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The Environmental Cost of Buying New Chargers

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  • Posted on 17th Aug, 2022 21:51 PM
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New, energy-saving chargers may be tempting, but maybe you shouldn’t keep buying new gear just because it’s "greener."

  • GaN chargers can save significant energy over their lifetime.
  • Anker’s new GaNPrime chargers are smaller and cooler than ever.
  • The majority of a device's carbon emissions come from building it and shipping it to you.

Nubelson Fernandes / Unsplash

Anker keeps popping out energy-saving chargers, making it very tempting to keep upgrading, but maybe you shouldn’t keep buying new gear because it’s "greener."

Anker’s new GaNPrime chargers are smaller, run cooler, and can charge more gadgets faster. But before you toss out your old chargers in favor of the newer, better model, think about how much it will really save you and how much it will harm the world. 

"[If] the charger you have is still in perfect working condition, see if you can find it a new home with a friend, family member, or local charity," Eric Villines, head of global communications at Anker, told Lifewire via email. 

Lifetime Energy Use

Anker’s new GaNPrime devices use GaN 3 fast-charging technology. GaN is gallium nitride and is replacing silicon in chargers because it lets those chargers run cooler, which in turn means these chargers can be smaller. Much smaller. It’s possible to make a GaN laptop charger that’s barely bigger than silicon phone chargers. 

"Compared to traditional silicon-based chargers, GaN chargers conserve energy by reducing the amount of heat loss while charging. This is an unequivocal environmental advantage of using GaN over older technologies. On average, with our new GaNPrime chargers, consumers not only reduce the time it takes to charge their devices, but on average, will save 7% in energy with each charge," says Anker’s Villines. And that goes for GaN in general, not just Anker’s products. 

Anker

GaN chargers are the ones to go for if you're buying a new charger. They’re more expensive but much, much better, and if you carry a tiny charger wherever you go, you can forget about needing a backup battery. It saves you money, wastes less power, and means one less battery pack in the world. 

But even if Anker’s—or anyone else’s—chargers were suddenly 100% efficient, it still wouldn’t be environmentally beneficial to replace the ones you have. 

The majority of carbon emissions from your electronic devices come from making them, and getting them into your hands. Apple’s environmental reports break down the energy costs of its devices over their lifetimes. Take the M1 MacBook Air, for example. 71% of its lifecycle carbon emissions come from production, and 8% come from transporting it across the globe. Only 19% of its total emissions come from using it. The iPhone 13 is similar overall, but with more energy used in production and less for transport.

This means that the longer you use a device, the less carbon impact it will have. Even if your charger is old, hot, and inefficient, it may still be better than getting a new one. There are exceptions and limits to this rule, but in general, using the environment as an excuse for buying yet another gadget is plain wrong. 

Don’t Recycle—Reuse

Eventually, you’ll have to buy a replacement for your charger, your computer, or whatever. But even then, you should think about how you deal with the old devices.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’re probably replacing perfectly-good gadgets with new ones, just because you want to. In that case, you should pass the old ones on to family or friends, or look for a good local organization that can re-use them, or pass them on to people who need them. 

[If] the charger you have is still in perfect working condition, see if you can find it a new home with a friend, family member, or local charity.

It used to be that you wouldn’t want to pass on a computer because of the difficulty of securely erasing the contents of the hard drive. But with modern computers like iPhones and Macs, the data is encrypted, so all you have to do is erase the encryption key and you’re safe. This is easy, and means you can pass the device on without worrying about your personal data.

"To not waste your previous devices, look for organizations that donate or recycle them in a clean and positive way," Kyle MacDonald, director of operations at vehicle tracking technology company Force by Mojio, which deploys thousands of eventually-disposable devices, told Lifewire via email. "This way, you can continue to use the greenest technology while also reducing your carbon footprint in other ways, too."

It’s a case where doing nothing really is the best option.

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