How to keep your gadgets from choking the planet

The pandemic has made Americans more connected than ever. From smart TVs and internet-enabled toys to game consoles, the average home today has 25 connected devices.

This profusion of technology comes at a cost: a rushing river of e-waste. Gadgets are the fastest-growing category of garbage, as well as the most polluting. Old devices can leak toxic chemicals or catch fire. Recycling rates are dismal: typically less than a fifth of electronics are recycled each year.

“Globally, we are generating electronic waste weighing as much as 100 blue whales a day, and 80% to 81% of that will not be recycled,” said Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at iFixit, a community of electronics enthusiasts. the repair.

Faced with this crisis, some of the main technology companies have taken measures to reduce the environmental impact of their products. After years of effectiveness encourage planned obsolescence, Apple, Samsung and Google are allowing customers to repair some of their products, extending their useful life. Critics say that’s not enough, pushing companies to do more and government regulators to hold their own.

How do consumers recognize Earth day on Friday, they can take steps to reduce the impact of your technology and save money too. Here’s what environmental advocates suggest to get the most out of your devices.

Keep your device longer

When looking at new devices, the first question should be whether to buy one. If you can avoid getting a new smartphone or laptop, either by repairing an older model or installing a few upgrades to get another year of use out of an existing device, go for it, experts advise.

“The vast majority of a device’s carbon footprint comes from the manufacturing process,” said Chamberlain.

Americans buy about 161 million new phones each year, according to a recent study from US PIRG. If everyone kept a smartphone for an extra year instead of upgrading it, it would cut emissions as much as taking 636,000 cars off the road.

One of the main reasons people replace their phones is to get longer battery life. Replacing an old phone’s battery isn’t as easy as it used to be, but it’s still a way to extend the life of your device and it costs a lot less than buying a new one.

For example, iFixit sells an iPhone 12 battery replacement kit for $50, a repair the site rates as moderately difficult. Independent repair shops can also sometimes replace device batteries.

When buying a device, consider the longevity

When you buy a new device, find out how easy it is to upgrade or repair; that could have a big effect on how long you keep it. iFixit degrees smartphones, laptops Y tablets based on how easy they are to repair, and provides collaborative manuals for many devices.

Keep in mind that some of those ratings could change soon as some big tech companies promise to make it easier for people to fix their products. Apple has said that consumers will be able to buy parts to make the common repair for iPhone 12 and 13. Samsung March Announced a repair program for some Galaxy phones, and Google this month did the same for its pixel telephone. They are all set to launch sometime this year.

Beware of devices that use a lot of glue to attach components instead of screws or clips; that’s a sign that fixing it could be a challenge.

Consumers can also look for modular kits, which are designed to be easy to disassemble and customize. For example, Framework The laptop is a modular computer, while the Fairphone aims to be a sustainable smartphone.

Beware of cheap TVs

Flat-screen televisions are particularly problematic as they are often large and not built to last.

“We see so many flat-screen TVs that it’s depressing,” said Amanda LaGrange, executive director of Tech Dump, a nonprofit organization in Minnesota’s Twin Cities that refurbishes and recycles electronic waste.

“People often buy them on a Black Friday, for example, when some manufacturers, not all, are reducing the quality of the components. This is how they can make it cheaper.”

To avoid the cheapest options, LaGrange suggests consumers check the model number of the TV they want. “See if it sells any other time of year. And if it doesn’t, it’s probably cheaper and then you can’t repair that item cheaply.”

Buy renewed technology

Tech Dump’s sister organization, Tech Discounts, refurbishes used recent device models and sells them at a discount. Many nonprofit organizations and online marketplaces do the same thing.

Consumers shouldn’t shy away from used technology because they assume it won’t work as well, LaGrange said. Reputable retailers will perform rigorous testing on refurbished items, and many will sell items with return policies and warranties comparable to new devices.

“Once someone buys refurbished electronics, they’re much more likely to buy it again. It’s like buying a used pair of jeans for the first time,” he said. “People think: ‘Why was I throwing money away?’

Avoid the “denial stack”

When it’s time to dispose of old electronics, give them a second life by passing them on to a friend or donating them to a recycling or restoration centre. Many of these centres offer a financial bonus by allowing someone to write off the value of your donation.

But they should do it fast, rather than letting outdated technology pile up, LaGrange advises. She refers to the “denial pile,” where electronics that don’t work sit in a basement or garage for years. When someone donates them, they are often too old to restore and can only be thrown away.

“If you were to bring your iPhone X which is now in a drawer, it could be easily restored,” he said. “If you wait six more years, it’s not that easy.”

Support the “right to repair”

Despite a growing national movement around ensuring consumers can get their devices repaired, an issue that is overwhelmingly popular And that has bipartisan support in Congress: no state has yet codified that right into law.

That must change to reduce e-waste, said Nathan Proctor, head of the Right to Repair campaign at the Public Interest Research Group. “In terms of winning the argument, winning the public over, we’re in a really strong position,” he said. “In terms of fixing things, we’re just getting started.”

Currently, nine states are considering bills that strengthen consumers’ right to redress. In addition, three bills have been presented in Congress that would make it easier to repair rights to cars, electronics and tractors.

Pressure from the Biden administration, which has pushed for consumer redress rights, is one of the main reasons tech companies have softened their anti-remedial stance, in Proctor’s view. But making that change permanent requires putting new laws on the books.