9 Ways to Reduce Your Digital Pollution

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When you think of technology and going digital, you tend to think of all the benefits. You can reduce your physical waste by using less office material like paper and ink cartridges. You can optimize your workflows and facilitate collaboration across departments. Technological advancements have also done great things for our society. Education is more accessible, information is more readily available to consumers, and… TikTok. But we rarely think about what it takes to get there. The reality is that it takes a lot of resources to build all the technology we use daily, and most of the time we never think of the consequences. The heaps of garbage that build up from all the latest tech drops and the warming oceans due to adjacent data centers. 

I get it, It can be overwhelming to keep tabs on all the things you should be doing to save the planet and all the companies you should be getting mad at. It also sucks when people on the internet tell you what to do when companies are the biggest contributors to climate change.

The reality is that we need to care as individuals to make a difference because a lot of companies only care when it affects their bottom line. That’s the power you have, choosing where and how you spend your money. Choosing more sustainable options, whether you’re buying a new clothing item or finding a company to redesign your website. If you actively seek out sustainable options in everything you do you are pushing for a greener planet. 

Now let’s dive into what digital pollution entails and the steps you can make to reduce your carbon footprint.

What is Digital Pollution?

Digital pollution is the waste and energy consumption created by three main drivers: device manufacturing, e-waste, and digital practices.

Device manufacturing – There’s a lot that goes into building tech devices, like all the materials that need to be sourced, including rare metals. Sourcing these metals are dangerous for the manufacturer and the environment, and this is before a device is even thrown away. In fact, 80% of digital tech’s impact comes from manufacturing and extracting these raw materials. 

E-waste – Also known as electronic waste, this is when technology is improperly disposed of and left in landfills. According to Global E-waste Monitor, in 2019, 53.6 million tonnes of electronics were discarded. It’s important to note that a large amount of e-waste is transported to countries like India and China. This leaves them dealing with toxic substances that negatively impact their population and environment. A laptop contains 16 different metals, one of them being mercury, which can leach into soil and permanently damage it. This in turn will find its way into our food and oceans.

Digital Practices – Digital practices are the lesser evil out of the three, but still a major contributor. All the energy consumption that comes from using your favourite devices does affect our planet. And it’s all thanks to our data centers, aka the large computer systems that hold the data of the entire internet. Data centers use up electricity every time you search for something on the web, listen to a song, or send an email. The carbon footprint produced by global consumption of technology is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry. Plus it’s expected to double by 2025 as more people around the world gain access to tech.

So what’s the solution? Here are some ways you can reduce your digital pollution and strive for a greener web.

Re-think Your Next Tech Purchase

This one is pretty obvious but also the hardest step for people who love tech. You don’t need the latest tech gadget! Let me repeat that, you don’t need the latest tech gadget! One of the biggest contributors to digital pollution is the disposal of technology, which can be greatly reduced if you think before you buy. If you have a perfectly functioning laptop or mobile device, rethink your desire to replace it with the newest shiniest thing.

Recycle Old Electronics

Do you stash all your old electronics in a closet? Here’s your sign to recycle them! I know this is always an “I’ll do that later” situation, but do Mother Earth a favour and send them to a recycling program. Please don’t throw your devices in the trash. With a quick search you can find a recycling program in your area, which brings us to our next tip.

Use a Green Search Engine

The search engine Ecosia uses its profits from paid advertisers to fund reforestation projects. Involved with 9,000 planting sites, they’ve already helped plant over 123 million trees all over the world! Reforestation is an important cause for so many communities because trees do so much more than absorb CO2. Trees can restart water cycles, protect and create wildlife habitat, improve soil fertility, and overall uplift local communities. That’s a lot of good for a simple search.

Monitor Your Inbox

Emails seem innocent enough, but one email produces 4g of CO2. That number on its own isn’t significant but think about all the emails you’ve accumulated in your inbox over the last year. If you’re not using Slack, an employee can receive and send about 121 emails a day… Imagine how quickly the CO2 adds up. Instead of letting your emails accumulate in your inbox delete the ones you’ll never open. Bonus points if you delete and unsubscribe from the newsletters you never bother opening.

Delete Unused Tabs

Not only does it make your computer run slower, having a bunch of unnecessary tabs open drains your computer’s battery. I’m definitely guilty of having way too many tabs open. Sometimes you just want to save a tab for later, I get it! But every time you open a web page, it uses CO2. If you want to know exactly how much, test a web page on the Website Carbon Calculator. Oops, I just made you open another tab.

If you have trouble closing tabs on a regular basis, try using the Tabbs Google Chrome extension. It can automatically close the tabs you haven’t opened in a while, allowing your computer to run smoother throughout the day.

Download Your Music

Over 75% of workers will listen to music on the job, and if you’re streaming on Spotify or Apple Music you’re transferring quite a lot of data. The initial download of a song uses the same amount of data as streaming it, however, downloading it stores it in your computer’s memory. If you have a Spotify playlist that you listen to every day it’s definitely worth the download.

Turn Down Your Brightness

An energy manager from Harvard Law School found that reducing your monitor’s brightness from 100% to 70% can save 20% of the energy your monitor uses. Plus you won’t notice much of a difference so this one is an easy switch.

Use Your Address Bar

Do you ever make a search enquiry for Facebook without thinking twice about it? Or worse, do you ever search for Google in Google? Using a search engine instead of typing a URL into your browser’s address bar is leading to a bunch of useless data processing. If you’re going to a website you visit often use the address bar. You’ll get to your page faster and produce less carbon! A win-win.

Another way you can reduce your carbon footprint is by bookmarking the pages you use often.

Change Your Power Settings

When you’re taking a break or out for lunch, set your computer to sleep or hibernation mode to conserve energy. You can also adjust your power settings so it goes to sleep automatically. For Mac users, you’ll find it in your Energy Saver preferences. For Windows, go to Power Options.

These are some things you can do as an individual when it comes to reducing your carbon consumption, but it’s important to remember that businesses are the biggest contributors. Being educated and using your voice to demand change is the best way to make a difference.