Obsolescence The No. 1 Enemy Of Greener Tech

By Ben Hamill - January 07 2021

Obsolescence The No. 1 Enemy Of Greener Tech

Doing away with a disposable smartphone blueprint which underscores obsolescence is the secret to greener technology and electronics, Earth advocates are now saying. And this change in approach has to do with a great deal more than just slimmer devices or an increase in megapixels.

The fact that electronics such as smartphone devices simply aren’t retaining their shine and even their functionality as long as what they used to, is a tendency that is hard not to notice. The notion of “planned obsolescence” is after all what landed tech giant Apple in legal hot water owing to a $500 million lawsuit in March last year.

The message is clear: whether planned or not, obsolescence comes at a devastatingly high cost to the environment.

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The Statistics Are Sobering

More than just focusing on the energy used when our smartphones and apps are in use, the real emphasis should be on the natural resources before we even as much as turn our new devices on for the first time, says Colleen Thorpe, who is the executive director of Canadian non-profit organisation Équiterre, which company focuses exclusively on sustainability.

The actual pre-use statistics are in actual fact, alarming:

  • Nearly 80% of all carbon pollution created by electronics such as smartphones, smart televisions, and digital devices in general, occurs even before those devices are turned on. Most smart electronics are produced in China, a country utilising coal as their dominant source of energy. The higher the global demand for electronics, the more carbon is released into an atmosphere already having a negative impact on the health of people.
  • Every 100g of minerals used in each smartphone requires the digging out, chipping, and processing of roughly 340 times as much actual rock.
  • By the year 2017, e-waste volumes generated on a global scale had hit in excess of 65 million tons – which is enough e-waste to bury the entire city of San Francisco more than 14 feet deep.

The Power Lies With The Consumer

According to the results of a survey conducted among 2,200 Canadians in 2018, at least 44% held on to their electronic devices for a period shorter than three years.

80% of the respondents expressed the view that electronics such as smartphones and general household devices were purposefully designed in such a way so as to last only a limited period of time. Frustrating too is that devices aren’t typically repairable. Also, even when repairing is an option, the cost of fixing often far exceeds the cost of replacement.

Perhaps worst of all is that there really aren’t any technological challenges stopping companies from designing products with a longer lifespan, explains Thorpe. It’s only that consumers aren’t applying the pressure needed to force suppliers to figure out new ways to make money without selling a brand-new phone.

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