Have you ever thought about the whole cost of your new device? Beyond what you paid for it in cash, there are many intangible and often invisible costs of manufacturing, shipping, and marketing your laptop or smartphone (or any electronic device). Those costs can include how much energy the manufacturing plant uses, and the labor costs and the environmental toll of extracting the metals and minerals in the batteries and processors they contain. In this way, the complete cost of your device is considerably more than what you likely ended up paying for it.
Which means your device is an investment that should serve you for longer than just a year or two. Between the true costs to produce electronics, and the growing global problem of more than 60 million pounds of projected e-waste, worldwide in 2021, keeping your device for as long as you can is a step you can take that makes an impact.
Simply by using your device for a little longer; putting off upgrading or purchasing that new laptop, TV, smartphone, for as long as you can; and then donating or reselling your devices when you do upgrade, you can significantly reduce the amount of e-waste your own household or business produces.
But how do I know what the right length of time is to own a device?
Every manufacturers’ business model is to get you to buy as often as possible (it’s why they release new versions every year), so their recommendations for lifespan are typically unreliable. Instead, a good rule of thumb is to use your device for as long as it serves the purpose for which you purchased it. For instance, even a smartphone five generations away from current can still make calls clearly, hold a charge all day, and allow access to most apps. And there are lots of things you can do to care for your device so it lasts as long as possible.
Another decision that might affect how you purchase or how long you use a device is how readily you can repair it. Are the parts that might need replaced for your phone, laptop, or monitor readily available? Do you have access to repair manuals or to local repair shops? Both should factor into your purchase decisions if you are aiming to be more sustainable.
To educate consumers on durability and lifespan of electronic devices, there are already some policies in place or that have been proposed. In France, for instance, there is a proposal to create “durability” labels for electronic devices. Here in the United States, already in use is the voluntary program for manufacturers called EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) which is an international attempt at curbing e-waste. Just look for the EPEAT label (example below) the next time you’re shopping devices.
Is there anything else I can do to reduce my environmental impact?
Ideally, the devices we use and own should be cherished in the same way as any favorite possession, but slick marketing and designed obsolescence seem to fight our better judgment. Our founders, Jill Vaské and Bob Houghton, started Sage for just that reason — in fact, the mission statement of Sage Sustainable Electronics is exactly what that French proposal is aiming for: to extend the life of electronics.
To promote this kind of longevity, we built an online store where anyone can purchase like-new electronics that would’ve otherwise become part of that 60-million-pound waste stream. In addition, we offer special buying programs for our corporate customers' employees through our Employee Purchase Program.
And, we help our corporate customers donate devices to worthy organizations through our GoodTogether program. This aptly named program matches non-profits that need technology with corporations that have retired IT assets to donate. In our eyes, this is a far better story for that laptop or tablet than winding up in landfill somewhere.
Consider purchasing a second-hand device from our qualified refurbishing plant, or letting your employer know they can donate retired technology with our help. These services are in place to give consumers more options when it comes to their sustainability with electronic devices. You can also look for the EPEAT label when shopping and promote the Right to Repair or SEERA (Support E-waste Export and Recycling Act) bill with your local government.
The opportunities to be more sustainable with your electronic devices are all around us. We just have to be strategic in how we purchase and use these devices—knowing we’ve only paid a fraction of the actual cost to obtain them. The more we see the true value of our devices and work to use them for longer, the more sustainable this world will become.
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