Pollution prevention

Hazardous waste

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. Where possible, we redesign processes to eliminate or reduce chemical use or to replace chemicals with more environmentally preferable substitutes. We maintain programs for proper management of the chemicals used in our operations, from selection and purchase to storage, use and final disposal.

IBM's total hazardous waste generation in 2017 increased by 7 percent (by weight) from 2016, to 1,460 metric tons. This increase was caused by the disposal of hazardous waste generated by a water leak from a fire suppression system at one of our facilities. The water was contaminated with diesel fuel from an emergency generator located within the area where the water leaked. The contaminated water was contained, avoiding any release to the environment. If hazardous waste generated as a result of this incident were removed, IBM would have seen a 16 percent reduction of hazardous waste generation in 2017.

For the hazardous waste that is generated, we focus on preventing pollution through a comprehensive, proactive waste management program. Of the total 1,460 metric tons of hazardous waste IBM generated worldwide in 2017, 44.2 percent (by weight) was recycled, 33.6 percent was sent by IBM directly for incineration, 18.8 percent to regulated landfills, and 3.4 percent for treatment.


Nonhazardous waste

IBM has also focused for decades on preventing the generation of nonhazardous waste, and where this is not practical, recovering and recycling the materials that are generated. Nonhazardous waste includes paper, wood, metals, glass, plastics and other nonhazardous chemical substances.

We established our first voluntary environmental goal to recycle nonhazardous waste streams in 1988. The goal has since evolved on two fronts. The first expanded on the traditional dry waste streams to include nonhazardous chemical waste and end-of-life IT equipment from our own operations, as well as IBM-owned equipment that is returned by external clients at the end of a lease. The second expansion was made to include nonhazardous waste generated by IBM at leased locations meeting designated criteria.

Our voluntary environmental goal is to send an average of 75 percent (by weight) of the nonhazardous waste generated at locations managed by IBM to be recycled. In 2017, we recovered and sent 87.8 percent of the nonhazardous waste generated by IBM worldwide to be recycled, a 1.5 percent increase over 2016.

Treatment methods that are credited toward the waste recycling target included: reuse, recycle, energy recovery, composting, reclamation and land farming. Treatment methods that result in a non-beneficial use and that are not credited toward our recycling target included incineration, landfilling, and treatments such as aqueous treatment, biodegradation of organics, filtration, neutralization and stabilization.

In 2017, our worldwide operations generated approximately 36,900 metric tons of nonhazardous waste, a decrease of about 7,600 metric tons from 2016.

Source reduction and waste prevention initiatives implemented by IBM worldwide were estimated to have prevented the generation of about 185 metric tons of nonhazardous waste in 2017, with estimated annual handling, treatment and disposal cost savings and revenue returns totaling $2.2 million.