Let's get digital

Black Friday tech deals or electronic trash?

Though Canada has specific electronic trash protocols, tech still ends up in our landfill, threatening both our environment and our health.

If it can't be repaired or somehow repurposed, every dead battery, cracked smartphone, and broken cord will contribute to Canada’s growing electronic trash problem problem.

About two weeks ago, my laptop stopped working. One day, I was streaming soapy shows on Netflix to avoid housework; the next, I couldn’t even get a blinking light to come on.

Keeping up with the computer geeks

Sitting on the precipice of a laptop-less life, I had a very important decision to make: browse Black Friday sales or send my beloved to a repair shop. I know what you’re thinking: given the theme of this blog, the decision should have been immediate, but I’ll be real with you. It wasn’t.

The nature of contemporary computers, laptops, smartphones (and recently, smart appliances, televisions, washing machines, and more) is that they’re not built to last.

This short lifespan isn’t because companies make such devices and appliances with shoddy parts, or that they’re poorly assembled, it’s because major manufacturers are purposefully designing them that way. 

How do you replace a lithium ion battery when it’s glued into your device? The properties of Moore’s Law (a law of technological progress) state that as technology continues to improve, consumers who care to keep up will “require” new tech every two to four years. 

I learned this all the hard way with an old MacBook not long ago, in the middle of a university course, cramming for what seemed like the most important midterm of my life, up till 3am, chugging coffee, when suddenly the screen on my laptop went black. The next day, I took my damaged computer to the Apple store, only to be told the repair cost would be on par with an entire new laptop. I’m not proud to say it, but I bit the bullet and bought the new device. 

As any amateur environmentalist knows, the easiest way to reduce electronic trash and its destructive tendencies is to not create more of it. But, here’s the dilemma: you’re not made of money, you wouldn’t mind something new once in a while, and the Cyber Monday sale has a fantastic price on what your at-home-office absolutely needs. What’s an eco-friendly girl to do? 

Here are three things to know before the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday events tempt you into buying electronics you don’t actually need.

The right to repair should be everywhere

The idea of “Right to Repair” is pretty simple. In fact, it’s right in the name. If you own something, it should be your personal right to readily access the information to fix it, find compatible parts, or speak to a technician of your choice to make repairs for you. 

In theory, Canadians have a few options available to them when a piece of tech stops working. In practice, we don’t have enough access to repair information and technicians are forced to buy directly from brand name manufacturers to avoid “lifetime” warranties on devices. Physical connectors and digital encryptions also prevent faulty parts from being replaced.

Evaluate your own tech needs vs. desires

How do we keep e-waste out of landfills, and stop expensive repairs? An answer (in part) is to evaluate our own needs. 

Although I’ve heard the siren song of a new iPad many times, I know having a third device to play Bejewelled will not enrich my life. What devices can be upcycled or repurposed into something new? What computing power is actually necessary for our everyday lives, and how often do we need a new bluetooth speaker? 

If you are bent around getting something new, techy, and exciting, there are a few excellent sites for some off the wall electronics projects with found and reused materials.

Reduce, repurpose and return electronic waste, if possible

It’s important to remember every recycling process is not a zero-sum game. 

There will always be a landfill run-off from even the most elegant processes, and consequences both for human health and the environment. We can work to reduce the negative impact of electronic trash by dropping off used items at municipal collection sites and organized collection events in our neighbourhoods and communities. Some retail stores even have “return to retail” recycling initiatives. 

I got my laptop repaired at Contemporary Computers in Toronto’s east end. The owner was very considerate of my budget and found several solutions for my busted motherboard. My trusty laptop is back, and I feel good about my decision to repair it. I’m staying away from Black Friday sales this year and going back to my regularly scheduled Netflix binges. Maybe after reading this, you will too.

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