|4 Minutes

By 2030, e-Waste Will Reach 2.5 Million Metric Tons Unless We ‘Sober Up’

By 2030, e-Waste Will Reach 2.5 Million Metric Tons Unless We ‘Sober Up’

Let’s admit something without shame: we love to use new technology. Maybe the latest smart phone, or a new lightweight laptop or tablet that makes it easier to work from anywhere, it’s all fair game. And when we are at our desk, we enjoy creating expansive workspaces with multiple monitors, a full-size keyboard, and other extras. When we look across our household, we might have duplicate, perhaps triplicate resources growing our technology real estate exponentially.

Quick exercise: Count every piece of technology you own. Most Americans have at least 10 connected devices.

And there’s more…  the Internet of Things (IoT) created a brand-new demand for convenient, network-enabled smart devices that foster an ‘always on’ connected lifestyle.

But while some IoT devices create energy efficiencies via programmable settings and remote actions, they all contribute to e-waste and produce a significant amount of data, adding to our digital energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Technology evolution and e-waste 

As technology advances, devices are more complex and built with proprietary designs making it expensive and nearly impossible to repair without engaging manufacturers or authorized service providers. Unusable devices are replaced with yet another smart device, creating a throwaway culture burdened with a huge e-waste problem.  This cycle of behavior has prompted governments to push new right-to-repair rules to govern smart phone, tablet, and laptop manufacturers, to name a few, to help reduce the e-waste continuous cycle.

How big is the problem?

Projected electronic waste generation worldwide from 2019 to 2030 (in million metric tons). Source: Statista

In 2019, the world generated 53.6 million metric tons (MMT) of e-waste about 7.3 kilograms (~16 pounds) per person; equivalent in weight to 350 cruise ships.  Wealthy nations are the biggest offenders, and unfortunately recycling programs can’t keep pace with the estimated 2.5 MMT of waste accumulated every year and expected to reach 74.7 MMT by 2030.

Digital Waste calls for Sobriety

In addition to e-waste, our digital consumption habits are out of control. According to The Shift Project, digital technologies represented 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, growing at 8% a year and doubling by 2025 if changes are not implemented. Video is the heavyweight of digital energy consumption, representing 80% of global data flows with online video accounting for 60% of traffic.

Digital sobriety is a practical approach to slow our impact on the environment by adopting a daily, mindful approach to consume less video and digital resources at work and home. During the lockdown in 2020, many of us unknowingly fell off the ‘digital sobriety wagon’ as we watched our favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services for hours at a time.

The scale of these environmental problems is so huge, they cannot be solved without joining forces, from governments and corporations, with IT changemakers, and every individual, globally. As a starting point, global collaboration kicked off with The Paris Agreement, a multi-national treaty dedicated to building a more sustainable global economy focused on reducing global greenhouse gas. The Race to Zero global campaign followed with specific goals, and the Climate Ambition Alliance enlists much needed support and commitment from the private sector to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

As a result, corporations are playing a significant role in reshaping best practices to efficiently consume energy and resources, reduce waste, and lead with environmental stewardship embedded in their company culture. And as they establish corporate sustainability plans and carbon neutrality goals, they must leverage IT teams as technology experts to implement Green IT initiatives to achieve success across all aspects of the business.

Rainer Karcher, Global Director of IT Sustainability at Siemens is leading change with Green IT best practices, sharing some good news: “small workplace actions, such as properly shutting down your laptop when you are not using it can result in huge improvement if extrapolated across thousands or millions of devices every day.”

Read Rainer’s blog Darker Backgrounds, Brighter Futures: Siemens’ Real-World Green IT for ideas on how to get started.

What’s your plan?

Understanding environmental impact can be especially difficult, almost impossible, if you lack insight into how your business and employees are consuming resources.  You need to rely on your IT experts to create actionable Green IT plans to promote employee and environmental health across the business.

{Looking for tangible results in your ‘Green IT’ plan? Check this out}

Empowering IT and your employees together establishes a working partnership and critical bond to implement sustainable behavior. Ultimately, success depends on all of us to step up to the challenge.