Should you be worried about the environmental impact of your gadgets?

I think the obvious answer here is, “of course.” But I guess the real question is, “How worried should you be?” It seems that many of our favorite gadgets are the ones that are worst for the environment, and I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about how that can be better so we can continue to enjoy them.

The biggest problem is…

Image courtesy of Vice.

Hands down, the biggest environmental problem lies in stuff that has a fairly short life in our hands. We’re used to swapping out phones every two years, and things like earbuds may have as little as a one-year life before heading to the scrap heap. These devices are sleek, cool, and totally unrepairable. They’re also practically unrecyclable using today’s technologies.

Choosing technology that can’t be repaired is a big problem. But the bigger problem is that we know we want sleek, cool looking things. Those things leave no room for any repairability.

So what to do? At the very least, create a multi-life plan for your phone. Use a case and try to keep it in good shape so you can hand it off to a family member or resell it for a good price. That’s something.

We have to acknowledge…

The biggest argument for lack of repairability is that we just don’t want our gadgets to last that long anyway. We’re our own worst enemies here. We look at that new device that can do so much more than the old device, and all of a sudden we’re hooked. We don’t stop to think about whether that old device would suit our needs for a few more years.

How big of a problem will this be in the future?

That’s the real question, isn’t it. Of course we don’t know. We do know that we keep making more e-waste than we have places to put it.  We don’t have a plan. Maybe the plan ends up being launching our ewaste into space now and again and aiming it at the sun. Or perhaps we find some more efficient way to separate metal from plastic so that we can reuse more things. I don’t know. But what I do know is that failing to plan usually means the same as planning to fail. And that means we really should be thinking about how to deal with the many layers of this problem now.

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.