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Designed for the Dump

Check out Annie Leonard's eye-opening look at how our favorite electronics today are designed for the dump, and not designed to last.

Photo of Ashley Jablow
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Have you ever seen Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff Project

She's one of my favorite storytellers, and she and her team have created engaging, eye-opening animated movies to educate people on a variety of issues – from overconsumption and bottled water to chemicals in our cosmetics. I recently came across her video, The Story of Electronics, and knew this would be my first inspiration for this challenge.

It's a short but important watch – particularly because of her point about how we design electronics for planned obsolescense; that is, making stuff to be thrown away quickly. She also promotes the importance of product take back laws that put the onus on manufacturers to responsibly collect and dispose of used electronics. I especially like how she underscores that being responsible for collecting this e-waste may actually change incentives for manufacturers to start building things that last longer.

What do you think? Did you think Annie's message was inspiring? Overwhelming? Biased? Neutral? Not only is the content itself helpful, but I also think we might learn something from her style of storytelling that could help our own efforts in the Concepting phase.

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Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

This is well outlined and really resonated. I've commiserated with countless people about how 'they don't make x like they used to.' Our environment is really suffering from the stripping for cheap temp products and so are we.

Some thoughts to add are that we also have a culture of needing the latest gadget and apathy towards recycling to deal with as well.

Photo of Ashley Jablow

Absolutely great points Laura. Thanks for your thoughts. I wonder what inspirations might point to what's working – especially, as you said, when it comes to needing the latest gadget or apathy towards recycling? I'm going to try to surface some examples we can learn from - maybe you can join me? :)

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DeletedUser

I agree, Annie Leonard is a great storyteller and manages to get the message and problem of e-waste across in very easy to understand terms for those who are unfamiliar with the issue.

Though I would like to argue that most e-waste isn't merely an issue of things breaking down. Most electronics usually become obsolete and inefficient before their end-of-life at the rapid pace of technology development. I think one possible solution is to modularize technology so that cannibalizing parts is much easier. That in itself is a very difficult problem, but it's probably the one thing that would reduce e-waste the most. I'm specifically thinking of cables and chargers since you don't need a new one every time you buy one (other than the fact that each phone has a different plug), the function is the same, transferring a set voltage to the phone. We just need to standardize the ports. Much like how USB has become a standard data transfer format, we need one for energy/charging.

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DeletedUser

Jeffrey, this is a great thought, and I think electronics manufacturers would be open to it. It's exactly one of the things that European organizations and governments hav formalized with regard to cell phones. The Micro-USB is now the accepted standard for cell phone charging, eliminating the accumulation of incompatible, device-specific charging plugs.

http://www.engadget.com/2010/12/29/european-standardization-bodies-formalize-micro-usb-cellphone-ch/

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DeletedUser

I've read it's supposed to go into full effect this year but I'm not sure if most companies have complied yet. As far as I know, Apple still uses their proprietary port.

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DeletedUser

When the news of the micro-usb standard came out in 2009, Fast Company discussed some of the anticipated problems of using the micro-usb as the standard. The article seems pretty spot on 3 years later: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/universal-phone-charger-standard-good-idea Also, without Apple it's not such a universal standard.

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DeletedUser

Hi Ashley! Sorry about the delay in getting back. If you'd like I would love to! I actually tried to dig up a bit more today to see what I could find and I'd look forward to your thoughts.


The effects of behavior and attitudes on drop-off recycling activities
https://www.msu.edu/~lupi/Drop-off_recycle_Sidique-Lupi-Joshi_RCR_2010.pdf

Recycling Success Story—Beaverton, Oregon
http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/tools/localgov/success/beaverton.htm

Consumer Electronics: Trends in Recycling (Podcast Transcript)
http://www.epa.gov/osw/partnerships/plugin/podcasts/trends.htm

not sure about this one as it's a unique case
http://www.army.mil/article/80844/Recycling_successes_shine_at_Fort_Hood/

Cynthia hit good points about market forces that resonated with what I was finding too.

Photo of John Fullard

Interesting piece in wired by Kyle Wiens
http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/06/apples-unfixable-devices/

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