Minimize Material Base
The fast-evolving digital economy demands an increasing number of elements for ICT devices such as computers, data centers, mobile phones, batteries, and networks. To meet the growing demand for green technologies associated with the energy transitions, the extraction of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by 500 per cent by 2050 having a substantial impact on land, water, air and biodiversity. There are at least twenty-four elements that are considered important for the digital future, including a range of rare earth elements.
Each of these generate different environmental, social and political impacts during their extraction, transformation and disposal, often depending on the level of national and local governance capacity to monitor and mitigate those impacts. In 2019 a record 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was produced globally. The equivalent weight of 125,000 Boeing 747 jumbo jets – more than all of the commercial aircrafts ever created. This makes e-waste the fastest-growing domestic waste stream with only 17.4 per cent of e-waste documented as formally collected and recycled, and only 78 countries having legislations to manage e-waste.
Digitalization, thus, must go hand in hand with a circular economy so that metals and minerals used for digital products can be tracked, traced, recovered and recirculated. ICT producers must be held accountable through the extended producer responsibility approach for the environmental impact associated with their products and services and legislation should enforce stricter sustainability requirements. Minimum standards for the procurement of green digital infrastructure, digital services and ICT products would also support a circular economy.