The Conundrum of Old Tech (aka, what do with your old computers, phones, etc.)
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I’m convinced that no company out there wants people to be able to use older computers or software, even if they’re still working fine.
I get the money-making angle for software companies. They have to stay in business and in order to do so, most have moved to subscription based models. As software is constantly updated for the latest operating systems, the technology that runs those operating systems (computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and even game systems) also gets updated.
Technological advancements are not a bad thing. I enjoy a lot of new technology. But, these advancements, especially with software, make a lot of the hardware obsolete and create a whole host of other problems.
I’m currently using a 2010 Mac Pro as my main desktop machine. I’m lucky enough in that I’m comfortable with opening the thing up as I’ve been upgrading it over the years to keep up with modern standards. Amazingly, there are people out there, like me, who still use or are looking for these old Mac Pros simply because they can be upgraded. That is something that is no longer a possibility. If you buy a new Mac, buy the very best, most tricked-out one you can, because you’re not going to be able to upgrade it (side note, I did just buy a MacBook Pro with the M1 chip).
I don’t know if PCs fare any better. I’m sure there are still people out there who are buying PC components and building their own machines, but those people are probably just a small percentage. PCs, just like other tech, start to gather dust or get tossed in the landfill when they become obsolete or the allure of the latest model sways consumers to ditch them.
“2021 e-waste surges at 57.4 million tons with only 17.4% recycled” (source)
Mobile devices also fall into this category … probably even more so simply because it’s easier to damage something you tote around with you everywhere you go. Sure, sometimes you can get away with a cheap repair for a cracked screen or something, but most people will just go off to their mobile provider and pay up for the latest model if something goes wrong with their old phone.
Smartphones contributed to approximately 10% of global e-waste in 2019. (source)
Old Technology and the Environment
As an individual and as a small business owner, I’m not new to recycling or trying to be more sustainable. I think almost everyone is aware of environmental issues these days, but I’m not certain everyone knows just how much e-waste plays a part in environmental damage.
Just a couple of the key takeaways I got while digging deeper into the general problem of e-waste were:
- A lot more computers, laptops, monitors, tablets, and mobile phones are either collecting dust or put in the trash than are recycled every year.
- These items contain components such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium and lithium that can and do contaminate the ground and ground water around landfills (and even worse, sometimes they’re burned which releases toxic material into the air as well).
Basically, there are some very real problems occuring because of the amount of tech being throw away. I’m not here writing this to try to solve all these problems, but there actually are smaller, actionable things that individuals and businesses can do to to help.
So … what can you do with your old tech when you upgrade to the latest, greatest new computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone?
Whatever you do, try not to just toss it in the dumpster.
Give it away…
The easiest thing to do would be to give away the old tech to someone you know. The problem with this circles back to my initial complaint that software is what makes a lot of tech obsolete in the first place and whoever you gift your old tech to, will have this same issue. You can look into seeing if the tech is upgradable first, but, that’s more effort/cost than it might be worth to you.
This is your next easiest thing in my opinion. For example, I have a 2009 Macbook Pro that became too much trouble to try to manually update components in to allow for newer software to be installed. So, I moved it to another room of the house where I have my music collection, hooked it to some nice speakers, and basically use it to store and play mp3s on an old version of iTunes. I have a Gen2 iPad that will still play games and movies. I have an older 27″ iMac that I keep in the office for Zoom sessions where I want to be in the office “lounge” or to stream movies or tv shows on while I’m working. There are a lot of other creative possibilities for old tech, especially if being connected to the internet isn’t a huge concern. If you can’t think of something to use your old tech for, then try asking your friends or family if they might have a creative use for it and you still might be able to give it away.
Cruising around eBay it’s interesting to see how much old tech people actually buy/sell. If your tech is still in good working order (or in the case of desktop computers, you know how to part out working components), that might be worth a try.
I put recycling last on the list, because it will always bother me to basically destroy still-working tech. Also, this takes effort to find and then take (or ship) the old tech to a recycler.
I’ll try to make the “find” part easier with this small list:
- Major companies/brands that do recycling can be found on the EPAs list here.
- Try going to the Consumer Technology Association website here to search for a local e-waste recycler.
- If it’s an old phone you’re looking to recycle, there are a ton of companies out there who will buy the phones (newer models will always get the highest $ with the amount decreasing rapidly the older the device is). decluttr.com is just one such place. They also do other tech and game consoles.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas and resources for when you need to unload your old tech.
For a more in-depth look on the topic, try “Electronic Recycling: How to Recycle Your Business’s E-Waste”.
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