Free software can extend the usable life of computers, delay “e-waste”

The New York Times published an article about the Thai “e-waste” processing and attendant environmental and human health problems: low-wage Thai workers take in deadly toxins emitted from old computer parts (fumes from burning metal, plastic, and other things found in modern computers) as they separate the reusable components from the rest.

Along the lines of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ (and taken in that order as going from most to least important), free software has a role to play.

We can choose to stop computerizing everything — we don’t need everything in our lives to be driven by computers or connected to a network. Ubiquitous networking plus proprietary software (as is common today) leads to the “Internet of stings” where users are spied upon by devices they ostensibly own (also known as the ‘Internet of things‘ for those seeking to promote a lack of user control over what should be their an owner’s devices and programs).

We can build computers in a way that facilitates repair — support right-to-repair laws, don’t do business with organizations that oppose right-to-repair laws, and design computers with easily accessed battery bays and easily accessed circuit boards.

We can make computers that run entirely on free software — software we’re free to run, share, inspect, and modify — to extend the useful life of computers. Computers that run entirely on free software let anyone study how the computers work, modify the software, and run the computers longer. Therefore software freedom can delay a computer’s entry onto the scrap heap.

We can use more reusable components on computers — make more computers with metal casing which can be reforged instead of plastic casing which produces toxic fumes when heated.