White House agrees with consumers – we should be able to unlock our cell phones
In the U.S., when we buy a cell phone, it is usually “locked” to a particular cell phone carrier, like ATT or T-Mobile. You can’t use it on a different carrier without “unlocking” it, which involves entering a few codes on some phones, although it’s more complicated on other phones.
But recently, the cell phone carriers pressured the federal government to make it illegal to unlock a phone, even after the contract was up. The penalty can be an astonishing $500,000 and up to 5 years in jail, if you do this for commercial gain. While consumers probably might not face such a stiff penalty, think about all the phone refurbishers who sell used phones to second and third users. They need to be able to unlock phones in order to sell them to new owners.
This change prompted over 114,000 people to sign a petition to the White House, which led the White House to issue a statement yesterday saying it opposed this new change, and it thinks we should be able to unlock our phones AND tablets.
Technically what happened was that effective January 26, 2013, the Library of Congress cancelled an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), which had allowed us to unlock our phones without the carrier’s permission. What in the world does the Library of Congress have to do with our cell phones? It’s because the software in your phone is copyrighted, and the U.S. Copyright office is part of the Library of Congress. The carriers say they believe that unlocking phones undermines the software encryption protection. Conveniently for them, if you can’t unlock your phone, you must continue to pay that carrier for service.
Why we need to be able to unlock our phones?
Freedom to switch carriers. With an unlocked phone, once your contract is up, you can switch carriers without buying a new phone.
Use your phone overseas: If you travel to Europe, you will incur expensive roaming charges if you use your GSM phone there. But with an unlocked phone, you can buy a different SIM card to use while you are there, saving a lot of money if you plan to use your phone.
Reuse. Probably the most compelling reason we should be able to unlock our phones is that an unlocked phone is much more likely to be reused, since it can be used on any carrier’s network. The environmental footprint from manufacturing new phones is significant, so anything that promotes the reuse of a phone to a second or third owner, is important and worth doing. This change has thrown a serious wrench into the business model of phone refurbishers who need to be able to unlock phones in order to sell them to new owners.
Ownership. Because we paid for our phones, so we should actually OWN them. If it’s locked, then we don’t really own it.
What can you do?
Right now, you can sign Freepress.net’s FREE OUR PHONES petition to Congress, urging them to take action.
Once the bills are introduced, we will have letter in our action center that you can send to your Senator and Representative asking them to pass this legislation.
Dell’s XPS 10 got the highest grade, a 9 out of 10. The lowest score (1 out of 10) went to the Microsoft Surface Pro, although the iPad mini, and iPads 2, 3, and 4 were right behind with only two points. The iPad 1 scored 6 out of 10, but the later versions are glued shut.
What makes a tablet more repairable?
Higher grades went to tablets where it is:
- Easy to remove the casing (without breaking it) to gain access to the parts
- Easy access to the things that will need replacement the most, like batteries, cameras
- Easy to separate the LCD panel from the glass
- Using certain fasteners instead of soldering parts in place. (Fasteners make it easier to remove the part without causing damage, and to reattach it later)
- Modular design
- Fewer screws overall and fewer sizes of screws in one product (requiring the repairer to change tools less frequently) The Microsoft Surface pro has 90 screws in it, compared to Dell XPS’s 20 screws.
What features get in the way of easy repair?
- Gluing the case closed
- Gluing the LCD panel to other parts – the glass and the bezel. If the screen gets cracked, you must replace all three parts.
- Gluing the battery in place
- Too many screws, hidden screws
- Soldering parts in place, instead of using screws or other fasteners
- Using proprietary screws, which require a special screwdriver
Gluing in parts is not “Design for the Environment”
Making these gadgets easy to repair (which equals cheaper to repair in most cases) means that the first owner is more likely to use it longer, plus it makes it more likely that it will get second lifetime. The lifecycle impact of manufacturing electronics products is huge, when you consider the materials (including critical minerals) used, energy, and water used to manufacture the products (including extracting and refining metals, and semiconductor and other component manufacturing). So designers should be doing everything possible to prolong the life of existing products by making them very easy (and cheap) to repair and refurbish.
Clearly Dell’s designers are paying attention to this aspect of Design for the Environment, as are Samsung and Motorola, according to this scorecard. We hope to see other companies do better with their future products.
