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LETTER: Being forced to stay at home presents some environmental questions

Living Green Barrie asks people to seek out ways to reduce their digital footprint

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Technology keeps us working, connected, and educated. The pandemic has only heightened our attachment to the digital world, but advancing technology can adversely impact the environment. We aren’t printing on paper or tossing ink cartridges in the trash, so is going digital the best solution? The answer is, it’s complicated.

The pandemic has forced much of the world’s population to stay home; less cars on the road should mean less pollution, but have we considered the impact our work-from-home technology has created?

Working from home can increase our electricity usage and not all of it is clean energy.

Now, think about how many more devices we have in our homes compared to a few short years ago.

Add in the kids who have been learning remotely, and all the devices purchased to make it easier to be connected to friends, family, school and work. Those new devices will someday become e-waste.

Manufacturing a laptop creates 227-270KG of carbon dioxide on average. Even before the manufacturing stage, most parts need to be mined before they become components.

No matter your choice of device, you probably use some form of online storage for pictures, documents, emails, or music. All those digital files have to go somewhere. Those cute pictures you just took of your dog are digitally transported to the “cloud” and stored for you to look at later.

"The cloud" refers to servers that are accessed over the Internet, and the software and databases that run on those servers. Cloud servers are located in data centres all over the world. To keep buildings like this up and running it takes approximately two per cent of the world’s electricity and generates the same amount of carbon emissions as an airline! When it comes to your online storage, keep the best and delete the rest.

Going fully digital isn’t always the most sustainable option. In some ways using paper can be more environmentally friendly. The life cycle of paper is easy to track, and over 65 per cent of paper is being recycled in Canada compared to only 20 per cent of e-waste being properly recycled. Electronics that end up in landfills can contaminate our soil with substances like mercury, lead and other toxic hazards.

Some big tech companies are trying to offset their carbon footprint by investing in green initiatives and offering trade-ins for old tech. Companies are not required to supply information on the energy being consumed by their data centres. Data centres use 50 per cent of the energy consumed within the digital ecosystem, while the device itself uses 34 per cent and manufacturing uses 16 per cent.

Don’t go deleting all your files quite yet. Perhaps consider what you really need to keep. ‘Marie Kondo’ your digital life! Look into making your workspace more energy efficient. Take a timeout from using excess electronics. Buy second hand when you can and try to give your old products a new life.

Our physical possessions have the opportunity to move on to other homes and our digital possessions should be recycled properly as well. Take the time to find proper recycling facilities for outdated tech, take more time between upgrades, and make choices that let your virtual presence impact the environment for the better.

Looking at how to reduce your digital footprint hits Living Green Barrie’s reducing waste action for April but also touches on more of their 10 Actions for Climate including ‘power down’ and ‘buy less stuff’. For more on Living Green Barrie’s 10 Actions, please visit:

Anna Olan
Living Green Barrie, Board of Directors