IT experts say cutting global electronic waste must be a top priority for COP26

Oct 28, 2021

Ending the cycle of ‘pushing new products like smartphones on ever smaller timescales’ should be a top target for the COP26 Summit, according to a poll of the IT industry.

Reusing and recycling electronic waste was chosen as the priority policy action to improve technology’s relationship with environment, in a survey by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. BCS says legislation on ‘rights to repair’ coming in around the world can help achieve this aim with promotion and support from governments, consumers and a professional tech industry.

The poll reveals what should be prioritised

Ending device waste won the most votes from the poll which asked members of the professional body for the IT industry which tech-related actions government and sector should look to put first.

After electronic waste (top of the poll with 30%), IT experts chose carbon transparency reporting (19%), followed by making data centres truly ‘green’ (14%). Granting rights to home working to reduce carbon emissions followed with 13% and restricting ‘proof of work’ cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which have a large environmental impact, won 12% of votes.

A majority (61%) of tech experts also said that they were not confident that IT and digital technologies were being used effectively by industry in the fight against climate change. A similar proportion (64%) were not confident that the UK workforce currently has the right digital skills to achieve net zero.

Alex Bardell, Chair of the BCS Green IT Specialist Group said:

“Most people working and leading in the IT profession agree that digital technologies should be at the heart of government and industry’s strategy to reach net zero. That can be achieved by a tech industry that defines its professionalism by prioritising actions like reducing e waste, which is already in focus thanks to the chip shortage.

“Rather than being dependent on new devices as soon as we have a failure, the ‘right to repair’ legislation should be starting to make it easier for people to extend the life of their devices. If the starter motor failed on your car, you would go to the garage and get a new part, rather than chucking the car away.

The consumption rate of electronics is increasing by 3% annually, particularly in areas like the smartphone industry, and is a key contributor to electronic waste, according to the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Forum.

According to The Royal Society’s 2020 report, ‘Digital technology and the planet: Harnessing computing to achieve net zero’, nearly a third of the 50% carbon emissions reductions the UK needs to make by 2030 could be achieved through existing digital technology.

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