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Good Gadget Guide: 8 ways to shrink your e-waste footprint



At this stage, we are well and truly a society of gadget nerds. Computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and dozens of other electronic devices proliferate, and we use them for almost everything. Hype around the release of new models is huge, and you’re encouraged to update your gadgets regularly or risk looking like a backward fogey who’s more familiar with Morse code than txt spk. The ethical cost of continuously updating these devices is large, but there are a few things you can do to swim against the tide and use electronics in a more sustainable way.

Know your rights

Often, the decision to buy a new piece of electronic equipment happens when the old one carks it. This might be the timely death of an heirloom television, but sometimes electronics break before a reasonable amount of time or usage has elapsed. It’s always worth checking with the seller or manufacturer before you put it out on the nature strip for the council to pick up.  The Australian Consumer Law clearly sets out your rights when it comes to broken or faulty goods, and if you’re entitled you might be able to squeeze another year out of your smartphone by having someone else foot the bill. For a simple, amusing explanation of when to ask for a repair or replacement, watch this clip from ABC consumer affairs show The Checkout. Unfortunately, most electronics retailers don’t know or choose to ignore the law. See this CHOICE investigation on the subject, and make sure you don’t let sales staff railroad your legal entitlements. This guide from Lifehacker on how to get Apple to replace a defective phone offers handy tips for what to say to retailers when you’re asserting your rights.

 Donate your cast-offs

If you absolutely must have the newest computer model and your old one is still in working order, donate your computer to a charity electronics organisation. These groups will take your gently used computers, spruce them up, and give them to people or groups in need who aren’t concerned about having the latest and greatest innovation. That way your old computer can eke out its retirement somewhere it’s truly appreciated, and community groups buy one less new computer. For donation options in your location, consult the Give Now electricals page.


 Recycle your e-waste

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is shaping up as one of the biggest global pollution problems of the coming century. Computers and mobile phones contain a laundry list of hazardous and non-biodegradable materials like plastic, lead, cadmium and mercury. Entire towns in China and Ghana are covered in e-waste, and the people who live there are forced to do dangerous and low-paid salvage work to re-sell the residual components of dumped devices. For more information on the human cost of electronics disposal, see this Guardian piece on the town of Agbogbloshie. To avoid your old computers, phones and TV sets contributing to this problem, check out free tech recycling schemes like the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme and Mobile Muster.

 Electronic ethics guide in your pocket

For brick and mortar shopping, print out a copy of Baptist World Aid’s tiny summary of their Behind the Barcode report into electronics companies. The report investigated dozens of popular electronics brands on labour rights, worker treatment, and living wage, assigning a grade from A to F.  It’s trustworthy, simple to understand, and covers most brands you’re likely to find in electronics and department stores. None of the brands received an A grade, but some got as high as B+. Even if you only use it as a cheat sheet to avoid purchasing from the brands that got a low score, it’s worth tucking inside your wallet, especially if you buy a lot of electronics for personal or professional use.

 Choose trustworthy refurbs

Refurbished goods sometimes get a bad rap, but if you’re interested in savings and know where to look, they can be a great choice that’s less harmful than buying new. It’s important to make sure your computer has been refurbished by someone credible, rather than being given the once-over with a can of compressed air in the back of a truck somewhere. A good choice might be buying direct from the manufacturer: Apple, Dell, Acer and some other brands have website sections where you can buy refurbished electronics at steep discounts.  You can also buy from reputable third parties like GreenPC, which provides very low-cost PCs to charities and people on low incomes.

 Spring clean your computer

If you haven’t given your computer a bit of TLC recently, look into how you can extend PC’s lifespan and make it a little more enjoyable to use.  PCs can become crammed with malware and unnecessary software, which may inhibit their processing speed and generally make your computing experience miserable. On the hardware side, PC towers can be incredibly dusty and grimy places. This stops the fan from working at its best, which can lead to overheating and performance issues. Check out how to treat your computer right at Lifehacker.

