Tallinn University of Technology

January 26th is a digital clean-up day, in which Tallinn University of Technology also participates. Digital trash is invisible to users as long as the devices start to get stuck, the solution for this problem is either cleaning or buying more storage space. However, excessive files and Internet traffic burden not only devices, but also the environment. Therefore, it is worth thinking about what to send to the Internet and regularly organize all your devices and materials backed up to the cloud.

Servers in action. Photo: Torkild Retvedt, Creative Commons

Dance videos on Tik-Tok, pictures of cats, food and yourself on Instagram, and an endless number of Netflix series are a great way to kill time, but not only. The impact of our digital actions on the environment is immeasurable, but every email, social media post and web search, not to mention a meeting via video or a movie watched via streaming, has a cost in carbon currency. There is always a server somewhere that processes that letter, post or search, shows a movie or backs up blurry travel pictures, and a lot of energy is burned to run that server. How much is up to us: it makes sense to back up only what is needed to the cloud, to delete redundant images and files that have become useless on an ongoing basis, and to save on empty letters and posts.

The Internet consumes energy in two ways: first, equipment production and logistics, and second, power consumption and cooling. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global internet traffic exceeded 3.4 zettabytes (3.4 trillion gigabytes) in 2021. It takes 0.06 kWh to transmit one gigabyte, which means that 252 TWh of electricity is consumed every year just for data transmission. In 2020, 8.44 TW/h was consumed in the whole of Estonia, so it can be said that the energy of nearly 30 small countries was spent on internet traffic. Video and audio streaming is one of the biggest drivers of data explosion, accounting for around 63% of internet traffic. It has been calculated that the IT sector is responsible for around 3.7% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and uses around 4-10% of the world's electricity. In 2017, Greenpeace calculated that the global electricity demand of the IT sector was lower than only China and the USA in a country comparison.

If the digital cleaning day is undertaken only when the digital space is full or a campaign is announced, the major cleaning will take a long time. Helen Sooväli-Sepping, vice-rector of TalTech's Green Transformation, admits that digital cleaning is not her strong point, but luckily there are clean up apps made for this, which, as digital brooms, help create digital cleanliness. Tidying up your digital history also has more tangible bonuses than a cleaner planet: devices work better and last longer when they're not groaning under overload, and the less you keep your data in different environments, the less chance you have of being attacked online. In addition, you save time, because it is easier to find what is important in a cleaner digital space.

A week before the date, Telia's digital cleanup day website had registered the deletion of nearly 3,500 gigabytes of data, which is equal to the data volume of approximately over a million photos, over half a million music files or 3,500 full-length movies. Join TalTech's digital cleaning day here.

Where to start?

  • Delete apps you don't really use.
  • Ditch the newsletters you don't actually read.
  • Empty the recycle bins and downloads folders of your devices and environments.
  • Delete files you don't really need from the email server and cloud banks. Start with the biggest ones.
  • Abandon video transmission if sound is sufficient.
  • Drop the video in HD or 4K quality if standard quality is enough.
  • If you know what you're looking for, go straight to the right page instead of searching the web.
  • Organize photo albums both on your device and in the cloud where they are backed up - delete duplicate photos and pointless pics and keep only the ones you really want to see again.
  • Think about what your social media post gives to the world. If you can't figure it out, don't post.
  • If the image or file is available online, don't email it, just link to it. If not and you need to send it to several people, upload it yourself and link to it.
  • Block spammers. Redirecting them to a separate folder is still a resource for your devices and email servers!
  • Do all this regularly, not just on digital cleaning day. How does the last Friday of every month sound?

In addition to digital cleaning:

  • Shut down your computer when you are away for at least two hours.
  • Use your devices as long as possible. Look for a repair before buying a new one.
  • Take old electronics to the waste station, not the household waste bin.

More information:

Digital cleanup day in TalTech

Telia digital cleanup campaign

Let's do it! digital cleanup 

How to reduce IT-footrpint, TalTech

5 Tips to Delete Digital Trash, Delfi Ärileht, in Estonian

Tips for Cleaning Your Computer, Digitark, in Estonian 

Guide of Digital Trash for Enterprises, Tallinn Univeristy, in Estonian

How to Make Space in Your Computer And Different Digital Environments, Tartu University, Department of IT, in Estonian

The Basics of Reducing Digital Trash, e-course of Digital Country Academy, in Estonian

Why clean up digital and e-trash?

Excess data I.e. digital waste

  • Benefits to climate and your wallet - before obtaining more data capacity, get rid of the excess digital trash. By emptying your cloud and disk space, you save money and energy.  (Read more.) 
  • Safety - careless storage of data may be a safety risk. (Read more.) 
  • Less confusion and noise - finding and sharing information will become simpler. (Read more.) 
  • Longer usage time - you can use your devices longer and your storage capacity will be greater.

Old electronic devices I.e. e-waste:

  • Fastest growing trash type.
  • In 2019, over 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced in the world and only 17% was documented as formally collected and recycled. (Read more.) 
  • Only 20% of old electronic devices is reused. However, about 99% of materials could be reused.