IEEE decides to “take its ball and go home” from EPEAT rulemaking playground
Something really sinister has just happened related to the EPEAT effort to update the computer standards. It happened on the IEEE’s playground, during recess. Was it bad enough for the EPA and other stakeholders to take the EPEAT standard away from IEEE?
In case you are new to EPEAT, it’s a sort of “green” label for electronics. EPEAT stands for Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. IEEE (pronounced “Eye Triple E”) is an enormous electronics industry professional organization, and it’s also the standards development organization (SDO) under whose rules and structure the EPEAT standards have been developed. (We’ve been using their playground.) Under this process, any stakeholder can participate in the meetings and votes to develop these standards, although the final balloting is done by dues paying IEEE members only. (Other stakeholders must pay to join IEEE to vote on the final ballot.) Once the standards are complete, the manufacturers’ products get evaluated against these EPEAT standards, and graded as EPEAT Bronze, Silver or Gold.
IEEE’s Playground Rules
IEEE invites the stakeholders to come to their playground to play and to bring their friends and their dollars. IEEE supplies the ball and jungle gym, and the swings, and you have to follow their playground rules (they even have a playground monitor with a whistle), but you can decide what you want to play. You can even modify some of the rules of your own game (called your Policies and Procedures), with IEEE’s approval. They’ve been inviting those of us interested in electronics over to their playground since 2005, when the EPEAT founders first approached them to be the SDO for the standard for computers (now known as IEEE 1680.1).
That has worked out better for some than others. The Big Kids, the major companies within the electronics and chemicals industry, pretty much always win because the playground rules are unbalanced and favor them. But EPEAT has still moved ahead modestly, recently releasing new standards for TVs and for “imaging equipment” which means printers, faxes, copiers, and multi-functions. The computer standard is six years old, however, and in serious need of revision, as most of the criteria are easily met by most computers, so they are no longer useful in identifying “leadership” products.
Rules of the eco-label game favor Big Electronics
In 2011, the playground “taskforce” that oversees all the kids working on electronics standards (it’s called the EASC Committee) developed new Policies and Procedures for developing future EPEAT standards, including the revision of the outdated computer standard. The new P & Ps included some changes to the rules on voting and how stakeholder group assignments are made. These changes would make the game a little more balanced so the Big Kids are not always guaranteed to win. They wanted to make sure voting is balanced (no stakeholder group can have more than 33% of the vote) even at the Working Group level (where all the work is done), not just at the final balloting. And initially, even the Big Kids on the taskforce supported these proposals.
IEEE doesn’t have to approve every set of P & Ps – only the ones they request to review. Initially, they didn’t request a review of these proposed P & Ps. But then last spring, they asked to review them. They came back to the EASC with requests to delete many of the proposed rule changes aimed at providing more balance.
When the EASC made some modifications and resubmitted their proposals to IEEE, it was again rejected, with even new concerns and arbitrary changes ordered. Efforts by the EASC over the summer and fall of 2012 to work through these issues with IEEE (all of which still adhere to the overall IEEE playground rules, mind you) were unsuccessful.
Playground bullies take over the “stakeholder” process
Then in December, IEEE suddenly stripped the EASC of its role in leading this stakeholder process. IEEE usurped this role and appointed its own three member “oversight group” that will make up their own P & Ps and decide how our little game is played. This new cabal will require elections of the working group chairs (which have always been appointed, not elected, until now – it’s a crucial role that should be an impartial person, not an elected stakeholder).
Basically, the playground bully decided to “take its ball and go home.” Or for South Park fans, Cartman told them, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” It didn’t like how EPEAT was playing the game and trying to make the rules fairer. From now on, EPEAT can come onto the playground, but it must sit quietly on the bench, while the new cabal calls the shots. And the Big Kids, mostly hiding behind their industry associations, are just fine with this new arrangement.
It’s time to move to a new playground
Many of the groups in the Electronics TakeBack Coalition have been stakeholders in EPEAT for several years. We believe it’s time to find a new playground. IEEE has bullied this process long enough, without adding anything of real value, just obstacles to real progress. They may know how to oversee work on technical standards, but with sustainability standards they are a terrible fit. While in theory this is a “consensus stakeholder process,” the lack of balance and other IEEE rules have allowed the industry voters to whittle away at draft standards in exchange for changing their votes from no to yes. In the end, we are left with standards that are far too weak, far too limited, and that do little to move this industry forward on sustainability. But they have great potential which many of us would like to see realized. And that will never happen as long as we are under the IEEE stranglehold.
