Recyclability is a term that is thrown around quite a bit in the environmentally conscious community, but does it have any drawbacks, or is it a panacea? There has also been a disturbing trend that has openly defied the renewing appeal and practical benefits of recyclability, and that trend involves intentionally manufacturing electronics with short lifespans.
Many companies manufacture products with short life cycles, using marketing buzz and celebrity endorsements to help move more products every year, even when the products that they launched the previous year still work fine without issue.
This “latest and greatest” mentality has led to a huge increase in e-waste, as many of last year’s cell phones, tablets, and computers are thrown out to make way for the newest model or upgrade.
The next debate quickly moves to the conflict between durability or recyclability. Should companies make products that are built to last for years, if not decades, or should their focus be on products that can be either partially or entirely recycled when they have reached the end of their life cycle? Here, we will discuss both, as well as answer the age-old question as to which is more important.
The Answer is Not Both
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Management Science, both forces are in direct opposition to one another. However, all hope is not lost, as the Georgia Institute of Technology is currently hard at work to find an answer to the dilemma. They hope that their ongoing research in the matter will lead to a significant reduction in the amount of electronic waste, also known as e-waste, that is produced annually.
The current government policies regarding e-waste must be evaluated and changed accordingly to reduce the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills, where it will rot in perpetuity and pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The Debate Continues…
If a company manufactured a solar panel that was built to last, using highly durable components and materials, and were guaranteed to have a long life cycle upon release, it would be harder to recycle once it’s reached the end of its life cycle. However, if that same company opted to make a solar panel with parts that were highly recyclable, then the product’s life cycle would be affected negatively in the process.
Many environmental pundits are concerned that many international conglomerates intentionally make their products with shorter and shorter life cycles with each successive product launch. It is believed that companies do this to essentially force consumers to upgrade their gadgets at the beginning of each new year to not be left behind and have a competitive edge in business.
In any event, recyclability is often compromised when durability is prioritized and vice versa, and therein lies the conundrum. Furthermore, many programs such as extended producer responsibility laws are affected by the conflict between the two schools of thought.
The policies determining what to do with electronics after they have reached the end of their product life cycle are affected by the dilemma. In reality, however, there is no one size fits all solution, as we shall soon see.
Recyclability versus Durability
The study mentioned above concluded with the theory that EPR policies could generate augmented waste if electronics engineers prioritized recyclability over durability. The result is that the products released would eventually do more harm than good to the ecosystem. However, one possible solution to this issue is to tackle each product on an individual basis.
What’s more, some researchers have taken things a step further and have devised mathematical models that can aid in predicting the impact that EPR policies would have on electronics, based on their unique design features and components.
For instance, the mathematical model would factor in the level of difficulty in augmenting durability and recyclability, as well as the initial manufacturing costs of the product in question. It takes into consideration the recycling properties of the unit and the level of interaction between the durability and recyclability in the design.
The goal is to launch a bevy of policies that would galvanize manufacturers to act more prudently when they design and engineer their latest products. In sum, the goal is to devise different scenario analyses so that the ideal policies for different product item categories can be enforced.
Most environmental experts believe that assessing each product on a case by case basis, taking into account its unique properties as well as its multiple uses, should help determine the final design and engineering of the product and its final impact on the environment.
To learn more about durability and recyclability, call eCycle at 1-877-215-5255 or contact us here.