Taking some of the waste out of tech


CLEANER MACHINE  Deleting excess photos and texts instead of storing them saves on energy.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

Nearly all of us have relied on many forms of modern technology to keep us connected to family and friends through lockdown and travel restrictions, and I’m personally thankful that I don’t have to rely on letter writing to maintain contact. However, the use of all our devices, streaming services and video conferences has an impact on global greenhouse gas emissions: it is estimated that 3.7 percent of global emissions can be attributed to them, which is roughly equivalent to the emissions produced by the global aviation industry (prior to 2020).
The good news is that there are some simple steps we can take to limit our impact. We’ve been conditioned recently to expect to upgrade our computers, phones, TVs and other gadgets as often as we can, and some companies even change the basic design to make us buy new chargers, ear phones and other accessories. But given the amount of energy required to extract the precious metals inside the devices, to manufacture, package and transport them all over the world so we can buy them, every additional year that we can use the same device lessens the overall impact.
Make sure you have a sturdy case for your phone or laptop to keep it from being damaged, and follow the usage instructions to keep the battery in good condition. Buying quality second-hand devices is now pretty easy to do, as is going to a local expert to try to get an item repaired before scrapping it and buying new again.
Changing some of our small habits may make a difference. Keep devices on only for as long as you need them, and then power them down and disconnect chargers (to avoid ‘phantom’/ standby power usage). Unsubscribe from emails you don’t regularly read/need, and purge old messages, as the sending and the storage of these requires energy. Likewise, make your emails count—send them only to the people who really need to see them, ensure the message contains all relevant info, and send any large files or photos via a link transfer instead of as large attachments.
Plain SMS texting is less energy-intensive, but every emoji, image or gif adds to the footprint. Check that your phone settings are updated to not automatically back-up data for every app; limit it to the most important ones, and try to delete excess photos and texts instead of storing them. Also, turn off notifications for social media and check these on a schedule instead, which will also help you focus on other important things.  
‘Old-fashioned’ phone calls use less energy than video calls, so try to limit your video interactions to people you really want to see and try to stick to a reasonable time frame. For business calls, virtual video meetings are a great replacement for travelling to meetings, but given the current situation, some of them have become too frequent; feel free to kindly suggest that a phone call or a shared document may suffice for remote collaboration.

> McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.