How Storing Fewer Photos Could Help Save the Planet


A person holding up a digital camera into the sky.

Want to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Store Fewer Photos.


In January of 1839, romantic painter Louis Daguerre, premiered the artifacts of his invention: the daguerreotype. These never-before-seen images were developed with highly toxic mercury fumes onto silver-plated sheets of copper. Other artists and scientists made great strides in developing photo-taking technology, but none could predict the revolution that would come with the advent of hand-held smartphones.


To put the numbers in perspective, by 1980, there were 25 billion photographs taken annually. By 2000, that number shot to 86 billion, but it is now estimated that by 2021, there will be 1.4 trillion photos taken every year. If that number doesn’t sound surprising to you, it should. If you spent one second looking at each picture taken in 1980, it would take you about 751 years to look at all of them. But to look at 1 trillion pictures, it would take you 31,688 years!


So, where are all of these pictures being stored? Some of us store our digital images on our computer’s hard drive, or even on an external hard drive. But these storage techniques are limited to your device’s memory capacity. Many of us have now turned to cloud storage, not only because of the limits of our device’s internal memory, but because we want our precious images to be safe from accidents like fires or floods. The cloud is a confusing concept to many. It is essentially data that travels from your device, through fiber optic cables to a data storage facility which, on average, takes up two hundred acres of land. Aside from land usage, storing and maintaining all this data takes A LOT of energy. In fact, experts estimate that storing data in the cloud uses a million times more energy than storing it exclusively to your device. Adding to that, the equipment in data centers cannot be turned off, and more energy is needed to keep the machines cool. Data centers are now responsible for 0.3% of global CO2 emissions, and this number is expected to climb exponentially in the coming decade.


What all this means is that the cost of safely storing our increasingly large loads of data presents an environmental challenge. Limiting and reducing the amount of data we are storing is one way that we can make a positive environmental impact by reducing our carbon footprint. Thinking about which photos to store, and which to eliminate can be a tough decision. And then there’s the problem of sorting through the large quantity of digital files we already own. Luckily, there are trained professionals that can help you clean up your photographic memories, while doing something positive for the planet.

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