What Happens to My Work Computer When I Stop Using it and Return it to IT?

March 8, 2024

Did you know the average laptop carries approximately 330 kilograms of embodied carbon? That's quite a hefty environmental footprint! On average 80% of a device's lifecycle footprint comes from production. Extending the life of used devices contributes significantly to energy and resource savings, countering the environmental impact of manufacturing new products. However, not every company is currently focusing on effective IT lifecycle management practices, emphasizing the need for a well-structured approach in this area.

When employees return laptops, companies with robust asset management practices employ diverse strategies to manage the influx of used laptops. Thorough inspections are conducted, and operational units are potentially refurbished for reuse, presenting both eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions. 

Companies may also decommission devices by selling them to other businesses. These devices can be refurbished and then resold to consumers or other companies as refurbished units. Dustin Group exemplifies responsible IT practices with a 90% reusability rate, in-house takeback management, and a strong commitment to sustainability goals.

In this article, we will walk you through a detailed process, explaining what exactly happens in the lifecycle management of your work device. Plus, we will also highlight the important role played by IT managers and companies in shaping the future of your device once it's handed back to IT.

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The transformative landscape of remote work

In the aftermath of the pandemic-induced surge in remote work, PCs and Macs have become the cornerstone of modern business operations. Now, fast forward a couple of years these devices present a challenge for IT offices tasked with managing them effectively and even more so in how to handle them when they are nearing their end of life within the business. 

According to a recent IDC study, 78% of our workforce has returned to the office, leaving behind the remote work era. Now, those devices that dutifully served us during the remote times in 2020 are approaching their retirement phase. Businesses must actively review and update their strategies, ensuring a smooth transition for these devices. Adapting to this changing landscape is more than a strategic move; it's a necessity for sustaining productivity and optimizing resources in the post-pandemic work setting.

So, what happens to your computer once you return it? We’ve broken down the process from returning a computer to its eventual reuse or recycling, considering the IT Asset Disposition (ITAD).

IT Asset Disposition (ITAD)

Think of IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) as a retirement strategy for your electronic devices. ITAD involves several steps that may vary from one company to another but generally starts with the secure deletion of company data from the device. Numerous suppliers offer services for this purpose, ranging from takeback suppliers like Dustin, Foxway, and Inrego to software suppliers such as Blancco.

Step 1 - Ensuring Data Security

When you return devices, the first crucial step is data sanitization/erasure. This involves using industry-standard methods like overwriting or secure erasure to delete all stored data, ensuring that no sensitive information remains on the devices.

Step 2 - Assessing Device Condition

Next, each device goes through a thorough evaluation to determine its condition or the most suitable disposition method. Factors such as age, condition, and specifications are considered during this assessment.

Step 3 - Making Disposition Choices

Based on the evaluation results, a decision is made regarding the best course of action for the IT assets. This might include either Option A) refurbishing or reselling, or Option B) recycling, aligning with their condition and the broader goals of the organization.

  • Refurbishment: During the refurbishment process, devices are given a makeover – they're cleaned, repaired, and tested to ensure they're in great condition. Suppliers go the extra mile, replacing parts, fixing scratches, and repairing broken screens. After refurbishment, it's usually hard to tell the difference between a freshly refurbished high-grade device and a new one.
  • Recycling: During recycling phase, devices unfit for refurbishment are dismantled to extract valuable components for reuse or recycling. Companies like Stena Recycling recover metals such as aluminum, copper, gold, and silver from circuit boards and wires. Advanced processes separate materials like plastics and glass for proper disposal or recycling, and environmental compliance ensures responsible handling of hazardous materials, minimizing the impact of e-waste disposal.

    In 2021, Apple achieved its highest-ever use of recycled content in products, with nearly 20% of all materials being recycled. A significant step was taken towards sustainability with 59% of all aluminum in Apple products sourced from recycled materials in 2021.

    Daisy, Apple's latest disassembly robot, exemplifies their commitment to sustainability. The robot incorporates revolutionary technology derived from Apple's first disassembly robot, Liam, launched in 2016. Capable of disassembling nine iPhone versions, Daisy efficiently processes up to 200 devices per hour, extracting high-quality components for recycling, surpassing traditional methods in material recovery and quality.

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Why is ITAD important? 

As you've learned about the process your devices go through upon return, it's equally important to understand the significance of ITAD. IT Asset Disposition is important for businesses because it safeguards sensitive data, promotes eco-friendly practices, and adds value to old equipment, all while ensuring compliance with regulations. 

  • ​​CO2 Emission Reduction through Reuse
    Choosing refurbished electronics, as highlighted in a study by Refurbed and Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH, leads to a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions, an 86% decrease in water usage for refurbished smartphones, and an 80% reduction in e-waste. Plus, reusing smartphones instead of buying new ones can avoid an average of 55 kilograms of CO2 emissions. A study by Rise highlighted the positive climate impact of refurbishing and reusing IT products, with significant CO2 emissions avoided: up to 280 kg CO2 equivalent avoided for one reuse cycle and 560 kg CO2 equivalent for two cycles, especially for products like laptops. The findings compared the emissions to driving a car 2800 km and reusing it twice to driving 5600 km. In terms of trees, the study equated the reuse of a laptop to the CO2 absorption of 12 full-grown trees in one year, while two reuse cycles corresponded to 24 trees.

  • Product-as-a-Service Model Impact
    A PwC study suggests that proactive adoption of the device/product-as-a-service model for consumer electronics could lead to a cost savings of at least 27% and a CO2-equivalent reduction of at least 36% by 2035 compared to a business-as-usual model. 

Examples from industry-leaders

  • Apple's Approach:
    Apple is leading the industry in responsible IT asset management through new sustainability initiatives. Apple's aluminum Apple Watch Series 9 achieves a 75% emission reduction through clean energy, recycled materials, and sustainable shipping, solidifying the company's 2030 commitment to carbon neutrality. The company has already cut total emissions by over 45% since 2015 while growing revenue by 65%.
  • Lenovo's Circular Solutions
    A new initiative by Lenovo, Lenovo Certified Refurbished, leads the way in circular IT by repurposing devices, reducing e-waste, and offering sustainable IT options. With 71% of devices refurbished or reused, it continues to deliver cost-effective, secure, and environmentally friendly solutions.
  • Dell’s Commitment to Sustainability:
    Dell aims to prevent 1,000 tons of e-waste each year by refurbishing or recycling all returned devices.

Empowering Users for Responsible Management

Employee awareness plays a pivotal role in successful IT asset management. New research from business waste reveals that 67% of employees want their workplaces to become more sustainable. Educating users about responsible device disposal and recycling helps them take better care of their assets, incentivized employees may do this even better, contributing to a more sustainable workplace.

Returning your work computer to IT doesn't mark the end but rather the beginning of a new lifecycle stage. Strategic planning, responsible management, and a commitment to sustainability ensure each device is handled. Whether refurbishing, recycling, or repurposing, the collective goal is clear: minimize electronic waste, maximize resource efficiency, and foster a sustainable future for all.