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E-waste becoming a massive issue for businesses, so what can be done?

COVID-19 has created e-waste sustainability challenges and opportunities. For one, data security issues are on the rise due to the number of devices used by employees increasing.

New research from Blancco Technology Group, The Rising Tide of E-waste, produced in partnership with Coleman Parkes, reveals that nearly half (47%) of large global enterprises created roles responsible for implementing and ensuring compliance with e-waste policies specifically to deal with e-waste issues generated from the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-waste is a global concern, and is quickly becoming a crisis of its own, the researchers state. In fact, more than 53 million metric tons of e-waste was produced in 2019.

How is the increase in devices impacting businesses?

The purchases of new technology to facilitate employees’ transition to remote work during the pandemic has sparked both data security and e-waste fears, as businesses increase the volumes of devices they own and ultimately the amount of data that resides on them, the report states.

Blancco’s study revealed that nearly all enterprises (97%) had to purchase laptops, with 75% buying the devices brand new, to deal with the mass exodus from traditional offices to home office environments.

However, the study found that 78% of respondents agreed with the statement, “COVID-19 caused unnecessary short-term investment in technology, which will leave us at risk with data being stored on a wide range of devices.”

This demonstrates an awareness of security risks among decision makers, the researchers state.

Enterprises will inevitably face challenges following the switch to remote working, but the importance of employing appropriate methods of data sanitisation when new devices are eventually decommissioned remains imperative.

If enterprises fail to do this, they run the risk of data breaches and regulatory penalties.

How are businesses dealing with e-waste?

Aiming to understand how these new challenges might be overcome, the survey explored current approaches to e-waste management and found that while 44% of enterprises did have an e-waste policy in place for end-of-life device management, it was not yet being communicated or implemented.

However, the survey identifies that e-waste initiatives tend to struggle within the modern enterprise due to a lack of ownership around the communication of the policies and in their implementations and compliance.

According to the report, 92% of enterprises agree with the statement, “We must take a serious view on ensuring all devices used to equip the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are appropriately stored and disposed of.”

47% of enterprises are “uncertain” about how best to communicate e-waste policies. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that the task of being responsible for e-waste and CSR policy communications lacks ownership.

Indeed, 39% of respondents said the reason their e-waste policies hadn’t been communicated was because no one had taken control of them.

Another key finding was that 35% of enterprises said their organisations carried out physical destruction on end-of-life equipment because it’s viewed as better for the environment.

When asked what will happen to their newly purchased devices when no longer required for remote work, 28% of enterprises said laptops would be erased to be resold.

A further 27% said they would be erased to be reused internally. An additional 12% said they would be erased and recycled, and 9% will send them to an ITAD.

How can businesses effectively deal with device increase and e-waste?

Blancco president of global strategy Alan Bentley says, “The flood of technology investment which followed the beginning of the pandemic has created clear issues for both e-waste and secure data management.

“The switch to remote work spurred on a wave of new device purchases, but these new, widely distributed devices have left enterprises feeling vulnerable.

"It’s fascinating that so many businesses have implemented roles to manage the e-waste issue resulting from COVID-19, demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR), but also their concern around how these devices will be dealt with when they reach end-of-life."

Bentley says, “It’s crucial that this issue is not overlooked and that these devices are appropriately disposed of. But it’s just as crucial to ensure the safeguarding of sensitive data during that process.

"Appropriate data sanitisation might at times be overlooked as an element of e-waste policies, but it is the perfect opportunity to engage data management best practices.

"Because not only will this reduce environmental impact, it will also remove the risk of a data breach when disposing of devices at end-of-life.”

The report concludes that enterprises must rethink their device management practices. It is now more important than ever that enterprises include end-of-life device and data management best practices within e-waste policies, the researchers state.