The point of this article is to suggest ways in which you can reduce the environmental impact of your electronics by simply making them last longer. Portable electronics may be small, but in some homes they can still contribute more to the e-waste than even large appliances because they last only a few years — many don’t even last 2 years.
The frequent replacement of portable electronics due to their short lifespan adds up to a significant amount of electronic waste.
Portable electronics don’t stop working sooner than non-portable ones because they are built to be less durable, but because they are dropped more often. Electronics malfunction for multiple reasons. Some of them are technical and out of your control, while others are addressable by end-users. I will list both.
For End Users
Impulse to Buy Newer Electronics
When a new phone or tablet is released, try to stick with your older one as long as you can. Give it a chance to get old.
When you upgrade annually, you are contributing to one of the biggest environmental problems, because the older models you replaced are eventually thrown away, so even if you keep them now, they pile up, and you will have a box full of electronics to throw away eventually.
Even if you recycle or sell your old phone (which you should try to do), there’s an environmental footprint there and there’s no guaranteeing it will be fully recycled or used for long by the new user.
Shock waves caused by dropping devices such as cellphones, laptops, and tablet PCs onto hard surfaces are a major contributor to their malfunction. People sometimes buy protective cases for them and find that they are still damaged easily. This is because the design of the case almost wholly determines how easily damaged the devices are.
There are two important problems with protective cases which you can address:
- Buying the wrong case, or the difficulty of finding an easy-to-use case that you think will fit comfortably. Carrying your device to the store and fitting cases to it, trying them out for a moment to ensure one is precisely what you want, is so much easier than guessing. This is one good way to avoid buying an inadequate case.
- Buying the wrong case, one with not enough protection. This time, the issue is buying a case without suitable padding. Hard cases, thin plastic-only cases, and sleeves are usually not helpful. Check the case for adequate padding by squeezing it a little. It should be as thick as you can tolerate.
Hard cases transmit shock waves to your devices because they don’t absorb it well. Spongy cases absorb much of it and they can make a tremendous difference. The underlying physics of this concept is the same reason why people use foam, sponge, or other elastic devices to cushion their falls.
Please buy a case that you will use the phone or tablet in. It is common for people to drop these devices while they are using them, and while they are taking them out of their pockets.
Don’t buy low-quality electronics. They tend to be fragile, unreliable, and hence need frequent replacement. If you save a little on a phone or tablet but it needs replaced 1-3 years sooner than a more expensive alternative, you probably aren’t saving any money, and the environment is losing out, as well.
Issues for Manufacturers to Address
Of course, it’s not all on consumers to reduce electronic waste. Manufacturers still have work to do. Here are a few ways for manufacturers of consumer electronics to be greener:
- Improve durability of the devices.
- Stop squeezing as much as you can out of undersized electronic parts — they operate at high temperatures, and that greatly reduces their lifespan.
- Allow customers to replace their batteries.
- Offer and promote good product recycling options.
I have a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.