Recycle it, toss it, or keep it? A 2020 perspective

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About a billion years ago back in December of 2019, we were momentarily obsessed with decluttering. The success of Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo had us evaluating whether or not an item sparked joy for us, and getting rid of it when it didn’t. Is that still great advice, eight months later?

“I’ll use it for something.”

Like many of our readers, I grew up with older relatives who lived through the Great Depression. As troubling as this time is for us, it was even scarier a hundred years ago, when many of the social programs we rely on today were brand new or non-existent. People subsisted on practically nothing, and the idea of throwing away something “perfectly good” seemed foolhardy to say the least. Everything that could be repurposed was repurposed, and that became a lifelong habit. Surely you remember the relative who saved every screw they ever had, or had a collection of old tools one rustier than the last. Or perhaps it was the older soul who could make one chicken last for a whole week. By the end you really didn’t know what you were eating, but at least it filled you up.

In today’s world, we’ve become accustomed to getting rid of our old electronics when they don’t suit us. After all upgrades happen so regularly and the cost of these things is so low, relatively speaking. But is it time to move back to a standard of re-using everything we can?

The argument for keeping it

The truth is, you will use a lot of things over again. And, it’s likely to be the little parts you’ll use, not the main thing. Here’s an example: you probably don’t care much for the phone you had five years ago, but chances are the charger’s still good. And, every little gadget that you bought that came with a MicroUSB cable… those things break so often it’s good to have a supply.

Audio and video cables are similarly useful for years. Although there are some truly obsolete formats out there, the stuff you bought a decade ago, whether it was an HDMI cable or an RCA audio cable, are still plenty usable. It’s worth holding onto a stack of those.

If you’re trying to pinch pennies because you’re between jobs or temporarily furloughed, it does make sense to put off those big purchases like a new TV, phone, or laptop. Making do with an older one for a while is just common sense right now.

The argument for tossing it (or recycling it)

When it comes to parting with a piece of equipment, I ask myself two questions.

Is it still reliable?

If your computer doesn’t work for anyone but you because no one else can hit the power button “just right,” that’s not reliable. If you have to swipe a special way to avoid cutting your fingers on broken glass, that’s not reliable. It’s easy to kid ourselves into thinking that something still has value just because it’s not completely bricked. But, a device that could die at any moment taking your data with it isn’t worth it in the long run. This is especially true now because you might need to depend on a computer or phone as your link to the outside world.

Is it wasting a lot of your time?

Your time is worth money. It’s up to you to decide how much, but at some point you have to realize that if there’s a choice, you shouldn’t waste your own time. If you truly can’t afford a new PC, that’s one thing. But if you can, and you insist on plugging along with an old one that takes five minutes to start up, ask yourself how much time you’re wasting. Consider the raise in blood pressure from frustration and the limitations you’re putting on yourself because of all the things that old PC can’t do. If you even consider your time at a fairly modest $10/hour, you may be wasting $50 of your own time a month and that’s enough to pay for a newer, faster model.

Toss or recycle?

Those people who are against electronics recycling point out that the amount of e-waste we produce each year is more than our ability to deal with. Electronic waste is piling up. Sometimes it’s getting exported (illegally) to other countries.

Still, that’s not a good reason to toss stuff in the trash. We do have the beginnings of a genuine crisis in this country with electronic waste, but putting that stuff in the ground isn’t the answer. It’s still better to let it pile up in a warehouse than it is to have it leach harmful chemicals into the water.

Many states have e-cycling laws, but even if your state doesn’t, it’s still smart to do it. By responsibly recycling your electronics, you’re making a difference. Companies will rise to meet the demand. But first it has to start with regular folks doing the right thing

When you do need something new…

Eventually you will want to upgrade something in your home. When you do, check out the best selection of parts and accessories, found only by shopping at Solid Signal.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.