What happens when our equipment is no longer useful to us and do we really need that upgrade?
As a designer I rely on computer equipment to do my job. I use mostly Apple products (i’m afraid it’s the geeky designer in me) and while I’m not sure I’d class them as an ethical company yet, Greenpeace do rate them as one of the greenest
When it comes to tech, the most ethical approach is to consider if you really need something new. Although newer models tend to be more efficient, there is a significant carbon footprint in making most electronics and their life should ideally be extended for as long as possible. I certainly don’t feel the need to upgrade with every new release and currently use a refurbed laptop for designing and plug in to a thirdhand screen. When something does reach the end of its time with me, I try to pass it on or recycle it.
500,000 tonnes of electronic waste is recycled in the UK every year. But that is only a fraction of the ‘E-waste’ that is piling up in landfill and in people's homes.
WHAT DO I DO WITH MY OLD ELECTRONICS?
Donate it… If your equipment still works, you might pass it on to a friend or donate it to a local charity. There are also organisations such as WeeeCharity who refurbish broken or damaged equipment and then donate them to those in need.
I always try to find my old equipment a new home but if it has truly passed the point of repair then it needs to be recycled. In the UK, some smaller items such as phones and cameras can be collected by kerbside collections and most other items including computers, printers and screens can be taken to Household Waste Recycling Centres.
Why should we recycle electronics?
Electronics are made from materials including metal, plastic and glass which require energy to manufacture. Recycling helps to reduce the water and air pollution caused by manufacturing processes.
Producing electronics is a labour-intensive process. Working conditions in factories are often poor and there are many ethical issues around mining raw materials. Recycling helps to reduce manufacturing demand.
Many electronics contain increasingly endangered chemical elements such as Gallium, Indium and Tantalum which can be used in medical equipment, solar panels and even to treat some cancers. These elements can be recovered from old equipment and reused.
E-waste contains toxic substances that can be harmful to the environment and need to be removed before being disposed of. Recycling ensures that these materials are processed and disposed of responsibly.
Of course whether you are donating or recycling, you should make sure you have removed any personal data from the hard-drive and restored it to factory settings before you give it away… and remember to back-up first of course :)
Secondhand Electronics If your old kit is really no longer fit for purpose and you need an upgrade, it’s always worth looking for secondhand electronics before buying new. You can try the general sites like Ebay and Facebook Marketplace or more specialised sites offering refurbished tech like Music Magpie and Envirophone where I bought my secondhand iPhone.
Eco-Electronics Trying to buy eco or ethical electronics isn’t easy. There are a few online guides that might be helpful to take a look at; The Good Shopping Guide has a table of ethical comparisons for PC’s, laptops and tablets as well as phones, networks and printers; Ethical Consumer has a laptop guide that takes into account sourcing of conflict minerals, toxic chemicals, workers rights, carbon costs and tax avoidance; The Green Electronics Council have a useful resource which allows you to compare the eco credentials of computers, phones and other equipment.
With an ever-growing electronic waste problem it is our responsibility as consumers to demand more ethical manufacturing processes and to support the reuse and repair of our old equipment. So next time you feel temped by the spec of a new model, have a good think about whether you really need that upgrade.
READ MORE If you’re interested in making more ethical shopping choices, have a read of my post Being a Conscious Consumer.