wiping.

Very few companies have a global footprint and the ability to manage the entire ITAD program under one roof, from asset evaluation and decommissioning to data erasure and remarketing. It’s vital to choose an ITAD partner that has a software-engineering team with the data-erasure capabilities, resources, and capacity to tackle problems that may arise as they work with the material. This is important, particularly when it’s not known exactly what data is on the equipment. Using a software-discovery tool will show what components are still in the server and help determine what monetary value can be obtained. The data on the server can be identified while it’s still running and can be erased properly afterward, or the server can be put in a secure truck and sent to a facility to be processed.

Whatever can’t be dispositioned can be recycled, with a portion of the proceeds returned to the client. To ensure sustainable practices, find a partner that works with R2-certified recyclers and audits them on a regular basis.

Sustainability and a Circular Economy  Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns are top of mind for many leaders, and corporate initiatives are increasingly improving e-waste management to protect human health and the environment.

According to some estimates, the annual global electricity demand from data centers could increase to as high as 8,000 TWh by 2030 under the least ideal circumstances. Furthermore, tons of material are being generated by these gargantuan facilities, necessitating a way to offset the environmental impact. As organizations are looking to meet ESG goals, global ITAD solutions will be critical to reducing their footprints. 

ITAD is a shining example of the circular economy, and for ostensibly obvious reasons — it represents the epitome of reuse and recycle. For example, in a data center decommissioning, as discussed above, IT equipment is remarketed, so companies can buy new material with the proceeds, and the material skips the landfill.

It’s a win-win-win. A newer development in ITAD is the engagement with carbon credits. This is particularly important to the oil and gas industry, which seeks to decrease their carbon footprint and receive carbon credits from reselling their dispositioned assets. The EPA has an algorithm to calculate carbon reduction, and there are other industry-accepted formulas to calculate it as well.

From a compliance perspective, an ITAD solution is crucial to reaching a company’s sustainability goals and taking green efforts to the next level. It’s simple: As IoT and the cloud grow, and as companies increase prioritization of environmental responsibility, so too will the need for corresponding ITAD services. 

In finding a trusted security-minded partner with a large global footprint and resources to develop the best ITAD program for their company, leaders of data centers, major OEMs, and businesses of any size or in any industry alike can rest assured that their IT equipment is retired responsibly.