If you think about the amount of waste you accumulate in a month, it’s probably only tangible items that come to mind — disposable packages, banana peels, once-beloved products that have served intended purposes, and so on. To compensate and help the environment, maybe you’re minimizing the negative impacts of your waste through composting and recycling.
However, you most likely haven’t thought about how internet-based and electronic waste, or eWaste, grows our carbon footprints too. In fact, getting a piece of spam email isn’t just annoying, but it contributes to the problem.
To put things into perspective, consider that sending 65 emails increases the size of a carbon footprint as much as driving a car 0.6 miles. So, by leaving yourself open to receiving spam, you’re making eWaste worse. That’s a compelling reason to unsubscribe from spam emails once you receive them.
Now, let’s look at several other ways eWaste affects the environment. More importantly, you’ll also learn how to combat those effects and make positive differences.
eWaste Can Harm Human Health By Causing Environmental Toxicity
When people throw electronics items away through landfills instead of channels that are meant for eWaste disposal, their actions could adversely affect human health. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that because the extraction of valuable components from eWaste has become a source of income in developing countries, the people who live there are particularly likely to come in contact with toxic eWaste elements.
Children are especially vulnerable. Sometimes their family members are conducting unsafe eWaste recycling procedures at home. They also may have to pass dumpsites on the way to school.
Statistics say upwards of 85 percent of all electronics are sent to landfills or put into industrial incinerators. The next time you need to get rid of electronics, don’t just throw them out. Do the responsible thing by donating them to an organization or company that will refurbish them. Also, by purchasing used electronics instead of new products, you’re reducing your carbon footprint even more.
The Internet of Things Increases eWaste and Related Energy Consumption
Many people are excited about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the associated gadgets that enable us to do things like be more mindful of our health or keep our homes at the proper temperature to reduce excessive energy consumption. However, analysts caution that the IoT could ramp up the amount of eWaste that’s produced as all these gadgets are made and eventually discarded.
Furthermore, experts say the companies involved in the IoT need to look at ways to burn clean, renewable energy instead of just reducing overall energy consumption. Before investing in an IoT gadget, it’s worth doing research to figure out whether the manufacturer is doing its part to reduce eWaste.
A press release published by Greenpeace revealed companies like Apple and Google are making moves to invest in environmentally responsible sources of energy and being public about those choices. Conversely, Amazon hasn’t been forthcoming about its energy decisions, although the company has tried to assure customers it’s making meaningful progress related to eco-friendly forms of energy.
eWaste Harms Animals and Their Habitats
Statistics indicate 40 percent of the lead found in landfills comes from eWaste. Lead accumulates in the environment and harms humans and other living things, including plants and animals. Lead can also leach into water, causing potentially fatal effects for the fish that live in it and the animals that use the source of water to stay hydrated.
Humans have some element of control over reducing our lead exposure, such as by using water filtration systems that get rid of lead or remodeling homes that have surfaces treated with lead-based paint. However, other animals can’t do those things and are at high risk due to the dangerous effects of lead — particularly lead from eWaste, because it’s so prevalent.
Besides keeping products that contain lead out of landfills and disposing them through proper channels, start being more aware of what you can do to keep water sources clean. Making a positive difference begins when you do things like take good care of your car so it’s less likely to leak liquids that could harm the water supply or making sure not to dump products like paint and used oil down the sink. Those steps don’t relate to eWaste directly, but are still meaningful.
Increasingly Popular Cloud Services Produce Tons of Carbon Dioxide Annually
Initially, you may not think of your cloud service as a contributor to eWaste, but that’s the wrong impression to have. The reality is that the information communications and technology industry, which is the sector cloud services are part of, contributes more than 830 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.
That figure will probably increase, because many of the streaming services we use regularly, as well as email servers and online shopping sites, depend on cloud storage providers. Google, Box and Rackspace are three of six major cloud service brands that have committed to a goal of having data centers that run completely on renewable energy.
Before you pay for another month of your current cloud subscription or sign up with a new provider, ask what the company is doing or has done to reduce its impact on the environment. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer, do more research before finalizing your decision.
Computers That Are Never Put to Sleep Waste Electricity
Data indicates that computers typically use between 60 and 300 watts of electricity when in their full-power modes, but only consume one to five watts in sleep mode. Spend a few minutes getting your computer configured so it goes to sleep automatically when you’re not using it. Also, when it’s time to buy a new computer, you may want to look at ENERGY STAR-certified models that are built to operate reliably without wasting energy.
You may already do things to support environmental sustainability in terms of home electricity, such as installing eco-friendly light bulbs or making sure to turn off the lights in a room as you leave it. Those are good practices, but you also need to make sure your computer isn’t contradicting those efforts.
eWaste is a big problem, but it’s one we can all conquer through seemingly small but ultimately powerful actions. Now you know there are several aspects of your internet and electronics usage habits that might be exacerbating the eWaste issue.
However, you also have actionable strategies that will help tackle the identified issues. Using what you’ve just learned and encouraging your friends to follow suit will help offset some the bad aspects of your tech habits and keep our planet and its inhabitants healthier.