The Hardware Waste Problem: A Path to Sustainability

Angela Poghosyan Author

Last updated on July 24th, 2023

Angel Poghosyan
hardware waste problem

All of us get excited by the launch of the new iPhone, and the introduction of some other new tech, but the other side of the coin is less exciting. The reality is that most of your tech products end up in landfills. 

No matter how big the launch or the brand, most products don’t even get bought and end up getting dumped in third-world countries. And many of those that do get sold are returned or end up in landfills due to logistical issues. 

In terms of environmental harm, the hardware waste problem is a top contributor to climate change. This is a sad truth to face. And even though there are already solutions for both brands and consumers, this problem does not seem to be slowing down. So, what can we do about it?

The global hardware waste problem

The exact amount of waste generated globally every year is extremely hard to gauge. Brands and governments claiming how many tons end up in landfills or how much waste is recycled often under-report on the issue. And any numbers you might find are wildly contradicting. But let’s try to break it down as accurately as possible. 

Global waste generation and industries

A 2016 study by the World Bank found that global waste generation reached around 2 billion metric tons that year and that a third of it ends up in open dumping sites or being burned. 

To put that in perspective, 2 billion tons is 4 times more than the weight of every human on Earth. And according to the same study, if global waste keeps growing at our expected rates, 2 billion will turn into 3.4 billion by 2050!

E-waste grew 21% since 2014 and hit an annual 53.5 million metric tons by 2019.


Some of the main industries that contribute to the global hardware waste problem are tech, fashion, toys, and pet accessories industries:

  • Fashion — Textile waste, unsold clothing inventory, and production scraps
  • Tech — E-waste from discarded and outdated devices, and the manufacturing process
  • Toys — Packaging materials, discarded toys, and waste generated during production
  • Pet accessories — Pet food packaging and product waste

These are scary numbers, and what’s even scarier is that society still hasn’t discovered a way to single-handedly stop this growth. 

So, if we can’t stop generating waste from production processes, it would be smart to at least prevent the manufacturing of products that will end up not selling. Because as we’ll see, there’s a crazy amount of waste that comes from brand-new unsold products.

Waste from brand new unsold products

As expected, companies don’t tend to proudly announce the amount of their products that remain unsold. And although it’s very hard to put an approximate number on the global hardware waste generated from unsold products, there are many prominent examples of companies choosing to ‘burn’ their unwanted products rather than selling them at a discount.

A very controversial story was released about Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse, stating that they were destroying 130,000 items per week. An ex-employee shared that 50% of these packages were brand new, unopened, and in good condition. 

So this begs the question — why would Amazon destroy brand-new smart TVs, laptops, drones, books, headphones, and more?

If these items could be repurposed, discounted or donated instead of being destroyed, why isn’t this being done? 

There are many reasons this happens. Perhaps it costs brands more money to donate rather than destroy. Many brands need to maintain their exclusivity through high prices, and selling unwanted products at a discount damages their reputation. And due to the size and complexity of many of these businesses and supply chains, a lot of it is just chalked up to an acceptable loss that nobody really needs to own up to!

So, what can we do?

Both brands and consumers have actions they could take to reduce global waste. As you probably already know, many brands are transforming their production techniques and using more sustainable practices. 

But let’s dive deeper into the current solutions for brands and consumers so that you yourself can learn what options you have for helping our environment!

Current solutions for brands

Looking at the source of the problem, your beloved brands have many ways they can be more sustainable and help solve the global hardware waste problem. We’ve identified 3 main points, so let’s talk about them.

Lower the prices

Instead of sending off unsold products to landfills in third-world countries, brands can lower their prices on these goods and ensure that they find their new owners easier.

Although this is not a great option for companies that are price sensitive — brands that could harm their image by offering discounts — this can still be a viable option for many other businesses.

Sell in other stores

You’ve probably passed by an outlet store where brands like Nike, Adidas, Best Buy, and Asics sell unsold or defective products. This is an amazing action that brands can take to do their part for the environment.


When some products don’t sell in main stores, brands decide to move them to partners or discount/outlet stores. 

You’d be happy to know that Best Buy plans to double the number of its outlet stores and will start selling gaming consoles, computers, and even mobile phones at these new locations. 

A lot of conscious buyers visit outlet stores to get their desired products at a bargain. Luckily, they are helping both brands and the environment by doing so.

Sell in other countries

Expanding sales to other countries can help brands discover new markets and sell their unsold products to new audiences. If a product is no longer in demand in one location, instead of dumping those products in landfills, companies can sell in other markets where demand is higher.

Selling in other countries can even help expand the lifecycles of products. If done right, brands can still make a profit, attract new brand lovers, and help save the environment! This also circumvents the issues of lowering prices in existing markets, as they can reduce prices relatively only when selling abroad.

We’re all hoping that all the brands we love will become more sustainable so that we can keep shopping guilt-free. As for us as consumers, we also hold the power to save the environment by consuming more consciously. So, let’s talk about it.

Current solutions for consumers

Ordering your clothing from fast fashion brands like ASOS and Fashion Nova for an affordable price is always enticing. However, if you care about the environment, you already know that these brands don’t use the most eco-friendly production methods. 

So, how can you get the best of both worlds? How can you get the latest and greatest innovations, without contributing to climate change? Here are a couple of eco-friendly actions you can take.


In 2021, more than 85% of plastic waste ended up in landfills. This is an approximation, and the real numbers could be much higher. What can you do to help stop this? Well, reusing is one of the best options.

