HOBI International‘s attendance at the December 2013 Green Electronics Council (GEC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Slates and Tablets Workshop uncovered some very interesting points on the environmental issues and opportunities of tablets.
This workshop in particular brought together 39 stakeholders with various perspectives and a range of expertise, including original equipment manufacturers, mobile service carriers, repair and recycling organizations, research institutions, academics, federal purchasers (U.S. and Canadian) and non-governmental organizations, all with the goal to discuss the rapidly emerging mobile market and its environmental performance.
Tablets are a relatively recent introduction into the mobile marketplace. Consequently, end-of-life managers and electronics recyclers have not been handling these products in large quantities nor for a considerable length of time. Therefore, there is limited data and information available about their recyclability.
It is, however, predicted tablet shipments to account for 65% of the mobile computing market by the end of the year. The majority of tablets users report they only started using these mobile devices no more than two years ago.
An electronics recycler at the workshop expressed feelings of difficulty when it came to repairability of tablet devices due to:
• Low cost per unit
• Rapidly evolving features/functionality
• Cover difficult to open
• Difficult to justify labor for repair vs. cost of replacement
• Massive install base with limited number of properly trained repair techs
The study provides guidance in an effort to promote design for disassembly to facilitate repair:
• Provide information regarding the opening mechanism
• Opening mechanism uses a slide rail needing no tools. What slides on must slide off
• Slide-lock cover for batteries and no tools are needed for removal or replacement
• Ease of removal of main board – screw it, don’t glue it
• Damage-free separation of display from device (broken display is the most common of tablet failures)
For an electronic refurbisher, spare parts availability, volume of devices, and the device market value impact the decision to repair versus recycle.
A U.S. electronics recycler even provided a breakdown of the materials’ value and cost to demanfacture a generic tablet, displaying a net loss of $0.50 per pound of material recycling when the cost of labor is factored in. Workshop participants noted that if components were able to readily be salvaged for spare parts the economics of tablet recycling would be more favorable.
Tablets mix it up
The report also noted it is important to consider the increasingly complex components that go into constructing shrinking form factors, like tablets and mobile phones. As manufactures continue to incorporate and rely on complex mixtures of materials – both plastic and metals – for design purposes, it is critical for recyclers to demonstrate an ability to recover them.
Can these devices be designed for durability, repairability and recyclability?
This report provides a foundation for future environmental standards development work by continuing to analyze tablet markets and trends.
Read the full report here.