Sometimes buying a new device isn't our best option
Buying a new device vs. making what we have work. I think about this dilemma a lot. Why? Number one, I want to make sure my clients have the best setup for their particular situation. Number two, I like to save people money. Number three, our society has a rapidly-growing problem of electronic waste ("e-waste"), and I want to add as little to the pile as possible.
What is e-waste anyway?
From one of my previous posts, you may have read about how the phones, computers, printers, TVs, and cords we throw out contribute toxic materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium into the ground in our landfills. Additionally, these devices don't disappear. They're not biodegradable so they just continue to pile up. According to the Global e-Waste Monitor Report, 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019. To put that into something visible for comparison, it's roughly the same weight as 535 aircraft carriers.
What can we do when our shiny-new tech becomes our faded-old tech?
When that smartphone starts to lose its ability to hold a charge after a few years, you can try replacing the battery instead of buying a new one. A new battery can usually be replaced in a few minutes, and it certainly costs less than a new phone. Likewise, if your computer is annoyingly slow, or is running out of storage, all it may need is new memory cards or a new hard drive. These are easily installable. There are many places around Ann Arbor that offer such services.
What's the hidden impact of buying a new device?
Perhaps even more important than saving money, is keeping your device out of the mountain of e-waste that's piling up. Moreover, the carbon footprint of making something new is probably higher than you ever imagined. For example, according to Apple, making a brand new iPhone 11 Pro 512 GB creates 83.52 kg (184.16 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e). This is roughly the same amount of C02e as a Delta flight from Detroit to Chicago.
Why is the environmental impact so high? In order to make a new device, raw materials must be sourced, mined, processed, etc. Those materials then go to a manufacturing plant to make the device. The device is then packaged and shipped multiple times (to the company's warehouse, to the store or another warehouse, and often to the consumer). Here's a graphic that shows the life cycle of the aforementioned iPhone 11 (note that using the phone only accounts for 13% of the CO2 emissions):
So why is this tech guy sounding so preachy?
My goal is always to make sure that each of my clients has the best setup. This includes providing and teaching about exactly what each individual needs–including saving money. As a rule of thumb, I say to people, keep fixing and upgrading your device until it doesn't do what you need it to do, or it no longer works. Then, if you need to buy something new, I'll help you find what's right for you. If we can't fix it, then let's recycle it. If it still works, but you'd rather have the latest version, then let's donate your old device so someone else can use it.
Saving money is nice. Saving the environment is also nice. In this case, we can do both.