You might think the most carbon intensive activities involve driving or flying — you’d be wrong. In fact, the heftiest carbon footprint from our daily lives comes from the ‘things’ we buy. All the resources, energy and transportation that have gone into making something accessible to us is usually unknown or unavailable.
The technology industry is at fault. Much like most industries. When you zero-in on our contemporary devices, the vast majority – gomi excluded – present high concern in terms of resources, energy use, carbon footprint, and of course, e-waste.
Let’s take our mobile phone addiction as an example: data tells us there are more than 6.5 billion smartphones in circulation around the world and at least 1.2 billion tablet devices. Most of which will end up in some landfill or dumpsite.
It’s time to put an end to tech obsolescence. The industry is in need of a mindset shift — a move towards a circular economy. Especially if we hope to reduce technology’s environmental impact and future-proof the industry.
MINING FOR MATERIALS
Technology is mineral intensive — a considerable number of finite resources and precious materials go into making our electronic devices. On average, you can find around 35 materials used in standard smartphones.
Mining comes with high energy consumption and a high carbon cost, all of which are impacting our Planet and cultivating climate change. Deforestation, land degradation and water pollution, are just some of the byproducts of mining — harmful gases are another.
MASSIVE ENERGY USE AND CARBON FOOTPRINT
Transforming The Earth’s natural resources into complex technological gadgets requires a massive amount of energy. Then there’s the transportation involved: as well as the exerted energy, used to fuel servers and data banks, these technologies, and the processes that make them, contribute to the overall carbon cost.
The global technology industry needs to take its share of responsibility — a record 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were produced globally in 2021, and Big Tech’s contribution was between two and three percent. A recent report from Electronics Hub took a closer look at the industry’s giants, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, discovered Amazon is the largest polluter. It produced over 16 million metric tons of CO2 in 2021 (nearly 20 times the carbon footprint of Microsoft).
Electronic products also pose a problem when we throw them away at their end of life. Globally, we are throwing away 62.5 billion dollars of electronic waste every year — for perspective, more than 120 countries have an annual GDP lower than the value of our ever-growing pile of global e-waste.
In 2019, the Global E-Waste Report found that as much as 53.6 million tons of tech waste was discarded. And it's projected to get worse: in 2030 that number will reach 74.7 million tons, while in 2050 it could reach 110 million tons.
Sadly, only a very small percentage of electronic products are recycled — the vast majority end up in landfill sites or burned in dumps. And these dumpsites not only emit methane and other carbon emissions, but the overgrown piles of discarded devices also leach harmful chemicals that blend with other waste water contaminants such as pesticides.
HYPER-CONSUMERISM PROMOTED BY TECH COMPANIES
Unfortunately, tech companies often hinder rather than help the transition towards a more responsible, circular economic model.
Instead, in their pursuit of profit, they specifically design products that become obsolete after a certain period of time. And instead of suggesting you pop along to your local store to update your device, they want you to replace it. With no thought or care as to what you do with the outdated piece of tech.
This means that more and more technological products have to be produced, creating an even bigger manufacturing footprint — not to mention the additional future e-waste