It’s that time again. Maybe you spilled a glass of wine on your laptop, or it takes five minutes to open Microsoft Word and you realize you’re nearing the end. Either way, it’s time for a new computer.
If you’re like us, the idea of replacing a computer is exciting but incredibly daunting. It’s such a great feeling to pick out that perfect computer, but as budding environmentalists, it can feel like a hopeless trap. How can you get a new computer AND adhere to your eco-conscious ways?
As we’ve become more sustainably minded, most possessions we acquire are either secondhand or very old, and a computer can’t be either of those things. Sure, there’s a market for refurbished laptops and computers, but those computers are dated and will need to be upgraded sooner rather than later. Also, if you work in audio/visual production or any other computer-related field, a top of the line computer is a priority. What’s an ambitious environmentalist to do?
Build Your Own Computer
Building your own computer is one option to get the computer you need while also reducing your ecological impact. This endeavor may seem out of reach for the average consumer, but computers have come a LONG way. If you can construct a LEGO set, you can build a computer.
Sustainability of Building Your Own Computer
The first concern when making any purchase should be how long the product is going to last. In our modern age of fast fashion and disposable goods, it’s easy to go for the most convenient option. Retailers always offer 0% financing with a three-year warranty, and that’s just about how long the computers end up lasting.
The real problem with most retail computers is they’re built with no longevity in mind. The metal shell that houses all of the computer parts, known as the case, is designed by big brand manufacturers to only support parts the brand produces. These part upgrades are overpriced and eventually become too expensive to replace as the manufacturer releases a new model. This leads to buying an entire new computer every 2-5 years.
Buying a custom-built desktop PC is the complete opposite. Almost any new standalone computer case is designed with limitless customizations and upgrades. Because computer parts need to be adapted to any and all consumers, computer cases have used the same sized parts for the last 20 years and will most likely continue for 20 more.
If you need more hard drive space, buy a new hard drive of any size and install it. If you need a BlueRay player, buy that and install it. If you find you have way too many USB cords connecting to your computer, install as many 7 port USB cards as you’d like. Not to mention a coveted processor, the part that most of your computing power rests on, can be upgraded too.
So what does this all mean? It means your custom-built computer can easily last over 10 years, as you replace old parts with new ones. Just one computer can last as long as numerous pre-built PCs and have a full range of customizable options. Not to mention, you’ll have bragging rights with all your nerdy friends.
Researching the most eco-friendly electronic manufacturers can make your head spin. Many parts are produced in other countries with possibly dubious environmental standards, the electronic components may be sourced from war-torn countries, and shipping practices can be less than ideal. Without getting into the impact of all these factors, there is one waste product that we can easily observe: packaging.
Unfortunately, no matter how you get your new computer, packaging will be involved. It’s important to follow the classic three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Fortunately, with building a computer that will last over a decade, you’re reducing your waste many times over. With my recent computer build, you can see that nearly all of the packaging waste was recyclable (photo above): most trash was in the form of cardboard and hard plastic. (I did have an assortment of little screws and glue that would need to go in the trash, but thankfully, it was a small assortment). If you’re creative, you can easily reuse the wide variety of plastic bags every part came wrapped in. My bags are in a basket under the sink, slowly finding a new purpose. A few ideas to reuse include: wrapping them over your bike seat for a waterproof protector, useingthem to dispose of stinky food that can’t be composted, storing your Christmas decorations, or sorting your vintage button collection.
By building your own computer and limiting your future computer purchases, you’re decreasing the packaging and the overall amount of shipping involved. Reducing waste can be frustrating, but going with a custom-built computer and you’re already helping in a big way.
“Aren’t computers expensive?” Nay! Pre-built computers have come down considerably in price, but if you purchase your own parts and assemble them yourself, you can cut costs even more. We won’t speculate why computers at the big box retailers are so expensive, but the increased cost and lack of customizability make the custom-built PC much more attractive. This computer from Best Buy retails at $900, but if you price out the parts alone the cost is just over $600. The choice is obvious.
Where to begin?
We can’t describe how many times I’ve thought, “Thanks Internet,” and this is no exception. Countless resources are at your disposal to guide you through the building process. To build my recent custom-built PC, I loved PCpartpicker.com. It’s tailored to new computer builders and seasoned builders alike. The site offers detailed parts lists for various types of computers, as well as links to the cheapest prices and email notifications when parts go on sale. Their active community continually updates the site with new builds of all types and price points.
Here are three build examples to get you started:
Then, all that’s left is to assemble your computer, and luckily, YouTube has turned out more computer building tutorials than cat videos at this point. Even if you think you aren’t able to do a computer build, check out the different resources available to you because it’s much easier than you may think. We all want to be more self-sufficient and are dying to learn sewing, canning, and other skills to become a zero waste rockstar. Make computer building another learned expertise! Take the weekend off and teach yourself this new, valuable skill.
This video helped me put together my PC:
Building your first PC can be a whole lot of fun, and it’s a more sustainable route than buying the latest and greatest at Best Buy. Complete your environmentalist lifestyle and get onboard the sustainable computing superhighway.