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The easiest way to cut CO2: keep your stuff longer

Posted by Meg Stout on Jul 18, 2012
Tags: green tips

My purple cell phone is often the subject of jokes. Affectionately referred to as a “dumb phone,” the paint is worn off on the keys, the flip cover is scratched, and while it can theoretically access the internet, I have never used it for that purpose.

It’s age? Just three years.

This, as you likely know, is ancient in cell phone years. According to the U.S. EPA, the lifespan of a cell phone is shorter than other consumer electronics—a fleeting 18 months. This can leave any of us feeling like last year’s model is dated and uncool. But as our possessions age, it’s worth thinking twice before upgrading.

Manufacturing gadgets requires resources. Rare earth metals like beryllium are mined, plastics are created, and the products are assembled, shipped, and then marketed in storefronts. This array of activities creates carbon emissions. Furthermore, at the end of their lives, they might become toxic waste. Many discarded electronic products end up in developing countries, where they compromise the health of workers exposed to them. UNEP estimates that electronics are one of the fastest growing sources of waste.

Happily, you can limit these effects and save time and money in one simple way—hang on to your stuff a little longer and thereby cut your overall carbon footprint. For example, one study suggests that using a cell phone for four years rather than one reduces the environmental impacts by about 40%. Imagine the results if you extended the life of all your possessions.

Just follow these simple guidelines:

1. Wear it out

In the past, replacing a functional product with a slightly improved version was rare, and items were designed to last. These days, we are encouraged to have the latest and the greatest, but we don’t have to “buy” into it. Take pride in using—or wearing—a product until it no longer works.

2. Fix it up

With a little effort, you can keep your trusted gizmo in good condition, perhaps even past manufacturer recommendations. Daily Green published a great guide for extending the life of items like printer cartridges, textbooks, and light bulbs.

3. End its life mindfully

Of course, products inevitably stop working at some point, or even if they still function, they may stop serving your needs. Instead of dumping them, send broken electronics for repurposing or recycling. The precious metals in them can be reclaimed, reducing the need for mining. There’s enough gold in 200 cell phones to create a wedding ring!

Remember the Apple II and Zack’s hilarious cell phone from Saved By The Bell? Many of us look back on those items with nostalgia (and humor). By valuing function over fashion, we can learn to appreciate our stuff longer—and maybe take it, and ourselves, a little less seriously.


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Posts: 9
Holding on to stuff
Reply #1 on : Tue July 31, 2012, 18:18:34
I enjoyed this article and thought I'd tell you that I'm already holding on to stuff longer than its prescribed lifespan. My current cell phone is approx. 18 months old and the previous one was at least two years old before it was placed into a store's recycling bin. Actually, the only cell phone I didn't keep for a full two years was literally falling apart on me!!

My computer is Over two years old (they are considered obsolete in about a year, too) and its predecessor is still in my home. I have thoughts of finding a place to use it again because it still has a Lot of information still on the hard drive.

I like knowing that I'm helping the environment by just doing what I already do anyway.