EPA, you were one of the original funders/supporters of this whole process. We hope you are ready for a change. Let’s start by immediately moving the computer standard revision away from IEEE and, for a change, onto a level playing field.
New research shows CFLs and LED light bulbs have higher toxicity and resource depletion than incandescent bulbs
Both compact fluorescents and LED lightbulbs qualify as hazardous waste under California and EPA protocols
New research from scientists in California and South Korea, published yesterday in Environmental Science and Technology, shows that while compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs have better energy efficiency than incandescent bulbs, they compare unfavorably when you look at their potential toxicity (at the end-of-life phase) and resource depletion.
First, let’s be clear that the study focused on the kinds of CFL and LED light bulbs you can screw into a lamp used for ambient lighting, not the LEDs used to light flat screen TVs or monitors (more on that later). Also, the study did not consider toxicity in the extraction or manufacturing phase – but just on the end-of-life phase, assuming they were trashed, not recycled (since sadly, most people do put used bulbs in the trash).
Because the bulbs have very different expected lifetimes, they “normalized” their data on resource depletion and toxicity potential by using data for fifty incandescents, five CFLs, and one LED bulb. Even after normalizing their calculations, the team found that CFLs have from three to 26 times higher resource depletion and toxicity potential than incandescents and LED bulbs have two to three times higher potential.
- CFLs and LEDs require more metal-containing components that supply power to light the bulbs
- CFLs and LED require one or more circuit boards (adding antimony, copper, lead, iron)
- CFLs and LEDs use copper in the coils and zinc as protective coatings to stainless steel
- CFLs contain mercury, phosphorous, and yttrium
- LED bulbs include a heat sink to dissipate the heat (adding aluminum)
- LED chips include antimony and gallium
- LEDs use barium and chromium in stainless steel, and phosphorous, silver and gold elsewhere
With so many metals used, including some critical metals, we need to see more recycling and less trashing of all these bulbs.
Executive Recycling’s fake recycling was featured in a 60 Minutes episode in 2008.
A federal court in Colorado today convicted the executives of Executive Recycling, formerly of Englewood, Colorado, of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, obstruction and environmental crimes related to illegally disposing electronic waste and smuggling.
This company was featured in the 2008 CBS News’ 60 Minutes Episode, “Electronic Wasteland,” on how e-waste from the U.S. is collected by companies claiming to be recyclers, who instead load it up on containers and ship it to developing nations. Like many fake recycelrs, Executive Recycling promoted itself as an environmentally responsible company.
The charges came after the Basel Action Network (BAN), a toxic trade watchdog organization, which is a member of our Coalition, observed and photographed 20 seagoing containers leaving the Executive Recycling loading docks and tracked them overseas. BAN then gave the information to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Enforcement, the Government Accountability Office, and CBS News.
The 60 Minutes team followed one of Executive’s containers to China with BAN’s Executive Director Jim Puckett. Following that episode, investigations by EPA Enforcement, Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Attorney led to an indictment of Executive Recycling on 16 criminal counts, and eventually to today’s conviction
We applaud the federal government for mounting this investigation and pursuing this lawsuit. This practice of fake recycling is all too common in the U.S., and most of them get away with it. While exporting e-waste to China and other developing countries is common, it’s unusual for most fake recyclers to be brought to court, because much of their activity is perfectly legal under U.S. law. Because Executive Recycling was exporting Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs and monitors, they violated the one regulation on the books (the CRT rule) pertaining to e-waste exports from the U.S. According to Homeland Security, Executive Recycling exported over 100,000 CRTs from the United States between 2005 and 2008. Because of the company’s particular behavior, prosecutors were able to add charges of obstruction of justice, and wire and mail fraud, in addition to environmental violations.
But it wouldn’t take such a monumental effort by the EPA, Homeland Security, ICE, and the U.S. Attorney to stop fake recyclers like this if we passed legislation, like what most of the rest of the world has, that would make this kind of global e-waste dumping illegal. Such legislation was introduced in this past Congress as the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, and is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congressional session next year.
Until such time as we pass legislation to solve this problem, your best option is to choose a recycler that is certified to the e-Stewards standards, which prohibit exporting toxic e-waste to developing nations.
