At this year's Fortune Brainstorm TECH, held in Aspen, Colo. July 22-24, guest speaker and EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, urged tech companies to consider the recycling of their products on the front end design, speaking to the growing problem of electronic products in the waste stream.
The Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference, presented in association with The Aspen Institute, brings together some of the world's top technology and media experts, inspiring conversation that influences Fortune's editorial coverage throughout the year.
Key speakers at this year's Brainstorm included C-Level representatives from Google, Motorola, Microsoft and Facebook, along with dozens more.
Jackson, speaking to design efficiency in manufacturing, stated, "the next step, the challenge, is designing [the product] from the beginning to be recycled." She continued, "so when you're thinking of what you're designing, think about how it will come apart."
When junk hardware is discarded, a large amount is exported or dumped in foreign landfills, leaving the precious metals, like gold and lithium, at risk of extraction by burning, not to mention unavailable for recycling in domestic markets. Jackson challenged the industry to consider the recyclability of a product on the front end, stating that "if you don't get it [the precious metals] by recycling, you have to mine it."
Representing the fastest growing waste stream, electronics at their end of useful life has moved to the forefront of public policy, with 23 states having passed laws pertaining to their recycling and disposal, and a handful of other states with legislation actively being considered.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Americans own approximately 24 electronic products per household. That represents a tremendous amount of potential waste each year, especially when factoring in the rate of obsolescence. As products are manufactured thinner, smarter and smaller, their earlier versions are traded in for the shiny new models.
On one hand, designing a product for longevity can increase brand recognition and consumer satisfaction, on the other, designing products to become yesterday's news fairly quickly encourages consumer purchasing.
Regardless of this debate, one thing remains certain: with as many obsolete products are brought to their end of useful life each year, their ability to be responsibility taken apart and recycled domestically i must be considered in design.
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