 Investigate DIY repairs

For the more confident electronics consumer, there is a wealth of resources out there that show you how to repair your own electronics. This can be risky, and always check with the seller or manufacturer first to see if they’ll repair or replace your item. But if you damaged the item yourself, or you’re simply a free spirit with a broken television and nothing to lose, it’s worth attempting to repair your item before you junk it. Replacing cracked laptop or phone screens, for instance, is a common DIY job that most people can do by themselves. For a database of repair guides, see iFixit.


 Change the trends

Instead of buying the latest smartphone upgrade, consider joining the vintage mobile phone brigade. Mobiles that we recognise from a decade ago are surging in popularity, and it’s not hard to see why when you compare the weeklong battery life of a mid-2000s Nokia with the paltry 24 hours of a new model iPhone. If going off the grid appeals to you, consider buying one of these vintage wonders so you can keep in contact and break your Twitter addiction in one go. For klutzes and clumsy people these phones can be a real boon – their lack of glass panels and sturdy plastic casing make them virtually immune to everyday accidents that can total more modern specimens. Sellers include Vintage Phones and Unimobile.

Photo credit

Chechi Pe, Electrodomesticos (CC)
Mosman Council, E-waste collection (CC)
Alper Cugan, Differance (CC)
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Inside ethical fashion: we chat to new label Jacob + Esau!


What better way to get an insight into ethical fashion than chat to some entrepreneurs who are trying to make it happen? We spoke with Joanne and Esther from (hopefully!) forthcoming clothing label Jacob + Esau. They’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign to try and get it off the ground.

Tell us a bit about your experience as fashion consumers trying to make ethical choices.

J & E: Making ethical shopping decisions has always been a personal challenge for us. We found it really hard to find out where and how the clothes we were interested in buying are made. There’s not much more information available besides the “MADE IN CHINA” label stitched onto the garment! It was tough choosing to gradually stop buying from our favourite brands as we began to realise the implications of shopping at stores that are silent on their supply and manufacturing processes. Finding new favourite (and ethical) stores was even tougher. They were either expensive, non-wearable, non-trendy or a combination of all three.

What motivated you to start your new brand Jacob and Esau?

E: Our motivation is to invest in people. Strip back differences in culture, religion and tradition and all humans are basically the same. We all want to love and be loved, and  have freedom and respect in our work and leisure. We felt like that was becoming increasingly difficult to recognise and understand in an age of fast paced consumerism.

This disconnection between ‘us’ as consumers and ‘them’ as off-shore workers is what fuels my passion to change things up in the fashion industry. J & E is a practical channel through which Jo and I want to provide education about how products are made, build bridges between different cultures and ultimately unite people through something as simple as a t-shirt.

J: We want to fill the gap we found when trying to shop ethically. That is, to provide the kind of clothes that we like to wear – affordable, stylish and now ethical as well.

kholi and wiwik

Who will make your clothes and what arrangements do you have with them? What do you think is the best way for a small supplier to ensure that the people making the clothes are treated well?

J & E: Husband and wife team Kholil and Wiwik will produce our first collection from their own home in Bali, Indonesia. Initially we looked at setting up a comfortable and clean workspace for them to use, but we realised that they actually prefer to work from home. It’s comfortable, convenient and makes it easier for them to raise their young son Dafar. They even have aspirations to make their home business a full-time affair, which we’re very excited by.

Our visit in July allowed us to meet face-to-face, get to know them and understand how partnering with us would fit into their lives.

We think this is the best way to ensure that our employees are treated well – by including them in all conversations and decisions made by the business. Small suppliers need to, and can definitely afford to, stop every now and then to have genuine conversations with their workers, and find out what works for them as individuals.

What about the fabrics they will use – are you able to trace where the fabric itself was made?

