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The green digital consumer: How to reduce digital exhaust

The global information and communications sector contributes about 2 percent to 4 percent of global carbon emissions, according to a 2021 study by the European Regulators Authority for Electronic Communications (BEREC). Just like using public transport and turning on a fan instead of an air conditioner, reducing every joule of energy used by a digital device can help reduce an individual’s carbon footprint. The Straits Times looks at ways to cut down on one’s digital exhaust.

1. Consuming content on smaller screens

The smaller the screen, the smaller your carbon footprint.

In a report published by Ericsson in 2018, a 100-watt 50-inch TV uses about twice as much power to stream a two-hour video than watching it on a 30-watt laptop. The same video displayed on a laptop uses about twice the 3W power of a smartphone. Comparatively speaking, broadcasting a two-hour video on television allows a kettle to boil one liter of water twice.

2. Extend the life of the digital device

Extending device life reduces overall carbon footprint.

The Berec study estimated that the lion’s share of carbon emissions from the information and communications sector (at about 60 percent to 80 percent) occurs during its manufacture and use.

In particular, large screens like those on TVs and computers are the biggest culprits.

Lenovo’s Product Carbon Footprint Report released in 2019 estimated that 458 kg of carbon dioxide is emitted over the lifetime of laptops. Calculation applied to Lenovo ThinkPad L13 Yoga, ThinkPad L13, ThinkPad S2 Yoga 5th Gen, and ThinkPad S2 5th Gen.

If users extend the life of their laptop from four to six years, the average annual carbon footprint of that laptop would be reduced by about 30 percent.

3. Electronic waste recycling

E-waste recycling brings more information products to the circular economy model of the sector. This reduces the need to extract virgin raw materials from the carbon-emitting environment. Similar to extending the life of a device, recycling e-waste spreads the carbon emissions from raw material extraction over a longer period of time and will help reduce annual carbon emissions.

Singapore’s Resource Sustainability Act places the responsibility on electronics producers to collect and process their products when they reach the end of their life. By law, producers are required to handle e-waste from products and extract valuable resources from them. Similar e-waste laws are being discussed in Europe.

For example, makers of personal desktop computers, monitors, cell phones, and laptops must collect 20 percent of the weight of the equipment they supply to market for recycling. Makers of large appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, washers, dryers, and televisions must collect 60 percent of the weight of the items they supply for recycling.

These are part of plans to eliminate more than 60,000 tons of e-waste generated in Singapore each year, according to statistics from the National Environment Agency.

E-waste recycling in Singapore includes sole operator Alba collecting consumer e-waste from collection points across Singapore from 2021 to 2026.