Study shows increase in electronics’ GHG emissions

Researchers evaluated 1,003 life cycle reports from various manufacturers to determine the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created during the life span of products. | Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock

To help cut growing greenhouse gas emissions from electronics, researchers are suggesting extending the life spans of devices. 

University of California, Irvine researchers found that between 2014 and 2020, greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere from electronic devices and their associated e-scrap increased by 53%. That amounts to 580 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted in 2020. 

“They (the researchers) estimate that without regulation or a legal framework to extend the useful life of information and communication technology devices, about 852 million metric tons of CO2 compounds will be emitted annually from e-waste sources by 2030,” a press release stated. 

The estimate evaluated 1,003 life cycle reports from various manufacturers to determine the amount of carbon dioxide emissions created during the life span of products, including manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal.

Flat-screen TVs had the highest emissions, accounting for about 41% of total emissions during the study period, followed by laptops and tablets, flat-screen computer monitors, desktop computers, mobile phones, computer accessories, printers and gaming consoles, the press release noted. 

A scenario model estimated that between 19 and 28 million metric tons of e-scrap could have been prevented with a 50% to 100% increase in the useful lifetime of devices between 2015 and 2020. 

Co-author Oladele Ogunseitan, a professor of population health and disease prevention in UCI’s Program in Public Health, said that “in addition to mitigating climate change, a reduction in e-waste would discourage child labor in mining operations and reduce toxic impacts on the health of workers engaged in waste management.”

Narendra Singh, co-author and sustainability specialist with the British Geological Survey, noted in the press release that there is an opportunity “to develop an international consensus on a legal framework to support eco-design and source reduction, repair, refurbishment and reuse.” 

“These strategies can be key to efforts toward climate neutrality for the electronics industry, which is currently among the top eight sectors accounting for more than 50 percent of the global carbon footprint,” Singh said.

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