What are the environmental impacts of tech and digital technology?
The technological industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors out there, so it makes sense that it has an impact on our environment. In 2007 there were 122 million smartphones sold compared to 2022, which shows that 1.39 billion were sold globally.
These devices are not sustainable and are bad for the environment. According to the UN, the technology industry contributes around 2-3% of global carbon emissions. This figure could grow, however, as new technology is discovered and industries are left unchecked.
With tablets, computers and smartphones being part of everyday life, there are a great number manufactured daily. You may be surprised to learn that there are a great number of metals in your phone – roughly 80% of the stable elements on the Periodic Table. To get access to these metals, companies must mine into the earth to reach them.
Mining alone takes a huge amount of energy and can have a devastating impact on the surrounding area in terms of habitat loss, carbon emissions and water stress. Bringing the metal ores topside then requires a refining process which is usually inefficient. You have to mine tonnes of rock to get minute pieces of the precious materials used.
Manufacturing and consumers
After the mining process, the materials are shipped to manufacturing plants. Water is one of the most-used methods for assembling the intricate parts of machinery. Devices such as laptops and smartphones are made of pieces that require multiple steps to assemble, and many of these use water to aid the process.
With so much water being used, polluted water inevitably makes its way back into the environment which can have a negative impact on the health of the surrounding ecosystem. However, to reduce this, the polluted water must be diluted with clean water before entering the waterways.
Data centres are a large group of computers that are all linked to the same network and are primarily used to store data remotely among other uses. Data centres use an incredible amount of energy due to them being constantly running and needing electricity to function.
One example is the data centres that are used for Bitcoin mining and cryptocurrency mining. This sector is estimated to contribute 0.1% of the total greenhouse gas emissions globally. However, there are emerging cryptocurrencies aiming to reduce carbon emissions through schemes such as tree planting.
What is being done?
The future is not all bleak, however, as there are ways to reduce wasted energy. Smart technology is a rapidly growing industry that allows better program usage, which in turn makes processes more efficient.
One example is IOT (Internet of Things) technology which allows many appliances to be linked together and controlled remotely in order to reduce large-scale energy wastage.