Digital waste: can it be avoided?

… or emails from 2001? Surfing greener is not easy when just writing and sending an email releases ten grams of CO2. How do I move through the internet without producing a huge amount of digital waste?

Thomas Röbke

First of all, the good news: Laptops and smartphones are really energy-efficient today – no comparison to the computers that were around 20 years ago. On the other hand, this only helps to a limited extent, because the majority of the electricity that a search query, sending an email or watching a video consumes flows through the infrastructure in the background. That means: through mobile networks, clouds and gigantic server parks. And it all adds up to a huge amount: "The electricity consumption of information and communication technology in Germany is around 45 terawatt hours or 45 billion kilowatt hours a year. Around ten power plants have to be running for this amount.", says Siegfried Behrendt, head of the "Resources, Economics & Resilience" department at the Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment in Berlin. "Worldwide, IT devices and applications even use 800 million tons of CO2. That corresponds roughly to the total greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. "

Unbelievable? And that's not all: The number of terawatt hours could double in the next few years, warns Behrendt, if we continue to surf the net as before and binge-watch through nights. Behrendt is convinced that the Paris climate target, i.e. limiting the man-made temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, can only be achieved if surfing, streaming, servers and the like are included. And there we are all asked.

Which green search engines are there?

First of all, let's just take a minute: In 2015, the net artist Joana Moll calculated that the world googled 45,000 things every second, which means CO2 emissions of almost 500 kilos – or a car trip from Berlin to Madrid every second! After all, today Google gets a large part of its electricity from renewable energies. But there is an even greener way: Ecosia is already 100 percent ecological and promises to invest 80 percent of its profits in tree planting projects worldwide. On the home page you can watch the counter ticking every 0.8 seconds: at the end of September it was already at 110 million trees.

Fun fact: About 45 searches bring up a tree. But: In order for trees to be planted at all, users also have to click on the ads, only then does the money flow. An alternative is Gexsi. Every two weeks, the makers choose and support a social entrepreneurship project that promotes the 17 UN sustainability goals.

Are there any climate-neutral email providers?

Writing and sending an email with around one megabyte releases around ten grams of CO2. By way of comparison: if you do this ten times a day, that corresponds to the CO2 emissions of 250 kilometers by car over the year. By the way: Do you still have emails that are easily 15 years old? Unfortunately it's pretty bad, because every email lying around eats something? Right: CO2. The footprint can be reduced if not only we, but also the mail provider, use green electricity, such as and It is cool that, according to its own statements, also relieves the load on its servers by blocking spam (over 95 percent of the e-mail volume!) Before it reaches the server.

How does surfing work with less digital waste?

Now we have to be strong: by consciously clicking instead of just drifting happily, because "one, two or three clicks quickly turns into ten, 20, 30 while surfing," says Behrendt. And with that a bunch of CO2 again. He also advises getting used to taking pictures of things like doctor's appointments or shopping lists and sending them as reminders. The good old piece of paper does it too.

Can I binge-watch at all?

The CO2 emissions from video streaming amounted to 332.8 million tons in 2018, according to estimates, 58 percent of the total data volume can be traced back to our binge watching. But: What matters is which medium we use. Watching video on a smartphone or tablet in SD resolution, for example, releases up to 35 grams of CO2 per hour. On a 65-inch television, on the other hand, a video hour costs around 880 grams of CO2, which is 25 times as much! But as an idea: maybe an old DVD will do it every now and then? And another tip: The free streaming app "BetterStream" not only offers green films and podcasts, but also compensates for the CO2 emissions generated. After all.

Something completely different: Does something speak against storage in the cloud?

Oh yes, a lot. "Please do not save everything permanently and then duplicate it in the cloud "advises Siegfried Behrendt. "For example, I remove photos that I have already processed from the cloud." Another question that everyone should ask: Do I need the same subject from 20 perspectives? Tip: It is better to save data that you will not be able to access for a long time, but also do not want to delete, on (external) hard drives or USB sticks. This takes the load off your device and the cloud.

Should I clean up my computer in between?

Less data on the hard drive means less computing work, thus faster access times and thus less CO2 emissions. So the answer is very clear: yes! You should then also purify your e-mail account and, in addition to useless e-mails, also unsubscribe from newsletters that are not required. We never tire of saying it: These are all data that are stored and stored in data centers in a power-intensive manner – with back-ups, by the way.

Online shopping is probably not a good idea either?

It would of course make sense to only shop where the servers run on green energy, which is less the case with Amazon, for example. Utopia shows a list of the best green online shops at The products offered there (clothing, cosmetics, food) are also often sustainably produced and have little packaging. Small index finger of a guilty conscience: Even the greenest servers are of little use if you send back what you have ordered in bulk. You know: it's best to only order what you really need online.

What is more ecological – surfing the WLAN or receiving data on the go?

Expert Behrendt is concerned that streaming with ever larger mobile data packets is shifting to the mobile sector: "The energy-intensive is the storage and transmission in and from the data centers. The moment you do it mobile, the power consumption increases enormously. " Cable and WiFi use significantly less energy and are therefore definitely the better option.

The cell phone doesn't work again. What should I consider when buying a device?

Laptops, smartphones and tablets are getting smaller and more energy efficient. But Behrendt warns: "The environmental pollution occurs where the device is manufactured. In other words, mainly in the Far East. And there they are particularly high because the environmental standards are low." We have known for a long time: use devices as long as possible. Smartphone or tablet can usually be repaired easily, the memory expanded and the battery replaced. The question is: do I really need the latest model? Or will the old one continue to do so for a while?

Would you like to read more about the topic and exchange ideas with other women? Then take a look in the "General Forum" of the BRIGITTE Community past!

In BE GREEN, the new BRIGITTE sustainability magazine, you can read the exclusive interview with Greenfluencer Marie Nasemann: "I don't want to fuel the fashion madness anymore"

© Brigitte