Report or white paper

Internet of Waste: The case for a green digital economy

The internet’s environmental impact is increasing at a staggering rate and it is time for Europe to act. This report lays out a plan to clean up the internet.

The internet’s environmental impact is increasing at a staggering rate and it is time for Europe to act. This report lays out a plan to clean up the internet.

Within a few short decades, the internet has become an indispensable part of our lives, powering business and trade, accelerating research and innovation and keeping us connected during times of crisis. Looking towards 2030, the emergence of new technologies – from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the Internet of Things (IoT) – is only going to deepen the interdependence of our material and digital lives.

But as the internet grows increasingly complex, and with it our demands on hardware and services, the environmental impact of this digital infrastructure threatens to spiral out of control. By 2030, the internet could contribute as much as 25 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and the IoT could create unprecedented amounts of electronic waste.

As Europe emerges from the COVID-19 crisis and sets out a plan for socio-economic recovery, it must urgently address and resolve the tension between our growing reliance on connected technologies and our ambitions for environmental sustainability.

Key findings

  • As Europe embarks on an ambitious recovery plan and anticipates future crises, it should transition towards a socio-economic model that is at once more digitally connected and greener.
  • This twin transition presents a significant challenge. Although considered intangible, our digital lives have a material impact on the planet. If left unchecked, the exponential growth in internet-enabled devices and data-intensive services will account for a significant share of our environmental footprint.
  • At the same time, the twin transition is an opportunity for Europe to demonstrate its technological and competitive edge. In this report, we show how through integrating the full cycle into policy, improving designs and repairability, informing consumers about their decisions and incentivising green buying, Europe and its partners could lead the world in the development and promotion of sustainable internet technologies.