The Victorian government looks set to follow South Australia’s lead in banning e-waste in landfills. The natural outcome of these bans will be a growing awareness of e-waste footprints on the part of purchasing managers and the cost of obsolescence. The twin evil uncles of our current e-waste problem are short product life cycles and planned obsolescence - the practice of limiting a product’s lifespan by deliberate design. While many manufacturers may not deliberately plan for obsolescence, short product lifespans are the inevitable result of modern manufacturing practices: low cost components; sealed, unserviceable units; rapid iterations from one generation of technology to the next; promoting the latest cool feature to gain an edge over the competition, etc. To be fair, short product life cycles have a lot to do with Moore’s law, the seemingly unstoppable cycle that doubles the power of microprocessors every two years. Even so, it’s a cycle that manufacturers have learned to love. Products that don’t generally outlive the lifespans of their rechargeable batteries are good examples of planned obsolescence; so too are products that are cheaper to replace than fix. Together, those two groups amount to a huge and growing proportion of all future e-waste. They’re the reason that e-waste is now such a big problem.
Anticipating Future Controls on E-Waste DisposalPublic awareness of e-waste issues still seems to be very low. So without laws in place to restrict the way we dispose of it we tend not to worry about what happens at the end of a products life. But as laws change and awareness increases we’ll need to start asking questions such as:
- What is this manufacturer’s reputation for build quality?
- Does battery life dictate the overall life of the product?
- How easily and affordably can the product be serviced?
- Does the manufacturer / retailer run a trade in scheme?
- To what extent is the product recyclable?
- What are the costs of disposal and who will pay for disposal?
- Will this product have a resale value?