Microsoft’s recent announcement that it will end support for Windows 10 in 2025 has sparked widespread concern over a potential e-waste crisis, as hundreds of millions of PCs could be headed to landfills globally.
Windows 10 was released by Microsoft in July 2015 as the latest version of its popular Windows operating system. Over the past 8 years, Windows 10 has been installed on roughly 1.3 billion devices worldwide, making it the most widely used version of Windows ever.
However, in June 2022, Microsoft announced that it will end support for Windows 10 on October 14th, 2025. This means that after that date, Windows 10 devices will no longer receive software updates, security patches or technical support from Microsoft. Users will either have to upgrade to Windows 11 to continue receiving updates or keep using an unsupported, potentially vulnerable operating system.
This pending loss of support could have huge environmental consequences, according to a recent report from technology analyst firm Canalys. The report estimated that out of the 1.3 billion Windows 10 devices in use today, only around 20% are currently compatible for upgrade to Windows 11 mostly due to hardware constraints. This leaves over 1 billion PCs running Windows 10 that will go unsupported in just under 3 years.
If even a fraction of those unsupported devices end up in landfills, it would create a tidal wave of dangerous e-waste. Canalys predicts that 240 million Windows 10 PCs could be headed to waste facilities globally once support ends in 2025.
The potential disposal of 240 million PCs would represent a huge amount of toxic electronic waste. E-waste often contains hazardous materials like lead, mercury, and flame retardants that can leach into soil and water supplies if not properly recycled.
Dumping this many devices would also represent a terrible waste of usable resources. Working PCs contain valuable raw materials like gold, copper and palladium that require extensive energy inputs to extract and manufacture originally. Recycling that embedded value back into the supply chain is hugely important for supporting a circular economy.
While Microsoft is pushing all Windows 10 users to upgrade to Windows 11, Canalys points out that there is little justification for doing so on most functional devices.
Windows 11 does not provide revolutionary new features or performance benefits that would warrant replacing working PCs. For users focused on web browsing, basic productivity, streaming media and other common tasks, Windows 10 should meet their needs until the operating system has exhausted its usefulness.
Mandatory upgrades to maintain support could see mountains of capable devicesjunked prematurely. Many businesses are hesitant to go through the time and expense of upgrading large fleets of desktops from Windows 10 to 11 for marginal benefit. Consumers too could see functioning household PCs headed to electronic graveyards if they do not want to invest in upgrades or ongoing paid support.
Options After Windows 10 Support Ends
Once Windows 10 hits its end of life date on October 14th, 2025, users will be left with five main options if they want to keep using their PCs:
- Upgrade to Windows 11
- Pay for Extended Security Updates
- Switch to a Linux-based OS like Ubuntu
- Use the PC offline without internet access
- Stop using the PC entirely
Upgrading to Windows 11 will keep devices supported but comes with hardware requirements that many PCs in use today do not meet. Paying Microsoft for Extended Security Updates would maintain support on ineligible hardware but requires ongoing subscription fees.
Migrating to an open-source Linux distribution like Ubuntu could extend these devices useful lifespan substantially while avoiding licensing costs. However, it would require users to learn a new operating system. Disconnecting Windows 10 PCs from network connections would also keep using them viable for many basic functions without exposing them to online security threats.
Ultimately though, Microsoft sunsetting Windows 10 support will force many everyday users to stop using PCs that still have usable life left in them. And with hundreds of millions of devices facing this fate in 2025, it underscores the pressing need for better e-waste reduction strategies as well as rethinking forced obsolescence in consumer technology.
Microsoft’s Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows 11
Microsoft has set minimum hardware requirements for running Windows 11, which pose compatibility issues for many PCs currently running Windows 10 globally:
|1 GHz or faster, 2 or more cores on 64-bit CPU
|UEFI, Secure Boot capable
|Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
|DirectX 12 compatible
|720p, >9″ diagonal
|Required for updates
Meeting these system requirements could require substantial hardware upgrades for Windows 10 PCs that users only purchased a few years ago. According to Canalys’ report, the biggest compatibility issues are around the required TPM 2.0 chip and Secure Boot UEFI firmware. Most PCs did not start shipping with TPM chips until 2016, and many common desktop and laptop devices predate these standards.
Without significant upgrades, these incompatible systems would become e-waste once Windows 10 stops receiving support. This could see Office PCs, home desktops, and laptops produced in just the last five to eight years headed to recycling facilities or landfills.
What Will Happen When Windows 10 Is No Longer Supported?
Once Windows 10 reaches its end of support on October 14, 2025, PCs running it will continue functioning but with growing issues over time:
No more software updates – Windows Update will stop delivering monthly software patches, feature improvements or fixes for any known bugs or vulnerabilities.
No more security updates – Critical security updates protecting PCs from malware, viruses and hacking will no longer be released by Microsoft. Unsupported systems will become increasingly vulnerable over time.
No guaranteed compatibility – New peripheral devices, accessories and hardware produced after the end-of-life date may not work properly or at all with obsolete Windows 10 installations.
