At the heart of IoT innovation is a growing problem: waste. These devices are supposed to be helping our buildings create a more sustainable future, but many are not. Most IoT devices are battery operated, but even so they can be a problem. Batteries need to be replaced often, creating a negative impact on the environment. At the end of a device’s life, which in the fast paced world of IoT development isn’t long, it becomes e-waste, another growing problem. Taken on a granular level, these devices are a minor issue, but the scale presents the greatest challenge. Experts predict there will be nearly 50 billion IoT connected devices by 2023, a threefold increase from 2018. Sustainability must be the focus before the problem becomes a difficult situation.
IoT devices that need to be plugged in to transmit a wireless signal are the worst offenders of energy efficiency. Continuous wireless connectivity comes with its own energy costs. Even these low energy devices end up consuming more power than they claim, known as “phantom loads” or “vampire power” to electricity pros. Energy experts have calculated that the “phantom loads” of power that are invisibly consumed by these devices can account for as much as 15 percent of your electricity usage. Plugged in IoT devices contribute to unexplained energy usage, even in standby mode.
For sustainability purposes, battery powered IoT devices are preferable but each year consumers dispose of billions of batteries in landfills. The number of disposed batteries is growing at a dramatic pace as electric power grows in use. Experts worry mass adoption of electric vehicles could create a further tidal wave of battery waste. Battery capacity is then a critical issue. Low-energy batteries last longer but limit functionality while high capacity batteries need to be replaced more often, creating a delicate balancing act. As we add more computing and functionality to these devices, we lower the lifespan.
Most IoT devices will follow their former batteries and end up in a landfill themselves some day, most sooner rather than later. We’re barely a few years into the burgeoning IoT industry and the graveyard of failed devices already numbers in the thousands. The devices they replaced are being tossed into landfills in their own alarming numbers. If a company ever stops servicing a device or it loses connectivity, it then too becomes waste. Though the expected life cycle of a device depends on the type of device, generally speaking commercial IoT devices in smart buildings have a longer life cycle than consumer products. The scale and pace of innovation present a problem for device obsolescence. Converting to 5G will send millions of devices to the landfill alone.
A better IoT device is flexible, battery powered, with a long life that prevents equipment from being discarded into a landfill.
Disruptive Technologies’ (DT) wireless sensors are the smallest in the world at just 19 x 19 x 2.5 mm, roughly the size of the Apple logo on the back of an iPhone. They can measure temperature, touch, proximity, occupancy, water and humidity and stick to practically anything with industry grade adhesive, giving facility managers and occupiers a wide array of options for IoT monitoring. Their small size and low power usage means they can last up to 15 years. Because they can be placed anywhere, they can be added to existing equipment for monitoring and predictive maintenance, extending the life and saving equipment from the landfill.
“Their tiny size and long life ensure a minimum amount of waste in an IoT space that is already committed to digitization that brings sustainable benefits,” Disruptive Technologies CEO Bengt Johannes Lundberg said.
IoT devices like DT’s sensors promote efficiency and sustainability in their usage. The data generated and the device itself are geared towards sustainability, aimed at solving the growing problem of waste in the IoT industry.
A record number of 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was dumped globally last year, up 21 percent in five years, according to UN estimates. It’s difficult to say how much of that e-waste was IoT devices but experts say the industry surely plays a part fueling the problem. What’s worse, only 18 percent of e-waste gets recycled, meaning the vast majority of it is going straight to landfills. The attractive possibilities of IoT’s capabilities are accelerating device adoption with unintended consequences for sustainability. Product designers are focused on functionality and interoperability but very few are incorporating sustainability into the design process, fueling what some have dubbed as the Internet of Trash.
“Our sensor solution is designed with sustainability as its core value. And we see the best results when we collaborate with others through innovation,” Lundberg said. “Through our work with customers and partners, we are discovering more ways to be sustainable.”
E-waste is a global threat we all must manage. It’s critical for commercial users to understand life cycle sustainability of the technology they’re implementing. Small, battery-operated sensors with low energy impact and a long lifecycle will save electricity and space in our landfills. Green IoT isn’t just about the devices reducing greenhouse effects within the industries they help monitor but how they reduce the impact that IoT itself has on the environment.