Energy use, sustainability, and a plethora of plastic waste in our oceans — These topics are receiving more and more attention in the daily news or in the governments. The rapid rise of green party members in parliament also shows: Conservation is no longer a niche affair. People are worried about their home planet and are actively seeking solutions to tackle global warming. Digitisation and artificial intelligence can become an important piece of the puzzle in this mission.
More effective resource utilisation protects trees
Germany is the world champion again! Isn’t that good? No, not this time. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, they’re the world leader in paper consumption. Every German goes through more than 250 kilograms of paper per year on average. That is as much as the continents of Africa and South America combined. In addition to wood, a variety of other important resources such as water and energy are required for paper production.
The production and use of recycled paper protect our forests. But digitisation can also make a significant contribution to paper reduction. Thanks to e-mail, the elimination of invoices in packages, or e-government, less paperwork is printed.
And maybe Europeans will one day learn from our friends in Asia: thanks to the bidet, they are looking for toilet paper in vain. If one were to pile up the toilet paper consumed annually in Germany alone, this would result in a height of 16,000 kilometres – 20 times to and from the ISS.
AI predicting demand
Nobody wants it to happen, but more than 18 million tons of uneaten food per year end up in Germany. According to WWF, this corresponds to one-third of their food consumption. A large part of this is disposed of by supermarkets.
We consumers now assume that all types of vegetables and fruits are generally fresh at any time of the year. Therefore, more is usually ordered and rather thrown away before attracting the displeasure of its buyers. Retailers, therefore, have a hard time accurately predicting customer demand. With the use of artificial intelligence, this demand can be analysed more precisely in the future. All data from past sales, weather, and trends flow into the clever machine learning solution and take the demand forecast to a new level. This way, product availability can be optimised.
Artificial intelligence fishes plastic out of the trash
The company “The Ocean Cleanup” has set itself the task of freeing our seas from plastic waste. With fully autonomous fishing nets, the new technology goes in search of its prey. It collects a large part of the plastic waste and manages to bring it to landfall. Thanks to solar energy, the plant is climate-neutral and the inhabitants of the seas are left alone.
The discovery of the plastic streams is currently still being researched and carried out by aircraft with infrared spectrometers. Subsequently, the material is evaluated by human researchers. In the future, satellites and artificial intelligence will take over this job so that the oceans can be freed from our garbage faster and more efficiently.
One click, one tree
Searching the web while planting new trees? That’s what the Berlin-based startup Ecosia is promising. While other companies earn money by clicking on sponsored search queries, this search engine supports our environment. 40 searches equals one tree. More than 43 million trees have already been planted. The search engine uses Bing’s algorithm.
Is Apple enough as just a logo?
What about the big players from Silicon Valley? How green are they? Since 2017 Google’s been able to run their data centres and offices on 100% renewable energy. A large part of it is being produced by themselves, too. Even more, Google has invested in many renewable energy projects as energy demands will continue to grow in the future.
Apple also runs every single location of theirs on 100% renewable energy. At Apple Park, their spaceship-looking campus, the whole roof of the building has solar panels. With Daisy, a robot that can disassemble products, Apple recycles old products and gets to reuse materials.
The flip side of the medal
Only a small part of electronics make their way back to modern recycling plants at the end of their life. Too many just end up in the garbage and never make their way back in a new product. The mining of rare metals such as tantalum or indium is becoming increasingly difficult. They’re still indispensable for cameras and smartphones, as there are no alternatives.
Yet, it shows that clever innovations can protect our environment and make our current single planet viable for longer.
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