Technology is no stranger to disruption, with new devices and applications being developed every day that could upend the status quo. In the last few years alone, the way in which businesses collect and analyze data has changed significantly, and corporate equipment budgets have swelled in tandem. Consequently, this disruptive trend could well lead to another — the evolution of IT asset disposition and recycling into what some analysts are calling “the circular economy.”
“Refurbishing, reusing and recycling devices will be central to a vibrant economy.”
A recent report from Morgan Stanley expands on the idea that the foundations of the global marketplace are becoming circular rather than linear. That’s due to the world’s increasing reliance on computing equipment, in business as well as daily life. Few people in the developed world can live a single day without interacting with a digital device. But as these items are updated and replaced, it’s no longer practical or ethical to just send them to a landfill. As a result, according to Morgan Stanley analysts, the circular work of refurbishing, reusing and recycling these devices will become central to the maintenance of a vibrant market economy.
Of course, circular economies have been in use for almost as long as civilization has relied on the wide-scale use of natural resources. Industrial materials like iron and copper are routinely melted down and recycled. And recycling refuse materials like paper, plastic and glass is second-nature for many — according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. recycled approximately 34 percent of all solid waste generated in 2013.
Overcoming disposition hurdles
Reusing and recycling as much as possible is a financial and environmental imperative, but the disposition and reuse of many IT assets comes with its own unique challenges:
- Sensitive data must be reliably destroyed before refurbishing or recycling.
- Hazardous materials, like lead, brominated flame retardants, beryllium, cadmium and mercury, must be carefully processed.
- Raw materials need to be screened and separated.
- Functionality testing and repair.
As the Morgan Stanley report explains, though, these key hurdles are increasingly being overcome, turning IT asset disposition into an opportunity for cost savings, rather than a basic legal or ethical obligation.
“The advantages [of the circular economy] for companies are numerous and center on increasing the amount of value they create and retain,” said Jessica Alsford, lead author of the report. “The move to a more circular economy will be a disruptive trend in the next few years. Those companies that move first to innovate and adapt should be well placed.