Limited technical support – Microsoft will stop providing technical product support for consumers and businesses still running Windows 10. Users will need to rely on online forums, user groups and third party providers for assistance.
Potential performance issues – New web browsers, software and online services could stop supporting older Windows 10 versions, leading to degraded functionality and experiences going forward.
Without security updates or technical support, organizations and users sticking with Windows 10 past 2025 risk system failures, data loss, viruses and hacks. While the operating system will remain usable for a period, lack of ongoing maintenance from Microsoft will make PCs running unsupported Windows 10 versions increasingly problematic over time.
What Will Happen to All the Unsupported PCs?
With Windows 10 support ending and 240 million PCs potentially incompatible for upgrade to Windows 11, there are huge questions around what will happen to those systems.
Some business and institutional users may elect to pay Microsoft for Extended Security Updates to keep older devices supported while they evaluate options. But average consumers with household Windows 10 devices may have fewer resources to maintain aging tech. Below are the most likely scenarios for the mountain of devices that will go end-of-life:
Landfills – With limited viable options to upgrade or extend support affordably, Canalys predicts millions of consumers and small businesses will dispose of obsolete Windows 10 PCs as waste when they stop working properly. Dumping devices often costs less upfront than diagnosis, repair or replacement.
Collectors & Resellers – Some still-functioning business and specialty PCs containing expensive components or large amounts of memory may get sold through private resellers to hobbyists, refurbishers and niche collectors. Most average consumer machines have little resale value though.
Recycling – Environmental organizations, electronics recyclers and some retailers accept old electronics like PCs for responsible recycling. Devices containing working parts may get disassembled for commodity component reclamation while the rest gets shredded for raw material recovery. However, ample recycling capacity for the sheer volume of PCs hitting obsolescence will be a challenge.
Data Wipes & Reuse – A small fraction of devices could get data wiped and repurposed, donated internationally for basic computing, or have Linux installed on them to extend usefulness despite losing Windows support. But relative Linux compatibility issues and sheer scale of devices hitting end-of-life limit feasibility.
Unfortunately Canalys predicts most inactive Windows 10 machines will ultimately wind up in domestic waste streams once they cease functioning. And with electronic waste already posing tremendous environmental issues, hundreds of millions more PCs hitting landfills in 2025 is alarming without mitigation efforts.
What Experts Are Saying
Industry analysts and environmental advocates have raised serious concerns over the consequences of Microsoft abruptly ending support for Windows 10 in 2025 considering its vast global installation base:
“With only three years to go, we could be looking at 240 million PCs heading to landfill rather than having life extended through Windows 11 upgrades. It is an unfortunate side-effect of an operating system architecture that has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.” – Chris Jones, Vice President at Canalys
“This transition period to Windows 11 is going to be enormously challenging for businesses and the environment. When support ends, enterprises risk catastrophic security exposure or face unfounded hardware upgrades that could squander billions in capital still locked in functional Windows 10 systems before end-of-life.” – Stephen Baker, Senior Analyst at Quadrant Knowledge Solutions
“When software companies profess support for sustainability initiatives then impose forced upgrades that could see hundreds of millions of PCs junked prematurely, it makes those claims ring hollow. Until the industry rethinks restrictive upgrade requirements and arbitrary support lifecycles, uncontrolled e-waste from forced obsolescence will continue harming the planet unabated.” – Carsten Poppinga, Research Director at Gartner
“IT buyers need to develop business cases that include the true costs in time, money and carbon emissions of transitioning enterprise desktop fleets forced into premature retirement cycles by vendor end-of-life timelines. We could prevent massive e-waste while cutting costs by keeping functioning infrastructure securely maintained rather than relentlessly upgrading hardware on theWalk.” – Ryan Shriver, Managing Director at Forrester
These expert warnings underscore that while Windows innovations continue rapidly advancing, their release cycles fail accounting for sustainability. With its substantial PC install base, Microsoft sunsetting Windows 10 support poses tremendous e-waste impacts that technology renewal models are ill-equipped to address currently.
Outlook Beyond Windows 10
Looking ahead, Microsoft ending support for Windows 10 likely signals a broader move away from fixed operating system upgrade paths that dominated the computer industry for decades.
New centralized software delivery architectures pioneered with Windows 10 show promise for making compute platforms less dependent on underlying hardware. In time, core system functionality may get provided as a continuously updated service from the cloud no longer tied to specific devices.
However, successfully transitioning the existing PC ecosystem toward those next paradigms without environmental crises or leaving masses of users behind requires fundamental shifts from vendors like Microsoft.
Rather than persisting fixed support timelines that fuel e-waste, Microsoft could combat sustainability issues by committing to maintain all still-functional PCs indefinitely. They have the technical capability but lack incentive under current renewal-driven business models that incentivize planned obsolescence.
Transitioning from dated software licensing to affordable ‘support-for-service’ subscription models could provide recurring revenue allowing Microsoft to keep dynamically updating legacy platforms. But absent efforts addressing root issues, tech waste from forced obsolescence epitomized by Windows 10 hitting end-of-life looks sure to keep growing.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.