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

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. These efforts are currently under way in more than 20 countries globally.

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.

Our current goal is to send 75% (by weight) of the nonhazardous waste IBM generates worldwide to be recycled. In 2019, we sent 88.8% of the 35,700 metric tons of nonhazardous waste that we generated for recycling. This represents a 0.7% decrease from 2018 largely due to several construction projects where the associated waste was sent to landfill.

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. Disposition methods that are not considered recycling include incineration (i.e., without energy recovery), landfilling and treatment, such as aqueous treatment or biodegradation of organics.

Hazardous waste

IBM does not generate large quantities of hazardous waste. In 2019, IBM generated 1,146 metric tons of hazardous waste, of which 52.2% was recycled. When prevention, reuse and recycling are not available or practicable, other recovery methods are utilized. Landfill and incineration are only used when other solutions are not available or when mandated by laws or regulations. For example, of the total amount of hazardous waste sent to landfills, approximately 66% was sludge from an industrial wastewater treatment plant which is required by law to be sent to a secure hazardous waste landfill.

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