Will the switch to Windows 11 mean more e-waste?
With Windows 11 now here, there has been a lot of pessimistic talk about the 2025 end of life for Windows 10. But by 2025, we first need to figure out what to do with a lot of computer hardware that can’t run Windows. 11.
In my own home computer network – two desktops, two laptops, and a Surface device – only the Surface can support Windows 11. The rest do not have a qualifying Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) or uses a processor that will not meet Microsoft’s requirements. My desktop is not much better: out of about 20 computers, only two can be updated to Windows 11.
Over the next four years, I (and a lot of other Windows users in the same boat) will likely have to replace every machine that won’t run Windows 11 with new hardware to make sure we’re using secure systems. (I don’t recommend hanging on to the old hardware and running it without a patch.)
This brings us to a big problem: Dealing with the electronic waste that we are going to generate. This waste comes in various forms.
The first is the hard drive. Whenever I remove a computer or server from a network, my main concern is hard drives. I can’t just take a computer and throw it away. The data it contains can include a lot of sensitive information, especially if it is not encrypted with Bitlocker. While some laptops purchased in recent years turn on Bitlocker by default when used with a Microsoft account (Surface and Dell laptops, in particular), most still don’t.
Several years ago, a local TV station would go to a local exchange meeting, buy used hard drives, and then show how easy it was to find leftover sensitive information about them. You want to make sure that you physically destroy the hard drives or overwrite the drives to make sure that old data cannot be recovered.
Next, we need to be aware of the potential for toxic waste that we generate with every computer we send to electronic waste facilities. As shown on the The World Counts websiteHere are some frightening statistics on the impact of e-waste:
- 40 million tonnes of electronic waste are generated each year. As the site notes, it’s like throwing away 800 laptops per second.
- The average cell phone user replaces the device every 18 months.
- Electronic waste represents 70% of all of our toxic waste.
- Only 12.5% of E-Waste is recycled.
- 85% of electronic waste sent to landfills and incinerators is mostly burned, releasing toxins into the air.
- Electronic devices contain lead, which can damage the central nervous system and kidneys. (A child’s mental development can be affected by low exposure to lead.)
- The most common hazardous electronic items include LCD desktop monitors, LCD televisions, plasma televisions, and televisions and computers equipped with cathode ray tubes.
- Electronic waste contains hundreds of substances, many of which are toxic. This includes mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, chromium, and flame retardants.
- 80% of electronic waste in the United States and most other countries is transported to Asia.
- 300 million computers and 1 billion cell phones go into production every year. This number is expected to increase by 8% per year.
Now add the increasing amount of electronic waste that will be created by Windows 10 hardware removal and you can imagine we’re going to have a big problem on our hands.
One possible advantage seems to be the recently announced release of Windows 11 SE – a special version of Windows 11 specifically for the education market. “Windows 11 SE is a new cloud-based operating system [that] delivers the power and reliability of Windows 11 with a streamlined design and modern management tools optimized for low-cost devices in educational institutions, especially K-8 grades, ”the company said. One would assume that Windows 11 SE wouldn’t need the same stringent hardware requirements as Windows 11. But the same TPM 2.0 requirement is there – so even in education, a mandatory migration of unsupported machines will be required.
What if you don’t want to fill your nearest landfill and pollute the planet? You to do have options.
You can, of course, continue to use your Windows 10 PC after the 2025 deadline (although I don’t recommend it). You would be at constant risk of vulnerabilities. Additionally, the apps you rely on may not run for long on older, unsupported platforms. I highly recommend that you avoid a situation where your browser, in particular, cannot be updated. This is also true for apps that have a cloud component like Microsoft 365. I guarantee that at some point you will be forced to migrate to a supported platform.
I expect that when 2025 arrives, Microsoft will again offer an Extended Security Update as it did for Windows 7. I have a few machines that I am keeping specifically to run old programs in case of a problem. need. I keep them updated with Microsoft’s ESU offering. This made it easier to protect my machines, even for small businesses like mine. Alternatively, you can search for services such as 0patch which provide micropatches to protect older operating systems. And you can completely prevent such devices from accessing the internet by blocking the possibility of surfing the web and risking an attack. (One way to do this is to change the network connection to use an invalid gateway IP address, or to change the Internet proxy settings to block the ability to browse the web.
You can also reuse the old hardware by putting a different operating system in it, such as Cloud ready, which installs Chrome on older devices. Or go straight to a Linux distribution such as mint. If all you need is a platform for browsing the internet and reading and responding to emails, this can be a great way to repurpose an old computer.
Ultimately, I hope Microsoft can be a better provider of “sustainable computing” and not force us to damage the environment. Hoping that Microsoft considers its impact on our landfills in the years to come and allows for a smoother transition to new software and hardware than what I expect to happen in 2025.
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