Trying to save the world by upgrading to more efficient models may actually do the opposite. This appears especially true of electronic equipment whose actual lifespans are in free fall because of the race to get the ever shiner, newer model. When those newly produced products are made from non-renewable resources one is subtracting from what would be available in the future. To be blunt, it’s stealing from children to indulge ourselves.
Honestly, I’m no saint in this regard. From 1992 through 2014 I’ve used eight different desktop computers, six laptops, at least six monitors, and eight cell phones. Sadly about half were thrown away or broken.
While some of the upgrades have proven more efficient in terms of processing the trend among desktops and phones is to draw more power. Case in point, my first desktop had a 240W power supply while my latest needed 700W, largely because of the fancy video adapter. Charging has also become more frequent with smart phones. My Blackberry smartphones often went weeks without a charge. Now it’s rare to find a smart phone guaranteeing more than 24 hours of battery life. Even the move from power-hungry, CRT monitors to flat screens has its disadvantages.
SusteIT’s report concludes that one should prefer to maximize what one already has in use considering the total impact of manufacturing computer equipment. Despite the complexities involved I feel confident recommending that any PC or laptop made within ten years should suffice, with proper care. Beyond that point it should still be usable for casual workloads.
Not every household item is the same of course. Some appliances like outdated refrigerators are better recycled for scrap than kept in service. When to draw the line is not difficult to find out. A few web searches on “life cycle assessment” and the kind of appliance should help. Deciding between repair and replacement is a similar situation with a similar solution.
Maintenance is another factor in maximizing use. Taking care can also benefit resale value when it is time to replace something. Until such times are necessary let’s try to resist the urge to prematurely upgrade. Otherwise the legacy we leave will include overflowing scrapyards and landfills.
Buying new products brings with it a responsibility to future generations, whether or not it’s obvious. Next time you’ve the opportunity please do everyone a favor and seriously consider purchasing used or refurbished instead.