Record amount of ICT waste produced by government

A government report has found that more ICT waste was generated in 2021 than ever reported before. 

The annual Greening Government ICT report recorded 2.3m kg of ICT waste in 2021 and found that a higher percentage of this waste went to landfill than in recent years.

Published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the report looks at the footprint of ICT and digital services across government departments and assesses the overall effectiveness and sustainability of government and departmental policies. 

Though only 1.26% of the ICT waste generated by the government went to landfill last year, this number is up significantly on the 0.3% and 0.02% that went to landfill in 2020 and 2019. However, more waste was also recycled than has been previously.  

Despite the sizeable increase of waste over previous years, 2021 saw 600,000kg more ICT waste than 2020, the report said: ‘This reflects government ICT transformation programmes towards smarter working and cloud provision for data hosting as we move to mobile devices and hosting services, removing our legacy infrastructure.’ 

Chief Digital and Information Officer for the department, Chris Howes, commented in the report on the impact of waste on the environment, he said: ‘Technology won’t solve everything though. Minimising climate change will require massive behavioural and societal changes. So, we need a greater focus on how technology and data can help drive that.’ 

His comments echoed research carried out earlier this year at Lancaster University that used artificial intelligence and data to find out how the UK could reach its net-zero targets. 

Whilst the report found that departments were on track to reach their ‘zero to landfill’ target, it said that sustainable procurement is not well adopted across departments and agencies and requires ‘urgent focus’. 

One case study, provided by DEFRA itself, showed the income that can be made by the reselling of ICT assets as it reported that the department has raised £200,000 by selling ‘redundant assets’ and donated 1,800 items to citizens’ advice and Computer Aid. 

The increase in virtual meetings, and therefore the decrease in the need to travel, was also shown in the report which stated that 38 million e-conferences and 98 million online calls were initiated in 2021. The Department for Work and Pensions recorded the most online calls with around 55 million initiated. 

A report released on international e-waste day in October estimated that 5.3bn mobile phones would be discarded this year.

Photo by Tengyart


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