Read about other fake recyclers here.
CRT glass “crisis” shows why we need to design the toxics out of electronic products
Today is America Recycles Day, but this year we might need to change it to “America Stockpiles Toxic CRT Glass Day.” A new study shows that many electronics recyclers across the U.S. have collected payments for recycling our old CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs and monitors, but then instead of actually sending the toxic leaded CRT glass to proper glass processors, they simply stored this glass on their property or other locations.
Recyclers have stockpiled an astonishing 860 MILLION POUNDS of CRT glass in the U.S., according to a new report from Transparent Planet, entitled “U.S. CRT Glass Management: A Bellwether for Sustainability of Electronics Recycling in the United States.” The bulk of that glass is said to be in the Southwestern states (500 million pounds) and California (200 million pounds). The report findings were presented today by the author, Lauren Roman, Managing Director of Transparent Planet to an e-waste conference.
Get the Lead Out
We all know that “normal” glass is pretty easy to recycle, and in many places they pick it up from our curbside bins for recycling. But CRT glass isn’t easy to recycle because it contains a lot of lead, which is very toxic. Typical CRT TVs or monitors each contain 4-8 pounds of lead in the glass tube, and the inside of the tubes get coated with toxic phosphor dust. While virtually no one in the U.S. is buying new CRTs anymore (we’ve moved on to flat panels), CRTs still comprise a significant amount (often over 60%) of what is coming back in electronics recycling programs, especially from consumers who have been retiring their tube TVs in a steady flow since the Digital Conversion in 2009. Because lead is very toxic, it’s important that CRT glass is managed safely and responsibly. Many states have passed bans on putting CRTs in their landfills or incinerators. Federal law also bans them but the law contains a big (and in our opinion, ridiculous) exemption for people who generate small quantities of waste (like consumers and small business).
Recyclers have typically had two options for what to do with CRT glass: send it for glass-to-glass recycling, where it is used as a feedstock to make new CRTs, or send it to a lead smelter where the lead is separated out for other applications (but the smelting usually results in toxic air emissions). The glass-to-glass recycling business has mostly disappeared, as there are not many CRTs being manufactured any more in the world. And the few lead smelters in North America have limited capacity, and they are expensive.
Manufacturers Don’t Pay Enough for Proper CRT Handling
With shrinking options for processing CRT glass, the economics of recycling CRTs have turned upside down in just a few years. According to the report, where recyclers used to earn $205 per ton recycling CRT glass in 2004, they must now pay $200 per ton, a net loss in value of $405/ton in eight years. The problem is that most of the electronics manufacturer takeback programs are not paying their recyclers enough per pound to manage this toxic glass properly.
Other Key Findings From the Report:
- California stockpiles. Even in California, where the state program reimburses recyclers 39 cents per pound, some recyclers are still stockpiling glass. The State of California is so worried about the stockpiles that they have issued emergency regulations and will now (for the next two years) allow leaded CRT glass collected under their electronics recycling program to be disposed of in the State’s hazardous waste landfill.
- Billing for more than what’s been collected. The CRT Report also documented a problem that’s been whispered about for a while in this industry – referred to as “air pounds” or “ghost weight.”
- Ghost weight – That’s where a recycler charges a manufacturer’s takeback program for more e-waste than they’ve actually collected. Since weight records are not usually required for material collected at public collection events, some recyclers quote very low prices per pound to the manufacturers to get the work but then claim they collected twice the material than they actually did so they can bill the manufacturers for more than they actually collected.
- Air pounds - Paper transactions are created between recyclers that often do not represent actual material recycling but rather a ‘recycling’ of paperwork that is used to “prove” recycling occurred…used over and over again.
Some recyclers tell me that they believe that some manufacturers are aware of this problem, but have little incentive to bust recyclers for these deceptive practices as long as they are able to claim the higher volumes towards their (manufacturer) collection goals, and still pay a very low price per pound. But it also takes away business from the responsible recyclers who don’t use ghost pounds, and who won’t sign a contract for CRTs if the price is too low to process it safely.
