E-Waste: Addressing a Growing Problem for Data Centers in 2022 cover

E-Waste: Addressing a Growing Problem for Data Centers in 2022

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On: April 22, 2022 Comments: 0
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E-waste refers to discarded electronic and electrical material – and data centers have a serious problem with it on their hands. While everyday people tend to use their devices until they break, data centers tend to run through theirs unnecessarily faster.

The ecological impacts aren’t only due to material waste; the very infrastructure of data centers contributes to the e-waste problem. Electrical, HVAC, and other systems rely on hardware that eventually gets discarded. Cooling the IT equipment with air or cold plate methods requires significantly more parts – that will later become e-waste – compared to GRC’s environmentally friendly liquid immersion cooling solution.

We’ve developed more data centers to handle surging technological usage. Believe it or not, we’re on track to produce 1.5 times more electrical waste by 2030 – a staggering 74 megatons! Needless to say, e-waste is an upward trend with potentially devastating consequences.

The burden to address this problem is on those who created it: businesses, particularly data centers. Fortunately, there are several complementary approaches to respond to the e-waste problem. These include recycling and reuse, operating computer equipment in eco-conscious data centers making use of immersion cooling, and designing components for sustainability from the ground up.


The E-Waste Problem

A data center may have a depreciation/refresh cycle of three to five years, resulting in a consistent stream of electrical waste. Functional systems are thrown away as scheduled, rather than as needed. Globally, we produce over 50 million metric tons of e-waste per year, and this is growing faster than any other category of solid waste. This reckless industry dumping poses a whole host of negative ramifications for the planet.

For example, e-waste is often discarded in landfills or incinerators. The toxins inside them pollute the environment and harm the people handling them.

Additionally, the substances in e-waste aren’t biodegradable. They accumulate in our water, our air, the ground – and will continue to do so until we can’t escape them. Even though e-waste only accounts for 2% of solid waste, it produces a staggering 70% of discarded hazardous materials.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse – and Repair

Finding responsible methods to handle old hardware is a practical, necessary way for data centers to respond to the e-waste problem. This approach involves using more sustainable cooling technology – like GRC’s – to reduce equipment waste.

E-waste includes expensive materials – as much as 7% of the earth’s gold may be in it! It’s also estimated to be worth over $62.5 billion per year. Needless to say, recycling these materials can release the floodgates for a healthier, more sustainable economy.

Recycling electrical parts not only keeps these materials out of landfills and prevents them from harming humans, but it also reduces the need to mine more of these materials in the future. Less mining equals less pollution!

“Urban mining” of e-waste resources keeps them out of the ground (and therefore our food and water supply), and also poses a greater economical advantage than traditional resource mining. There is 100x more gold in e-waste than in ore. Yeah, read that twice.

Data centers can go beyond recycling by repairing equipment themselves. Old computers, for example, are highly receptive to repairs.

Data centers have a moral and societal obligation to use repairable parts in their business operations. Incidentally, liquid immersion cooling protects servers and extends their mean time between failures (MTBF). It does this by bathing the devices in a fluid that acts as a barrier against corrosion and other threats.

Move Computation to Efficient Data Centers

Much of the e-waste problem derives from inefficient use of computer resources. For instance, placing a server in a data center that burns half of its electricity budget on air cooling will greatly diminish its lifetime.

Liquid immersion works far more efficiently than air or even alternative immersion cooling technologies. Data centers should upgrade to liquid immersion cooling – not only because it’s the right thing to do in terms of sustainability/morality – but also because it’s incredibly promising in terms of profitability.

Data centers that use immersion cooling technology drastically decrease the waste of electricity, money, and other resources. They can operate in smaller buildings, reducing their carbon footprint and cash expenditures.

As a whole, the tech sector has an incredible opportunity to make a positive, lasting impact. More data centers are going online, allowing society to store computational services and infrastructure in the cloud. Therefore, the electronics industry can “dematerialize”; users can rent equipment on an as-needed basis, rather than buying outright only to discard them down the line.

Use Electronics Sustainably from Start to Finish

Instead of thinking of e-waste as an unpreventable end, we should design products with sustainability in mind. The entire lifecycle should support recycling, reuse, and the resale of electronics and electrical goods. By making products last longer through smarter designs and operations, we as a society can decrease e-waste.


Data centers should incorporate e-waste management into every level of operation, starting from the top-down. By using servers in liquid cooling, data centers can cut e-waste and carbon emissions.

Legislative bodies across the globe have instituted laws surrounding e-waste, including the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. These laws encourage recycling and reusing products such as servers, as well as minimizing toxic substances. Dozens of countries now have e-waste legislation.

Through design choices, business operations, corporate policies, and legislation, society is taking steps to respond to the global e-waste crisis. Industry-leading data centers are contributing to the fix. Eventually, we may even nearly eliminate e-waste, by having primary resources remain in the economy rather than in landfills. With coordinated, long-term efforts, we can transform e-waste from a global issue into an invaluable resource.

Become Part of the Solution With GRC

E-waste has spiraled into such a massive problem, that it is quite literally worth its weight in gold. As society has realized that we only get one earth, the race to clean up the e-waste problem has yielded several solutions. Methods to solve this problem include recycling, reducing, reusing, and repairing servers and other electrical equipment.

A key selling point is that more efficient data centers prevent environmental issues while expanding profitability. The liquid immersion cooling solution greatly reduces resource waste while increasing the bottom line. This remarkable technology protects electronic equipment to extend its life, keeping more hardware out of the landfill and in the data center earning revenue.

Become part of the solution with GRC’s unparalleled liquid immersion cooling system. Contact us to learn how your business can become a pioneer in the sustainability movement, today!