Posts tagged “e-waste”.

Use your tech ’till it hurts

August 4th, 2010

E-waste 2010 -  TVs

Patrick Rhone at Minimal Mac:

That shiny new phone you want you don’t want bad enough yet. That system that is getting “a little slow” is not yet slow enough. Even if it is too slow for you it is more than most of the world could ever dream of having. Seriously, use your technology until it hurts – bad. Because the pain all of this consumption is bringing to a world that is just beyond yours is immeasurable.

Amen, brother. It’s something I’m fond of saying, and often repeat (and practice): just because it’s a few years old doesn’t mean it’s not worth using or tinkering with.

Rhone points to Free Geek, a larger, more organized version of my One Used Mac Per Child brainstorm a few years back.

But there’s a larger issue here than just taking old computers and fixing them up. The materials inside them, when shipped overseas, become hazardous beyond belief. We sit here in modern comfort, tossing out our old cell phones (I once saw a guy throw his phone out his truck window, smashing it on the street) or “recycling” our old Macs, never knowing where they end up.

I do my part, but I’m only one person. I do know many others that care about this stuff, and care about geeking out with old Newtons and Macs and keeping that stuff out of landfills and smelting pots. Kudos to Rhone at Minimal Mac for spreading the word.

Macworld: ‘How green is Apple?’

April 22nd, 2009

Macworld has a four-part “How green is Apple?” series going, exploring the company’s e-waste practices and altruistic motivations.

Many environmental groups, like Greenpeace, say its hard to rate Apple effectively when they’re so damn secretive:

Yet Apple earned just 4.7 points out of a possible 10—dramatically lower than competitors Samsung and Nokia. That low score was largely due to Apple’s reluctance to open up more about the environmental impact of its overall corporate operations. “They could elevate their score quite easily with just a couple of fixes,” says Greenpeace’s Harrell. “They could do a greenhouse-gas inventory of their supply chain, which they probably have done. But they haven’t talked about it.”

As someone who deals with e-waste on a regular basis, I’ve had my own ethical struggle with Apple’s environmental practices. But it’s this kind of pressure, and pressure from their customers, that will ultimately make Apple more open about its “green” behavior.

[Via Macsurfer.]

One Used Mac Per Child: join the cause

November 13th, 2008


Dan Knight over at Low End Mac took my little idea and ran with it. There’s now a Google Group you can join, and volunteers are lining up from all across the country.

My first contribution: a strawberry iMac G3 that I gave as a gift a few Christmases ago. Now that friend has upgraded to a MacBook Pro, and is giving back the G3. It’ll make a great word processing, Internet, and gaming machine for some kid who couldn’t otherwise afford a computer.

If you’d like to help, please join the Google Group and use it as a homebase of sorts. We can swap ideas, parts, software, and hardware, and get cranking on (a) saving the environment from e-waste and (b) getting Macs to kids who can use them.

A big thanks to Dan for jumping on this thing, and to all the folks who want to make a difference – even if it’s a small one.

Solving the e-waste dilemma with One Used Mac Per Child.

November 11th, 2008


60 Minutes had an expose on electronic waste (e-waste) that really hit home. In his report, Scott Pelley found that a lot of American computers and electronics were being melted, burned, and stripped in China, releasing poisonous fumes and chemicals into the environment. Lead, dioxin, and chlorine-based compounds are finding their way into Chinese citizens’ bloostreams, and it’s mostly because of our computers, CRT monitors, and cell phones.

I’m on the board for a local recycling non-profit, and twice a year we hold e-waste drives for the community. It’s where I get a lot of my second-hand project Macs.

I’ve seen the amount of electronic junk that can pile up first hand. At our most recent e-waste drive, my organization collected 12 tons of electronics. Most of that was TVs and CRTs, which means a lot of people are switching to flat-screen TVs and LCD monitors. We work with a group from Grand Rapids, Michigan that strips the electronics at a local plant and sells off the scrap materials. They also sell any salvageable equipment. We’ve done the research, and visited their plant, just to make sure nothing is sent overseas, like 60 Minutes reported.

For me, this is a moral issue. What good is our comfortable existence if we’re poisoning another country and its people? Does the latest and greatest hardware make all that pollution justifiable? As Scott Pelley reported, it’s our planned-obsolescence society, our need to have the newest and fastest technology, that is to blame for the tons and tons of junk that gets sent overseas. Our lifestyle is a card trick: we’re just shuffling the burden of our materialism to poorer, less-well-off citizens.

As a classic Mac appreciator and user, I take part of the responsibility for easing China’s burden. Rescuing Macs from the trash heap is a hobby for me. Besides all the fun I have with these “obsolete” machines, in a way I’m saving them from being stripped, buried, or burned. Luckily the recycler we deal with is dedicated to keeping e-waste out of third-world countries. But my small effort saves the energy and resources it takes to either (a) recycle the computers or (b) create new ones. I haven’t bought a brand-new Mac since 2005; my iMac G4 works just fine, thanks.

