Apple announces new recycling program as interest in green gadgets grows
For gadget geeks, today was a lot like Christmas. This morning, Apple announced its next generation of products – including new, smaller iterations of the iPhone and iPad. Apple CEO Tim Cook also reiterated a recent milestone: there are now one billion Apple products in active use around the world.
But, if the estimated 231.5m iPhones sold in 2015 are any indication, this will also mark the beginning of a fresh deluge of Apple products into landfills across the country. More than 700m iPhones have sold since they debuted in 2007. And, while some of those phones have been reprocessed and resold, the majority still end up in the municipal waste stream, where they are likely to contribute to air, water and soil pollution.
To counter this, Apple announced a new research and development program aimed at improving its recycling initiatives. Known as Apple Renew, the program will encourage users to recycle their devices by sending them to Apple for free, or dropping them off at an Apple retail store. Once at Apple, the devices will be deconstructed by a robot called Liam (or an entire assembly line of them, presumably) so Apple can recover and reintroduce the components into its supply.
It’s not hard to see why e-waste has become such a problem. The steady, unrelenting flow of new tech models tend to make products feel outdated very quickly. A 2015 study from a German environment agency found that gadget life-spans are getting shorter. A two-year lifespan remains the industry standard. Many companies reduce or even stop supporting older operating systems in order to encourage consumers to buy the next generation of products.
While this process is great for a company like Apple’s bottom line, it can levy a heavy burden on the environment. In response, a new movement of so-called “ethical” electronic devices is emerging, designed with long term use in mind.
Here are some products and projects that are beating a path toward sustainable electronics.
Fairphone 2: ethical sourcing, ethical disposal
One of the first companies to move in this direction, Amsterdam-basedFairphone, originally focused on developing a smartphone with a transparent supply chain, so that customers could ensure that their phones’s sophisticated electronics were free of conflict minerals, which are mined and sold to finance wars. This year, Fairphone announced that it had created the first Fairtrade-certified supply chain for gold in the electronics industry.
Their second generation phone, the Fairphone 2, is designed to address the other side of the equation: the waste stream. Smartphone owners are often at a loss when their phones begin to fall apart, or become outdated. With that in mind, the Fairphone 2 is designed for easy upgrades and repairs. It can be disassembled into six easy-to-replace parts, including the battery, camera and screen.
Google’s Project Ara: the big players go modular
Google is also making its bid for the modular smartphone, which will allow consumers to choose components such as cameras, speakers and night vision sensors. Google, which calls its plan Project Ara, plans to hire manufacturers to produce the phone. The company unveiled a working prototype in May 2015, but the project reportedly has been delayed since then. Among other problems, early versions were allegedly not durable enough. Google hasn’t talked publicly about the project since last December. It recently received two Project Ara-related patents and announced that Google ATAP, the group working on Ara, will attendthe company’s main developer conference in May. Some tech experts anticipate that the company may soon announce a launch plan for the phone.
LG, meanwhile, has beaten Google and other big mobile phone companies by unveiling a modular phone earlier this year that is set to go on sale soon.
PuzzlePhone: DIY upgrades
The PuzzlePhone, developed by Finnish startup Circular Devices, has a similar premise: like the Fairphone 2, it has modular parts that can be easily replaced. But it takes simplicity a step further: instead of dividing up the components into six pieces, the PuzzlePhone has only three.
Blocks smartwatch: wearing your values on your sleeve
Phones aren’t the only gadgets with a short shelf life, of course. London-basedBlocks Wearables plans to sell a smart watch that it hopes will not be replaced every few years.
It looks like a regular watch, but its wristband is made of interlinking, replaceable parts, each containing software for an application. A wearer could pick and choose which applications, from a heart rate monitor to GPS, to include in the watch.
The idea is that instead of buying a new smart watch every time a new version comes to market, a wearer could simply update or add features by replacing parts of the wristband.
Thimble: hacking the way to less waste
For years, electronics companies have done everything in their power to discourage users from tinkering with their products. In 2005, Make Magazinestruck back with its “Maker’s Bill of Rights”, which proclaimed that “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it”. But even now, 11 years later, most people remain baffled by the electronics products that they use.
Buffalo and Toronto-based company Thimble hopes to fight the technology ignorance problem one DIY project at a time. Ultimately, this is designed to give users the skills they need to work on any number of projects, including potentially fixing their own electronics.