Zonbox PC: Product Takeback Comes to Electronics

The problem of toxic electronic waste is no longer a dirty little secret. Thanks to relentless efforts of consumer advocacy groups, photojournalists -- and, we like to think, little old blogs like us -- the computer industry is starting to take notice. Obvious first steps like the elimination of lead, and reduction of fire retardants, and institution of recycling programs are being rolled out all across the industry. But the holy grail of recycling, product take-back, still hadn't been tackled, until now. Newcomer Zonbu recently introduced its Zonbox home networking PC, and one of the coolest features is one you don't get to use until it breaks.Computers are hugely complex devices, and, as usually happens with such systems, when one little part breaks, the whole thing is pretty well kaput. Even if it's just one broken chip in the 1000 that make up a motherboard, it still gets thrown away. Recycling is OK, because at least the heavy metals and toxic components of the computer aren't leaching into groundwater. But the truth is, because electronic waste is such a mish-mash of different systems, recycling is more about melting computers down for their metals than about re-using chips. For example, even two of the same Dell PCs have such radically different motherboard layouts that sorting the components once they are removed is a nightmare. And, in practice, taking that waste apart releases a lot of toxic materials into local environments.

Zonbu may have the beginnings of an answer to this problem. Their Zonbox home pc is built on a different model than most. First, by using a low power processor, Linux, and flash memory for local storage instead of a hard drive, the system uses less than 10% of the power that an average windows PC would use. Second, rather than storing your files locally, users back their files up to a remote server, which allows access from any computer. So, if your computer dies in the first three years, Zonbu will ship you a new one "that very day", and -- here's the kicker -- take back your broken comp in the same postage-paid package.

The implications of this are great for the environment, and for Zonbu. Now, rather than a mish-mash of random computer models, they have controlled streams of the same model coming back, so they can easily create "disassembly lines" to gut, triage, and re-assemble new computers from the parts. Compared with a melt-and-remake model, this would use vastly less energy. Of course, it's up to Zonbu to commit to a re-assemble model, and maybe even to explore take-back after any amount of time. But it's definitely an exciting step toward a future of much greener electronics. :: Via LinuxDevices :: Zonbu Homepage