Will the shift to Windows 11 mean more e-waste?

Now that Windows 11 is here, there’s been a lot of talk about Windows 10’s end of life in 2025, but between now and 2025, we first have to figure out what to do with a lot of computer hardware that Windows can’t run. eleven.

On my own home computer network (two desktops, two laptops, and a Surface device), only Surface can support Windows 11. The rest either don’t have a qualified Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) or use a non-compliant processor Microsoft requirements. My office isn’t much better – out of about 20 computers, only two can be upgraded to Windows 11.

Over the next four years, I (and many other Windows users in the same boat) will likely need to replace all non-Windows 11 machines with new hardware to ensure that we are running secure systems. (I don’t recommend hanging onto old hardware and running it without patches.)

That brings us to a big problem: dealing with the electronic waste that we will generate. That waste comes in a variety of forms.

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 contain a lot of sensitive information, especially if it is not encrypted with Bitlocker. While some laptops bought in recent years do enable Bitlocker by default when used with a Microsoft account (Surface and Dell laptops, in particular), most still don’t.

Several years ago, a local television station attended a local exchange meeting, bought used hard drives, and then showed how easy it was to find leftover confidential information on them. You want to make sure to physically destroy the hard drives or rewrite on top of the drives to ensure that old data cannot be recovered.

Next, we must be aware of the potential for toxic waste that we generate with each computer that we send to e-waste facilities. As noted in the World Counts website, here are some startling statistics on the impact of e-waste:

  • Each year 40 million tons of electronic waste are generated. As the site points out, it’s like throwing away 800 laptops per second.
  • The average cell phone user replaces the device every 18 months.
  • Electronic waste comprises 70% of our overall toxic waste.
  • Only 12.5% ​​of E-Waste is recycled.
  • 85% of e-waste going to landfills and incinerators is primarily burned, releasing toxins into the air.
  • Electronic components contain lead, which can damage the central nervous system and kidneys. (A child’s mental development can be affected by a low level of lead exposure.)
  • The most common dangerous electronic items include LCD desktop monitors, LCD televisions, plasma televisions, and televisions and computers with cathode ray tubes.
  • Electronic waste contains hundreds of substances, many of them toxic. This includes mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, chromium, and flame retardants.
  • 80% of e-waste in the US and most other countries is transported to Asia.
  • 300 million computers and one billion mobile phones go into production annually. That number is expected to grow 8% annually.

Now, add in the increasing amount of e-waste that will be created with the removal of Windows 10 hardware and you can imagine that we are 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 educational market. “Windows 11 SE is a new cloud-based operating system [that] it offers the power and reliability of Windows 11 with a simplified design and modern management tools that are optimized for low-cost devices in educational settings, especially in grades K-8, ”the company said. It could be assumed that Windows 11 SE would not need the same strict hardware requirements as Windows 11. But there is the same TPM 2.0 requirement, so even in education, a mandatory migration of unsupported machines will be needed.

So what if you don’t want to fill up the nearest landfill and pollute the planet? you do you have options.

Of course, you can continue to use your Windows 10 computer after the 2025 deadline (although I don’t recommend doing so). You would be constantly at risk of vulnerabilities. Also, the applications you trust may not run for a long time on older, unsupported platforms. I strongly recommend that you avoid a situation where your browser, in particular, can no longer be updated. This is also true for applications that have a cloud component like Microsoft 365. I guarantee that at some point you will be forced to switch to a supported platform.

I anticipate that when 2025 rolls around, Microsoft will once again offer an extended security update like it did for Windows 7. I have a few machines that I keep specifically to run old programs when needed. I keep them patched with Microsoft’s ESU offering. Even small businesses like mine found it easy to keep my machines protected. Alternatively, you can search services like 0 patch that provide micro patches to keep older operating systems protected. And you can keep these devices off the internet entirely by blocking the ability to browse the web and risk being attacked. (One way to do this is to edit the network connection to use an invalid gateway IP address or edit the Internet proxy settings to block the ability to browse the web.

You can also reuse old hardware by putting a different operating system, such as Ready for the cloud, which installs Chrome on older devices. Or move directly to a Linux distribution like mint. If all you need is a platform to surf the internet and read and reply to emails, this can be a great way to repurpose an old computer.

In short, I hope Microsoft can be a better provider of “sustainable computing” and not force us to harm the environment. We expect Microsoft to consider its impact on our landfills in the coming years and allow for a more graceful transition to new software and hardware than I anticipate to come in 2025.

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