Piers Fawkes: For A Green Future, Electronics Need To Be Disposable

Consumers need to face up to their throw-away tech-habit and expect at-home recyclable materials in their gadgets.

During a talk given by Al Gore at a special PSFK event in New York, the former Vice President and Apple board member reminded the audience of Moore’s Law. The law, as many of you know, states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. What this means, Mr Gore pointed out, is that technology changes at such a rate that our iPads are more powerful than the “supercomputer” of the 1980s.

This tremendous advance means that our ‘consumer’ technology becomes obsolete quickly — at least in our minds. This year’s tech is considerably more powerful than last year’s and we consumers are prone to abandoning the old for the new while the electronics industry makes their products with materials that can last an eternity.

I guess that we have an internal paradox – we spend a lot of money on electronics and we therefore want them to feel like they have value when we buy them. Gadget makers respond to this my making our phones, tablets and appliances using robust and durable plastics, metals and glass.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that in 2010 there were 125 million old phones discarded, resulting in 65,000 tons of waste. Makers should be building in these materials and we shouldn’t be expecting them to be made like they are. We consumers need to admit to ourselves that we are going to dispose of the shiny mobile phone, laptop or game console we just bought within two years. Electronic makers need to supply products that can be composted or recycled at home.

A few years ago on PSFK, we featured examples of modular electronics where a gadget could remain relevant (and sustainable) as the owner changed parts as they went out of date rather than replacing the whole item. That idea hasn’t really caught on.

Consumers need to face up to their throw-away tech-habit and expect at-home recyclable materials in their gadgets. Recently, we have been watching a number of electronics concepts being shared around the web which have been cased in cardboard. These paper-based ideas look like novelty items but I believe that these actually point to a sustainable future.

The Cardboard Radio from Suck UK

VAX EV Cardboard Concept

By building their concepts in cardboard, I feel that the designers behind these products actually grasp the notion that all electronics are disposable and that we need to start building our tech in materials like cardboard that consumers can process after use at home.