Sunday, March 12, 2023

Let's Keep Our Chomebooks

Chromebooks have become popular computing devices with school systems and libraries: school system adoption and purchase of Chromebooks rapidly accelerated during the pandemic as school systems needed to support distance learning. However: all Chromebooks have an “Automatic Update Expiry” (AUE) date after which they no longer receive Chrome OS updates. For individual consumers this means that their Chromebook gets less and less useful and less secure over time. However: for organizations with lots of Chromebooks enrolled in Google’s Enterprise Enrollment (e.g. schools and school systems) they have to stop using them immediately.

Message that appears on Chromebooks when they reach their AUE date

Even though they are recent computer hardware (typically under three to five years old) and mechanically and electronically functional they are of little value to computer refurbishers because they have no domestic resale value. My understanding of what is happening at the moment is that computer refurbishers sell Chromebooks to recyclers that send them on to Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam where they are being harvested for the one or two computer chips with residual value: the rest is e-wasted locally.  So, sadly, we are exporting our e-waste overseas again from the U.S. Doubly sadly: we are creating e-waste out of items that potentially have lots of useful life remaining.

A school system’s Chromebooks waiting to be e-wasted at a computer refurbisher

It is possible to convert Chromebooks that have reached their AUE date into general purpose computers: usually by removing a “write protect” screw, sometimes simply by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery. However, that requires some physical disassembly and modification that computer refurbishers are unwilling to undertake: they can’t justify the labor cost.

Fixit Clinic will assist schools, libraries, and other agencies in keeping Chromebooks in service in our communities – to keep in our schools, to give to students, to give to the local Library, to give to the economically disadvantaged in our communities. We will do this by teaching students, youth, and residents how to convert Chromebooks into general purpose computers, ideally for use by themselves.

Fixit Clinic is partnering with the Dougherty Valley High School (DVHS) Engineering Club (San Ramon, California, USA) and seeking donations to help divert and convert expired Chromebooks. We hope that by working together, we can reduce e-waste and help bridge the digital divide in California. Together, let's keep our technology out of landfills and put it to good use in our communities! To learn more about our mission and get involved, please take a moment to fill out this form:

Our team will reach out to you with further information and next steps.

If you have any questions on the donation process and would like to discuss in detail, please reach out to Varun Vaidya (DVHS Engineering Club president):

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