The Environmental Harm of E-mails and E-waste

by Trevor Laudate on Jan 25, 2022

The Environmental Harm of E-mails and E-waste

Written By Anna Eyler
2 minute read
  • E-mails and operating electronic devices require greenhouse gas-producing energy

  • Electronic waste can contaminate land, air, and soil when disposed of improperly

  • There are many ways to reduce the environmental impact of your internet habits and devices

The internet has revolutionized how we work, meet people, and connect with family and friends. Unfortunately, it has also produced environmental harm in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and waste. As eco-conscious people, it’s important to be aware of our environmental impact and to think about ways we can reduce the harm we do to the planet.

E-mails and Internet Searches

Most people think about the internet as some abstract concept —  a nebulous entity, a cloud. In reality, the internet is a system of interconnected computers. And all of these computers need energy to run. Every time you send an email, do a Google search, or stream entertainment, multiple electronic devices need to communicate with each other in order to send or receive information. These devices likely run off electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, which produce carbon emissions and contribute to climate change.

A standard e-mail has a carbon footprint of 4 grams of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), while a long e-mail with many attachments has a footprint of 50 grams of CO2e. These are very small amounts of carbon, but they add up over time, especially considering that about 4.1 billion people use the internet. 

The energy used to send e-mails, complete internet searches, and power our electronic devices produces 3.7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This percentage is similar to the carbon footprint of the global airline industry

Don’t stress yourself out about every e-mail you send; they’re a necessity in our modern world. However, if you’d like to implement a few practices to reduce your e-mail carbon footprint, here are some tips:

  1. Only send e-mails when necessary -- no one likes non-essential e-mails anyway!

  2. Compress attached images to reduce the size of your e-mail

  3. Write clearly and succinctly in order to cut down on follow-up e-mails; it saves carbon and time!

  4. Unsubscribe to e-mail lists you no longer want or need to receive


Even after you retire your old phone, computer, or T.V., your device can have a lasting impact on the environment. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a growing problem in the United States and across the world. According to the United Nations, the world produces about 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year, and only 20 percent of that is recycled.

Only 19 U.S. states have laws banning the disposal of e-waste in landfills. In the other 31 states, e-waste is often thrown into trash and recycling systems. The waste either ends up in a landfill or is incinerated. Electronics contain hazardous chemicals like lead and mercury, which can leak from landfills and contaminate groundwater and soil. Additionally, if the waste is burned, the plastics inside the electronics can release carcinogens into the air.

Technology has become ingrained into our daily lives, and it would be impossible to work and live without it. However, there are many ways you can decrease the amount of e-waste you produce and make sure it ends up in the most environmentally responsible place. 

Maximize the Lifetime of Your Current Devices

  1. Protect cell phones and other devices with sturdy cases and screen protectors

  2. Delete apps you don’t need to save the battery life on your phone

  3. Avoid extreme heat and cold -- temperature change can damage the battery

  4. Avoid fast charging -- lithium ion batteries prefer slow and steady

  5. Don’t charge from 0 to 100 percent, keep your battery between 20 and 90 percent charged, with 50 percent being the optimal amount

Donate and Recycle

Even if your state doesn’t have any laws against throwing e-waste into regular trash or recycling systems, there are likely recycling centers for e-waste near you. You don’t need to make a trip to the recycling center each time you get a new phone or have dead batteries: Instead, make an e-waste collection bin for your household and recycle it all at once a few times a year. You can find recycling centers that accept e-waste using this website or the EPA’s search tool

One Last Thing

If you’d like to take it a step further, you can offset your emissions with Ecodrive. You can help us plant mangroves trees in Madagascar that will absorb 680 pounds of carbon in their lifetimes! Whether you plant trees with us, recycle your electronics, or reduce the number of e-mails you send, thank you for taking steps to help our planet!