Apple has just withdrawn from the federal EPEAT program – which allows manufacturers to grade their electronic products against “environmentally preferable” criteria. This is a surprising step for the company that believes that its products are greener than its competitors’.
What is EPEAT?
EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), allows purchasers to identify “greener” electronic products by providing a “registry” where manufacturers of certain electronic products can list their products that meet certain environmental standards, at the bronze, silver, or gold level. Currently, only computer equipment (computers, monitors, laptops) are on the EPEAT registry, but standards were recently completed for televisions and imaging devices (printers, scanners, copiers), so the registry will be expanding to include these additional products.
Apple previously had many products on the EPEAT registry, many at the Gold level. But recently, Apple removed all of its products from the registry and alerted the EPEAT program that they were withdrawing. Apple is now the only major computer manufacturer with no products on the EPEAT registry.
New MacBookPro Can’t Meet EPEAT
Apple isn’t commenting publicly on the reason for their actions. But it’s widely assumed to be because their new Mac Book with Retina Display can’t meet the EPEAT standard for easy disassembly, a requirement to promote repairs and recycling. The guys at iFixit, an army of talented geeks fighting for the right of people to repair their own products, took apart the new Mac Book Pro with Retina Display, and found that Apple has glued the battery into the casing, using industrial strength glue. They said that they finally were able to force the battery from the casing, “but in the process punctured the battery, leaking hazardous goo all over.” Not exactly designed for easy disassembly.
Rather than admit that its “whole new vision for the notebook” can’t meet the very modest EPEAT standard, Apple seems to have decided to quit the game and go home.
Designers need to design with recycling in mind
This design decision – to glue the battery to the casing using industrial strength glue – is a perfect example of how some companies are not designing their products with the “end of life” phase in mind – recycling. The first step in recycling is to disassemble the product to the point where you can remove the toxic components – things that could harm workers if they go in the shredder – like batteries and mercury lamps. When these notebooks eventually make their way to recyclers, the recyclers will have the same problems that the iFixit guys described above. But if it takes a recycler too long to disassemble the product, they won’t do it. It’s just too costly. So whatever potential gains Apple designers intended by designing metal casings will be lost when the battery can’t be removed easily.
Apple has been a leader in some other areas of environmental design. We wish they would prioritize designing for reuse, repair and recyclability as well.