What can consumers do about tech and the environment?
There are are several actions consumers can take when looking at their use and purchase of technology. We outline some ideas below.
1. Buy second-hand
Around a third of people in the UK buy a new phone every one to two years – which means there is a massive market of good quality second-hand discards to choose from. If you buy second-hand, you reduce the carbon footprint of your phone, as well as the demand for raw materials and the amount of e-waste.
See our guide to buying second-hand technology for tips on what to look for and where to buy.
2. Repair your tech
The iFixit website is a great place for repair tutorials. It covers many models of phones, tablets and laptops. Some cities have repair cafes that can help you fix your tech. For example, the Restart Project runs workshops for the public on repairing electrical goods.
Your local tech-repair shop can often also mend phone screens and other items like computers or printers. And if you have an Apple product, you can take it into the store for help.
3. Buy more ethical brands
Ethical Consumer’s shopping guides rate and rank brands on their ethical and environmental record. We check all companies for their environmental reporting, emissions management and approach to toxic chemicals – helping you find the most eco-friendly options.
One of the biggest issues is the limited lifecycle of tech – the fact that it is produced and discarded in the space of a few short years. For the last decade, Fairphone has been by far and away the most active company in trying to tackle these harms.
The company sells modular phones, designed specifically for repair. This means that if any one part breaks, you can simply buy that part and fit it into your phone at home. The Fairphone website stocks everything from replacement cameras and batteries to USB ports.
Unfortunately, similar options don’t yet exist for laptops, televisions and other items.
4. Choose repairable options
You can reduce the environmental footprint of your tech by increasing its lifespan through repair. Thinking about this when you’re buying new tech can be useful. iFixit rates devices based on their repairability.
We’d also recommend choosing a modular phone from Fairphone, if you can afford it.
The lifespan of your tech tends to vary depending on cost. If you can afford it, it’s therefore worth investing when buying new. For example, if a laptop
- costs under £500 its average lifespan is 2-4 years
- costs between £500-£750 its average lifespan is 3-5 years
- costs over £750 its average lifespan is 4-7 years.
By these costs, you would actually save money if you can afford to pay more upfront.
If your electronics are still usable, sell them online using a platform like eBay, sell them to a specialist retailer like Cex, or else donate them to charity.
Even if unusable, electronics should never be thrown away, because they contain hazardous substances. Some retailers, such as Curry’s, provide free disposal services, and under law must accept goods that weren’t bought in the shop.
Otherwise, you can find your local recycling point on the Recycle Now website.
7. Borrow one-off electrical items
Some technical or electrical items are things you might only need a couple of times a year, like a power drill or hedge trimmer. For low use items you could borrow from a friend or neighbour, or check out any local lending schemes. There has been a huge rise in 'Libraries of things' in the last couple of years and our directory lists over 40, from Dundee to Devon.