Is the disposable tech cycle about to end?

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We live in a society where most of the things we buy are thrown away as soon as they break or when the latest version is released. Mount Recyclemore, created by Music Magpie for the G7 summit in June, highlighted this by creating giant heads out of discarded trash.

During shutdowns, however, we’ve seen an increase in people wanting to continue using the technology they have rather than buying something new. Speaking to our customers, two factors come into play: one, they seem to be becoming more environmentally conscious, and two, they don’t want to have to buy a new kit. Could we be witnessing a new trend? One where we stop the cycle of disposable technology?

Reusing laptop parts that just went to waste is important to us. Sarah called us on a Saturday, panicking that her daughter’s Chromebook wouldn’t charge or turn on, and she needed it fixed by Monday in time for homeschooling. We first checked that the Chromebook hadn’t been provided by her daughter’s school, then we agreed to review it. Upon examination, the charging port was damaged and needed to be replaced. Our supplier was closed as it was a weekend, and if we had to order a replacement, it would have taken at least a week to be delivered. Fortunately, we had a similar HP laptop in our disposal box that was given to us for disposal.

We took the donor laptop apart, extracted the charging port, then compared it to the Chromebook. It was a game! Fortunately, the port did not require soldering; it was a plug and play version, allowing easier extraction. Once installed in the Chromebook, we verified that it would charge and turn on before returning it to Sarah so her daughter could continue home schooling.

Game over

Jake’s problem was at the other end of the scale. Rather than buying a brand new gaming PC or opting for the excitement of buying all the latest parts to put it together himself, he had gone a hybrid route. Jake tried to build his new gaming computer himself but ran into trouble, so his mom phoned us secretly to ask if we could help once they got back from vacation.

We gathered all the components and discovered that the power supply, graphics card and hard drives had all been used in his previous computer. Even though everything had been assembled correctly, the computer would not turn on. Unfortunately, its old power supply was not powerful enough for the new motherboard. Due to the size of the case, we ordered a Corsair Modular PSU as a replacement, which would allow Jake to remove cables that weren’t needed.

The next step was the graphics card. After trying many times to get it to work, we discovered that it was unfortunately physically damaged when it was removed from the previous computer. We then had the difficult task of finding a new graphics card that supported virtual reality (VR). Fortunately, we managed to buy one from a local supplier.

With everything now installed, we got Jake back to a fully operational PC. He asked us what he could do with his old PC case because he didn’t want to just throw it away. We took it out of hands so it can be reused or recycled, as it is in full working order.

eye of the beholder

Computer performance is subjective. Some people think their computer should turn on in a heartbeat, while others don’t mind waiting a few minutes. However, if you have to make yourself a cup of tea while waiting for Windows to load, you know something is wrong. And if your computer feels like an airplane when you’re on a Zoom call, then it’s time to take a look at what’s causing it (in my case, it was cat fur clogging the fan).

Louise contacted us about three laptops. They were all over ten years old and she wanted to keep them, but she wasn’t sure it was worth it because of their age. I can only describe the first one as a brick. It was an old Toshiba running Vista, and a quick specs check showed it wouldn’t support an upgrade to Windows 10. Then there was a Packard Bell (I secretly love Packard Bells, I have had them since I was a child). When we turned it on, a surprise awaited us: it was running Ubuntu. It was working fine, but the OS hadn’t been updated since it was installed.

The last laptop in the trio was another Toshiba, which had already been upgraded to Windows 10 but was running at 100% disk usage and had next to no battery life. We informed Louise that a replacement SSD would be the best option, and as far as the battery goes, we recommended either replacing it or keeping the laptop plugged in all the time.

We cloned the hard drive using our Acronis software so that no data was lost. A new battery was ordered from Toshiba and installed in the laptop. It made a nice change from having an old fashioned removable battery rather than an internal one. We gave her back the laptops so that her children could continue school at home.

This brings me to one of the most interesting repairs we’ve had recently, this time from Jenna. His sons were playing football in the house and the ball accidentally flew towards one of their laptops and broke the screen. For added pressure, Jenna was due to give birth in the next few days and the son whose laptop was now broken was to stay with his father in Liverpool while she was in hospital.

Luckily our supplier was just down the street and we were able to pick up the screen and replace it that night for Jenna. It meant she could relax and not worry about how her son was going to do his homework while she was in the hospital.

More years please

From there, you can see a common theme: all of our customers want us to fix their computer so they can enjoy it for a few more years. Most of the computers we see are over five years old, an age when people usually consider replacing their current computer, but more and more people are looking to extend the life of the technology they already have. For example, when your battery life drops drastically, replacing the battery isn’t as easy as it used to be, but it’s still possible.

Whether it’s replacing screens damaged by football kicks or ripping out MacBook keyboards to replace them when the keys come loose, it’s often possible to salvage a machine that has stopped working. The disposable society we once lived in is less and less prevalent. More and more people are keeping older mobile phones and only upgrading when the apps they are using are no longer supported on that phone. If you’re upgrading, consider the option of trading in your old phone or trying one of the many recycling options that provide pennies for your old one.

Maybe you have an old computer lying around? Charities often take old computers to help train people with new skills for future development; they’ll use the ones that don’t work in smash rooms. Just be sure to erase all personal data from the hard drive. Some charities will also refurbish and resell them, raising money for their cause.

Several repair cafés have also sprung up across the country, including one where I used to live. People will repair a range of different things brought to them using the skills they have learned throughout their lives. Anything that keeps things from going to the landfill has to be a good thing.

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