Now that we're firmly into year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's easy to forget that another Earth Day is almost upon us; but sure enough, it'll be here in just a few days. Many traditional environmental pressures and stressors have eased a bit over the past year due to fewer people driving, flying, and moving about. More and more companies have also started to make sustainability a more important, and even a core, principle in their missions and business activities. Still, those improvements are not nearly enough to deal with the constant and growing threat of environmental pollution, economic disparity, and climate change.
We all have a role to play in making this world a better place for ourselves and future generations — not just this Earth Day 2021, but for all days moving forward. With that in mind, here are some ways that we as enthusiasts can do our part to practice more mindful and sustainable technology consumption, usage, and disposal. I'm sure that much of this is familiar to you, but I think it's all-important and bears repeating — this week in particular.
What is Earth Day?
As a quick refresher for those who may have forgotten, the first Earth Day was celebrated over 50 years ago. In 1970, environmentalists in the U.S. rallied to get governments, corporations, and the public to pay attention to the drastic problems plaguing the planet due to lax regulation and a general lack of foresight. By 1990, the campaign had gone global, and in fact, the EarthDay.org website says the event is the "largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national, and local policy changes."
Earth Day 2021 is on Thursday, April 22.
How you can help
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of ways that you, as a tech enthusiast and consumer, can celebrate the spirit of Earth Day by being more mindful in your usage and consumption of technology.
Look for more sustainable companies and devices the next time you buy
Companies large and small have been making major sustainability commitments over the past few years in the areas of design, production, packaging, distribution, and even energy management. Take a look into what some of them are doing, and consider supporting them the next time you need to make a technology purchase. Vote for the planet with your actions and your wallet!
- Depending on which are available where you live, both Fairphone and Teracube make some really good sustainable and repairable phones, with the end goal being that you use your devices for longer to keep them out of landfills. Teracube does this by using recycled materials in the construction of its phones and by providing four years of service and protection. Fairphone works to make the entire lifecycle of its devices more sustainable, including materials, mining, labor, and shipping. Its devices are also the most repairable around, and you can replace parts for years. The company recently ported Android 9 to its five-year-old Fairphone 2 devices, and it also gives users the option to buy devices with /e/OS pre-installed.
- Lenovo has committed to hitting dramatically reduced emission goals and to use more sustainable materials in its products from the most advanced laptops to everyday carry backpacks.
- Both Google and Amazon have been introducing more recycled materials in their devices, including the mesh speaker coverings on Nest and Echo speakers, as well as the metal and materials inside the devices like the Echo (4th Gen). Additionally, Google has pledged to make all of its product packaging plastic-free by 2025, and Amazon is pledging to offset Echo device energy usage.
- I jumped the gun a bit in my 2020 year-end editorial when I called for Samsung to be a better leader in the sustainability space because it has actually made some pretty impressive commitments of its own in this area. In addition to being recognized for its sustainability efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company has recently launched a partnership with uBreakiFix. The Erase E-Waste challenge is a six-week initiative aimed at "encouraging consumers to sort through their unused electronics and recycle unwanted devices for free at uBreakiFix locations through Earth Day."
- And let's not forget about all of the accessories like phone cases, chargers, and other devices that we've for years regarded as essentially disposable. There actually are many environmentally-friendly phone accessories and tech products for your consideration, so maybe look there first when you need or want something new?
Remember the 3Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
You've probably heard this before too, but I'll repeat it because it's so very true.
The most sustainable device is the one you already own.
While it's awesome that forward-thinking companies like Teracube and Fairphone are producing more sustainable devices, don't just go rush out and buy one to make yourself feel better if the phone you have works just fine. Of course, this sentiment holds true for any product, from sneakers to coffee makers to Chromebooks.
Last week, I drove an hour and a half to visit my 94-year-old grandmother, whom I hadn't seen in person since before the pandemic began. Thankfully, we were both several weeks removed from getting our final vaccines and had been practicing responsible social distancing, so it was an absolute joy to be able to see her and hug her in person. Right before I was going to leave, she pulled me into her garage and handed me an old shoebox. In it were several old phones (smart and dumb) that she didn't need or want anymore.
She asked if I could help take care of these properly because she knew how bad it was to throw them in the trash, just for their batteries and other components to pollute a landfill. Plus, she knew that some of them may still work and could benefit someone in need. I can't tell you how heartened I felt that she had saved these devices for environmental and altruistic reasons; in addition to the visit, that gesture absolutely made my week.
The sordid story of phone disposal is one that many of us are familiar with by now, but lots of people still don't know what to do when they are done with their old devices. Whether they are no longer operational or you just want a new device, there are plenty of ways to give new life to your old phones. In fact, we have a great guide on how to recycle or donate your old Android phone. There are also many ways to sell your gently used devices, which has the added benefit of putting a little money back in your pocket while letting your device have an extended lifespan. So remember the 3Rs when you're looking to clean out that junk drawer or closet!
I apologize if this comes across as too preachy or naive. I know that this is a lot to take in, but I truly believe that living more sustainably is something we all need to work on. Taking better care of the planet by being more mindful with our technology consumption and usage benefits everyone. Remember that this Earth Day week, and remember to take care of yourselves as well!
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