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What Can Consumers Do About the Growing E-Waste Problem?

Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

Every year more than 50 million tons of e-waste are created. That’s 50 million tons of our old electronics that are making its way into our landfills. Only 12.5% of that waste is recycled. Considering e-waste doesn’t break down, and even worse, can leach harmful chemicals into our soil, this is a problem that we need to resolve. Thankfully there are plenty of ways that consumers can make a big impact on reducing e-waste right now.

Steps to Prevent the E-Waste Problem:

  • Repair your broken devices

  • Hand-Me-Downs

  • Re-purpose components

  • Purchase used devices

  • Recycling

Devices Don’t Need Regular Upgrades As Often As You Think

You don’t need to upgrade electronic devices as often as you might think. Many of the gadgets we use will function for our needs for multiple years. We can reduce the amount of e-waste that’s generated by simply not buying new gadgets.

Cell phone carriers would love if customers purchased new cell phones every two years. It’s another revenue stream for them. Their marketing is geared towards inducing FOMO (fear of missing out). Other brands, like Apple and Samsung, advertise themselves as being a luxury product and status symbol. They also try to make you feel like you have the worst phone if it’s more than couple years old.

The same can be said for computers. Having the latest processor, graphics card, or SSD isn’t going to dramatically improve performance. Performance gains are often incremental. Most IT professionals usually recommended that you not upgrade your PC system unless you are going to get at least a 100% gain in performance over your old system.

Smartphones and laptops are nothing more than tools. They help us get jobs done. I recommend taking a personal inventory of what you use your devices for. Does your old device still complete the job? If it does, there isn’t a reason to upgrade. For most people, using an iPhone 7 still works great. It’s just as fast as an iPhone 10 for most apps. Newer phones have a nicer camera, but they are only marginally improved. Likewise, a 5-year-old laptop will still work for most people. Unless someone has a specific need, like playing games, editing video, or creating 3D renders, you shouldn’t need to upgrade often.

Repair Your Broken Devices

Sometimes our gadgets just break. It happens. When they do break it may be worthwhile to fix it instead of buying a new device.

If one of your devices breaks, start to weigh the pros and cons of replacing it. How old is it and, how much would it cost to buy a replacement? For example, a new iPhone can sell for more than $1000. If its screen might break, a screen replacement may only cost $200-$300 from reputable repair services, though. That’s a big difference in price.

Likewise, say that you have an iPhone 7 with a broken screen. A reputable repair person might cost between $100-$200 to fix it. That’s a good chunk of change for an older phone. It’s still cheaper than buying a new device, but we start approaching that cost-benefit ratio were buying a new device is feasible for the gains you’ll get in return. With that said, a replacement screen on Amazon for an iPhone 7 is only $30. If you are handy or know someone that is, $30 is cheap enough to consider fixing the device.

I could argue the same for laptops. It’s getting harder and harder to find PC repair-persons these days. That business has largely dried up, but if you have a repair facility locally, they should be able to source a replacement screen or motherboard for a laptop at an affordable price. If you need something like a new hard drive, Best Buy has drives that will fit any laptop.

Hand-Me-Downs

Sometimes we need to treat ourselves to something special and new. It’s understandable. Life isn’t worth living unless you enjoy it. So, go ahead and treat yourself to that new phone or laptop, but don’t throw the old one out.

There are a lot of people that would love to have your old phone. Maybe another member of your family doesn’t care about having the latest and greatest device. Pass your old phone down to them. Maybe a friend’s kid broke their phone. Give your old gadget to them, or through that phone into a drawer as an emergency phone in the event you break yours. This isn’t a bad idea for those of us that are a little more clumsy.

Re-Purpose Components

At some point, aged devices can’t be handed down to others because they are simply too old, but they can always be re-purposed. There are tons of really neat projects to use old electronic devices for. Here’s a shortlist of some of those projects.

Are you building a home theater PC or have a streaming stick that uses Kodi? Old phones make excellent TV remotes. Kodi can accept web requests which means a lot of apps can be used as a Kodi remote. Likewise, some older Android phones have an IR port. That means they can be used as a generic universal remote for your TV, Roku, air conditioner, fans, etc…

Use an old tablet or phone as a smart home hub. Smart Homes are slowly gaining popularity. It’s becoming very easy to create one. Best of all, brands like Kasa have apps that can be used as hubs.

Are you thinking about starting a podcast or a YouTube channel? Use your smartphone as a webcam. There are plenty of apps that can used for this application. The camera inside of any smartphone made in the past 5 years also has better image sensors than most webcams on the market today. Most people will achieve far better video quality results from a smartphone.

Since you can use your smartphone as a webcam, that also means you could use it as a security camera. There are a lot of free, open-source security camera DVR apps that can take camera feeds from web sources. A lot of webcam apps for smartphones generate a web source from their video feeds. That means you could use one of the many webcam apps, use it as a security camera, and pipe that video feed into DVR software.

Purchase Used Devices

If you happen to be budget-strapped, or owning a pre-owned device doesn’t bother you, think about purchasing a used device. You can find a lot of great deals on places like Facebook Market Place or Craigslist. If buying an used device from a stranger is a concern, there are a lot of good professional resellers online that will be happy to sell you a used device. Purchasing from these stores also comes with the benefit of getting a certified pre-owned gadget. Many of online resellers will thoroughly inspect a device for any issues before selling them. This means you can buy pre-owned devices with the peace of mind that it won’t have any issues.

Recycling

Last, but not least, if you must dispose of an old gadget, make sure to recycle it. Electronics recyclers will be able to break-down devices and dispose of them properly so they don’t harm our environment. Likewise, they can salvage functioning pieces that can be re-sold on the 2nd hand market to fix other broken devices. We can help facilitate the circle of life for our old gadgets by utilizing the services of electronics recyclers.

Most recyclers will take your old gadgets for free. Some will even pay you for them, albeit not much. If you don’t have a recycler locally, there are many available online.

As consumers, we have a lot of power to control our e-waste. There’s a lot of things that we can do to prevent our gadgets from ending up in a landfill. This article offers only a handful of tactics we can start using today. Best of all, each of these suggestions is free, or better yet, might earn you a couple of dollars.