Girl on phone with laptop


Who knew data could be so dirty?

Tech > Who knew data could be so dirty?

You can read this in 5 minutes

The endless selfies, the scenic snaps and our favourite food porn pics are all part of our carbon footprint!

27 October 2021, 4:21 PM


How many photos do you have on your phone right now? It’s a lot, isn’t it? Brits have admitted to taking an average of five photos to get the perfect selfie and some even admitted to taking ten or more for every photo they post online.

But why are we telling you this? Well…

In our super-duper connected lives, the data we now rely so much on also comes with a hidden carbon cost which most of us don’t realise.  

The average person takes almost 900 photos every single year and the duplicated, unwanted images left in storage alone could accumulate to 10.6kg of CO2 emissions annually for every adult in the UK. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of over 112,500 return flights from London to Perth, Australia. So basically, our photo hoarding carries a higher carbon cost per year than round the world flights! We’ll just let that sink in a moment… 

Britain’s trigger-happy social snappers contribute to more than a whopping 355,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year through unwanted pics alone! The new study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found just a quarter of those surveyed delete additional shots they take, leaving millions of identical images being added to storage every week.  

The endless scrolling and snapping is damaging our planet due to the carbon hungry energy it takes to service and store the data. So, what are these dirty little habits, we hear you ask?

  • Failing to delete duplicated pictures from our phones
  • Using two or more devices at once
  • Passive streaming – focusing on another device when streaming TV or video content, like Netflix, iPlayer or Disney+
  • Not clearing archives from messaging services, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger
  • Holding onto old text messages – just let it go!

Yikes! How many of us are guilty of doing these on a daily basis?

It’s estimated that one hour of video streaming generates a carbon footprint of approximately 55g of carbon dioxide, and with Brits spending almost 40 hours a week on average watching streaming services and online videos, over the course of a year, this quickly racks up to over 113kg of CO2.

But don’t worry, it’s not all bad! The IET’s survey also shows that 71% of us desire to be more sustainable with 66% believing everyone has an individual role to play in protecting the planet from climate change. Phew, that’s more like it!

From deleting unwanted emails and photos, limiting our use of the ‘reply all’ function, turning off auto-play on podcasts, Netflix or Amazon Prime and even having a ‘video off’ Zoom day, these are all small changes we can easily make to lead a more sustainable online lifestyle.

Here are some top tips to lower your data carbon footprint and be more sustainable online:  

  • Delete the dupes: Make a habit of deleting all your duplicated photos – it’s fine to perfect that perfect shot for Instagram, but simply deleting unwanted shots could make a huge difference to your carbon footprint.
  • Clean out your cloud: Don’t forget about your cloud storage. Clean this out regularly too to save much needed data space – and slash your emissions in the process.
  • Wipe the WhatsApps: Let’s be honest, most texts, messenger service messages and WhatsApps from 2015 probably don’t need to be kept, so spring clean your messages, and get yourself in the habit of deleting old groups you don’t use anymore.
  • Unsubscribe all: when you’re deleting emails from your inbox, take a minute to think about if you need to be subscribed to that mailing list at all. Save space, and the planet!
  • Face free day: Have a ‘video off’ day when you can; if you don’t need your camera on for meetings, occasionally turn it off to save data.
  • Step away from the phone: when watching TV or a streaming service put your phone away. Maybe even leave it in another room to resist the temptation to scroll as you watch. You’ll enjoy your show more and cut your carbon all in one simple move!
  • Auto play; off: Switch off the ‘auto play next episode’ function on your streaming services and use the handy ‘sleep timer’ on your devices if you listen to music or podcasts as you drift off. Your cat doesn’t need to hear 8 hours of True Crime or rainforest soundscapes!

So, all you happy snappers out there, think you can ditch the dupes to slash your carbon footprint? Head over to our social channels and let us know…

Next article: A cuppa what now?

Warning: may blow your mind!

Check out our top picks


The food waste app that’s revolutionising the way we eat


Saving the ice caps, one bead at a time


The future of sustainable fashion

Incredible people, unbelievable stories


We can all
change the world

We are #DifferenceMakers, a ground-breaking movement inspiring us all to make a change, no matter how big or small, by sharing remarkable stories of how engineering and technology are saving the world around us. Expect the unexpected – from super sustainable fashion and squeaky clean streaming, to apps that combat food waste and
tech to stop the ice caps melting.

We’re changing the way everyone sees engineering and technology, and proving they're a force to be reckoned with when it comes to saving our planet! If you care about making a difference and want to learn more, then join our movement today.

#DifferenceMakers was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) – one of the world’s largest engineering institutions and a diverse home for everyone in engineering and technology.