The U.S. Public Interest Research Group recently released a report called “Chromebook Churn” detailing how cheaply made Chromebooks with short lifespans are increasing the amount of electronic waste in the U.S., Vice reports.
Chromebooks are a popular option for users who need an inexpensive laptop, Vice explains. But they’re so affordable because they’re low-quality items that break quickly. When they do, the cost of replacement parts is a significant portion of the cost of a new machine, if the owners can find the parts at all. Chromebook models tend to differ in small but significant ways, so some parts aren’t interchangeable.
“I’m ashamed to admit I have a pile of them in storage,” said one Reddit user. “All broken … the repairman won’t touch them.”
Meanwhile, even if a Chromebook doesn’t break, Google stops supporting the model within a few years, Vice reports. For example, one model sold between 2017 and 2020 will stop updating in 2024. When that happens, it will quickly become outdated and may stop working for a user’s needs.
All of this creates a situation in which it’s easier for owners to throw the old Chromebook out and buy a replacement than to maintain the one they own. This is expensive for taxpayers; the U.S. PIRG report estimates if Chromebook manufacturers extended the device’s lifespan, taxpayers could save $1.8 billion from use in schools.
Meanwhile, all that electronic waste is bad for the Earth, Vice reports. It fills up landfills and contains chemicals that can pollute the environment. Manufacturing replacement Chromebooks also takes its toll; the energy use and the need for new materials contributes to pollution and warms up the Earth.
Reddit users also had advice for the owners of Chromebooks who may be thinking of throwing them away. “I’ve obtained some Chromebooks that others have thrown away,” said one user. “They are generally weak and poorly designed, but they can be useful. I reinstalled the software and set them up for some elderly friends.”
Another Redditor suggested, “Install ChromeOS flex … It replace[s] the original system with the new [one] developed by Google, with the same updates. The only difference is that you don’t have the Play Store.”
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