Assessing How Your Technology Usage Impacts the Environment
It seems as though everything is digital these days — most of us have a smartphone in our pockets, and everything from banking, shopping, and food delivery to even unlocking your home can be performed via online channels. Few could argue that technology has changed our lives for the better, but it, unfortunately, comes with a cost, at least where the natural world is concerned.
The overall carbon footprint of our mobile devices alone is substantial. The BBC reports that our digital devices, the internet, and the systems that support them, such as data servers, account for “about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions.” That number is equal to the estimated amount of pollution contributed by the global airline industry.
But that’s just the beginning, and the environmental impact of your technology usage spans far beyond smartphones and other digital devices. The online food delivery industry, for example, has helped increase food waste generation and is also energy-intensive in its own right. Let’s take a look at the environmental impact of technology, and what you can do to improve sustainability in your daily life.
The negative impact of climate change can no longer be ignored, and the unfortunate reality is that human activity is primarily to blame. Since the Industrial Revolution, technological advancements in virtually every industry have helped usher in a new age of convenience and economic prosperity. Yet technology has also served to increase air, water, and soil pollution, as well as directly contributing to a 1.1°C rise of average global temperatures since the 1850s.
At the individual level, our daily activities and habits can also negatively impact the environment. By becoming more aware of your personal carbon footprint, and the myriad ways in which your use of technology can impact the environment, you can begin to make necessary changes to improve the health of the planet. For starters, take a good look at your media consumption and the impact of your preferred forms of digital entertainment. You may be making a bigger impact than you think.
On the surface, digital media may appear to be a sustainable alternative to the analog devices of the past, but that’s not necessarily the case. A 2019 University of Glasgow study found that streaming music does more environmental damage than CDs and vinyl. While digital music does reduce the amount of plastic produced by the recording industry, the storage and production processes also require copious amounts of energy and resources.
Where online music technology is concerned, there’s also the issue of e-waste to consider. Short for “electronic waste,” e-waste encompasses everything from broken and unsupported mobile devices and laptops to obsolete flat-screen TVs, household appliances, and more. According to Verizon, e-waste is a significant global issue, with approximately 50 million metric tons produced every year. About three-quarters of that waste ends up in landfills rather than recycling plants.
The metals and other harmful toxins found in e-waste can leach into the soil and pollute surrounding waterways, causing considerable environmental damage. To help reduce your personal carbon footprint, be mindful of your old electronics when it comes time to upgrade, and recycle what you can. Additionally, some cities and municipalities have regulations in place that are specific to e-waste, and information about appropriate disposal in your area is typically available online.
In many areas across the globe, locating an e-waste disposal facility can be a challenging endeavor. And the continued Covid-19 pandemic has made recycling even more difficult, as facilities in various municipalities reduced their hours or shuttered their doors indefinitely in the name of public health. At the same time, however, governmental bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are urging citizens to change their personal habits and become more mindful when it comes to waste disposal of all kinds.
Along with general recycling, the EPA also encourages the reduction of food waste, both at home and while you’re dining out. Online food delivery services, which have become immensely popular during the pandemic, are part of the big picture as well. Reports indicate that, if we continue along the current trajectory, carbon emissions from food delivery are expected to reach 6 million tons by 2022.
Thus, to combat the issue of food delivery waste, changes must occur on both the business and consumer levels. Restaurant owners may want to consider switching to compostable or recycled packaging, and hungry citizens can refrigerate leftovers rather than discard them.
The personal choices you make when it comes to technology and sustainability can make a real difference in terms of reducing your carbon footprint and living a greener life. Every time you utilize technology, whether you’re studying late into the night, downloading new tunes, or ordering lunch delivery to the office, be mindful of the natural world, and how your actions can harm the environment. Change begins with you.