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Earth Day: Half of UK tech leaders say IT equipment is discarded too soon

Tech leaders say too much IT equipment is wasted. Extended right-to-repair legislation could help.

By Matthew Gooding

Too much IT equipment is being wasted by businesses according to half of UK tech leaders polled for a new survey, contributing significantly to the growing problem of e-waste. Mobile phones are the device most commonly thrown away before the end of their useful life, according to the poll of 2,500 IT executives. And though ‘right-to-repair’ legislation has been introduced in the UK and Europe, this does not yet extend to cover connected devices.

Old mobile phones at an e-waste recycling centre in India. Phones are the devices most commonly disposed of too soon by businesses, according to new research. (Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The study from IoT vendor SOTI, released today to coincide with Earth Day, an event designed to raise the profile of environmental issues, surveyed IT decisions makers at companies around the world with more than 50 employees.

It found 69% of them believe technology is disposed of too quickly, including 50% of the 300 UK-based respondents. The devices most commonly thrown away too soon, according to the study, are mobile phones.

Of the executives polled, 65% say they understand the role of IT in their organisation's sustainability efforts, but 62% believe upgrading to the latest equipment makes their company more attractive to staff, suggesting a disconnect between environmental goals and the reality of the highly competitive job market which many companies find themselves in.

“Devices aren’t thrown away accidentally," said Stefan Spendrup, VP of sales in northern and western Europe at SOTI. "There is always a decision made, and it shouldn’t be as simple as seeing a newer version on the market, seeing the battery die or just ‘expecting’ it to need replacing soon.” 

How can the life of IT equipment be extended?

Extending the life of devices is crucial to cutting the carbon footprint of IT equipment, because the majority of emissions are generated before the devices are used.

Governments have been developing so-called "right-to-repair" legislation, which compels manufacturers to make it easy to repair devices and replace defective parts. Earlier this month, the European Parliament adopted a motion calling for labels to indicate repairability and expected lifetime of products, guaranteed access to parts and repair facilities, and an extension to liability for defective goods beyond the current two years. Europe already has a right-to-repair law covering consumer white goods, and lawmakers in the bloc are working on an extension to cover tech devices.

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The UK, which is the second biggest generator of e-waste globally, according to the most recent e-waste monitor report from the United Nations, also introduced its own right-to-repair legislation last year, though this also focuses on white goods and televisions and excludes phones and laptops.

Aside from repairs, the SOTI research highlights more easily replaceable batteries as a potential way to extend the lifespan of devices, as well as more software updates; 69% of those questioned said that better or more frequent updates would make them more inclined to keep their devices for longer.

A draft version of the EU's updated right-to-repair rules, seen by the campaign group Restart last year, addresses this 'software obsolescence' and could stop manufacturers from prematurely discontinuing software and security updates. Whether the UK will follow Europe's lead and introduce similar rules remains to be seen.

Read more: The role of IT procurement in ESG

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