They’ve had enough. China’s no-more-trash policy is a huge push-back against the crap we’ve been shipping overseas for the past decade. And, really, who can blame them? But what does this mean for American businesses as they need to upgrade their IT equipment? Only through finding a sustainable way of handling IT assets will this end in anything other than a big pile of defunct electronics spilling out of your back room.
Costs need to be reckoned
For the last thirty to forty years of business computing, businesses as well as manufacturers have not been paying enough for the technology they use. This may seem like a shock given how much the price has cost and (from the other angle) how much it still costs to outfit a business with IT infrastructure, but the truth is there is a balance still due.
What we are discovering in these past few months with China’s Greenwall, and Climate Change, and Paris talks, and extinction rebellion, and… is that our balance for these devices has been paid by the planet.
The externalization of costs is what allowed America and—by export—the rest of the world to hop on this tech train in the first place. If we had internalized the costs of extracting precious minerals, sourcing new material, and responsibly recycling devices after they’ve been retired, the world wouldn’t be in the state it’s in—for both good and bad.
The mindset needs to change
We’ve run out of time with sending the cost of this technology to the environment. It’s had enough, just like China. Only, instead of sending it back, it’s sending it to the ocean gyres or to the fields of Agbogbloshie. Or, maybe a better way to say it is that the planet is choking on the cost we’ve not internalized.
The mindset needs to change because the current recycling model is not working. It's not economical without this ability to push our waste to developing countries. It seems we want to get every recycler to the lowest cost possible so we can continue to use technology without paying to handle it responsibly.
But cutting costs means cutting corners. And recycling electronics is already a dangerous game when done with the right equipment. Sending e-waste to developing countries where they use hammers and fire to “recycle” electronics is racking up an environmental bill that may be outside our world’s ability to pay.
But what can we do to minimize the cost?
It has become obvious that no single generation will be able to cover the bill we’ve racked up in just 40 years of semiconductor technology—it’s far too costly. And there is no way to stop the progress we’ve started with this industry, so what are the alternatives? Hopefully, you’ll agree that allowing the planet to suffocate on our poor choices isn’t one of them.
One way to internalize the cost—true cost—of the devices you use is to extend their use over more time. Every year longer that you can use a device, divides the overall cost into more manageable bits. By delaying an upgrade for another year, for instance, you could cut thousands of dollars’ worth of externalized costs off the devices you already own.
Also, paying a little bit more for services that responsibly and sustainably handle e-waste—like using an eSteward certified recycler—is another way to curb your overall environmental cost of tech ownership. These devices are unbelievably powerful, and when you see that value, you can justify the costs more easily.
Being sustainable with your company’s ITAM program means taking every device into consideration from the perspective of the entire supply chain. Don’t just look at what it does for your company, but consider what it took to get to your office (from mineral mining, processing, and even the trucks to get it to your door) as well as what it can do after you no longer have a use for it. That could be putting it in an Employee Purchase Program, reselling it to the public, or even donating it to a good cause.
But there are still other ways you can invest in solutions that will help us all to keep our “stuff” without losing our planet. Businesses and innovators across the globe are working at creating solutions that will help make our world a better place without us having to go back to primitive living. By adopting the solutions that make the most sense for your business—perhaps at a premium—you’re helping to absorb some of the cost the Earth has been covering.
China’s rejection of our waste could be the best thing for us, environmentally speaking, if we take it as a clear call to action. Rather than wallowing in the waste that is building up on our own shores, we need to see it as the alternative if we don’t start internalizing the costs of owning our stuff. China’s actions, in turn, should be the motivation we need to accept the higher price-tag of living in the most opulent culture in history.