Pollution prevention

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, we focus on preventing pollution through a comprehensive, proactive waste management program. IBM's waste management hierarchy defines our strategic management practice in order of preference as: (1) prevention, (2) reuse, (3) recycling, (4) recovery, (5) other treatment, and (6) land disposal.


Plastic waste prevention

As part of IBM's continual efforts to conserve natural resources and minimize waste, IBM set a goal to eliminate nonessential, single-use plastic items from IBM-managed cafeteria operations globally by 2025. We are working with our cafeteria service providers globally to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in these operations. Single-use plastic items such as straws, cups, cutlery, plates, bags and food containers are being eliminated or replaced with reusable options or more environmentally preferable alternatives.


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 2020, our operations generated 22,200 metric tons (MT) of nonhazardous waste worldwide. We sent 83.8 percent (by weight) of such waste for reuse, recycling or recovery—surpassing our previous goal of 75 percent. Materials recovered from nonhazardous waste and sent to be recycled included: paper and cardboard, metals, plastics, wood, construction debris, cafeteria waste and end-of-life IT equipment. In addition, IBM avoided the generation of 99 MT of waste in 2020 by reusing furniture across different offices, using demolition material for refurbishment projects, and by arranging the return of pallets to suppliers for reuse.

Since 2012, IBM has consistently sent more than 83 percent (by weight) of the total nonhazardous waste that we generate for recycling. In an effort to continue to improve its environmental performance, IBM set a new goal that built upon IBM's prior nonhazardous waste goal. The new goal is to divert 90 percent (by weight) of IBM's total nonhazardous waste from landfill and incineration by 2025 through reuse, recycling, composting, and waste-to-energy processes. Further, we will limit our use of waste-to-energy processes to no more than 10 percent (by weight) of the diverted waste.


Hazardous waste

IBM does not generate large quantities of hazardous waste. In 2020, IBM generated 1,422 MT of hazardous waste, of which 57 percent was reused, recycled, or sent for waste-to-energy recovery. Batteries (lead and other mixed chemistries) and activated carbon undergoing regeneration comprised the primary hazardous waste streams that were recycled or reused. When prevention, reuse and recycling are not available or practical, other recovery methods are utilized, such as waste-to-energy. Landfill and incineration are only used when recovery solutions are not available or when mandated by laws or regulations. For example, approximately 39 percent of the hazardous waste sent to landfills was de-watered contaminated sludge from industrial wastewater treatment which is required by law to be sent to a secure hazardous waste landfill.

For more information, please see the "Pollution prevention and waste management" section of our latest annual environmental report on our environmental reporting web page.