‘Chromebook Churn’ report highlights problems of short-lived laptops in schools

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Google could double the lifespan of widely used laptops, saving schools money and reducing waste

DENVER — The COVID-19 pandemic pushed schools across Colorado to provide all their students with their own devices, often low-cost Chromebooks. But now, many of these Chromebooks are failing, according to a report by the CoPIRG Foundation entitled “Chromebook Churn.” We expect expiration dates for milk, but not for laptops.

Policies that give every student a laptop are likely here to stay, and the consequences of balancing utility and sustainability are huge. Doubling the lifespan of Chromebooks for the 857,000 K-12 public school students in Colorado could save taxpayers an estimated $32 million, assuming no additional maintenance costs.

Chromebooks have a built-in “death date,” after which software support ends. Once laptops have “expired,” they don’t receive updates and can’t access secure websites. For example, instructors have reported that expired laptops can’t access online state testing websites.

“Schools in Colorado can’t afford this kind of waste, and neither can the environment,” said CoPIRG public health advocate Alex Simon. “We should keep our electronics working and off the scrap heap.”

Doubling the life of just Chromebooks sold in Colorado in 2020 could cut emissions equivalent to taking 16,000 cars off the road for a year. 

CoPIRG is calling on Google to extend the life of 13 Chromebook models expiring in three months. Google could extend the life of these models, most of which are still available for purchase online. Two models are still being sold as “new” on Amazon and Office Depot, even though they’ll expire in just three months.