Sustainable Tech and Home Office Favorites

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And how to safely say goodbye to e-waste

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In October of 2000, I became the first person in my middle school to receive a cell phone. A gift from my grandmother, the Nokia had a little antenna and came with a set of four plastic Disney covers (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald Duck, if memory serves). I mostly used the phone to call home and play Snake, a game in which you directed a little serpent towards an asterisk of food. As the snake grew and sped up, you had to keep it from bumping into itself, which would mean game over. Thinking back, I haven’t a clue what happened to the Nokia and its cases. Did I give them away or recycle them properly? Or did they just become part of a rising wave of electronic waste, growing as fast as the snake on the screen? 

Desk Set, a hysterical 1957 office rom-com, stars Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and a giant computer that threatens her job.
Image courtesy Masheter Movie Archvive / Alamy Stock Photo 

According to the World Health Organization, the world generated over 50 million tons of e-waste in 2019, and recycled less than 18% of it. Electronic waste has been growing at a rate three times faster than that of the global population, and includes everything from tiny batteries and cables to treadmills and copy machines. Cell phones, laptops, televisions, routers, printers, video game consoles, vape pens, thermometers, and many children’s toys count as e-waste. 

However, as with almost all recycling services, different municipalities have different procedures and definitions. In Manhattan, where I live, the NYC Department of Sanitation instructs residents to treat hair dryers, vacuums, stereos, and speakers as appliances and to put them out for curbside recycling. In Los Angeles, these items are treated as e-waste. Check with your city or town to make sure that you know what you can drop off, as well as when and where. (And keep reading for more specifics on electronics recycling.) 

Some of the e-waste that doesn’t get recycled properly ends up in landfills, of course, but much of it actually makes its way from rich economies to poorer ones through a range of illegal pathways. The items contain valuable raw materials such as gold and copper as well as hazardous ones like arsenic and lead. Millions of children work in this informal recycling, or “urban mining,” industry, and face dangerous levels of chemical exposure

So, what’s a non-Luddite to do? Recycling matters, but reusing — keeping items in circulation longer — is better. That means logically assessing upgrades (does a slightly newer phone camera make that big a difference?) and then giving away or selling old devices so that they stay in use. Consider buying top-quality refurbished devices instead of buying new. Or think about switching to Fairphone, which is made with some recycled materials and designed for easy repair. Get compostable cases for your phone, iPad, and AirPods. Try these charging cables made with bio-based materials (how cool is that!?. Or, check out these portable chargers made with mostly recycled materials

But, don’t make any changes until you really need to: The whole point is to put less stuff out there. When the time arrives, I wish you happy shopping! 

– Elizabeth Weinstein, Marketplace Editor 

Greener Tech and Accessories

A person is shown from knee to elbow, walking while carrying a Macbook laptop tucked under the arm. The person, in bluejeans and a tee-shirt, wears a simple watch on a brown leather strap. Photo courtesy Back Market.

“Reborn Tech”

The next time you want a new device, consider Back Market, an online marketplace for professionally refurbished “reborn tech.” In 2023, the Certified B Corp announced that by refurbishing rather than discarding devices, it had prevented one million tons of carbon emissions. Read our review.

A cell phone screen-side down in a blue case showing a wave design and the brand name "pela" sits on sandy, rocky ground.

Compostable Cases

We all need to protect our phones, but doing so comes at great cost: people toss well over a billion plastic phone cases every year. Canadian company Pela offers an excellent alternative — fashionable, eco-friendly cell phone cases available for most phone types, in many styles and colors. Read our review.

A person’s hand holds a cell phone in a gray case over a small phone mount connected to bicycle handlebars.

Great Accessories

Peak Design makes functional, sustainable tech accessories including bags, backpacks, travel gear, and phone and camera accessories. A Certified B Corp, 1% for the Planet member, and founding member of Climate Neutral, Peak has a reputation for prioritizing sustainability across its operations. Read our review.

Four black AA batteries with the brand name “paleblue” are charging on a micro-USB charger.

Rechargeable Batteries

According to the EPA, Americans buy — and discard — billions of single-use alkaline batteries every year. There’s a better way: rechargeable batteries. Paleblue makes lithium-ion batteries that have a thousand lifetime uses. The provided micro-USB cable charger charges up to four batteries at a time in only 90 minutes. Read our review.

A small white portable charger with the recycling logo and a small elephant on it is shown next to two plastic bottle caps and shards of broken plastic.

Better Chargers

Tech products — chargers, wires, phone cases, adapters, and the like — often have short lives, either because they’re made poorly, become obsolescent, or both. Nimble aims to make those items sustainably and to help prevent existing tech detritus from becoming landfill waste. Read our review.

A man sits at a light blond wood desk, with his hands on a white Apple keyboard over a grey felt desk mat. Matching wooden desk accessories elevate his Apple desktop computer and his iPhone. Photo courtesy Oakywood.

Desks, Docks, and More

Oakywood makes elegant, sustainable tech accessories and office furniture that combine old-world craftsmanship with contemporary needs. The company’s founder, the son of a carpenter, grew up in rural Poland. He built his first product, a wooden dock for his cell phone, while studying computing in Krakow. Read our review.

All About Recycling Old Tech

Not sure what that dongle in the bottom drawer does? (Or what a dongle even is?) Haven’t got a clue when you last turned on that iPhone 6? We’ll help you get rid of it in a sustainable way. For lots more detail, check out Bluedot’s handy guide, How to Get Rid of (Almost) Anything. Here, just a few ideas: 

  • Give the item to a neighbor on your local Buy Nothing group
  • Donate your old computer equipment or sell it for cash. 
  • Pop your (U.S.) zip code into the Consumer Technology Association’s Recycle Locator for a list of stores near you where you can drop items off. Check out Call2Recyle’s location finder for recycling batteries of all kinds.

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Elizabeth Weinstein
Elizabeth Weinstein
Elizabeth Weinstein, Bluedot’s Marketplace Editor, lives in Manhattan with her husband; papillon Finley; and cats SanDeE* and Modell. When she’s not asking the folks at Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom to try on their most sustainable sneakers in a size 9½, she can be found at the Union Square Greenmarket or gardening on her rooftop terrace.
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