How to Upcycle Old Tech Products

Jeni_Odley
edited September 2023 in Green

Most of us know recycling our old plastics and packaging is good for the environment and can help reduce the need for landfills. The recycling process destroys disused paper, plastic, metals, and glass and turns it into something new and usable. Similarly, upcycling is a process by which our old products are taken in their current state and then modified, repurposed, or readapted to create a new and improved product.

Upcycling is hugely beneficial in industries such as fashion, where discarding used clothing contributes to the 92 million tonnes of clothing that end up in landfills each year. Upcycled clothing reduces the environmental burden and saves water and energy, which are used to excess during the production process. Likewise, upcycling is also becoming more and more popular in the tech industry, helping to reduce the annual 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste produced globally. 

What is e-waste?  

Electronic waste, known as e-waste, describes electronics nearing the end of their useful life that are discarded, donated, recycled, or upcycled. Laptops, cellphones, gaming consoles, home devices, or anything with a cable or cord is regarded as e-waste. Disposing of e-waste is not always convenient, causing many people to simply throw it away with their regular trash. Doing so can leak harmful chemicals and contaminants into the soil, which can end up in our food supplies and water sources via groundwater.  

Why is upcycling and recycling important? 

From fast fashion to trendy tech, there is no denying that we live in a world of excess. Upcycling and recycling provide savvy ways to use what we already have, reducing the burden of producing new products on our planet. Moreover, upcycling and recycling teach us how to value and get the most out of our beloved items without giving up on them entirely.  

Upcycling vs recycling  

Recycling breaks used products like plastic into its raw or base materials. In other words, recycled products go back into production and are transformed into completely different items. This process is repeatable, too, meaning items can be recycled again and again. While recycling is a great habit to get into, the process takes time, and we often do not see the direct results of our efforts.

On the other hand, upcycling lets us get creative with our devices. From wood and containers to picture frames or old clothes, upcycling lets us recreate old goods any way we want. It is a smart way to give dated products a breath of fresh air while turning trash into treasure.  

Types of recoverable e-waste 

Electronic goods are largely made up of plastic and metal parts. They also include hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, and liquids like ink or coolant. E-waste materials all get recycled in different ways, and some are even recoverable.  

Ferrous metals: Around 40% of e-waste comprises steel, a ferrous metal that forms the casing or chassis of electronic items. Recovered steel can be smelted and used to make new electronic items, vehicles, machinery, and even food containers. 

Non-ferrous metals: Unlike ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals such as aluminum and copper do not contain iron. Aluminum is popular for use in electronics due to its durability and high thermal conductivity. It is largely used in the structural areas of electronics like flat-screen TVs and motor casings. Aluminum can be reused and recycled, so it is important to ensure it remains out of landfill sites. In fact, making aluminum is so energy-intensive that recycling it takes only 5% of the energy required to make it from scratch.

Copper is an excellent heat conductor and can be found in electronics that require thermal conductivity. This includes radiators, compressors, and copper wires used in electric motors and circuit boards. Like aluminum, copper is a valuable metal that can be recycled again and again.  

How can you upcycle old tech?  

Recycling and upcycling sound good in theory, but how can old electronic products like an old computer or laptop be upcycled? Here are some ideas for your next upcycling projects. 

1. Use it as back-up 

Nowadays, people take so many photos and videos that it is impossible to store everything on one device. How about using an old laptop or computer as a backup? That way, tired but still functioning devices can still be put to good use by safeguarding surplus files, photos, and videos.  

2. Use it as an additional monitor 

Working from home, gaming, or keeping track of the latest stocks and shares — it can be tiring to stare at one screen for an extended time. Old screens can be reused as an additional monitor, helping to streamline your workflow and boost productivity. Working across two screens minimizes the need to click between tabs and applications, making it easier to compare and analyze data.  

3. Build a DIY Chromebook 

Turning an old laptop into a Chromebook may be easier than you think. Chromebooks use a simple operating system and do not require aspects such as driver management and regular system updates, making it a viable option if you want to access the web browser or cloud-based programs. Just make sure your old laptop meets the required specifications to get started.  

4. Create a Minecraft server 

Put your old laptop to use by inspiring young minds! By creating a Minecraft server, kids can learn how to code in a fun and exciting way. The game is not hardware-intensive so most old laptops or computers should be able to handle it. Minecraft provides a safe gaming option for young users and teaches kids problem-solving and communication skills. 

5. Make a retro gaming computer  

​​​Those looking for a bit of game nostalgia can consider turning old laptops or computers into retro gaming machines. ​​By downloading and installing emulation software for the gaming platform, you can kill two birds with one stone by reliving your old gaming memories and putting an unused computer to use. Gamers looking to take a walk down memory lane should be mindful that while using and downloading emulators is legal, downloading Roms, i.e. games to play on the emulator, is not. 

6. If you can't upcycle it, recycle it  

If these options aren’t for you, why not recycle old electronics instead? Acer offers multiple recycling programs that help you get rid of old devices, batteries, and accessories responsibly. Each US state has different recycling rules, so US-based customers should check the guidelines for their respective states beforehand. Do your bit to help the planet and clear out old electronic clutter with Acer recycling. 

Conclusion 

Electronic waste contains substances like metals, glass, plastics, and chemicals, making it more troublesome to dispose of than household waste. But there are options. Upcycling old electronics by making a second screen or even creating a new Chromebook are fantastic ways to put old devices to good use. Moreover, donating tired electronics to schools or local charities means that they can even be used to inspire future generations. Moreover, Acer’s recycling program also lets users get rid of their old devices without harming the planet. 

Jeni is a translator and writer based in Taiwan. She is passionate about business development and loves helping companies enter international markets. She is fluent in English, German, and Mandarin Chinese, and combines these with her industry experience to provide practical market entry solutions.

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