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The Digital Waste Revolution: Best Practices for Businesses

The Digital Waste Revolution

The digital revolution of the 21st century has produced a new type of waste: digital waste. It includes the vast amount of information stored on computer hardware or virtual clouds. 

While digital waste might not be as visible as traditional forms of waste, it does not come without its own unique challenges. There are many reasons for a business to deal with digital waste. 

The truth is that managing waste streams effectively is part of running a business. The risk of digital technology gives managers another item to consider. 

Waste management companies can advise on strategies to manage digital waste, given its similarities to more traditional types of waste. 

What is Digital Waste?

Digital waste refers to two interconnected concepts. Firstly, it refers to the data stored on electronic items and virtual clouds. 

Storing documents virtually might reduce the amount of paper needed. Still, it does not mean the amount of information is any less. 

But this is not where digital waste ends. A holistic approach to digital waste includes the waste produced by our need for cloud and virtual storage. Think, for instance, of old hard drives and computer laptops. 

Digital Waste and E-Waste

One can say that digital waste and electronic waste (e-waste) are interconnected. While e-waste refers to all discarded electronic devices, digital waste includes the storage capabilities of these products. 

While digital waste and e-waste share common features, the two are not interchangeable terms. For one, digital waste includes things like modern cloud storage. Still, it does not include old electronic devices like landline phones and fax machines. However, e-waste does. 

Examples of Digital Waste

Some common digital waste items include.

  • Mobile phones
  • Laptop computers
  • External hard drives
  • Cloud Storage Servers
  • Email chains
  • Video Stream history
  • Virtual information

It should be noted that some of these examples of digital waste are not tangible, physical objects. This begs the question as to whether or not digital waste is real and whether it really needs to be disposed of. 

Is Digital Waste Real?

Digital waste is as real as other forms of waste, even if it is invisible or only exists in a virtual world. There are two reasons for this: 

  1. Digital spaces still require material spaces for storage
  2. Ineffective cloud storage does take up mental storage space
  3. The cost of managing and maintaining servers does produce waste

These points are worth unpacking as they speak not only to digital waste but to how waste functions as part of larger systems. 

Storing Digital Waste

Storing digital waste requires physical, tangible items like computer hardware and other large cloud storage. 

Even if a business does not see these items in their daily operations, they do exist and they do create waste. 

Old electronic storage devices end up in landfills at a very high rate. While many waste companies minimise this, the innovative nature of the electronics industry does result in a relatively short lifespan of products. 

Cloud Storage Must be Organised

The intangible nature of cloud storage makes this type of digital waste appear non-existent. It creates the impression that old information can be kept indefinitely because it does not occupy physical space. 

But this practice is itself inefficient.

Failing to manage storage is always a poor logistical decision, and this is no different for digital waste. Files can be lost and possibly deleted if they are not managed properly. 

Traditional waste management tactics can help to mitigate this risk. 

Digital Waste and the Larger Waste Cycle

Digital waste must be viewed with the larger waste cycle in mind. Just because something does not appear to produce tangible waste does not mean that it is entirely clean. 

While going paperless does mean that a business produces less paper waste, these businesses should consider how their waste systems might shift to producing new types of waste. 

For one, these storage facilities must be maintained. The waste produced by the cleaning teams is still waste. 

While it is not technically digital waste, its cause was a turn towards digital waste best practices. Ignoring these offshots is negligent and close-minded. 

8 Ways to Minimise Digital Waste

A tried and tested waste management strategy is to minimise the total amount of waste produced. This ensures that landfills are not overflowing and the people are more conscientious about their waste production. 

Managing digital waste by minimising its total production is equally sound. How, then, might a business do this? 

  1. Unplug devices to reduce energy consumption
  2. Minimise unnecessary emails and messages
  3. Reduce virtual call times and data usage
  4. Don’t record everything
  5. Audit current systems
  6. Incentivise digital waste reduction
  7. Separate the work from the personal
  8. Work alongside waste management companies 

Unplug Devices to reduce energy consumption

Unnecessary electronic devices create a good deal of waste. We all know to turn off a light switch when leaving a room, but the rise of digital waste has created a new practice that must be adopted. 

Laptops and computers should not run if they do not need to. Turning them off reduces things like the electricity bill. But it also turns off the apps that are running and gives the hardware a much-needed rest. 

Minimise Unnecessary Emails

Unnecessary emails are a major contributor to digital waste. They include short, often one-word responses and can be the result of poor communication across an office. At times, workers who are within walking distance of a college would send an email rather than leave their desks. 

While there are times when having a trail of communication is necessary, this is not always the case. Certain communications do not need a trail. A business leader who is firm about this can reduce their overall digital footprint. 

Reduce Virtual Call Times and Data Usage

Reducing virtual call times can help a business reduce their digital waste. While these calls might seem like a free, easy, and convenient way to meet with colleagues and potential clients, they can become unnecessary time eaters. 

This is partly because of the different, often more lax, approach to virtual meetings. Whereas people commonly arrive early for in-person meetings, digital meetings often run overtime. This increases the bandwidth required to maintain the internet and the waste cost connected to it. 

Don’t Record Everything

The ease of digital records has seen an increase in what is and is not captured. Because meetings can be so easily recorded, managers have tended to do just that. But when are they really needed? And are they ever looked at again?

There are benefits to recording everything, but there are waste implications that cannot be ignored. Simply forgetting about the digital space that these take up results in inefficiencies across the board. Recording smartly will help to reduce overall digital waste production. 

Audit Current Systems

Waste audits help businesses and managers better understand their current waste management systems. They’re great for established businesses and start-ups alike. 

Incentivise Digital Waste Reduction

Digital waste reduction works best when employees and employers alike are working together to find solutions. A great way to get employees on board and involved is to incentivise their efforts. 

Additionally, workers are often the ones producing the most amount of digital waste. Having them give their input will ensure that whatever solutions they suggest are relevant in their daily lives. 

Separate the Work for the Personal

Reducing digital waste involves understanding how and why it exists. The rise of at-home work has separated the clear distinction between work and business. Laptops can function as both personal computers and business property.

It is important for businesses to create some kind of distinction between how these two facets are stored and maintained. Ideally, separate accounts with different waste solutions should exist to minimise the total digital footprint liable to the company. 

Work Alongside Waste Management Companies

Waste management companies have years of industry relevant experience when it comes to waste solutions. This expertise should not be ignored when it comes to digital waste. Just because it is new does not mean it does not follow many common waste management features. 

Data Storage and Waste

Data storage is a relatively modern e-waste management practice. Its benefits include a reduced carbon footprint from using fewer items that require immediate disposal, such as paper. Overall, data storage can decrease pollution and the environmental consequences of using old, redundant materials.

However, this does not mean that data storage is a net zero waste producer. Data usage always requires some kind of energy consumption, whether through electrical power or other technology. This silent environmental impact must be considered.

Recycling Electronic Products

Recycling electronic devices and other digital technologies helps to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact that digital companies create. While relatively low, tech companies do create some pollutants that contribute to poor environmental practices.

Additionally, recycling helps to address the toxic substances common in these devices. Proper disposal through recycling ensures that necessary regulations are followed. Trained processing also minimises the risk of human error.