Recently TreeHugger looked at the new Apple AirPods, and how they were essentially disposable, because they were impossible to repair. Commenters asked “what do you expect? they are earbuds!” It’s true; when things are that small it is hard to design for repairability. Choices and trade-offs have to be made, for instance when thin computers are glued together instead of screwed or you wear earbuds instead of headphones.
Coincidentally, while the AirPods were in the news because they were finally released, we got a pitch from Martin Willers of Swedish designers and makers People Products (who also designed this induction range I liked) about their new Small Transparent Speaker, which provides a really interesting counterpoint to the AirPod. It is also a sound producing product designed for use with iPhones (or any other phone) but is actually designed for deconstruction from first principles.
The Small Transparent Speaker is designed to last a long time. Even though it might seem unusual and counterintuitive to talk about scenarios of product failure now when the product is brand new, we believe that is exactly what we need to do. By considering potential ways the product might break, and designing the product to outsmart the landfill in these cases, we can make a big difference. The speaker is made out of materials that can be recycled to the same high quality over and over - this is called upcycling - and it is designed to allow for complete disassembly
One could be pedantic and note that this isn't really upcycling, but what recycling was supposed to be, as we have said many times: "What does "re" mean? It means again." Not downcycling, where paper becomes cardboard and bottles become benches. This is true recycling, where the materials have been chosen and the speakers designed so that they can be easily separated and reprocessed to the original quality.
Remarkably, it even has built in sensors to detect when parts are failing, and sends you a text message.
Broken products that can’t be repaired at home will be shipped back in the empty containers travelling back to the manufacturing locations. This return shipments are already accounted for in our business model, and we will be able to refurbish, reuse or remold most parts of the products at our own factories. Our packaging design can be refolded to expose the prepaid return shipping label.
The speakers are designed to stay current technologically too; they include a traditional jack, bluetooth and WiFi, and the designers intend to update the product to support future technologies over time.
I have not heard the speakers so I cannot attest to the sound quality, only to the design methodology, which is one every company should think about. They get why every product should be designed for disassembly, deconstruction, upgradeability and repairability instead of for appearance, thinness or price:
The challenge of our generation will be to stop trashing our planet, and leave it in a good shape for coming generations. Our consumer patterns and producing industry is currently not working towards that goal (and neither are some of our politicians). Consumer products are too quickly becoming waste and mostly dumped in landfills.
The designers claim that these speakers are part of a “closed loop industry where products and their materials has the potential to last forever.” That something worth paying a bit more for, and something we should be demanding from Apple and everyone else we buy stuff from. More at Kickstarter.