Materials & the Environment

First introduction

We live surrounded by electronic devices and we can no longer do without them. However, we do not usually think about the consequences of their production, use and our consumption model. Even when we do, we tend to be unaware of the full complexity of the process.

Our use of electronic devices presents us with an ethical dilemma; they are indispensable to our daily lives but also pose a serious problem for the environment. Through the whole lifecycle of these products, although to a greater extent in the initial and final phases. Technology is one of the main sources of pollution, even if we don’t think about it every day when we use electronic devices. For example, did you know that one PC wastes at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemical products and 1,5 t of water?

If you want to learn more about materials used in technology and their environmental impact, this unit could be useful. Learning about the environmental cost of technology is important when you are using a makerspace.

Practical relevance

– This is what you will need the knowledge and skills for

You will learn how digital devices affect the environment, the environmental cost of a PC and what kind of new green materials can be adopted in electronics manufacturing. In this way, we can get an idea of ​​all the resources that are spent on average to manufacture the technology we use every day.

Overview of learning objectives and competences

In the first part of this module you will learn some important facts about how technology contributes to pollution and how technological development can impact the environment. You will gain more information and awareness about how technological devices can contribute to pollution. In the second part you will have an introduction to new materials in industries which can be used to reduce greenhouse gasses and learn about suitable green materials that can replace other more polluting ones.

Required skills for this module

Basic computer skills will be more than enough for this module. Learning to learn, an interest in environmental protection and curiosity are important to complete  this training.

How Technology Affects the Environment

Nowadays electronic devices and technology affect a lot of our lives, not only in terms of routine but also of environment. In fact, digital devices are one of the most polluting industrial products in the world. Their production is related to emission of carbon, which definition is quite explained in this way:

We live in a technological era, where today, electronic devices and technology greatly affect our lives, not only in terms of routine but also in the environment. This is a problem, since technology is changing day by day. In fact, digital devices are one of the most polluting industrial products in the world, for this it is necessary to detect polluting materials and replace them with green materials, of equal utility, but not polluting, respecting the environment and ensuring a higher quality of life. of the human being, thus managing to care for the planet.

Types of technological pollution

The use of practically any consumer good, such as technological products or services, has some kind of impact on the environment. If we had to classify different examples of technological contamination according to the associated risks, we could speak of those derived from the manufacture of technological products, their use and their final disposal when they end their useful life.

Manufacture of technological devices: fight for raw materials

Mobile phones, laptops, desktops, batteries, and all kinds of technological gadgets are made up of elements such as zinc, copper, iron, or aluminum, precious metals such as gold, platinum, or silver, and lesser-known metal compounds. coltan, as well as different types of plastics and glass.

The mining industry is the main supplier of the metallic raw materials necessary for the manufacture of electronic devices. Extracting and refining raw materials is an activity with a very large environmental and landscape impact. To complicate the situation, a large part of the mines are located in developing countries, especially on the African continent, many of them in failed states, with corrupt rulers and environmental legislation to say the least relaxed.

Data consumption and global warming

The popularization of technology and the improvement of communication networks cause an exponential increase in devices connected to the Internet. Through our mobile phones we request services, send messages and download music, in short, we increase data traffic over the network. And all this data contributes to technological contamination, since they need safe places to store and treat them, called data centers or data centers.

As the volume of data increases, the number of data centers to store it grows. These facilities need electricity to maintain servers, storage systems, networking devices and also cooling systems. Consumption is so high, 2% of the world’s electricity production, causing data center greenhouse gas emissions to be similar to that of airlines.

Large companies such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon work to mitigate the environmental contamination of their new technologies, seeking to reduce the energy consumption of their data centers, optimizing the systems and algorithms and also locating many of them in low temperature areas, where it is easier to cool servers without consuming power.

Waste from electrical and electronic equipment

Today almost any technological device is replaced long before the end of its useful life. Some dishonest industry practices, such as planned obsolescence, represent one of the clearest examples of technological contamination, in a way that consciously reduces the half-life of an electronic device to force the consumer to buy a new one.

But, as we have seen before, all these devices contain metals and chemical compounds that, if not treated correctly, can cause technological pollution with consequences for the environment.

Very few people are aware that the production of polluting materials is related to carbon emissions, the definition of which is explained in this way:

Carbon Footprint
Carbon footprint is related to the quantity of greenhouse gasses made by human activities, usually expressed in tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

You can easily calculate the carbon dioxide emissions looking at the fuel consumption. (for the  time period of a year). One of the most polluting industrial production activities is the production of digital devices, like smartphones, computers ecc. Why does it happen? Because the materials that made a smartphone are quite difficult to extract, and it produces plenty of carbon emissions.

Today, almost all the activities we carry out (mobility, food, manufacturing processes …) and goods that we consume and use (household appliances, household products, boilers, refrigerators, …) involve energy consumption, which means contributing to emissions into the atmosphere and consequently participating in global warming of the planet.

To reduce the carbon footprint, we can all take action, even on a personal level. It is mainly about changing certain habits and acquiring others more respectful with the environment, and consequently with ourselves.

