>> Monday, July 6, 2009
I'm dreaming about getting a new laptop, but since I've decided to stick it out with our seven-year-old desktop for at least a few months, this is a post with more questions than answers. The environmental impact of our endlessly upgrading technology is a topic I'm just beginning to take a peek at, and the more I learn, the more overwhelmed I feel as a consumer.
Here are just a few problems with laptops:
While researching this post, I stumbled upon this "eco-claim" from the XO Laptop by One Laptop Per Child: "The laptop lifetime is 5 years or 2.5 times longer than a typical laptop."
That means that the typical lifetime of a laptop is only two years!
I can attest to that statistic from experience. My defunct laptop was an Asus Eee PC, and I loved that it was compact and highly portable, but it died after a year and a half. Before that, I had a Dell that lasted for a year before becoming a permanent dust-collector in my closet. My husband, a software engineer, says he's never had a laptop last longer than three years.
An average lifetime of only two years seems utterly ridiculous for a product that can carry such a high price tag. Especially considering all of the toxic substances it can contain...
Laptops contain a number of harmful substances, including the following:
- brominated flame retardants
With all the hazardous substances that laptops may be harboring, tossing dead laptops into a landfill seems like an obvious no-no. But recycling a laptop may not be much better.
Much of the e-waste in this country is sent to developing nations with lower environmental standards, such as China and India. There, poor workers dismantle computers, laptops, cell phones, and other types of electronic waste without proper equipment or protection, exposing themselves, the land, and the water to highly toxic substances.
My Perfect Laptop
In my dreams, laptops would be designed without all those harmful materials. They would be easily disassembled so the valuable materials they are made of can be recycled. They would be easy to repair and would boast a long lifespan. They would be energy efficient. And it would be awesome if they could come in minimal (but recyclable) packaging.
Turns out, I'm not the only person who has dreamed up that type of laptop. The Green Electronics Council has developed a program called EPEAT that assesses laptops and computers according to their environmental impact and assigns them either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating. Consumers can use these ratings to find eco-friendly computers that fit their needs.
However, after browsing through their database, it seems like the laptops that have earned a Gold rating are also the ones that are most expensive. My Asus Eee, for instance, only received a Silver rating, but it also only costs $400. It makes me cringe to think of spending $1500-$2000 on a laptop that will die after two years, Gold rating or not.
Repair or Buy New?
The other option is repairing. I now have two laptops that could be repaired instead of buying a new one, but with each one, the cost to repair feels prohibitive compared to the cost of a new, better product. Most of the time, repairing seems like the perfect environmental choice, but if it means I'll be stuck with an inferior product when I could have upgraded to something better for almost the same price, I have trouble feeling happy about choosing repair over new.
This is a case where my inner tightwad and my inner environmentalist are at war. Luckily, I still have my old desktop to keep me satisfied for a few months while I decide what to do.
What do you think is the best option?
Photo by manbeastextraordinaire