I’m certainly not alone. There’s a giant community of low end Mac users (with a web site to boot) out there who save these classic computers from the e-scrap pile. For them, old Macs are usable (and mod-able!) Macs. Some even prefer the older machines and their quirky personalities. Maybe the strongest exhibit requires only a quick glance at the Newton user community .

Here’s something to think about: Apple’s laser-precise focus on environmental responsibility is a great thing. I salute it. Now think about all those Mac SEs and Performas out there that don’t receive the benefits of PVC- and mercury-free construction. Tossing a Color Classic in a dumpster is like carpet-bombing some poor village in Africa. Older Macs are filled with pollutants – as are older PCs, TVs, and electronics.

It’s comforting to know that Macs have a long, long after-market life on eBay and Craiglist. Name another computer manufacturer that can claim the kind prices a used Mac can fetch on an auction site.

Macs are also built to last. Macs from the G4 and G5 era, while just now starting to show their age, can get plenty of use (and a fair auction price) for years to come. My own Bondi Blue iMac is still chugging along 10 years later, and we hear plenty of stories about Mac SEs getting tons of use in our gigahertz age. As Apple appreciators, we can sleep a little easier at night knowing our corner of the computing world causes less harm than, say, all those business Dells that get tossed from year to year.

But we’re not innocent. Not by a long shot. No matter how many Macs I rescue from our e-waste drives, there are tons – all across America – that get trashed every single day. My heart breaks every time I see a smashed iMac G3 or an old Apple II that someone drops off to be recycled. That just means one more kid in China might end up with some crippling disease.

Corny? A little. Maybe what we ought to be doing instead is giving our Macs a good home. I bet that kid in China would love a slightly-used iBook so that he or she could learn about computers. Instead of One Laptop Per Child, we could initiate a One Used Mac Per Child. It would require rounding up thousands of usable Macs, installing OS 9 or OS X and some basic apps, and making minor upgrades where possible. We’re all Apple nerds: the project would keep us busy for months. But, man, think of how much fun we’d have. And we would have some small impact on the problem of e-waste.

We could team up with electronic recyclers across America and give them the message: give us your broken, your used, your beat-up Macs. We’ll take them home, fix them up, and give them to kids to don’t otherwise have the means or the ability to purchase a computer. There are groups out there that do this kind of thing, but ours would be special. Ours involves Macs. What kid would smile, knowing he or she would be getting a fix-up, usable, Internet-ready Macintosh? There are risks of course, and unintended consequences to consider. But with OUMPC, the benefits are two-fold: more Macs in deserving hands, and less e-waste.

How many of us have extra power cords, OS discs, keyboards, mice, and Ethernet connectors? How many of us have a perfectly fuctional Mac sitting in the closet? How many of us have the credentials to get a simple web site and application process up and running in a matter of days? You think the number of Mac users is growing by leaps and bounds now? Imagine that number when every kid who needs one gets a freshened-up Mac in the family room.

Just imagine.

In the meantime, now that Apple is taking more responsibility for its environmental impact, the Macs made from here on out will be less detrimental to our planet. So there’s hope. But the damage is being done, and from the amount of e-junk we receive at our modest community e-waste drives, there are tons and tons of materials out there that aren’t accounted for. It’s frightening.

All we can do is use our Macs longer, hand down our used Macs to those who can appreciate them, and make sure our throwaways are recycled in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Given the damage we’ve already done, it’s the least we can do.

[Image courtesy of Greenpeace.]

Apple brags of iPod environmental efforts – finally

September 15th, 2008

Macworld UK reports that Greenpeace is pretty pleased about Apple’s new environmentally-friendlier iPods, announced at Tuesday’s “Let’s Rock” event.

A few years ago, Greenpeace launched a frontal assault on Apple’s supposed lack of electronics recycling and “iPoison” prevention. The group took Apple to task for not doing enough to ease the “toxic chemicals” and “short life spans” of iPods and Macs. Even today, despite Apple’s progress, Greenpeace remains vigilant:

“Greenpeace is on guard, watching future Apple announcements and holding it accountable,” [Casey Harrell, Greenpeace International campaigner] said. “What we’d really like for Christmas is to see Apple remove toxic chemicals from all its products, and announce a free, global recycling scheme. Now, that would make a very tasty green Apple indeed!”

We should all applaud Apple for removing a lot of the poisonous junk from their iPods and Macs, but I’ve argued that Apple’s problem isn’t a lack of environmental stewardship – it’s that they don’t brag enough about their efforts. Now that Steve is pointing out Apple’s work on the e-waste front at these events, their “green” image can only improve.

This is a good example of the good things that can come from customer and organizational pressure from the bottom up: Apple had a decent environmental record, but thanks to heavy lobbying (and a board member named Al Gore), we can probably look forward to more checklists like the one Steve Jobs showed on Tuesday.

Defending Apple’s environmental record.

March 3rd, 2008

Apple now recycles iPods and cellphones

Giving all the guff that Apple has received lately about becoming more “green,” it’s no surprise that Apple would want to protect its reputation – especially considering it was founded by two liberals in Northern California.