J: We will be the first to admit that we are still in the process of sourcing more sustainable alternatives in the fabric we use.Currently, we are exploring various organic and sustainable fabric suppliers in Indonesia and will be looking to improve our environmental practices in collections to come!

E: As a starting point, 90% of the collection to be launched this summer uses natural fibres, because of the harmful impacts of synthetic fibre production—it contributes to landfill because it takes so long to break down. Natural fibres increase a garment’s lifespan too. Because they’re breathable you can layer them, and use them for many different occasions. First a t-shirt is daywear, then exercise wear, then when it’s really soft it’s pyjamas! And you can use them as rags or cleaning cloths, then finally they break down naturally in landfill.

As well as this, we have sourced all our knit fabrics (such as cotton jersey and cotton French terry) from a local textile supplier in Bali whose primary source of cotton is from the neighbouring islands of Indonesia. They stock quantities on site, which allowed us to purchase the fabric on the spot rather than importing it from other suppliers. This minimises the carbon footprint left from shipping and transport, as well as making the purchase a lot more convenient for us!

What have people’s reactions been like?

J: It’s definitely been a mixed bag! It’s ranged from people who don’t know what ethical fashion is(which gives us a great opportunity to start a conversation), skepticism about whether we can “REALLY make money?” to incredibly encouraging words and advice.

E: I find that reactions vary greatly depending on the age, culture and demographic of the person, which is understandable and expected! There is a mix of interest, confusion and enthusiasm, which are all constructive things for Jo and myself.


What has been the most challenging part of J&E so far?

J & E: We’ve  been blessed with time, helpful connections and supportive friends and family, so the main challenge at this point is finance.

This includes the long-term challenge of moving people from caring about ethical fashion to supporting it through their purchases. In other words, putting their money where their mouth is!

Where do you see the Jacob and Esau project heading in the future?

E: The vision from the very beginning of J&E was to make ethical manufacturing the norm in the fashion industry. We love that we can design beautiful garments under the J&E brand, but we’re also interested in growing our ability to manufacture for other brands that want to make their supply chains more sustainable. This is also why we are intentional about being a business, rather than a community project or charity organisation. We recognise the importance of having a profitable business model, but we don’t think that has to be at the expense of the environment or our workers.

J: We want to grow, but we also want to spark a consumer awakening about ethical fashion and fair trade. As Esther mentioned, we would love to see it be standard practice for businesses to take responsibility for their entire supply chains.

What tips do you have for any aspiring small scale ethical fashion producers?

J: When you are starting something new and getting things off the ground, it can seem daunting and never-ending! You will also get a few quizzical looks and doubtful questions, but that’s par for the course. My one piece of advice is to persevere. Know that good things don’t come easy, and this is a really worthwhile cause.

E: I don’t think I have the authority to give tips or advice as my journey is incredibly fresh and is being put to the test every day! I will say that ethical fashion is a very new concept and that it will take time for people (even family and friends!) to get up to speed and support your vision. Also, that your vision has to be strong enough for you personally to commit the time, discipline and patience in the long run – being a pioneer can be a lonely path, but it’s worth it.

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Know any good yarns? Otter’s top 8 sewing bloggers do!


Sewing your own clothes isn’t just a fun and rewarding hobby. It helps to develop consciousness of the labour that goes into the things we wear and encourages us to appreciate quality rather than transient trendiness. It can also be good for the environment, especially if you’re careful with your fabric selection and make clothes to last.

Many of us have experienced the pangs of longing that lifestyle blogs tend to inspire. The tousle-haired children! The green smoothies! The photogenic pets! But I find the best of these blogs do one thing, and they do it well. Enter the sewing blogosphere, an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the world of clothes-making. Back in the day access to this kind of knowledge was limited to those of us with patient grandmothers, but now anyone can dip in their toes.

For the curious wannabe, seasoned stitcher, or simple DIY voyeur, here are some of Otter’s favourite sewing blogs for you to peruse and enjoy.

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