Hand-me-downs are the best example of reusing products and giving them a new life. Whether you buy a new phone and give your old one to your little brother, or donate/resell your old clothes after buying new ones, you can help the environment — one (less) product at a time.

Buying your accessories from thrift stores, DIY-ing old clothes, or fixing a broken fridge instead of buying a new one are also amazing solutions. Get creative and you might even realize some new uses for objects that weren’t initially intended. People have put old CRT monitors to use as plant pots and fish bowls, old laptops could turn into media servers, tires become swings, and that old oven turns into nice rustic outdoor storage.

Overall, every purchase you make can be used for much longer than its predefined life expectancy. Not only will you be giving an old product a new life and extending its lifecycle, but you’ll also probably save some money for yourself. 

We highly recommend checking out resale websites for your new clothes, tech devices, and more.


We all know that recycling is an amazing solution to the global hardware waste problem. What you don’t know is that numbers can lie and recycling is not the best solution. 

The stats

Lucky for us, there are lots of recycling statistics available online. We’ve compiled a couple of them to give you a better idea of this phenomenon. 

  • Plastic — In 2021, the US generated around 40 billion tons of plastic waste and recycled only 5-6% of it
  • E-waste — In 2019, the US generated 6.92 million tons of e-waste (~46 pounds/person) and only recycled 15% of the materials
  • Landfills — Landfills are the 3rd largest source of human-related methane emissions globally, contributing heavily to climate change

Note: Please take these statistics with a grain of salt.

The recycling lie

Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see. 

This is the philosophy you should go by when reading statistics and facts about the world. The reality of the situation is that most things that claim to be recycled are moved to other countries where they’re not recycled.

Less than 20% of recycled waste is actually recycled. Instead, we hear of stories like 7,000 tons of trash arriving in Indonesia every day at a landfill more than 200 football fields wide and over 15 stories high.

Amazon might claim to donate or recycle returned items, but somehow, ex-employees report otherwise. If you search the internet for recycling myths, you’ll be shocked.

It’s hard to recycle

If you’re already recycling, you know that there’s a big learning curve. What should you recycle? How do you separate your recycling materials correctly? The questions are endless.

With so many problems in the recycling process, many people just give up or even recycle wrong. What’s to stop big brands from doing the same? 

This is one of the reasons why recycling is not the best option when it comes to saving the environment.

The cost of recycling

Aside from being hard, recycling is also costly. According to the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal, it costs 5.25 times more to recycle ($147/ton) than to dump waste in landfills ($28/ton). 

This gives a very obvious motivation to brands to dump waste rather than recycle. It seems like the only way to make it happen would be from the top of the funnel — the government. Or by making brands more accountable to their customers.

Brands tend to push the narrative that as consumers you should be refusing single-use plastics, plastic straws, taking your own cloth bags with you to the store, and even carrying containers with you to buy rice and other staples by the pound rather than pre-packaged in plastic. But often, this is a cynical distraction they use to keep your attention away from their much more environmentally damaging practices.

We can’t sit and hope that every citizen will wake up one day and decide to recycle. This is why many cities are adopting recycling laws. However, this has its disadvantages as well. Setting up recycling systems is very hard in many countries. So, people take the easy way out and mis-prioritize solving this hardware waste problem.

Now that you know about the ugly truth of recycling, let’s talk about a more proactive way of solving the global hardware waste problem.


We’ve all heard the famous phrase — Reduce, reuse, recycle. The last 2 points are self-explanatory, but what does reduce stand for? 

Well, as a consumer, you can fight against capitalism and buy fewer products, but that won’t be enough to stop them from being produced.

Wouldn’t it be smarter to simply produce less in the first place? By reducing the number of unnecessary products manufactured, we’ll diminish the pressure on the recycling industry, we’ll reduce the number of unsold products generated, and ultimately save the planet, one product at a time.

So, how can we start producing less? 

This is where comes in. It is a platform that allows startups to test their products before creating them, gauge demand, and be able to understand their market better before jumping in.

But more than that, it gives you as a conscientious consumer, the ability to stop bad products getting made!

Imagine if every product had to go through a stringent filter of customers like you. People who had the power to decide what the world needs and what it doesn’t. The gatekeepers of great innovations, turning down all the crap that nobody needs.

But how? By knowing their demand in advance, brands  won’t produce items that will later be not sold and end up in landfills.And of those that you do support and want to see them get made, you can participate in a process we call co-creation. Work together with these brands, giving them feedback, explaining how you’d use it, and developing the idea together to build better products that everyone will love!

This new wave of hardware product idea testing will empower brands to be proactive and not produce products that won’t sell. It’s a win-win-win situation for both brands, consumers and the environment.


So, there you have it — the story of the hardware waste problem and its solutions.

Most environmentally friendly solutions focus on the most resource-intensive and inefficient system of recycling, but this is only a temporary band-aid for the problem.

Yes, brands can lower their prices, and sell in other stores or countries to help reduce waste. And yes, you as a consumer can reuse and recycle, but that won’t be fixing the problem from the root. Wouldn’t it be smarter to reduce the products that will later turn into waste? 

The goal should be to reduce the unnecessary products BEFORE they’re made. You, as a consumer can do this by casting your vote and encouraging creators to not build useless products. 

Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on this issue and we hope we have helped in guiding you on your journey of saving the planet.

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