The last decade has seen an enormous shift in consumer electronics. There are mind-boggling quantities of devices produced and discarded every year. We want to highlight some every day sustainable technology tips to allow you to lower the impact of your gadget usage.

1. Switch off devices when not in use

We can all be guilty of this one.

The good news is that the average energy usage from devices on standby is gradually reducing due to the EU directive of requiring standby power consumption be less than 1 Watt.

That figure is also due to fall to less than 0.5W in the future.

In the energy-saving trusts ‘Power The Nation 2’ the estimated waste is at 5% reduced from 6-9% in the previous study.

This loss equates to around 200kWh per household per year or approximately £30 on the average bill.

A simple solution to this is to switch off at the plug socket when not in use. 

You could also introduce plug timers so that you can set devices to switch off overnight, for example. 

Also, don’t forget to switch your battery-powered devices off when not in use. 

Phones and tablets tend to use quite a lot of battery on standby which means you will be charging much quicker. 

Most devices boot very fast now, so a 20-second wait to get online each morning is a minor inconvenience and leads to more sustainable technology from a longer device lifespan.

2. Charge correctly to prolong your battery lifespan

This one is for your tablets, phones and other gadgets that use a lithium-ion battery.

Studies show that partial charging is the way to go to maximise the battery lifespan in your devices rather than letting it go all the way to zero then up to 100%.

Graph showing battery charge voltage vs time
Battery University – Lower battery voltages help prolong capacity over time. Green: lower voltage charging for first ~65%. Yellow: Start of constant voltage. Red: Long period of high voltage charging for the last 15%.

To summarise, 

  • It is best to keep your phone in the 30 to 80% range to prolong the battery.
  • Don’t charge overnight as it leaves the battery in the 100% charge state which can damage the internal plating, stresses it, which reduces lifespan whilst also creating waste heat.
  • Use fast charge sparingly and again, never overnight.
  • Prevent your phone from becoming hot and overheating as this can degrade the battery
  • Preferably turn off your device when charging but if not then don’t overload and play games or watch videos at the same time.

Read this to find out why the above is true or move on to tip three if you are OK to take my word for it.

3. Switch your default search engines to Ecosia

So this one blew my mind when I discovered it.

They are a search engine with a difference and can help turn your devices into sustainable technology.

Ecosia is a non-profit which plants trees with its advertising revenue.

They also don’t sell data to advertisers and don’t have third party trackers.

Their servers run on renewable energy, and every search removes 1kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.

It takes around 45 searches to plant a tree, and at the time of writing, they have already planted over 105 million trees.

Their next milestone is 1 Billion trees which seems pretty feasible if they can gather a decent following of people.

You can sign in with just an email address, and you get sent a link to click. Once you are signed in you can track your search numbers and subsequently how many trees planted.

I would think most people will be planting at least 1 tree a week if they are your default search engine on all devices.

Admittedly sometimes the results aren’t yet up to google standard, but it doesn’t cost you anything to give them first try and fall back to google when needed.

Let’s take a look at how you can change your default search engine:

Laptop/Desktop computer

Visit www.ecosia.org from your preferred web browser.

You will see a blue box underneath the tree counter with “Add Ecosia to” followed by your current browser. Click this and follow the instructions.

Ecosia search engine home page

Android

Assuming you use Chrome:

  1. Open the browser
  2. Click the three dots in the top right
  3. Click settings
  4. Then search engine
  5. Lastly, select Ecosia

All of your searches will now go towards planting a tree!

Their Android app is also available here

iOS

Option 1

Apple does not allow you to switch the default to Ecosia in Safari mobile currently so you can either switch default browser or set your safari homepage to Ecosia and visit it when you want to search.

Option 2

Download the Ecosia web browser for iOS for the app store here

4. Don’t upgrade your mobile devices every year.

Phone and tablet contracts typically run on a 12 or 24-month agreement. 

At the end of this period, you get encouraged to upgrade to the latest and greatest then repeat the cycle.

If you get the latest release, you will typically be spending north of £40 per month for the pleasure.

If you can take more care with the device and invest in a decent case coupled with following our battery advice given in tip 1, there is no reason that your device shouldn’t last into years 3, 4 and beyond.

You could then switch to a sim only deal from the likes of Giffgaff from as little as £6/month. 

As we will see in the next section, the environmental impact can be quite severe.

5. Recycle or gift old devices

Lot’s of rare earth elements get used in the manufacture of each mobile device. 

These elements need to be mined from the earth and can be a resource-heavy process.

There are 90 naturally occurring elements on earth and researchers from the University of St Andrews created a new periodic table below.

It highlights the scarcity of the elements that we use in all of our everyday devices.

New periodic table 90 elements

Smartphones are typically made up of around 30 elements, half of which rare earth elements. 

They give cause for concern either because of increased scarcity from reduced supplies, typically located in conflict zones or are not able to be fully recycled.

Unless we increase global recycling rates, many of these elements will be dissipated within the next 100 years.

Gift devices

So, how do we improve things? One way is to extend the lifespan of each mobile device. Can you gift your old gadget to a relative or friend who will get another couple of years from it?

Alternatively, some charity shops also accept old devices for refurbishment or recycling.

Recycling Devices

There are many websites out there that will purchase your old device and then either reuse or recycle them.

The pioneer of this was mazumamobile.com and have been operating since 2006. 

So if you have any old devices laying around in drawers then go here and get a quote to give them a new lease of life. 

6. Operate and charge your devices using renewable energy. 

There are many UK energy providers now that offer ‘green’ plans.

They have different mixes of energy source, but the critical thing is, NO FOSSIL FUELS!

These companies will create more green project with the more people that make the change.

See our blog post on how to switch to a renewable energy provider for a more comprehensive overview and full instructions on how to change and potentially save on your energy bill.

Sustainable technology conclusion

With a few changes of habit and some longer-term thinking, we can overcome the looming problems and foster an era of sustainable technology.

Some of this will come from industry driving better recycling rates, but we as consumers also have to play a part.

Do we need the latest and greatest every year? Can we utilise our devices better to prolong their lifespans? And finally, can we gift or dispose of them in a responsible way?

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