Changes to State Laws Could Resolve Both Problems
Both of these problems, CRT stockpiling and ghost pounds, is happening both in states with e-waste laws and in states without e-waste laws. Twenty four states have passed e-waste recycling laws, with 23 of them (all but California) based on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which makes the manufacturers financially responsible for recycling their old products. The States didn’t anticipate these problems; neither did we, as advocates for EPR laws. But clearly there is a need for a little more State oversight into the details, including:
- Establishing base line pricing for responsible CRT glass management
- Requiring third-party mass balance monitoring of collection volumes, so that the only “proof” of pounds comes from the third party entity
Bottom line – Product Redesign is the Answer
None of these problems would exist if electronics were designed in a way that the materials were valuable enough and easy enough to recover for new manufacturing. CRTs are the poster child for not designing with the product’s end-of-life in mind. Maybe that’s not a fair criticism, since CRTs were designed back before anyone was thinking about recycling electronics. But the industry still isn’t designing with recycling in mind. They moved from leaded glass CRTs to flat panels using fluorescent lights with highly toxic mercury in them. And used panel “glass” from LCD TVs and monitors do not currently have much recycling value so some recyclers are just landfilling them.
It’s time for this industry to challenge their designers and chemists to design products using safe materials that make their products just as valuable at the end of life as they were when the companies sold them.
Toshiba threatens repair geek for posting their computer repair manuals on website
Repairing is better than trashing
Anyone who has spent any time following the e-waste issue will recognize that it’s better if we can make our electronic products last longer instead of just trashing them when we don’t want them any longer. It’s even better than recycling. A significant amount of the earth’s precious resources, including metals, energy and water, goes into making each new computer, phone, or television. So while recycling is good, repairing or refurbishing a product for a second owner to use is even better.The best champions of reuse in this country are the hundreds of (mostly small) non-profits who divert products from the landfill or shredder bin, and refurbish them for new owners. Just as important is the huge network of devoted “geeks” who have never met a gadget they can’t fix, and who crusade (often in their spare time) for others to fix their own stuff by making the repair information and parts very easily accessible to everyone, for free. One such group, based in the U.S. is iFIXIT, which posts free, easy-to-follow repair instructions on a whole range of products, and encourages kids and novices to jump into the Fix-It-Yourself waters and have a swim.
Dell and HP post their manuals, why not Toshiba?
But when one such devoted repair geek in Australia, Tim Hicks, posted Toshiba’s computer manuals on his website, he got a cease and desist letter from Toshiba, saying it was proprietary information. According to a piece in Wired magazine, Tim’s site is used by a lot of non-profits and service technicians alike (for free, of course). But now they will no longer have access to his Toshiba manuals, which he has had to take down.
Every product has a repair manual, which the companies supply to their own authorized repair vendors. While they are copyrighted, many companies don’t enforce the copyright. Any repair guy will tell you that it helps them to their jobs when the manufacturers of the products make their own repair manuals available online, for everyone to use. Dell and HP both do this – with photos to make them even easier. Lenovo does this for some products. Apple, like Toshiba, will have their lawyers send you a letter if you post their repair manual online.
Technically, Toshiba has the right to enforce their copyright. But consider the bigger picture here. Toshiba (along with every one of its competitors in the industry) follows the planned obsolescence business model, where they make money by constantly selling us new stuff, not by getting us to hang onto our old stuff longer. Using the official manufacturer repair depots is often expensive, and not always convenient (it’s common to have to ship the product off for repairs). So companies that only offer that option (and don’t empower other repair options) are, in effect, creating an obstacle to reuse and repair of their products. It’s bad enough that manufacturers like Toshiba don’t design their products the be significantly upgradeable and long lasting; the least they could do is to make it easy for people to find out how to fix them to get a little more use out of them.
Come on, Toshiba. Show us that you actually mean the words in your Environment Vision 2050 statement, and publish your repair manuals on your own website, enabling people all over the world, who want to keep using your products, to easily do so. Really, you should consider this an endorsement of your products that people think they are worth fixing and refurbishing.
EPA’s voluntary program for “safe management of used electronics” won’t prevent unsafe e-waste exports to developing countries
Today the EPA announced its new “Sustainable Materials Management Electronic Challenge,” a voluntary program to encourage electronics manufacturers and retailers to launch or improve their takeback/recycling programs for used electronics, and in particular to send more of their e-waste to certified recyclers. Good intention, not necessarily good results.
Manufacturers and retailers may join the program at one of the three tiers, bronze, silver or gold, pledging to meet the requirements of the tier within a year. The levels primarily reflect how much of the e-waste collected under the program is sent to certified recyclers. At bronze, they are sending less than 50%, silver 50-95%, and gold 96-100% by weight is sent to certified recyclers. There are some additional requirements for silver and gold levels.
