We may be recycling champions. We may take our reusable bags to the supermarket and our empty containers to the refill stores. We may drink our oat milk lattes from our reusable cups and think we’re doing our bit to live a low-waste lifestyle.
But what about the waste we can’t see?
The kind that runs through cables beneath our feet and floats over our heads in the ‘cloud.’ I’m talking about digital waste, of course. It’s estimated that internet use accounts for 3.7% of all global emissions – that’s the equivalent of the world’s air traffic. And this figure is set to double in the next few years.
Digital pollution is not something that’s talked about much because the problem seems unscalable. Yet it’s important to realise that with every search we make, every episode we stream and every scroll binge, we’re creating carbon emissions. It’s easy to excuse digital pollution because we’re so dependent on the internet, but it’s time to look at ways we can reduce our impact on digital landfill sites.
The dark environmental cost of data centres
Data centres support all of our internet usage. Essentially they are factories that store, backup, and recover our data. And they’re power-intensive; Greenpeace estimated that by 2020, data centres would require more electricity than France, Brazil, Canada, and Germany combined.
On a practical environmental level, data centres are powered mainly by coal-fired plants. We’re all too aware of the major damage done by coal mining, namely deforestation, ecosystem destruction and global warming. Still, it’s not something we necessarily associate with when we surf the web.
We’ve no direct control over powering data centres with clean, green renewable energy sources, but there are, of course, a few changes we can make to clean up our personal digital habits.
Reducing your digital carbon footprint
All our online activities come with a cost. With more than half of the world’s population now online, it all adds up to a whopping amount of carbon emissions.
According to the energy company OVO, it’s estimated that if every adult sent one less ‘thank you’ email, it could save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – that’s the equivalent of taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road!
Likewise, monitoring our inboxes and unsubscribing to spam emails or mailing lists we’re no longer interested in is another way to slash our emissions.
Here are ten ways you can reduce your digital carbon footprint and minimise the impact of your internet habits:
- Use green search engines such as Ecosia – the ad revenue from your searches goes towards reforesting our planet and empowering communities.
- Use the internet mindfully. Consider the impact that mindless scrolling has on your mental health and the health of the planet.
- Think before you subscribe.
- Empty your (digital) recycling bin!
- Consider your storage uses. Dig out your hard drive and USB to store your data.
- Send links instead of email attachments.
- Unplug your devices when not in use and switch them off at the end of the day.
- Choose your devices carefully. Consider what you need your device for so you can buy the most eco-friendly option. Opt for repairing the device you have. Or if you need to replace it entirely, buy second hand.
- Go back to texting! Sending a good old-fashioned SMS produces less carbon than emails or instant messaging platforms.
- Get clued in with this report by Green peace: ‘Clicking Clean: Who is winning the race to build a Green Internet?’