How Technology Is Contributing to Environmental Problems

To be considered sustainable, an item, from its creation to the end of its life cycle, must not use more resources than the system that produced those resources can easily replace. Many items that people use in their daily lives are sustainable, but some surprising items are not. Technology products, for example, despite the way they reduce our dependence on paper, are increasingly having a negative effect on the environment.

One reason that technological products are not sustainable is the fact that many people improperly recycle these devices. Another factor is the large amounts of resources used in the production and recycling of these items.

E-Waste and Technotrash

E-waste and technotrash are terms used to describe the vast amounts electronic waste created when we no longer need or want our electronic devices, and this amount is increasing every year. Worldwide, people create between 20 and 50 million tons of e-waste annually, and this amount accounts for about approximately 5 percent of all solid waste. In 2011, the US alone produced 3.4 million tons of technotrash, and only about 25 percent of these devices were recycled.

ewasteRecently, after deciding that it would no longer produce its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, Samsung collected the remaining recalled units itself rather than risking these devices being improperly discarded by consumers. This proactive stance, while rare, is an environmentally responsible step because today’s smartphones still feature components that cannot be recycled.

Among these components are the phones’ batteries, which must be recycled in a specific way because they are built into the phone. If consumers do not research how to properly dispose of these items, they may simply toss the whole phone into the trash. This is why a smartphone with a removable battery is infinitely more ecologically friendly than those with permanent non-removable batteries, such as the recalled Galaxy Note 7.

Smartphones are not the only electronic devices that negatively impact the environment. Televisions and audio systems have progressively gotten more energy efficient, but they still use large amounts of energy. Many consumers leave these items running all day and night, unaware of just how much they energy they are wasting. This excessive energy use is not only a burden on natural resources, but it also increases people’s utility bills.

The U.S. Department of Energy recently estimated that the average home uses about 40 percent of its energy powering electronics in their “off” state. This is sometimes referred to as vampire power, because these devices suck up power over time so that they can be used instantly when someone turns them on. Although this is certainly convenient, it has environmental repercussions.

Cutting-edge technology is only adding to this problem. Televisions and other devices are increasingly being manufactured with integrated wireless connectivity, and because these items have gone down in price in recent years, more buyers than ever are purchasing these products. Some estimate that as many as 100 billion homes will have smart appliances that are connected to a wireless network in the coming years. This means that these devices will constantly be using energy nearly in order to maintain an active network connection.

What Can Consumers Do?

Although technology is undoubtedly convenient for all of us and is becoming more affordable, consumers must also keep the environment in mind when making electronics purchases. Not only do people need to take personal responsibility for their buying choices, but they also need to encourage the companies that they buy from to have more concern for the environment.

One successful power-reduction program is the International Energy Agency’s One-Watt Initiative, which set a goal for reducing standby power consumption for electronic devices to 1 watt by 2010 and 0.5 watts by 2013. This initiative, created in 1999, has led several other nations to regulate standby power use in new devices. Among these are the Republic of Korea, where there are mandatory programs governing the use of standby mode on electronic devices. The United States also facilitates the voluntary Energy Star program, which includes ways to measure and monitor devices in standby mode. The European Union is also working to ensure that electronics connected to a network include power regulation features in order to reduce overall consumption.

Once consumers become aware of the impact of running devices continuously, they will be able to make better purchase decisions and reduce damage the environment. Therefore, it is crucial to educate the entire family in responsible use and disposal of electronics.