Climate change: Posting pictures online and storing emails add to environmental crisis, says report

Taking unnecessary photos by people in the UK has helped add more than 300,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.

The average UK adult takes almost 900 photos a year, with Britons admitting to taking an average of five pictures for every one they post online, according to a report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

Unwanted pictures alone contributed to over 355,000 tonnes of CO2 every year: the equivalent to the entire population of Chelmsford flying to Australia and back.

The average tree removes 500g of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

A survey of 2,000 UK adults also found that only a quarter of respondents delete additional shots they take, leaving millions of identical images being added to storage every week.

Of those who do delete their excess pictures, fewer than one in six (16%) say it is because of environmental reasons, according to the research, which labels such practices as "dirty data habits".

Researchers say the duplicated and unwanted images left in storage could help accumulate 10.6kg of CO2 emissions annually for every adult in the UK.

This is based on the energy used and carbon footprint generated by data storage, either personally or on shared servers.

Carbon dioxide is emitted due to the energy needed to run devices and power wireless networks.

More subtly, but perhaps even more energy intensive, are the data centres and vast servers needed to support the internet and store the content people access over it.

A British Airways plane takes off at Heathrow airport. Credit: AP

Reports suggest the carbon footprint from gadgets, internet use and the systems supporting them account for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions – on par with the airline industry.

These emissions are predicted to double by 2025.

Passive streaming sessions were also highlighted as wasting huge amounts of data, which increases carbon footprints.

While most people (73%) regularly stream content through services like Netflix, Amazon, iPlayer, or Disney+, over half (52%) admit their attention is elsewhere.

Half the respondents said their attention is actually on their smartphone when they were streaming content on services such as Netflix. Credit: PA

It is estimated that one hour of video streaming generates a carbon footprint of approximately 55g of CO2.

Chris Cartwright, chair of the digital panel at the IET said: “The vast majority of data in the world today has been generated in the past two years; a trend showing no signs of slowing. This is why we all have a responsibility to change our habits. “Deleting unwanted emails and photos, limiting 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 people can easily make to lead a more sustainable online lifestyle.”