If someone looked inside your computer or your cloud account would they find a tidy, clean, well-maintained place? Or would they find a messy, chaotic dump? Imagine if old, waste content smelled. How smelly would your computer be?
We accept behaviors from ourselves in digital spaces that we would never accept in the physical spaces we live in. Why is that? Invisibility. During a climate crisis, surely it is not OK to be building data dumps in the cloud that is on the ground in some huge energy-sucking data center? No, it is not OK.
Anneli Ohvril has spent many years trying to get people to minimize waste, first in the physical world and now in the digital world. She is founder and CEO of Let’s Do It World, the international environmental organization that engages leaders and organizations around the globe for a waste-free world. World Cleanup Day involves more than 50 million people from 180 countries.
“The COVID-19 pandemic was not totally bad,” Anneli explains. “COVID-19 forced us to think out of the box and find new ways and new solutions. In April 2020 we had to organize World Cleanup Day together with the Earth Day network. But that was the height of the pandemic. We needed to find something else to do without leaving our homes. That’s how we decided on Digital Cleanup Day.
“But as we dug into the topic, we realized that digital waste is as important as physical waste and that we are not aware of that. It was a shock for us. We thought that the digital world is living like a separate world from the physical world. And that whatever we do with our smartphones and computers, it doesn’t have any impact on the environment. But that’s not true. We realized that there are millions, hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 caused by the internet, and that 90% of all the data produced, it’s waste, it’s not used. So, a lot of the time in digital we are warming the planet for nothing.
“We have to raise awareness of digital waste. We have to raise awareness about digital hygiene. We have to start to talk about it. We’re not asking people to give up the internet. Of course not! But there is so much wasteful behavior in the digital world. And this is what we have to change.
“Digital is connected with the single-use habits we have. We have single-use habits everywhere. We like to use single-use bags, single-use bottles, single-use whatever. Nothing is designed for a long life. And even if something is then we want to use it for a shorter period. So, I see that the root problem here is that we want to consume resources and that we are not thinking about what is the impact on the world. It’s really fancy to buy the new phone that has additional features but we never realize how many resources have been spent making that phone and what it cost to the environment. We dramatically have to change our habits and our attitudes towards consumption.
“The social norm is that new is better. We should start to value the things that really last. I really enjoy some clothes I bought 20 years ago. I really love to wear them because I feel comfortable with them. And they were made in a good way so the quality is really strong. We have to value the things that really last in our lives and not just the things that are just temporary.”