Digital pollution: the new challenge of tomorrow 

To begin with, digital pollution is all the pollution generated by new technologies. Indeed, nowadays our digital need is important: Netflix, Google search for a definition, Airpods,emails… And all this, you will have understood, requires a lot of energy. Digital technology accounts for about 10% of the world’s electricity consumption. Moreover, if we continue and do not take any measures, then digital pollution will reach the level of car traffic in 2025. It represents from 4 to 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which means that aviation emissions are lower (2%). Also, the manufacturing of all these computer tools consumes a lot.

Firstly, pollution is caused by the production of digital set-top boxes: materials are rare, expensive and barely recycled in their final form. Their extraction requires a lot of water and fossil energy. According to Green Peace, the making of a TV set issues as much CO2 as a flight to Marrakech from France. Google alone contributes to roughly 40% of Internet’s CO2 emissions, which explains why it is regarded as the biggest polluter on the Internet.

Secondly, digital consumption is currently highly polarized. Findings show that in 2018, on average every person owned around 5 connected devices and consumed roughly 120 gigabytes of data per month which is far above the average of one device. So, what happens with all these devices once we replace them with newer models?

Regarded as the “fastest-growing waste stream in the world”, e-waste such as outdated electronic equipment including computers, smartphones, and TVs constitutes a rather significant ecological issue. A report by the World Economic Forum indicates that around 50 million tons of e-waste are produced annually – out of which only 20% gets recycled. The remaining 80% of e-waste usually ends up buried underground.

While the recycling of e-waste might seem like the most reasonable option, it also comes at a cost. Despite the piles of e-waste, demand for new high-tech gadgets. A smartphone is said to contain 16 out of 17 different rare earth metals. From graphite in the battery to the silicon of the processor, there are dozens of metals such as lead, chromium, and cadmium and minerals known as rare earths. Contact with these harmful toxics can trigger serious health conditions, including respiratory illnesses and lung cancer to which child workers are particularly vulnerable. While the metals themselves are not rare, the mining process raises serious environmental concerns given that it causes extensive damage to soil, contaminates water with chemicals used during the extraction process, and requires costly cleanup operations.

Digital technology is not necessarily good or bad and it has both a direct and an indirect effect on the environment. The bright side is that digital technology such as AI and big data is revolutionizing our approach to conservation of biodiversity, clean energy development, and the management of natural disasters. Big data and AI algorithms can be used to monitor and preserve endangered species on land, as well as provide early warning against natural disasters such as earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and droughts.

What solutions should we adopt to reduce our digital impact?

These are some things you can do as an individual when it comes to reducing your carbon consumption. Being educated and using your voice to demand change is the best way to make a difference.

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. Preserve as much as possible the life span of your devices.

In other words, if you use your tablet for at least 2 years or even 4, then you improve its environmental impact by 50%. So don’t wait: buy second-hand or repair your machines. Also, 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. Did you know that 4G is 23 times more consuming than Wifi? So if your fiber works perfectly (and you’re lucky), turn off your cellular data.

Resham khan doing BS Botany from G.G.D.C. no.1, Dera Ismail khan.