Bright, Shiny and Not So New: Choosing Sustainable Electronics

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Bright, Shiny and Not So New: Choosing Sustainable Electronics

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In the lead up to Christmas 2020, 164 million phones and 60 million laptops were sold - that’s bonkers! A new phone or laptop can be a breath of fresh air if you are stuck using the slowest machinery known to man but what is the environmental impact of the devices we have all come to depend on? How can we safely get rid of our old ones? 

The life of a device  

The average phone lasts around 2-3 years. Whether this be because of a failing battery, old software or damage you are unlikely to get much more out of a device you use on the daily. A lot of people actually swap their phones WAY more regularly than that. When a new model comes out or a contract ends, you get a shinier, flashier model.  

A laptop is more likely to last 3-5 years, stretching a little longer than its smaller counterpart, but still not long in the grand scheme of things. Personally, I don’t think people change their laptops as often as phones not just because of the cost but due to how annoying the rigmarole of setting up a new one is. 

Getting rid...the right way  

Who’s guilty of hoarding old electronics? I know I have no fewer than 4 old phones in a drawer, all in different states of disrepair. It can feel a bit weird getting rid of something you rely on so heavily, even if you have the replacement all set up and ready to go. After my old laptop broke (RIP laptop), it felt so strange to walk out of the shop without it - I was missing a part of me. A lot of our lives are stored in these electronics so it can feel quite vulnerable entrusting it to a stranger. What is best practice for getting rid?  

If there really is nothing you can do, like my poor laptop, you should find the best place near you that recycles electronics. My laptop went to the local branch of Currys who assured me they would safely dispose of it - proud of their recycling scheme. They also recommend this website that will help you find your local recycling point.  Recyclenow has another locator  that can be helpful for finding other types of recycling as well.  

If your device is still functioning and you just fancied an upgrade, why not donate it so someone else can have it? There are loads of places that accept second hand phones and laptops, potentially for a bit of cash. This is a great way to support the planet because letting someone else get as much use out of it as possible increases the devices lifespan before they go on to (hopefully) recycle it themselves. 

Just a reminder, if you are not sure they will do it for you (or you are a little paranoid like me), make sure you wipe your data before handing over your device. It is always better safe than sorry in my mind.  

Something shiny and not so new 

What to do now, for those of you who might be investing our Christmas cash to buy a new gadget? Well, second hand is always a great option. It reduces waste by stopping devices ending up recycled or even in landfill and also decreases the need for new devices to be made, which use valuable resources.  

I myself am not a terribly techy person (as long as it works and has an alright camera I am sorted) but this helpful article has a bit more information about things like phones being ‘modular’ and things called ‘conflict minerals’. I found it interesting and it has definitely influenced my thoughts for my next phone purchase. Here is a similar article for laptops.  

It can feel a bit daunting investing in a second-hand piece of tech. You don’t know where it has come from or the damage that may be hidden inside. It is always better to buy second hand from a trusted seller so make sure you do a bit of digging before you commit. Don’t be afraid to really give it a once over as you are likely forking out quite a bit of money. This article has other handy tips for buying second hand and might help you avoid a risky purchase.  

Some companies sell their tech refurbished. These are devices that have previously been owned by someone else and have made their way back to the manufacturer somehow. They may have never had a fault but they get sold at a slightly lower price. Apple, for example, sell their phones with a new battery and outer shell and have a warranty as well as having been properly checked. Very handy and would definitely put my mind at ease if I was going to buy one.  

Hopefully I have given you some useful information and pointed you in the right direction for more advice! 

- Rach