The pandemic has forced us to shift towards the digital medium now more than ever. Globally, people are streaming more movies and shows, exercising at home from online tutorials, working from home throughout the day, which has led to a burden on the internet. What many haven’t realised is that going digital leaves a carbon footprint, and that is something we can’t neglect.
Understanding Digital Pollution
To break it down for you, digital pollution starts right from when an electronic device is manufactured, bought by a consumer, used till it’s exhausted, and then discarded. The manufacturing of electronic devices requires the extraction of certain metals, which is harmful to the person and the environment. And when the device is thrown, it becomes e-waste as it ends up in landfills and contributes to bigger environmental problems. A report by the World Economic Forum states that around 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced annually, out of which only 20% gets recycled and the remaining 80% usually ends up buried underground.
But apart from this, it’s also how you use your device that plays a huge role. When you perform simple digital practices like browsing the internet, using an app, sending emails or uploading images in a folder, data gets processed and transferred from your phone to the server hosting that app or website. It is these data centres that consume loads of energy and electricity and produce pollution. “Digital is not green. Digital is electrical, meaning that everything we do in digital consumes energy and creates pollution,” says Gerry McGovern, author of popular book and podcast, World Wide Waste, which talks about how digital overuse is killing the planet.
According to a 2020 Yale report, “internet usage increased by up to 40% worldwide following the issuance of stay-at-home orders as the virus spread. This spike in online activity triggered a demand for up to 42.6 million megawatt-hours of additional electricity to support data transmission and to power data centres. If remote working and other physical distancing requirements were to continue through 2021, an additional 34.3 million tons in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be generated worldwide, the study forecasts.” Now isn’t that enough food for thought?
So What Can We Do To Reduce Digital Pollution?
Let’s be real. We obviously cannot eliminate the use of the internet and our devices all at once, right? Data is processed and stored for every little thing. And everyone is reliant on the internet for everything right from getting information and news to online transactions for buying various things. But as consumers, what we can do is certainly perform small tasks that can reduce the environmental impact of the digital medium.
1. Stop Sending Thank You Emails
Sending one email releases 4 grams of carbon dioxide. Yup, you heard that right! So you can do the math and calculate the carbon footprint caused just with emails. The next time someone thinks you’re being mean by not thanking them on mail, let them know you’re working towards saving the planet. Also, monitor your inbox. Delete unnecessary newsletters and spam mails with heavy attachments.
Photograph: Carbiolice (via Instagram)
2. Close Unused Tabs
To the people who have a habit of keeping a hundred tabs open on their laptops, take notes. The reason why you should close unused tabs is not only because it drains the battery of your device but also makes it slow and produces CO2.
Photograph: Shift (via Instagram)
3. Stream Videos And Songs Lesser
Video and song streaming consumes a lot of energy during Internet usage. Videos viewed in HD generate high energy consumption, so it’s advisable to limit the use of streaming and watch fewer videos and in a lower resolution. Even in the case of music, try to download your playlist rather than streaming it and listening to music on your data/WiFi.
4. Buy Lesser Devices
Every year, your favourite electronic company releases a new phone/laptop, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Use your existing one as long as it functioning well. To keep it working for a long period of time, you need to take good care of it and maintain it. In this way, you’re reducing the chance of it being thrown away at an earlier stage, thus reducing e-waste.
Photograph: Dani Sheriff (via Instagram)
5. Use Your Search Engine/Browser Effectively
Rather than searching for a website on Google and then clicking on the link, directly type out the website URL in your address bar. This reduces data processing and carbon emissions.
6. Use Your Equipment Better And Smarter
Switch off your WiFi at night or when it’s not in use. When you’re at home, opt for using your WiFi instead of your 4G data as it consumes lesser energy. Unplug the charger when your battery is full, exit apps when not in use and delete unnecessary ones. Reduce your device’s brightness or put your laptop on sleep or hibernate mode when you’ve taken a lunch break at work.