Repairing Is Caring

Sustain your devices to reduce e-waste (and save money)

Imagine this: your two year old smartphone has slowed down. You try to run an update to improve it, but receive an error message saying that your machine is too ‘old’ and cannot be updated. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone.

In countries like the USA and Germany, people only keep their smartphones for two to three years, even though the devices are still functional and could be used for longer. When compared to household appliances of a similar price, that’s a shockingly short lifespan!

In addition to reducing unnecessary expenses, prolonging the lifespan of your devices can help you reduce the environmental impacts of electronic waste (“e-waste”) and all the human labor involved in making technologies.

In this Data Detox, you’ll become mindful of the physical condition of your devices and how to better care for them.

Let’s take a closer look at what needs fixing, and why repairing is caring!


Reduce, reuse, repair first... then if all else fails, recycle it

The fact is that many companies pre-plan short lifespans for electronics (also known as “planned obsolescence”) by purposely designing them to become useless, broken or out-of-date more quickly than they need to be. With hard-to-fix machines and a mounting pile of e-waste, it can be incredibly frustrating when the choice to buy a new product is out of your hands.

Take a moment to learn more about e-waste. Did you know...

Click or tap on the card to reveal the tip

E-waste is toxic.

E-waste is toxic.

Electronics contain some highly toxic chemicals. An average CRT computer screen contains 250-360 grams of lead. E-wastes account for 70% of our toxic waste steam (1). Heavy metals such as zinc and copper are found at dangerous levels in the soil and water sources of those who live near dump-sites; putting people at risk of cancer, developmental disorders and DNA damage. For this reason, protocols exist for them to be safely discarded, but according to the UN, in 2019, under 18% of e-waste was appropriately collected and recycled (2).

We don’t know what happens to most of our e-waste.

We don’t know what happens to most of our e-waste.

The majority of e-waste (82%) is not collected and recycled in a formal manner, often being dumped, traded or recycled in ways which are not environmentally sound (3). For some countries it is often cheaper to export e-waste than to manage it domestically. The receiving countries often do not have appropriate infrastructure in place for processing the hazardous materials.

The e-waste mountain is only growing.

The e-waste mountain is only growing.

In 2019 alone, 53.6 million tons of e-waste was produced globally. That’s like throwing away 681 laptops every second! Going by our current disposal trends, this number is expected to climb to 74.7 million tons by 2030. This is a result of devices having shorter lifecycles, not enough infrastructure to process the waste and lack of legislation to manage it. Keep in mind, that each year we don’t start with a clean slate, the e-waste mountain accumulates more and more. (3)

E-waste is valuable.

E-waste is valuable.

Just because it has “waste” in its name, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. It’s estimated that the value of raw materials extracted from e-waste in 2019 alone could be worth as much as 57 billion US dollars. Large amounts of precious metals such as copper, gold and silver are disposed of in e-waste. With our current rate of recycling, at 18%, only 10 billion USD was recovered. (3)

1. “The toxicological implications of e-waste”, 2. “‘Digital dumpsites’ study highlights growing threat to children: UN health agency”, 3. “The Global E-waste Monitor 2020” page 23

Before you put the “waste” in e-waste, there are many preventative steps you can take so your devices don’t end up in the landfill. You’ve probably already heard about the importance of recycling. But did you know there are other R words you can embrace first?

  1. You can reduce by not buying new products, or making do with what you have by taking better care of it so it lasts longer.
  2. You can reuse, pass it on, sell or donate your devices to friends or people in need.
  3. And if it’s broken, it may be that only a small part of it that needs fixing; you can repair it, avoiding extra energy and resources to produce something new.
  4. If your device is beyond repair, your last resort is to recycle it responsibly! Usually large electronics shops recycle electronics. If you’re in the United States, check out Call2Recycle to find recycling centers. iFixit’s guide on how to recycle end-of-life electronics also has a thorough country-by-country list.

Give repair a chance

Did you know? There are many people around the world who practice reusing and repairing their broken devices and would like to formalize this as a right.

Advocacy groups campaigning for a change in legislation, do this under the “Right to Repair” motto. Their ultimate goals include waste reduction and accessibility. This is quite different from the current attitude, which puts more emphasis on protecting a company’s right to maintain secrets in how they design and build their products.

Intentionally or not, tech companies make it difficult for repairers and consumers to have access to the parts needed to repair; for example, using proprietary screws or gluing parts so they can’t be removed, and not publishing design manuals. Supporters of repair advocate for making information about the design of the machine available to the public, as well as tools and spare parts.

People championing repair principles live all over the world, with various interests and professions, such as: agricultural and hospital workers, climate activists, and open knowledge advocates to name a few.

Everyone has a different reason to care and their own unique benefits to repairing. Let’s explore some of these reasons...

Match the quote to the reason behind it

Arrow of theme environment

“It’s not broken yet”

“Do it yourself”

“It’s expensive”

“There is no Planet B”

You like to take care of your belongings

You are concerned about the environment

You want to innovate and express yourself

You keep an eye on your wallet

Match the quote to the reason behind it

You like to take care of your belongings

“It’s expensive”

“Do it yourself”

“It’s not broken yet”

“There is no Planet B”

You are concerned about the environment

“It’s expensive”

“Do it yourself”

“It’s not broken yet”

“There is no Planet B”

You want to innovate and express yourself

“It’s expensive”

“Do it yourself”

“It’s not broken yet”

“There is no Planet B”

You keep an eye on your wallet

“It’s expensive”

“Do it yourself”

“It’s not broken yet”

“There is no Planet B”

How could the Right to Repair be beneficial to you?


Things to go by when you buy

Follow the tips below to begin your journey into repair...

1. Buy used or refurbished devices

Refurbished devices are made of functioning used parts, only replacing the parts that are damaged. Wherever you are in the world, you can find refurbished laptops and phones. Here’s some tips on finding trusted retailers:

  • A lot of tech companies (Microsoft, Apple) sell refurbished products in their online stores.
  • Understand the risks of buying used products; and mitigate them by verifying if the retailers are trustworthy and if any guarantees or warranties are provided for the product you are purchasing.
  • When searching for retailers online be careful to avoid traps; check out these tips to steer clear of scams.

2. Consider what is realistic for your circumstances and needs

What do you need the device for and how much budget is available to you?

  • It may be that some repairable options can be expensive, not available in your location or unrealistic for your circumstances. Check your options and see what is possible for you.
  • Electronics and tech gadgets may not be necessary for your aims. Sometimes, good analogue options exist, which won’t turn into e-waste.

3. Find a repair café

Repair cafés are free meeting places where people get together to repair their things. In places where repair cafés are held, you will have access to different tools and expert volunteers.

  • Through the Repair Café website, you can find locations all over the world.
  • It might be that not all Repair Cafés are listed on the website. You may be able to find repair pop-ups, such as those in libraries, community centers and schools. They are usually community-centered and collectively organized.

As you learned here, a Data Detox can be about more than just your online accounts. Technology touches all aspects of your life, including your wallet and the environment.

If any of this was new information, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. But don’t worry! Take it one step at a time, care for one electronic device at a time... And be sure to tell your family and friends. Collective efforts can make even greater changes than individual efforts alone.


Written by Louise Hisayasu. Thanks to Emma Neibig, Aysel Akhundova, Safa Ghnaim, and Christy Lange for their edits, comments and reviews.

Last updated on: 11/22/2023