The best way to prevent pollution is to reduce the generation of waste at its source. This has been a basic philosophy behind IBM's pollution prevention program since 1971. For the waste that is generated, the company focuses on preventing pollution through a comprehensive, proactive waste management program. IBM's waste management practices, in order of preference, are: (1) prevention and source reduction, (2) reuse, (3) recycling, (4) recovery, (5) other treatment, and (6) land disposal.

Nonhazardous waste

IBM established its first voluntary environmental goal to recycle nonhazardous waste streams in 1988. Since then, we have expanded the goal to include nonhazardous chemical waste, end-of-life IT equipment from our own operations, IBM-owned equipment that is returned by customers at the end of a lease, and nonhazardous waste generated by IBM at larger leased locations.

In 2021, IBM updated its nonhazardous waste goal to divert 90% or more (by weight) of IBM's total nonhazardous waste from landfill and incineration by 2025, through reuse, recycling, composting, and waste-to-energy processes, and to use waste-to-energy processes for no more than 10% (by weight) of the diverted waste. This goal builds upon IBM's prior waste management goals across several decades.

Our operations generated 20,700 metric tons of nonhazardous waste worldwide in 2021, including IBM-owned nonhazardous end-of- life machines, parts, and materials, which accounted for 48% (by weight) of IBM's total nonhazardous waste generated worldwide. We diverted 94.2% (by weight) of IBM's total nonhazardous waste from landfill and incineration. Only 9.7% (by weight) of the total nonhazardous waste diverted from landfill and incineration was sent to waste-to-energy processes.

Plastic waste

As part of IBM's continual efforts to conserve natural resources and minimize waste, the company set a goal to eliminate nonessential, single-use plastic items from IBM-managed cafeteria operations globally by 2025. The focus in 2021 was to engage with the company's largest cafeteria vendor to identify single-use plastic items used in IBM-managed cafeterias at 37 locations spanning 17 countries. Alternatives for nonessential, single-use plastic items that are either reusable or compatible with each site's local recycling/composting infrastructure were identified and will begin to roll out in 2022.

Hazardous waste

IBM operations generate small quantities of hazardous waste. In 2021, IBM generated 966 metric tons of hazardous waste, of which 68 percent (by weight) was recycled. Approximately 65 percent (by weight) of the hazardous waste was discarded batteries sent for recycling. 

Wastewater discharges

Water discharges are managed at a location level and discharge information is reported to regulatory agencies where required. Internally, IBM also tracks, reports and manages total water discharges from IBM locations worldwide that have site regulatory wastewater discharge permits. IBM measures and manages wastewater discharges at applicable IBM locations for maintaining operational conditions and compliance with discharge permits. IBM’s global environmental management system establishes treatment requirements applicable to IBM locations where they discharge directly to receiving waters. IBM locations with industrial or sanitary wastewater treatment plants on site that are processing industrial or sanitary wastewater must adhere to these IBM corporate requirements wherever they may be located.

Air emissions

Air emissions associated with IBM’s operations remain relatively small, primarily associated with combustion of natural gas for space heating and diesel fuel for generating emergency power when needed. In addition, there is a limited amount of fugitive emissions of chemicals coming from research and development processes. As part of our global environmental management system, IBM sets and implements requirements such as limiting fuel sulfur content and use of high efficiency boilers to minimize our air emissions.

IBM’s point source air emissions during 2021 were estimated to be:

  •  76.7 metric tons of Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
  • 30 metric tons of Carbon monoxide
  • 11.1 metric tons of Volatile organic compounds
  •  7.4 metric tons of Particulate matter (PM)
  • 1.4 metric tons of Sulphur oxides (SOx)
  • 172 kilograms of SF6 associated with our research activities


Note: The figures above do not include emissions of refrigerants and greenhouse gas emissions which are reported separately.

Ozone depleting substances

Ozone Depleting Substances have been prohibited from use at IBM for hardware development and manufacturing processes and products for decades as follows:

  • 1990 - Prohibited as expansion agents used in packaging;
  • 1993 - Class I ozone depleting chemicals eliminated from use in development and manufacturing processes, and prohibited from use in products;
  • 1995 - Class II ozone depleting chemicals eliminated from use in development and manufacturing processes, and prohibited from use in products.