Electronic Waste and Digital Sobriety

Electronic Waste and Digital Sobriety

Electronic devices have significantly enhanced the convenience of modern society. TVs, computers, monitors, and other electronic products have made work life more productive and personal life more convenient.

But that productivity and luxury have come at a cost. Each year, consumers and businesses replace old electronic components with newer and faster versions. The old components have been mainly trashed, leading to a growing problem of the dangers of electronic waste.

This growth of electronic waste is comparable to the proliferation of plastic waste in our oceans in terms of its ubiquity. But electronic waste poses an even graver danger; many electronic components contain beryllium, brominated materials used for flame retardants, and even lead. As a result, the risk to the environment – and the humans who handle this waste – is high.

A Compounding Problem

The danger of tangible physical assets is only part of the problem. The carbon footprint generated by our reliance on digital devices means the eventual mitigation of dangerous materials in them.

As recently as 2021, electronic devices and digital assets accounted for 4% of greenhouse emissions. Furthermore, digital assets account for 6-10% of electricity demand. These one-two punches of higher energy, emissions, and dangerous materials provide a growing challenge.

Digital Sobriety

As these challenges increase, it’s perhaps time for society to take a step back and assess the efficiency of reliance upon these devices. In its place, a new type of sobriety is required where the energy and emissions output and use habits are reevaluated.

That doesn’t mean an end to the digital age and its benefits; instead, it means a more prudent and thought-out approach to how we use these devices and how we can bring them into the same closed-loop thinking introduced to manufacturing, packaging, and more.

Here are a few ways businesses and individuals can realize a more responsible approach while reaping the benefits and convenience of electronic devices.

  1. Extending Lifecycles – Product lifecycles in electronics don’t work the same as other goods. Businesses tend to upgrade as soon as possible, leaving obsolete assets for disposal. But upgrades, modifications, and other practices help extend the lifecycle to reduce the flow of goods to the waste bin.
  2. Creative Conversion – A lot of equipment that needs replacing can be repurposed instead of thrown out. An old PC may find use as a second screen. And old mobile phones that have reached their end of life can be used as a webcam or camera monitoring system.
  3. Powering Down – Businesses are notorious for leaving energy-consuming devices on during idle hours. Using software that mitigates this issue by putting the asset to sleep or powering it down can save enormous power.
  4. Taking Ownership – It took decades of effort to bring businesses and consumers to the point of recycling paper, plastic, and other materials. The same sense of responsibility should be applied to electronic waste. This can be done by donating old components, sharing systems until the complete end of life, and ensuring that those disposed of are done with reputable, safe, and circular-minded recycling companies that ensure materials and components don’t harm people or impact the environment.

Embed Digital Sobriety into Your Business

The best way to realize digital sobriety is to include it from the ground up. Entrepreneurs are ideally positioned to embed digital sobriety into their business model and make choices early rather than bolt them on later.

The Henry Bernick Entrepreneurship Centre (HBEC) at Georgian College offers mentorship and training for new businesses who want to add digital responsibility and sobriety to their growing enterprise. We have the resources and knowledge to help new business leaders make the right choices in their digital strategy. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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