Is Apple Digging Itself a HOLE?
While Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may have extinguished one fire when it reversed its decision to pull its products from EPEAT last week, it may have kindled another that won’t earn it any points in the environmental community.
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On Friday, the company put “all eligible Apple products” back on the Green Electronic Council’s registry, where giving them a Gold label indicates that they are suitable for purchase by schools and government agencies that are required to buy only EPEAT-approved computers.
But Apple went one step further in giving Gold labels all four models of its new MacBook Pro with Retina display. The devices have been the target of much criticism in the environmental community after the disassembly experts at iFixit called them the least repairable laptops yet after cracking one open to discover that the RAM is soldered to the logic board, the proprietary SSD isn’t upgradeable, and the lithium-polymer battery is glued rather than screwed into the case, among other things.
All of those aspects of the new MacBooks that make them difficult to repair also mean they are difficult to disassemble for recycling, a key standard for EPEAT products. Apple’s original decision to withdraw from EPEAT seemed to indicate that the company knew its new high-definition laptops wouldn’t meet those standards and was trying to mitigate the blow.
But then after rejoining EPEAT, Apple stealthily added its gold stamp of approval to the new MacBooks. Pro-recycling group Electronics TakeBack Coalition was quick to take notice and respond: “We seriously doubt that these Mac Books should qualify for EPEAT at any level,” wrote ETBC’s National Coordinator Barbara Kyle wrote on the organization’s website, “because we think they flunk two required criteria in the ‘Design for End of Life’ section of the standard.”
Those two key standards are, as outlined in Kyle’s note:
- Criterion 18.104.22.168: External enclosures shall be easily removable by one person alone with commonly available tools.
While you can open up the enclosure, you can’t completely remove one half of the casing from the large group of batteries. They are glued to the case with industrial strength glue.
- Criterion 22.214.171.124 Identification and removal of components containing hazardous materials.
This criteria specifically applies to batteries, as well as circuit boards over 10 cm2 and other components, and says they must be safely and easily removable. Gluing the battery in does not quality as ‘easily removable.’ In fact, it’s exactly the kind of design that this standard seeks to discourage.”
It seems, according to Kyle, that Apple’s new laptops couldn’t possibly meet EPEAT standards, but manufacturers are allowed to grade themselves against the EPEAT criteria first, then EPEAT conducts its own review of that grading. According to Kyle, the EPEAT review has not yet occurred, but once it does, EPEAT can require the manufacturer “to remove any product from the registry if it is not found to conform to the IEEE standard.”
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