Cashless society: will it save the planet’s forests?

Recently, society has been increasingly using digital technologies: cashless payments are made without the use of banknotes, banks issue electronic statements, and paperless offices have appeared. This trend pleases many people who are concerned about the state of the environment.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that some of the companies that support these ideas are more profit driven than environmentally driven. So, let’s take a closer look at the situation and see if a paperless society can really save the planet.

Contrary to popular belief, the paper industry in Europe is already actively moving towards fully sustainable forestry practices. Currently, 74,7% of the pulp supplied to paper and board mills in Europe comes from certified forests.

Carbon footprint

The notion that paper consumption is the main cause of deforestation throughout the planet is not entirely correct, since, for example, the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon is the expansion of agriculture and cattle breeding.

It is important to note that between 2005 and 2015, European forests grew by 44000 square kilometers – more than the area of ​​Switzerland. In addition, only about 13% of the world’s forestry is used to make paper.

When new trees are planted as part of sustainable forest management programs, they absorb carbon from the air and store it in the wood for their entire lives. This directly reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“The paper, pulp and printing industries have some of the lowest industrial greenhouse gas emissions at just one percent of global emissions,” writes Two Sides, a paper industry proponent of initiative that opposes the many voices in the corporate world that denounce paper to promote their own digital services and products.

It is also important to note that cash made from sustainable materials is more environmentally friendly than debit and credit cards made from PVC plastic.

Mobile Phones

But the same cannot be said about the ever-expanding system of digital payments. With each new payment application or fintech company, more and more energy is consumed, which affects the environment.

Despite what we are told by plastic card companies and banks, cash payment is much more environmentally responsible than digital payment alternatives because it uses sustainable resources.

The cashless society that many people would like to live in is not at all environmentally friendly.

Computers, mobile phone networks, and data centers are partly responsible for the destruction of more than 600 square miles of forest in the US alone due to huge electricity consumption.

This, in turn, is linked to the coal industry. The environmental cost of producing a single microchip can be quite surprising.

According to a report by the United Nations University, conservative estimates put the amount of fossil fuels and chemicals needed to produce and use a single 2-gram microchip at 1600 and 72 grams, respectively. The report also added that the recycled materials used in production are 630 times the weight of the final product.

Thus, the production of tiny microchips, which form the basis of the digital revolution, does not have the best effect on the state of the planet.

Next, we need to consider the consumption process associated with mobile phones, devices that are said to replace money due to the possibility of digital payments.

In addition to the fact that large-scale mining activities have a devastating effect on the environment, the oil and steel industry has other problems associated with the production of phones.

The world is already facing a shortage of copper, and in fact, about 62 more elements are used in the production of portable devices, only a few of which are sustainable.

At the center of this problem are 16 of the 17 rarest minerals in the world (including gold and dysprosium), the use of which is necessary for the efficient operation of mobile devices.

global demand

Many of the metals needed to meet growing global demand for high-tech products from smartphones to solar panels cannot be replaced, according to a Yale study, leaving some markets vulnerable to resource shortages. At the same time, substitutes for such metals and metalloids are either insufficiently good alternatives or do not exist at all.

A clearer picture emerges when we consider the issue of e-waste. According to 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor, 44,7 million metric tons of laptops, computers, mobile phones and other devices are currently produced annually. The authors of the e-waste report indicated that this is equivalent to 4500 Eiffel Towers.

Global data center traffic is predicted to be 2020 times greater in 7 than in 2015, putting more pressure on power consumption and reducing mobile usage cycles. The average life cycle of a mobile phone in the UK in 2015 was 23,5 months. But in China, where mobile payments are made more often than traditional ones, the life cycle of the phone was 19,5 months.

Thus, it turns out that the harsh criticism that the paper industry receives, it does not deserve at all – in particular, thanks to the responsible and sustainable practices of European manufacturers. Perhaps we should reflect on the fact that, despite the commercial claims, going digital is not as green a step as we used to think.

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