Resources

Why Energy Is A Big And Rapidly Growing Problem For Data Centers

U.S. data centers use more than 90 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, requiring roughly 34 giant (500-megawatt) coal-powered plants. Global data centers used roughly 416 terawatts (4.16 x 1014 watts) (or about 3% of the total electricity) last year, nearly 40% more than the entire United Kingdom. And this consumption will double every four years.

Streaming video has already changed the game, but the explosion of artificial intelligence and internet-connected devices will change the entire landscape. AI is the future, and AI is hungry for processing power. IoT is projected to exceed 20 billion devices by 2020 (some analysts believe we will reach that number this year alone). Given there are currently 10 billion internet-connected devices, doubling that to 20 billion will require massive increases to our data center infrastructure, which will massively increase our electricity consumption.

How on earth can we possibly build all the power plants required to supply electricity to twice as many data centers in the next four years? The simple answer is that we can’t.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping

Amazon has changed the way Americans shop. This year, the e-commerce giant said its annual Prime Day sale was “the biggest shopping event in Amazon history.” During the 36-hour event, people bought over 100 million products, crashed the website, and signed up for more Prime memberships than ever before. The behavior is indicative of the buying culture Amazon created. The company’s ease, speed, and savings — underscored by killer perks like free, expedited shipping and simple returns — has encouraged more people to shop online, more often.

But these free benefits come with a hidden environmental cost that doesn’t show up on the checkout page, experts say. Expedited shipping means your packages may not be as consolidated as they could be, leading to more cars and trucks required to deliver them, and an increase in packaging waste, which researchers have found is adding more congestion to our cities, pollutants to our air, and cardboard to our landfills.

“People are consuming more. There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options.”

Almost 45 million tons of e-waste discarded last year

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside.

The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone.

The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated.

The study says all the gold, silver, copper and other valuable materials would have been worth $55 billion had they been recovered.

The authors of the Global E-waste Monitor predict that e-waste, defined as anything with a battery or a cord, will increase to 52.2 million metric tons by 2021.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

“Welcome to Baotou, the largest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a group of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and this is the final stop on a three-week-long journey up the global supply chain, tracing back the route consumer goods take from China to our shops and homes, via container ships and factories.

You may not have heard of Baotou, but the mines and factories here help to keep our modern lives ticking. It is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These elements can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the world’s supply of these elements, and it’s estimated that the Bayan Obo mines just north of Baotou contain 70% of the world’s reserves. But, as we would discover, at what cost?

After seeing the impact of rare earth mining myself, it’s impossible to view the gadgets I use everyday in the same way. As I watched Apple announce their smart watch recently, a thought crossed my mind: once we made watches with minerals mined from the Earth and treated them like precious heirlooms; now we use even rarer minerals and we’ll want to update them yearly. Technology companies continually urge us to upgrade; to buy the newest tablet or phone. But I cannot forget that it all begins in a place like Bautou, and a terrible toxic lake that stretches to the horizon.”

The Story of Electronics

The Story of Electronics explores the high-tech revolution’s collateral damage—25 million tons of e-waste and counting, poisoned workers and a public left holding the bill. Host Annie Leonard takes viewers from the mines and factories where our gadgets begin to the horrific backyard recycling shops in China where many end up. The film concludes with a call for a green ‘race to the top’ where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products that are fully and easily recyclable. Our production partner on the electronics film is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.