In this day and age, technology is everywhere. It is impossible to live without them as we use it for almost all aspects of life – entertainment, communication, education, productivity, and much more. Unfortunately, the daily use and reliance can and does wreak havoc on the environment. This article will explore the harm technology has on the environment, how it can help the environment and individual actions.
Technology harms the environment in many ways. It contributes to water pollution through the toxic materials and heavy metals of e-waste leaching into bodies of water (Okafor, 2020). Mining occurs to get the natural resources and metals used as materials. Mining is responsible for landscape degradation, deforestation, water pollution, and releasing harmful gases like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide into the air (Okafor, 2020). Additionally, some materials used in smartphones include silicon, aluminum, copper and lead, which do not break down (Statista Research Department, 2010). The production of smartphones also requires a lot of energy. For example, creating a single smartphone requires around 1 gigajoule, around 278-kilowatt hours, or 73 times the electricity used to charge the phone for a year (Madrigal, 2014). E-waste itself is also very harmful to the environment. E-waste, or electronic waste, is any unwanted or broken electronic device that is thrown out. It is often disposed of incorrectly and ends up in landfills which is very harmful as it is made of toxic materials like lead and mercury that can accumulate in the environment, soil, air and water (Geneva Environment Network, 2023).
Despite the harm technology has caused to the environment, it can also be used to save the environment and help fight against climate change. To reduce the usage of non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, nuclear energy and natural gas, scientists continue to look for ways to advance renewable resources. This is evident in the use of technology to further solar power energy, wind and water turbines, and even more uncommon sources like biomass energy from food waste (Joshi, 2018). There is also the development of renewable energy technology like fuel cells, hydrogen energy collectors, lithium-air rechargeable batteries, and thermal energy collectors (Joshi, 2018). There are also clear examples of it being used directly to fight climate change, like for carbon capture, removal, and storage, as well as the remote sensing of greenhouse gas emissions (McLellan, 2023). Another benefit technology has on the environment is its ability to help protect and save endangered wildlife through tracking. Current uses include GPS collars, trackers, remote monitoring systems, and conservation drones to locate animals during natural disasters (Joshi, 2018).
Sustainable technology is a way to reduce the environmental and ecological risks of technology that has been in use for some time (Mulder et al., 2013). Sustainable technology can be described in a few ways, substitution – shifting from the use of non-biodegradable materials to non-renewable resources to biodegradable materials and renewable resources; prevention – the production and use of the technology preventing adverse environmental impacts; and efficiency – the technology’s use of energy and resources is efficient (Mulder et al., 2013). The prevention definition of sustainable technology is also synonymous with green technology, which uses technology for eco-friendly purposes (Simon, 2022). There are many examples of green/sustainable technology already in mainstream use like LED lights, solar panels, biogas, wind turbines, and automatic switches that turn off lights (Simon, 2022).
Other than using sustainable technology products in one’s home, individuals can be wise with their choices to mitigate the damage their electronics do to the environment. One of the easiest ways is to unplug devices when they are not in use. For smaller appliances and electronics that do not require much energy to boot up, unplugging them when they are not in use is a great way for a person to reduce their energy consumption. People can also charge items only when necessary to avoid overextending the battery. Buying refurbished products prevents technology from ending up in landfills and contributing to e-waste and can save the user money. When electronics are at the end of their lifespan, it is important that they are disposed of correctly, and research should be done to find proper disposal sites and methods for all electronics. Automation is also beneficial, like light switches on timers, especially for forgetful people. Other simple ways include sorting through emails to reduce your carbon footprint, adjusting the brightness and volume on a laptop, using local storage instead of cloud storage, downloading music and media instead of streaming it, and using electronics less (which can also be beneficial to a person’s mental health) (Nanou, 2021).
Carnegie Mellon Univeristy. (n.d.). How Technology Can Harm the environment. Exploros.com. https://www.exploros.com/summary/how-technology-can-harm-environment
Geneva Environment Network. (2023, January 16). The growing environmental risks of E-waste. Genevaenvironmentnetwork.org. https://www.genevaenvironmentnetwork.org/resources/updates/the-growing-environmental-risks-of-e-waste/
Joshi, N. (2018, October 17). 3 ways technologies are helping us save the environment. Allerin.com. https://www.allerin.com/blog/3-ways-technologies-are-helping-us-save-the-environment
Madrigal, A. C. (2014, October 17). The energy in things. Atlantic Monthly (Boston, Mass.: 1993). https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/10/the-energy-in-things/381557/
McLellan, C. (2023, February 8). Fighting climate change: These 5 technologies are our best weapons. ZDNET. https://www.zdnet.com/home-and-office/sustainability/fighting-climate-change-these-5-technologies-are-our-best-weapons/
Mulder, K., Ferrer, D., & van Lente, H. (2013). What is sustainable technology? In What is Sustainable Technology?: Perceptions, Paradoxes and Possibilities (pp. 1–7). Greenleaf Publishing Limited.
Nanou, E. (2021, July 31). 9 tech habits to make your everyday life more Eco-friendly. MUO. https://www.makeuseof.com/tech-carbon-footprint/
Okafor, J. (2020, April 12). Negative impact of technology on the environment. TRVST. https://www.trvst.world/environment/negative-impact-of-technology-on-the-environment/
Simon. (2022, June 3). 14 EXCITING Green technology examples (and how they work). Sustainability Success. https://sustainability-success.com/green-technology-examples/
Statista Research Department. (2010, November 18). Most used materials in a smartphones. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/270454/top-10-materials-in-a-smartphone/