Although they proved to be essential tools during the pandemic, our electronic devices and their use are no less harmful to the environment. A recent report made by The Shift Project, a think tank dedicated to energy transition, states that digital technologies are currently responsible for nearly 4% of total GHG emissions in the world —a number projected to double by 2025. Unfortunately, these emissions only come from the pollution caused by data centre servers which currently store 47 zettabytes, or 47 billion terabytes, of data. Additionally, there is the pollution caused by the mining of raw materials for our devices, their manufacturing, and finally, their end of life.
These devices’ lifespan is getting shorter and shorter, mainly because of planned obsolescence. This phenomenon is far from new and consists of developing strategies to reduce an object’s lifespan from its conception which forces users to quickly replace it. Today, the term is widely used to refer to electronic devices; products are designed to be made with less sturdy materials, their repair is discouraged (difficulty to open the device and find replacement parts), and they quickly become outdated by technological advancements (software and apps always requiring more power, device changes and updates, etc.). This resulted in 11 million tonnes of computer and telecommunications equipment being thrown away, landfilled or incinerated in 2019.
Although policy makers should establish a framework for obsolescence, as consumers, we also have to take responsibility for the ecological disaster emerging before us. After all, who among us hasn’t replaced a device while it was still working or could’ve been repaired? Many victims of marketing line up outside of stores to get the latest phone even though their current phone is only a few months old. We no longer have a choice but to be concerned by these issues. It’s up to us to extend our devices’ lifespan as much as possible and reduce our digital pollution!