Use less, recycle more, keep things longer

Quick, which is the better course of action.  Repair and continue to use my 1997 Ford Explorer or purchase a new, environmentally-friendly electric SUV or hybrid?  This may surprise you but hanging onto your old vehicle is almost always more earth-friendly than purchasing a new one.  Even if the mileage on the old clunker is down to 14 mpg and the eco-friendly replacement is 60 mpg, it is still better overall to hang onto the old one.   The same is true for your clothes, your appliances and even your house.  It is always better to repair and continue to use something rather than purchasing a new replacement.  What about your smartphone? Challenging news here too.  The planet will be better off (and hence, your grand children and later generations) if you just hang onto that old smart phone.  The average user now replaces their smart phone once every two years.  Just keeping your phone a year longer is a gift to everyone.  Besides, only 1% of all cell phones are recycled.  The rest just go to the dump.   One reason for this curmudgeonly view of all things new, glittering and technical is that smart phones require lots of “rare earth metals” to produce.  China controls most of the global market in these 17 essential elements.  While they are not so rare (the US Geological Survey lists them as “moderately abundant”), the process of separating the useful metals from their ore is expensive and produces a huge amount of highly acidic and radioactive waste.   There is also a high carbon-cost to producing computer technology including smart phones.    The tech companies love to get us addicted to the new “features” so that we will buy all the latest stuff.  In reality, the tech companies are just creating seasonal fads like the clothing, food and paint industries.   We are so easily convinced that we won’t be complete, whole human beings unless we have the latest big screen phone with all the new features.  But most of us need a phone, Internet access, text messages and email.  The rest is just fluff.  OK, the cameras are nice too.   My bucket list for the real functionality I need from computational devices will probably go to the grave with me.  Tech companies make their money by attracting users to functions they can see on the screen.  What I want and need is invisible to the eye.  Just three things:

  • Reliability – I want my smart phone or my laptop to work every time I turn it on. I don’t want to wait 20 minutes for an “upgrade” that could have been downloaded and installed the night before.  I don’t want to know that malicious software ransomed all my files.  No excuses.  This is the 21st  How about a reliable platform?
  • Stability – I want my device to perform at the same level all the time. Today my coterie of electronic wizards gives me all kinds of excuses why it takes a word processing program forever to start or why my Blue Tooth suddenly won’t connect to my hearing aid.  The stuff should work, all the time.
  • Security – The internet was never designed to be secure. As a result, security on the internet is a series of band-aids applied on top of a gaping arterial wound.  Do you really need all those new apps and features, or would you rather pay more, and rest assured that some starving hacker in Croatia isn’t going to steal all your personal information?

The reason I mention this is that a new, “upgraded” phone will not likely do any better with these important needs than your old one.   Or perhaps people just enjoy going to the cell phone store and spending hours trying to decide while an underpaid clerk tries to “upsell” you.  But if you keep your phone, you will maintain a level of stability and at least you know the relative reliability of the old device.  If you keep your phone, you will do the planet and the people who come after you a favor.  Apply that strategy to everything you own.  Rinse, repeat.  Pretty soon, the world will be a better place.

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