I opened my shareholder meeting proxy vote ballot several weeks ago and found this little gem as one of the voting items:


Could this be the work of board member Al Gore? Or pressure from groups like Greenpeace? Or maybe it’s just Apple finally getting serious about recycling and sustainability.

Just how green is Apple? Before Greenpeace launched its campaign against Apple, highlighted by its mock site (that asks “We love our iPods, but can we lose the iWaste?”), Apple was phasing out production of lead-balloon CRT monitors beginning with the iMac G4. And according to Apple, the “greening” began ten years earlier:

Apple started recycling in 1994 and today we operate recycling programs in countries where more than 82% of all Macs and iPods are sold. By the end of this year, that figure will increase to 93%. Apple recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste in 2006, which is equal to 9.5% of the weight of all products Apple sold seven years earlier. We expect this percentage to grow to 13% in 2007, and to 20% in 2008. By 2010, we forecast recycling 19 million pounds of e-waste per year — nearly 30% of the product weight we sold seven years earlier.

Right. And just recently, Steve Jobs bragged about the MacBook Air’s environmental laurels onstage at Macworld. Its LCD is mercury- and arsenic-free. The circuitry is PVC free, and Apple plans to “completely eliminate the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and arsenic in its products by the end of 2008,” according to its website.

Plus, as you can see from these pictures, the packaging is much smaller and more efficient than other Apple laptops – by almost half. Even the aluminum laptop enclosure can be recycled.

Like they did when the new iPod packaging was released in 2006, Apple was quick to mention that smaller packaging helps the environment by using less resources to haul cross-country.

(You can also use iPod packaging in more inventive ways – see here)

You can even recycle your iPod or a cell phone from any manufacturer. Apple includes the shipping label for you, so it doesn’t cost a dime. Now that’s cool.

What seems to plague Apple, a founding member of the US EPA ENERGY STAR program, is its lack of bragging. The company is known to be tight-lipped, on everything from new product launches to goings-on at its corporate headquarters, and when the company does brag, it’s usually about usability breakthroughs and life-changing inventions. Here’s an example: did you know Apple has a partnership with its hometown, Cupertino, CA, to recycle electronics free of charge? It doesn’t even have to be an Apple product. They’ve been doing it since 2002.

Apple has used the same materials other computer makers use, but as the green tidal wave grew in strength, it quietly went about its business. Granted, pressure from the sustainability community has quickened Apple’s pace in phasing out harmful chemicals and implementing take-back programs, but my feeling is the company would have reached its public “greeniness” eventually. It would’ve had to: Al Gore is a board member, remember?

Now Steve Jobs makes a point to bring up Apple’s greening at every major public event. Never mind that they’ve been winning waste management awards as far back as eight years ago.

But any visitor to sites like Low End Mac, or even our own Newton community, knows that Macs have an incredibly long lifespan. People still use Mac SEs and Quadras for everyday use, seeing nothing wrong with running OS 8 and Netscape to do all their work. Browse eBay sometime and see what “obsolete” iMac G3s go for. Shucks, I’ve been craving an iMac G4 for a while now, and am still waiting for the price to come down low enough so I can snatch one.

Mac users hold onto their computers, or sell them so someone else can use them. Can you say that about a 1997-era Dell? Do you see kids lining up for 30,000 used HP laptops, priced at $48 a piece, like they do for iBooks?

I’ve experienced, first-hand, the type of recycling Apple users utilize: at a recent e-waste drive for my recycling group, a man dropped off an Apple IIc (which some folks still use as a gaming platform). Once I saw a Mac SE/30, and another time someone dropped a PowerBook 5300. In other words, it takes years for Apple users to finally say, “Okay, I’ve had this long enough, and don’t use it day-to-day. Time to recycle.” Is anyone going to recycle a used PowerBook G4? No. Never. It’s going on eBay, and it’s fetching several hundred dollars at auction’s end. Used iBook G4s still go for almost as much as a brand new MacBook.

Take Newton users. Here is a dead-and-gone, by Apple’s standards, product, and yet ten years after the last MessagePad came out the community is as big and as vibrant as ever. The iPhone has come and gone, and Newton users are still trading and swapping and modding their green-lit hearts out.

That’s how Apple fans recycle their computers. They either keep using them, give them away, or sell them. Or tinker. Or upgrade. Or…

That doesn’t mean Apple should slack in the recycling department. E-waste is a scary and growing problem, in this country and especially the third world, and Apple would be smart to keep its name out of that quagmire altogether. Apple has enough problems fending off criticism for its sweat-shop labor practices.

Dell teamed up with Goodwill to recycle old computers in my state (Michigan), and several others, which was a smart way to get its name out there in the fight against e-waste. Maybe Apple would want to do something similar: attach its name to a big program, and reap the PR benefits.

Maybe that’s what this whole board committee on sustainability is about. Apple sees the growing awareness for environmentalism, and – if the board is smart – wants to do the right thing by its mostly-liberal fanbase.

Because that’s the name of the game here. Apple, as a responsible and influential company
, should be doing the right thing. Recycling and environmentally-friendly products help in the quest.

But in quiet ways, Apple (and Apple fans) has been doing some of this right along.