Can you upgrade to Windows 11? Millions can’t and it could cause an environmental disaster

Once the countdown reaches zero for the current version of Windows, 400 million computers could lose security support and end up scrapped.

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Unless something changes, Microsoft’s new operating system could cause Waste2K, the single biggest jump in junked computers ever. 

Some 40% of PCs in use can’t upgrade to Windows 11, which means that when Microsoft stops providing security updates for Windows 10 in 2025, those computers will either be insecure or pushed into the waste stream. Given that only 15-20% of electronic waste is recycled, most of those computers will end up in landfills.

Microsoft has set ambitious environmental goals, but the impact of this one decision looms over their progress. Up to 400 million of the 1 billion Windows 10 devices in use will be left in the lurch when support ends. The manufacturing of these hundreds of millions of devices has already resulted in some 46 million tons of climate pollution, equivalent to adding 9 million cars on the road for a year.

Microsoft needs to rethink this decision and continue providing security updates for the millions of Windows 10 devices that can’t upgrade.

Microsoft has extended support in the past

The company has already continued security support beyond the original end-of-support date before for some customers. The U.S. Navy paid $31 million for Windows XP security updates until 16 years after it was released. Most users don’t have that option.

Other Windows XP users received security updates for 13 years, and even then, when support ended, it still accounted for 30% of computers worldwide. Windows 10 was largely backwards compatible with older PCs, meaning that most older computers were able to run the new operating system when older Windows systems ended support. That additional compatibility was a major win for sustainability, which is why it is so surprising that the Windows 11 transition is shaping up to drive so many computers out of use. 

Microsoft’s Sustainable Software blog advises developers to “consider the efficiency of the code…and features being utilized so that the software can run on as many existing devices as possible and not require additional hardware.”

According to Microsoft, support should last for 12 years

According to Microsoft’s Sustainable Software blog, it takes 12 years of use to match the carbon footprint of a Surface laptop. Yet, the Surface Go is not eligible to upgrade for Windows 11, rendering it abandoned after only seven years. Microsoft advises developers to “consider the efficiency of the code…and features being utilized so that the software can run on as many existing devices as possible and not require additional hardware.”

Microsoft should follow their own advice.

Microsoft’s pledge to be carbon negative by 2030 is impossible to meet while junking millions of working PCs.Photo by Screenshot of Microsoft’s Sustainability Commitment | TPIN

Forced updates don’t usually change the functionality of our devices but they do force consumers to upgrade or replace expensive computers, wasting our money and trashing the planet.

Unless Microsoft extends support, 400 million working computers could be left behind—either fueling our e-waste crisis, or left vulnerable to cyber attack. As a corporate sustainability leader, Microsoft has a responsibility to make their operating system, by far the most popular in the world, last for as long as the computers that run it are supposed to. 

Software shouldn’t be the reason we junk working computers, especially since most of the computers are easily capable of doing the tasks users need. 

Microsoft has shown that it wants to be a leader on corporate sustainability. The choice to cut short support for Windows 10 dwarfs the benefits of their other environmental progress, but there is time to fix it: Microsoft should commit to extending essential security updates to Windows 10.


Lucas Gutterman

Director, Designed to Last Campaign, PIRG

Lucas leads PIRG’s Designed to Last campaign, fighting against obsolescence and e-waste and winning concrete policy changes that extend electronic consumer product lifespans and hold manufacturers accountable for forcing upgrades or disposal.