Individual actions to reduce the carbon footprint:

The instructions to follow are: avoid superfluous energy expenditure and try to make consumption as renewable as possible. Examples to reduce the carbon footprint:

Reduce the volume of waste:

Bring our own cloth bag when we go shopping. Avoid buying packaged products or if we buy in bulk use a single bag for different products. Reuse packaging as much as possible: bags, bottles, boxes … Use recycling bins properly. Limit driving: avoid traveling that we can do on foot and use other means of transportation, such as public transport, bicycle, electric scooter … 

Save energy consumption:

Make sustainable use of household appliances:

reduce the number of washing machines taking full advantage of their capacity, use lower temperature programs and not use the dryer as much.

Use energy saving light bulbs.

Disconnect electrical devices when we do not use them, such as the mobile charger, TV screens, computer … if we leave it connected it continues to consume energy, that is why they are called “energy vampires”.

Examples of electronic and digital contamination Did you know how much your PC production wastes? Each PC wastes 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemical products and 1,5 t of water.

What is the real cost of your mobile? The material origins of your smartphone. The total use of resources throughout the life of a product, from extraction to final disposal, is known as an “ecological backpack”.

The ecological backpack of our technological devices is very heavy, much greater than its actual weight. To produce 1 smartphone, 44.4Kg of natural resources are used. For 1 computer, more than 1 ton.

"To get all the metal contained in all the mobiles in circulation today, it has been necessary to dig and process 450 million tonnes of rock, 12 times the weight of all the cars that circulate in the United Kingdom"
The Great Recovery: e-Waste and the United Nations

If you are shocked about knowing how your personal devices affect the planet,well… you should know that also being connected with your electronic devices disturbs the environment a lot!

Let’s see how it happens.

Fun Fact:

What you may don’t know about

    • Internet is responsible for the 2% greenhouse gasses at global level
    • Sending and email with attachment is like to turn on a light bulb for 24h
    • Watching a video on your smartphone is like to turn on a fridge for one year
    • Mailing 100 employers for one year is like to take 13 flights New York-Paris


What have I learned in this module?

Through this module, you have been able to raise awareness about the need to care for our ecosystem and its importance.

You now know about different ecological and common materials for the realization of the fab-lab and industry 4.0, and how these materials can replace others much more polluting, which benefits the environment. You have discovered its properties, and its functionality.

You have known Some innovative solutions in order to avoid pollution in the field of technology, as well as real statistics, and the need to innovate in green.

The importance of recycling materials, key to achieving, an improvement in our ecosystem, as well as an improvement in the quality of water and air, essential for health, and protecting the earth.

We have also learned that “green” electronics is becoming more ubiquitous

As consumer demand continues to grow for more environmentally friendly products, and the line continues to blur electronic and organic products, “green” materials will become even more prevalent in electronic production.

Whether in the form of wearable technology or greener products, we are likely to see electronic products that are continually better for the environment. As demand for “green products” continues to grow, expect the electronics industry to appease the consumer and, in some cases, to improve its own products as well.


Atom: The atom is the smallest constituent unit of matter that has the properties of a chemical element.Each solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is made up of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are microscopic

Barium: A chemical element that is a silvery-white soft metal, is alkaline and combines very easily with oxygen.

Beryllium: Chemical element with atomic number 4, atomic mass 9,01 and symbol Be; It is a very light gray metal that is obtained from beryl and is used in the manufacture of aircraft and X-ray tubes, in nuclear reactors and in computers, lasers, television, etc.

Composition: Set of ordered elements

Cooling systems: The so-called refrigeration systems or refrigeration systems correspond to mechanical arrangements that use the thermodynamic properties of matter to transfer thermal energy in the form of heat between two or more sources, as required

CO2: CO2, or carbon dioxide, is a colorless, dense, and poorly reactive gas, which is part of the layer of the atmosphere closest to Earth. It has a great impact on the so-called greenhouse effect and its concentration has increased in the last 160 years.

Environment: The environment, environment or natural environment encompasses all living and non-living beings that interact naturally, which means that in this case it is not artificial. The term is most often applied to Earth or parts of Earth

Pollution: Environmental pollution or pollution is the introduction of substances or other physical elements into a medium, which makes it unsafe or unfit for use.The medium can be an ecosystem, a physical medium or a living being. The pollutant can be a chemical, energy

Fab Lab: It is a space for the production of physical objects on a personal or local scale that groups computers-controlled machines capable of manufacturing almost anything we can imagine

Glass: Hard, transparent material, used to make windows, bottles, and other objects

Green materials: A construction material is considered green when its extraction, production, operation and final disposal process has a low environmental impact, is economically viable, is manufactured by local labor, and during its useful life does not harm the quality of life. of living things that interact in their context

Materials contaminants: A substance found in a medium to which it does not belong or that does so at levels that can cause (adverse) effects on health or the environment.

Polymers: Chemicals that result from a polymerization process.

“proteins, starch or natural rubber are polymers synthesized by living beings”

Recycle: Recycling is a process where the raw materials that make up the materials that we use in our daily lives, such as paper, glass, aluminum, plastic, etc., once their useful life cycle is finished, are transformed again into new materials.

Smartphone: Cell phone with touch screen, which allows the user to connect to the internet, manage email accounts and install other applications and resources as a small computer

Storage Systems: Storage systems are those in which the goods or load units are placed on racks, to optimize space (surface / height). Shelves are independent structures of the building that are fixed to the floor or ceiling and the merchandise is deposited on them.

3D Printing: 3D printing is a group of addition manufacturing technologies where a three-dimensional object is created by superimposing successive layers of material