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How Bad, Really, is That New Phone in Your Pocket?

How Bad, Really, is That New Phone in Your Pocket?

On this blog, we have discussed the detriment that end-of-life electronics can have when they’re not dealt with appropriately. And we’ve also touched on the problem with upgrading too often. But we’ve not driven home the value of reuse. Since it seems there is no way to escape the damage that is being done to our environment through manufacturing these devices, we look to reuse, and its potential to amortize that cost, as the most effective tool for being sustainable.

The problem upstream that we can affect downstream

When we go to the electronics store to purchase a new device, we aren’t typically thinking of the environmental cost associated with our purchases. Sure, we may consider that cost going forward—once we own that device—but we forget that there is already a quite long ledger tied to each device.

The environmental load required to create any electronic device is considerable. From the extraction and refining of the materials (many of which are not average), to the water necessary to purify and clean those materials, the cost is heavy. And that’s just regarding getting materials to the factory!

With such high energy and carbon costs, disposing of a cell phone after just a few years is like trashing a car as soon as it hits 50,000 miles. There is so much more life that device has—or should have—to justify the damage already done in making it.

Repair and reuse can be money in the bank

If we were to be honest with ourselves, the only reasons we should upgrade are: software issues, memory concerns, or battery life. After all, that newer HD screen just isn’t that important. Whereas a battery that might explode is. Thankfully, there are aftermarket batteries and memory upgrades for almost any device, and there are even methods for cleaning up a bogged-down OS that don’t involve hardware.

Repairing an older device that is paid for and familiar to use can save costs, not only by avoiding the obvious new-device cost, but also in the training or installation that inevitably comes along with that new device. In fact, IT downtime alone accounts for roughly $60M of lost dollars for large enterprise companies. But more than avoiding those hard costs for companies, there is the environmental cost that repair and reuse also addresses.

Repair and reuse amortizes the environmental load that’s already present with your device over a longer span of time. In other words, you justify that exorbitant environmental cost to make the device the longer you hold on to—and use—your devices. And you can extend that amortization even further, once you’re finished with it, by donating or reselling the item. There are plenty of people out there who would be happy with end-of-life electronics from your business.

Not everyone wants you to repair

Unfortunately, this desire to keep devices in use after newer models are available has the potential (albeit slim) to threaten the profits of manufacturers. Many of these businesses have seen burgeoning bank accounts because of the obsolescence they design into their devices. In short, their business goal is to move you on to the next model—and their whole economy is wired to facilitate that momentum.

Tech companies perpetuate the need to upgrade by making devices more difficult—or outright impossible—to repair. Proprietary glues and sealants, special tools, and a complete lack of available instructions all make repairing most devices an exercise in futility. Thankfully, in 2013, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition was started by people like Kyle Weins of iFixit.

The DRTRC lobbies and advocates for tech companies to make their products easier to repair. The hope is that individual users will see the intrinsic value of these devices as worth taking the time to maintain—rather than becoming a part of this throw-away culture. And the more we back this movement—by repairing and reusing our own devices—the more we take ownership of our part in this environmental and economic drama.

If you're looking for more Dosage on the Right to Repair, read this post:

dismantled phone on white table

Why Right To Repair Is Good
For Your Business


You’ve been reading the official blog of Sage Sustainable Electronics. This steady dose of sage insight from the leaders in ITAM/ITAD about sustainability, technology, security, and other topics related to your IT Asset Management and Disposition is your prescription to sustainable business practices.

This holistic view of sustainable ITAM/ITAD topics is a key part of the Sage mission to make the world more sustainable by extending the life of electronics.

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