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Smarter Product Design Could Help Reduce E-Waste

Product design might be one answer to the mounting e-waste dilemma Americans are facing.

As laptops and tablets become thinner and smaller, they also become more cumbersome for machines to disassemble. E-waste is piling up in junkyards and, according to Sara Be​hdad, a product design analyst from the University of Buffalo, we can fix all of it with more mindful product design.

In an interview with Maddie Stone from Motherboard, Behdad cites thinning products as a major cause of increasing e-waste. These ever-slimming chassis may be a great way to attract sales, but these designs make it increasingly difficult for automated disposal of computers, tablets, and smartphones. Behdad said to Stone:

“Disassembly [of thinner products] usually cannot be done automatically. If you want to recover components, you have to use manual labor.”

This issue has caused companies to choose between eco-friendly disposal or saving money. So, some resort to throwing e-waste in the trash, which causes harmful chemicals, like lead and mercury, to seep into the soil.

The second e-waste concern is that some products aren’t being resold, recycled, or thrown away — they’re just sitting in homes, unused. Consumers are keeping their old smartphones. It’s not terribly surprising, we all have a stash; anyone who says they don’t is likely in denial. But the truth is we’ve all become hoarders in a way. There’s no easy way to get rid of a smartphone without knowing that all your data has been wiped clean.

“People often don’t return their old cellphones because their data is on them. We thought; if you have two different designs, one with removable memory and one without, how would this affect the consumer’s likelihood to return the product?”

Behdad found in her research that smartphones with removable data storage were more likely to be recycled than ones without. Consumers want to know they can turn their device in without having to worry about important contacts, passwords, and other personal data being recovered.

The issue of e-waste is a big one. The resources to make these devices will only continue to become more expensive as they become scarce if we aren’t mindful about recycling devices. However, it’s also up to companies to create designs that will help maintain its future for years to come.

Read more at Motherboard.

Photo Credit: Curtis Palmer/Flickr


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