Circular electronics for social good: Reusing IT equipment to bridge the digital divide

This new research highlights a significant opportunity to tackle e-waste and the digital divide.


  • Acknowledgements
  • Foreword
  • Our findings and recommendations
  • Barriers and enablers
  • Endnotes


We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the interviewees who generously shared their valuable insights and experiences during the research process. Without their participation, this report would not have been possible. We are grateful to leaders from ASDA, Autovista Group, Capita Local Public Service, Deloitte, Grover, ITV, JP Morgan, Metropolitan Police Service, Mastercard, OKTA, Salesforce, Sims Lifecycle Services, TES Sustainable technology lifecycle solutions, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone UK, and others for sharing their insights. We would also like to thank the members of the CEP who participated in the preliminary findings meeting held in March. Thank you all for your invaluable contributions to this project. Any errors are our own.

Disclaimer: This publication has been written in general terms. You should seek professional advice before acting or refraining from action on the suggestions and recommendations included in this report.

Foreword by Helen Milner OBE, Group Chief Executive, Good Things Foundation

Reusing IT equipment for social good creates an opportunity for businesses to tackle two challenges in tandem: the digital divide and the linear economy.

In January 2023, Good Things Foundation (the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity) and the Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP) asked Deloitte to support them to better understand the opportunities for businesses to reuse their IT equipment to bridge the digital divide. The research has led to the development of a circular electronics for social good model which benefits society as well as the environment.

This report summarises insights and lessons from interviews with business leaders across different industries. It highlights enablers, barriers, and opportunities for IT reuse for social good. Whilst the scope of this report is limited to the UK, its findings may be a springboard for organisations in similar countries.

The Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns highlighted the urgency of addressing the digital divide. Many businesses, charities, large organisations, and government stepped up to help where they could. But, when lockdowns ended, digital divisions remained. In the UK today there are 10 million adults excluded and 1 in 20 households without home internet access. The social benefits of bridging the divide are significant – getting work, doing schoolwork, connecting with family and friends, accessing services; the nation also benefits economically with over £13.6 billion1 in tangible benefits in the UK.

Businesses are increasingly attuned to how they can improve their environmental, social and governance credentials, and promote a circular economy. Digital technologies play a critical role at every step of most businesses’ value and supply chains, and they require their staff, clients, and customers to have sufficient digital access and skills. Yet, even in countries with high levels of digital infrastructure, significant digital inequalities remain. The UK’s digital divide is stark. This limits opportunities, hinders economic productivity, and exacerbates social injustice and inequalities.

Bridging the digital divide, whilst also enabling circularity for electronics, is possible and brings multiple positive outcomes. It overcomes one of the main barriers to digital inclusion and reduces the amount of e-waste generated. Our interviews showed it is a material business opportunity with tangible possibilities for cross-sector creative collaboration.

This report shares insights and actions that businesses, governments, and civil society organisations can take together. If taken seriously, these activities will improve the lives of digitally disadvantaged people and contribute to business goals for positive social impact.

The time to act is now. We can all support transformation towards a more sustainable and equitable world by providing a new life for unwanted IT equipment in the hands of disconnected people.

Our findings and recommendations

A Circularity for Social Good Model holds the key to unlocking environmental value and bridging the digital divide – but persistent data security and end-to-end logistics concerns must be addressed.

Key Insights

The reuse of IT equipment to create a positive impact on society is an area that businesses are increasingly exploring. Our research identifies some of the key barriers and enablers that businesses have when looking at the end-of-life of their IT devices. Some of the business leaders we interviewed were unaware of the impact reusing their IT equipment can have on society, as well as how partnering with expert charities could help to ease the donation process. This lack of awareness may lead to the perception that it is difficult to implement a circular electronics for social good model. This model involves reusing electronic devices in a closed-loop system that benefits society and the environment. It focuses on the reuse and repair, as well as recovering and refurbishing, of used electronics to provide affordable technology access to underserved communities. A circular electronics for social good model aims to reduce electronic waste (e-waste2), promote sustainable consumption, and increase digital inclusion.

“Helping to tackle digital exclusion is so important – it is very now, very immediate, makes a huge impact to people. I’m also acutely aware that through providing that device to someone who needs it, you’re therefore not having to undertake something which is environmentally unfriendly – the destruction, the shredding, the melting, whatever it is.” – Business leader

“I think the important thing was always the certificate of destruction … we’ve definitely changed our mindset on that.” – Business leader

Barriers and enablers

We uncovered a significant opportunity to tackle e-waste and the digital divide. Most barriers uncovered had parallel enablers that could overcome them. Business leaders are either already putting equipment up for reuse for social good or are keen to take the next step towards it.

The key barriers and enablers we found through our interviews are summarised below:


Barrier Enabler
Data security

Data security is a major concern for businesses in the age of digitalisation, indiscriminate of size and geography, as the risk of non-compliance or data leaks can have serious financial and reputational consequences.

Secure data wiping and cloud

Ensuring the highest level of data wiping, such as government wipe standards can help businesses mitigate these risks. Using and storing data in the cloud can reduce the risk of data breaches during the refurbishing process.

Challenges of the end-to-end process

Businesses spoke of the complexity of internal processes, liability risks, and the logistics of finding suitable external partners, and costs of donating IT devices. Organisations also cited barriers of limited staff time and that the responsibility for donation of devices does not currently exist in staff roles.

External partnerships for end-to-end process as BAU

Partnering with established civil society organisations can enable device donations. Large charities can reach excluded people at scale and can provide free connectivity and digital skills resources alongside the refurbished device. Charities can provide impact data and beneficiary stories for businesses’ ESG reporting.

Unaware of opportunity to reuse devices for social good

Lack of awareness or knowledge is a significant barrier to reusing IT equipment for social good. Many organisations are not aware of the potential for reusing their IT devices. Good practice and guidance is not readily available nor shared.

Awareness raising and internal collaboration

Raising awareness of the benefits of reusing refurbished devices by digitally excluded individuals could encourage organisations to develop a ‘circular electronics for social good’ model. Strong internal collaboration between IT, procurement, and ESG teams is essential. Build reuse of IT for social good into ESG metrics and annual reports.


Continue reading the full findings of this research by downloading the accessible PDF report below.


Raising awareness of the benefits of reusing refurbished devices by digitally excluded individuals could encourage organisations to develop a ‘circular electronics for social good’ model. Strong internal collaboration between IT, procurement, and ESG teams is essential. Build reuse of IT for social good into ESG metrics and annual reports.

  1. The economic impact of digital inclusion in the UK. Cebr (2022). Resource online.
  2. E-waste is defined as ‘anything with a plug, electric cord or battery (including electrical and electronic equipment)’ from smartphones, household appliances, laptops and fridges that have reached end of life. E-waste is also referred frequently as waste electrical or electronic equipment (WEEE). A New Circular Vision for Electronics. World Economic Forum (2019). Resource online.

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