Euthanasia, for all the controversy it attracts, isn’t a great, good or even an imperfect but nevertheless acceptable solution in the world of electronics and e-waste. You may want to kill off an old typewriter or PC, a cranky printer with a faulty paper-feed, a first-generation iPod the Apple store whiz kids refuse to service, the Grundig radio with a broken antennae and dial or even an early Motorola mobile flip phone that could also double as a truncheon in the hands of a British bobby but those buggers have a nasty habit of hanging around well beyond their useful lifespan.
Electronics don’t respond well to a magician’s order to disappear and, worse still, they don’t get easily assimilated into the soil; I still have my first Macintosh computer – the one with the natty trackball – the family’s first Motorola phone with a battery pack twice the size and weight of my current Samsung Galaxy S4 phone, a Word Processor machine from the late eighties and, of course, the trusty typewriter I used to bang out my undergraduate thesis.
Imagine, though, the giant headache being caused today by many OEM equipment from dozens of years ago that are still in service globally. They include aircrafts built in the 1950s and 1960s, industrial machines from the 1970s, semiconductor fab equipment that came into service before anyone knew you could combine crazy letters to form multi-billion dollar companies today named Amazon, Google and Yahoo and banged up but still reliably accurate survey equipment some surveyors are still hauling around in third world countries.
All of these equipment are beginning to create a problem for communities, local, state and national governments, manufacturers and component suppliers worldwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says each “American household uses about 24 electronic products like personal computers, mobile phones, televisions and e-readers,” adding that the country discards “more than 2 million tons of obsolete electronic products annually.” Many American families simply pile up their discarded electronic devices at home. I am equally guilty. As I write this article I can see the following items that aren’t in use anymore:
- 5 mobile phones (AT&T, Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia)
- 2 electronic calculators (Ativa, HP)
- 1 transistor radio (Grundig)
- 1 Camera (Canon)
- 2 computer keyboards (Microsoft)
- Power cords and other electronic accessories (Various manufacturers)
- Paper shredder (Royal)
That was in the office alone. Please don’t ask me to walk through the house. Am I unique? I doubt it. Just look around your office and home. Electronic equipment are piling up around us and they pose a hazard to everyone. Disposing of all these once-useful devices efficiently and without imposing an unbearable cost on society is a task we are failing miserably to achieve as consumers and equipment manufacturers.
As a society we need to develop a better mechanism for addressing the problems posed by our failure to properly dispose of electronic waste. The solution starts from the design phase and runs all the way through end-of-life (EOL) management. However, the supply chain is often more concerned about ensuring manufacturers and enterprise equipment buyers can keep servicing these equipment as they age but even this is a goal many fail to reach as the rapid rate of new product introduction accelerates the product obsolescence process. Just ask Dan Deisz, director of design engineering at Rochester Electronics. His company helps manufacturers with component obsolescence planning but even Deisz believes the challenges are piling up especially in relatively low-volume market segments like aviation, medical and military.
Don’t pass the buck. That’s the advice from the FDA, which encourages OEMs to start obsolescence and e-waste disposal early in the product design phase, meaning engineers and purchasing have a role here. In my next blog, I’ll examine the role of the purchasing department in component obsolescence and electronics waste disposal planning. I would like to hear from you. How can purchasing contribute to obsolescence management and the disposal of e-waste? Post a comment below.
DISCLAIMER: Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.