Digital receipts have environmental impacts

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Digital receipts have environmental impacts

Information and communication technology (ICT) products and services are consuming a growing amount of the world’s energy, requiring an increasing amount of non-renewable raw materials (including rare earth metals) and producing a vast amount of e-waste.

The energy used by the ICT sector worldwide is about 3.6% of total global energy consumption and it contributes 1.4% of the total global carbon dioxide emitted.1 Projections for future ICT energy consumption range from 9 to almost 21% of total global energy use by 2025.2 In comparison, the print and forest products industry is one of the lowest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for only 1% of global CO2 emissions.3,4

The vast majority of electronics production, from chip making to final assembly, is concentrated in Asia, where electricity generation is reliant on fossil fuels, particularly coal. Access to renewable sources of electricity is extremely limited.5

An analysis of 113 ICT companies in the U.S. showed that only 14% of the energy consumed was from renewable electricity in 2014,6 a much lower level than in the paper and forest products industry which is one of the highest industrial users of renewable energy globally.

E-waste is a growing problem due to the short lifespan of electronic devices and their low recycling rates. For example, the average smartphone lifecycle in the USA, China and major EU economies does not usually exceed 18 to 24 months.

– Global E-Waste Monitor, 2017

Globally, only 20% of all the e-waste generated is recycled. “Increasing levels of electronic waste, and its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal through open burning or in dumpsites, pose significant risks to the environment and human health.” In 2016, Asia generated the largest amount of e-waste (18.2 Mt), followed by Europe (12.3 Mt) and the Americas (11.3 Mt).7

Common hazardous materials found in e-waste include heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, cadmium etc.) and chemicals (such as chlorofluorocarbons or various flame retardants).8

Electronic products also have a growing need for raw materials. The average electronic product contains more than 60 different materials, which increasingly include critical and rare earth metals with a finite supply.9

  1. Malmodin and Lunden, 2018
  2. Anders, A., 2017. Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast.
  3. Ecofys, 2017.
  4. This includes the manufacture of wood products, such as lumber, plywood, veneers, wood containers, wood flooring, wood trusses and prefabricated wood buildings. It also covers the manufacture of pulp, paper and converted paper products.
  5. Greenpeace, 2017.
  6. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015.
  7. Global E-Waste Monitor, 2017.
  8. Global E-Waste Monitor, 2017.
  9. Kasulitus and Babbitt, 2018. Dematerialization and the circular economy.

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