Some good elements
There are things we like about the EPA’s new program. It borrowed some elements from our own Electronics Recycling Report Card metrics.
- It covers all collection streams, including business (something companies rarely report on publicly).
- It requires annual, public reporting on collection volumes, collection sites, and efforts to publicize their program.
- At the gold level, programs must show increased volumes in one or more state without a takeback law, a good idea, but which won’t have much impact if it can be met by showing an increase in only one state.
Ignores biggest problem in the industry
The EPA could have done the right thing on e-waste exports in a couple of ways:But we are very disappointed that the EPA has basically ignored one of the biggest problems in the recycling industry – the fact that so many recyclers export at least some categories of e-waste to developing countries. While the EPA’s press announcement today called for “Safe Management of Used Electronics,” exporting e-waste to developing countries is anything BUT safe – at least for the workers and residents near the locations where crude, dangerous, “informal” processing occurs. This is bad for both people and the environment.
- The easiest way would have been to require use of recyclers certified to standards that prohibit the export of toxic e-waste, including untested or non-working products, to developing countries. Currently, there are recyclers in 92 locations across the U.S. certified to the e-Stewards standard, which has that important requirement that prohibits the unsafe exports. Many more recyclers are in the process of getting certified to the e-Stewards standard. The other standard, called R2, does allow export of e-waste to developing countries. But the EPA, under different leadership, helped convene the R2 standard stakeholder process, so for political reasons, the EPA seems to be unable to favor the clearly stronger e-Steward standard.
- Still, the EPA could have set this program up to reward companies, perhaps at the higher tiers, who can show that they are only using vendors who are not exporting e-waste to developing countries, without specifying e-Stewards.
Incentives to export are high
ponse to our report card, but not always their business vendors.Also, the EPA programdoes not require public disclosure of which vendors the manufacturer or retailer is using. They must report this to the EPA, but public disclosure is optional. Some have begun to disclose their consumer in response to our report card, but not always their business vendors.
Why are we so focused on who the vendors are, and what standards they are using? Because we know that some of the manufacturers are paying extremely low rates to their recycling vendors, at least for certain streams. This is particularly true for the price per pound paid to recyclers to process used CRT TVs or monitors (with cathode ray tubes). Recyclers who are paid such low prices per pound would have to lose money on these streams if they managed them responsibly, so the incentive to export them to developing countries instead is very high.
We continue to be disappointed by this Administration’s failure to draw the line at dumping our toxic e-waste in developing countries, especially in their voluntary efforts like this one and for how they are managing their own e-waste. Because market pressures stronly encourage these kinds of exports, by not including measures to prohibit them, the EPA is basically condoning e-waste exports to developing countries. Some of the manufacturers have already taken positions stronger than the EPA is promoting here with its gold level tier. If the EPA is going to establish a voluntary program with tiers of performance, shouldn’t the highest (gold) level be at or above what the leaders in the industry are already doing?
It’s back-to-school shopping time and for some of you, that means a new laptop. There’s one new technical specification that probably isn’t on your list of comparison metrics, but should be: replaceable batteries. Does the manufacturer allow you to replace your own battery, or will you have to ship it off to the service depot for a week, for a “repair”?
If you are shopping for the thin, light, fast laptops called “ultrabooks,” then you may want to read our new report, “Ultra-Inconvenient” before you buy. Ultrabooks are basically the PC manufacturers’ version of the Mac Book Air. Many new ultrabooks appeared on the scene early in 2012, with even more coming out this summer with Intel’s new ivy bridge processor.
While Apple loyalists are accustomed to having to go back to Apple for new batteries (and they have stores that do this while you wait), this will be a brand new inconvenience for most PC laptop users. That’s why we were so surprised to find that most manufacturers make absolutely no mention of this design change – not on their websites, product descriptions, or even in the detailed specs. They also fail to mention that if you try to change the battery yourself anyway, something that’s actually quite easy to do for many of these laptops, you will void your product warranty. Not exactly user-friendly. More like user-hostile. This will make the next laptop battery recall even more fun.
