Microsoft aims for operations to be zero waste by 2030

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Microsoft plans to stop generating trash from its operations by 2030, the company announced today. It also pledged to stop using single-use plastics in its packaging by 2025.

As part of its zero waste goal, the company will set up what it’s calling “Circular Centers” to allow the company to reuse or recycle 90 percent of its waste on site, instead of sending it to third-party recyclers. One of the big-ticket items that will be recycled in-house are the servers used in Microsoft’s data centers. The company also pledged to eliminate waste from its own manufacturing process, although its suppliers won’t be expected to stick to the same zero waste goal as Microsoft.

Last year, Microsoft’s largest office complexes sent 3,189 metric tons of waste to landfills. The new commitment aims to bring that down to zero over the next decade. But compared to trash coming from Microsoft’s offices, e-waste from the gadgets that Microsoft and other manufacturers produce is a much bigger problem. People tossed out a record 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste globally in 2019, according to a report released in July. That figure is only expected to grow. Today’s announcement from Microsoft won’t make a big dent in all those piles of e-waste, since the company is not yet holding itself accountable for what happens to the products it sells.

“Electronics companies do a great job of designing for pleasure and efficiency, but the rapid change in consumer demand also means that they’re designing for obsolescence. So today’s newest, coolest product becomes tomorrow’s junk,” Scott Cassel, who founded the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute, said in a July interview with The Verge after the release of the global e-waste report. Cassel and other advocates have pushed electronics companies to design their products to last longer and to collect and recycle devices they make at the end of their useful lives.

Other advocacy groups like US PIRG have called out Microsoft for pushing back against proposed “right to repair” laws, which would require companies to release information on its products that would let consumers do repairs on their own or through third parties. Advocates for right to repair laws say that they could help keep products in use — and keep them out of landfills.

Microsoft tells The Verge that its renewed focus on cutting down waste hasn’t changed its stance when it comes to the “right to repair.” It has, however, designed its Surface Laptop and Surface Pro X so that they are easier than previous models to take apart and fix.

“We are absolutely committed to increasing the repairability of our own products, but also try to balance other aspects such as safety, and durability, and of course — probably most importantly for us — privacy and security,” says Brian Janous, Microsoft’s general manager of energy and sustainability.

“This is sort of our first step in a journey,” Janous says. “There’s going to be a lot more to come as we learn more about how we can actually influence that waste lifecycle.”

The zero waste pledge accompanies another major environmental goal Microsoft set at the beginning of the year — becoming carbon negative by 2030. To take on climate change, Microsoft announced in January that it will remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than it produces by 2030 and will take on the monumental task of drawing down all the carbon dioxide emissions it’s ever released by 2050.

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