The laptop on which I am typing this post will sooner or later become obsolete.  Some part of it will break or crash. My eco-options at that point are limited. At best, I can drop it off to be recycled, where it might make it to a facility in Asia to be laboriously taken apart and some elements recycled for use in another other product.

But what if laptops just lasted longer or damaged components could more easily be replaced or upgraded, without having to dispose of the whole computer and get a new one? And what if users could do it themselves?

This was the design assignment of graduate students at Stanford University and Finland’s Aalto University, who recently created a prototype of a recyclable computer laptop. The so-called Bloom laptop can be broken down into separate plastic, metal, and circuitry parts in around two minutes without tools. Compare this with the 45 minutes, multiple tools, and over a hundred steps it takes to make most commercial laptops recycle-ready.

The Bloom laptop is modular is design, meaning that components can be popped out and replaced with an upgrade. The laptop case is fastened with latches instead of screws and a pre-paid addressed envelope is included with the computer to mail plastic, metal, or silica parts to the nearest recycling facility.

For their design, the students won Autodesk’s Inventor of the Month award for October.

Given the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) that floods our landfills and gets exported abroad every year, the prospect that our computers will last longer and at least some of the major parts  could more easily be recycled is welcome news.

Is this the end of planned obsolescence?  Maybe not, but it may help push producers to move beyond end-of-use disposal thinking and begin incorporating life-cycle thinking in the design process by making the product last longer and more upgradeable.  We’ll see soon if major manufacturers pick up the design.

It may also change the relationship consumers have with their computers. Instead of short-term commitments, perhaps we can more easily stay with our electronic partners through thick and thin.  Instead of ditching our laptops for a newer model when a key component fries or is damaged, we will acquire a spare prosthesis, give it some tender loving care, and work things out.

Here’s more on America Recycles Day.

Image Credit: Maiac

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