More related objects = more pollution?

The number of phones, connected or not, working or not, in circulation in France in 2020 is now estimated at 137 million.

It is twice the population of France. If smartphones are the best-selling connected things today, the explosive growth of the Internet of Things in general continues to invade our daily lives. Today we find Connected objects for almost all usesin all areas of activity.

  • For the home: thermostats, voice assistants, refrigerators … all connected;
  • In the office: badges, cameras, presence detectors, etc .;
  • “Wearable devices”: smart clothes, watches, and connected headphones;
  • For industry: robots, cobots, sensors for predictive maintenance, productivity, traceability…;
  • For agriculture: biodata sensors (temperature, moisture measurement, etc.), smart irrigation, connected collars and chips for animals, drones;
  • Smart City: Connected collective equipment (traffic lights for example), cameras, sensors to measure air quality, smart meters.

These things have become so widespread today, in large part because their costs are constantly dropping, even if that means they become brittle things and are quickly replaced. Hence the amount of digital waste related to IoT is increasing sharply in recent years. According to a report by Ademe, approximately 244 million connected items were listed in France in 2021. Globally, this number is still in 2021, reaching the level of 10 billion connected digital products.

but that is not all. The report published by Ademe predicts that the global Internet of Things market will be around $1,500 billion by 2025, ten times the value of 2018. The growth of Connected Objects is therefore exponential, as is the case with WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) that produces. Because in addition to the wear and tear of some connected objects, two important factors must be taken into account: the durability of the batteries. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, users consider the connected object to be unusable when the battery stops working. An idea received that time and teaching methods should disappear in the future. The second factor is the ability of manufacturers to offer connected objects that can be subject to software updates for the life of the object in question. This is not the case today, even if some countries, like FranceLegislation in this sense forces manufacturers to provide updates for all of their devices, even those that are no longer sold.

The emergence of connected objects is inevitable, and their mode of operation, which requires sensors, software, and network farms to collect and link data between the various objects connected to the system, already generates waste electrical and electronic equipment that can be more complex to recycle, given its size and number.

The International Energy Agency predicts an astronomical number of connected organisms around the world by 2030: at least 46 billion of these products should be in circulation.

Ongoing studies attempt to assess the environmental impacts of these uses, but this is a very complex task.

Thus, it is still uncertain, at the present time, that the connected objects that are intended to be used to improve the energy performance of certain systems, have a significant positive impact on the environment, since their processes consume more energy than that provided by their use.

In conclusion, it is therefore urgent to determine as accurately as possible the environmental impacts associated with the Internet of Things, in order to better assess the interests of the different technologies used to improve the energy performance of systems.

Written by Pierre Thüferez

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