Some manufacturers still have user-changeable batteries in their ultrabooks
The designers will surely state that they made this tradeoff in order to attain the very thin profile (it must meet Intel’s thin test in order to use the trademarked term “ultrabook”). But our report found that there are a couple of ultrabooks that still have removable batteries and still meet the thin test.
In addition to being user-hostile, this design change makes it less likely the laptop will have a “reuse” phase after the initial owner is done with it. Because of the enormous amount of resources that go into manufacturing computers, reuse – extending the life of any computer – is far more “sustainable” than just recycling it.
Obstacle to Reuse
But anything that makes it harder (or more expensive) to repair or refurbish a product makes its reuse less likely. [Apple’s new MacBook Pro/retina is the poster child here, with its glued-in battery.] Having to go back to the manufacturer for a battery and pay their labor costs is a reuse hurdle. For some people, it can be the point at which they decide they are ready to buy a new one, and put the old one aside. Hopefully it gets donated or sold to someone who knows where to buy third-party batteries, and who is not daunted by having to open up the laptop just to replace the battery. But we know that many people hang on to working laptops to hand them down to family or friends. But you don’t want to give someone a dead battery laptop. So you put it aside to figure it out later….
We hope that the industry will put the metric of user replaceable batteries up higher on the design specs, both for sustainability and convenience reasons. In the meantime, they should be much more transparent about this issue on their websites so consumers don’t find out the hard way. And they shouldn’t punish us for their design decisions by voiding our warranties just for changing our own batteries.
Apple gives itself a Gold grade for laptop where the battery is glued in
Apple rejoined the EPEAT green electronics program today, relisting its qualifying products on the EPEAT registry of computer products that meet the IEEE standard 1680.1 for environmentally preferable attributes. Apple published a statement on its website today, from Senior VP Bob Mansfield, saying that leaving EPEAT “was a mistake.”
Apple took a lot of heat for quitting EPEAT. The City of San Francisco had said they would no longer purchase Apple computers. The San Jose Mercury news published a scathing editorial yesterday, calling on Apple to “think green, not greed.”
Apple had unexpectedly quit the EPEAT program recently, suddenly removing all of its products from the registry – the list that EPEAT maintains to let purchasers know which products are EPEAT-rated, and at what rating level (bronze, silver, or gold). This move was surprising, given that Apple has been a leader in many aspects of environmental design, like selecting recyclable, and less toxic materials. All its products on the registry were at the Gold level.
It’s generally believed that Apple had quit EPEAT because it’s new flagship laptop – the Mac Book Pro with retina display – couldn’t meet some of EPEAT’s “Design for End of Life” criteria because Apple glues the battery into the laptop with industrial strength glue. This makes it impossible for consumers to replace the battery themselves, but even the super-experienced repair guys at iFixit couldn’t remove the battery without puncturing it, “releasing hazardous goo all over.”
Apple should flunk EPEAT for gluing in the battery
While we are very glad to see that Apple has rejoined the EPEAT program, we are astonished to see that in reposting its products to the EPEAT registry, Apple has actually listed four versions of the Mac Book Pro with retina as EPEAT Gold level products. We seriously doubt that these Mac Books should qualify for EPEAT at any level because we think they flunk two required criteria in the “Design for End of Life” section of the standard. They are:
- Criterion 184.108.40.206: External enclosures shall be easily removable by one person alone with commonly available tools.
While you can open up the enclosure, you can’t completely remove one half of the casing from the large group of batteries. They are glued to the case with industrial strength glue.
- Criterion 220.127.116.11 Identification and removal of components containing hazardous materials.
This criteria specifically applies to batteries, as well as circuit boards over 10 cm2 and other components, and says they must be safely and easily removable. Gluing the battery in does not quality as “easily removable.” In fact, it’s exactly the kind of design that this standard seeks to discourge.
It’s important to understand that the manufacturers grade themselves against the EPEAT criteria first, and then EPEAT conducts a review of this grading. That EPEAT review has not yet occurred. They can require the manufacturers to remove any product from the registry if it is not found to conform to the IEEE standard.
Apple is often a design leader in electronics, but they really blew it here. They are ignoring a really important design goal here – designing to promote product longevity and reuse. Designers should make it as easy as possible for users to replace their own batteries. This is like designing a car with tires that you can’t replace when you have a flat without making an appointment at the dealer and paying them a hefty fee for the tire.
We hope Apple’s next version of this Mac Book Pro comes with a removable battery.