Debate on green digitalization: How can we extend the life of computer equipment?

Today saw the second talk in the "New Technologies and Digital Humanism" series, which is organised by Casa Amèrica Catalunya in collaboration with DIPLOCAT

The second talk in the "New Technologies and Digital Humanism" series, organised by Casa Amèrica Catalunya in collaboration with DIPLOCAT, took place this Tuesday. It forms part of a series of four talks on subjects such as the symbiosis between human and Artificial Intelligence, controlling the impact of technology on our lives, and finding a balance between technological innovation and human ethics.

On this occasion, the subject was "green digitalisation" and the need to move towards a circular economy that encourages us to reuse technology and consume less of it, in order to make technology accessible to all while preventing the depletion of natural resources.  Viviana Ambrosi, a lecturer at the Faculty of Computer Studies at La Plata National University in Argentina, and Mireya Roura, who is studying for a PhD in Sustainability at Catalonia Polytechnic University, gave presentations on the work they are doing to recycle and extend the life of computer equipment through their EKOA and eReuse schemes, respectively.

Roura began her talk by inviting everyone present to become "agents of change". Up to 75 elements in the periodic table are used in the manufacture of technology, and at our current rate of production and consumption we will have exhausted a significant proportion of these natural resources within the next 100 years. This, combined with the fact that child labour and slavery is often employed to extract these substances, invites us to reflect deeply on the need to lower our levels of technology consumption. Moreover, social inequality means that over 50% of people do not have access to a computer, while 80% of the technology waste generated by those who do is not recycled. Instead, this waste ends up at illegal dumps in Africa and southern Asia, where it has a harmful effect on the environment. Toxic substances leach into the soil and make their way to the sea, where, as a knock-on effect, they poison the fish that form part of our food chain.

According to Roura, we need to move from a linear economy to a circular one and change the order of the so-called "rule of the three R's" (recycle, reduce, and reuse). The more logical and sustainable order for this chain would be: promote the reduction of consumption; reuse computer equipment by repairing it; and lastly, recycle technology waste in order to conserve resources, promote social equity and protect the planet. In order to raise awareness of and facilitate these consumption habits, we need to focus on the use of technology rather than ownership of it, Roura added.

For her part, Ambrosi highlighted her work with the EKOA project, which is led by a group of academics and students at La Plata University in Argentina. Her role involves promoting the reuse and recycling of technology waste, with the additional aim of carrying out educational and awareness-raising activities to create jobs and tackle the high level of poverty in her country. According to Ambrosi, 56.2% of Argentinian children are living in poverty.

The participants in the EKOA project collect electronic devices from individuals, companies and institutions, fix those that can be repaired in order to extend their working lives, and separate the parts so that they can be reused or recycled, as applicable. As a result of the country's economic difficulties, there is a shortage of small parts for new equipment. The EKOA team overcomes this obstacle by using 3D printers to make new parts. Once the process is complete, the new computer equipment is offered to educational institutions for disadvantaged students, hospitals, and indigenous and immigrant communities. The project led by Ambrosi has three overall aims: to facilitate digital inclusion, social equity and care for the environment by reusing computer equipment and distributing it to those sectors of society for whom access to computer resources is limited.

At a time when technological progress is advancing at breakneck pace, when the amount of electronic waste is growing exponentially and the finite resources, we need to stay connected are running out, it is shocking to learn that nearly half of the global population still does not have access to a computer. Initiatives such as EKOA and eReuse go to great lengths to enable technology to be used for as long as possible and to recycle it at the end of its useful life, thereby minimising waste. The projects' actions are designed to help meet the challenge of digital sustainability while bringing technology within everyone's reach.