Last week, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), a certification program for electronics that requires participating companies to meet certain environmental standards, announced that Apple had pulled all 39 of its laptops, monitors and desktop computers that had been certified from the program (the program does not yet cover mobile technologies like the iPhone and iPad). By leaving the program, the Apple computers and monitors can no longer be purchased by the federal government and its agencies, which require that 95 percent of the electronics purchased be EPEAT certified.
Designing Away From Green Standards"They said their design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements,” Robert Frisbee, CEO of EPEAT said. “They were important supporters and we are disappointed that they don’t want their products measured by this standard anymore.”As iFixit.com reports, "EPEAT is designed to mitigate the negative environmental and social impacts of electronics manufacturing by requiring that products meet eight environmental 'performance categories,' including product lifetime, toxic materials, and recyclability of components and packaging materials."
Apple Turning Away from Easy RecyclabilityOne major requirement for EPEAT certification is that a product must be easily disassembled with common tools for recycling. As we reported at the time, iFixit.com found the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display to be almost impossible to disassemble, which is necessary for both repair and recycling. Instead of using screws, Apple is now using industrial-strength glue to hold the battery and screen in place.
“If the battery is glued to the case it means you can’t recycle the case and you can’t recycle the battery,” Frisbee said. He noted that the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display would not have been eligible for certification.
One important thing to note is that while this new design does make it difficult, if not impossible for many recyclers to disassemble its products, Apple does have its own recycling program. As you can read on Apple's website, the company has a long-standing contract with Sims Recycling, which would likely have the necessary tools to disassemble its products and properly recycle them. And they offer electronics recycling for free to anyone, regardless of the brand of electronics you're sending.
But why pull all Apple products? This means that as Apple concentrates on designing thinner, lighter products, that this is just the first in line that will utilize glue instead of screws. And while Apple is obviously responding to consumer demand and we would be silly not to appreciate the amazing evolution of computing technology that has brought us the level of power and performance that can be packaged into such a tiny frame, we can't help thinking that a company like Apple, with all of its focus on innovation and a long-range view, could figure out a way to incorporate both its design goals and the ability to disassemble its products if it were important to them.
Designed for Disposability, Not RepairabilitySo while there may still be a reliable way to recycle its products, the equally important issue is that by using this glue-it-down approach, the company is making its products unrepairable. As much as one can tout the quality and generally long lifetime of Apple products, if a user can't replace things like the battery, screen or other parts when they die or break, ultimately forcing the consumer to buy something new instead of just replacing one part, then this is still a major environmental fail on the part of Apple.
It's been speculated that Apple may be working on an environmental standard of its own. If that is true, we'll certainly let you know.