Sustainability Series blog post: Removing the “E” from E-waste

Pile of mobile phone scrap
In 2015, if your smartphone is over 4.6 years old, consider it a dinosaur.

That’s what a 2014 consumer survey revealed as the average perceived lifespan of a smartphone, the shortest of any consumer electronic. Given rapid innovations in size, weight, autonomy or other features, it’s not surprising that these devices have become, in essence, disposable when the next best thing comes along.

But have you ever wondered what happens to the smartphone or other consumer electronic you are replacing?  We’re not pointing any fingers, but electronic waste or “e-waste” is a growing global environmental problem.

E-waste might only represent a small fraction of total global waste, but it represents 70 percent of the toxic stuff.  Its hazardous heavy metal substances, when sitting in landfills or incinerated, contribute to pollution and health problems.

To counteract this frightening statistic, regulations now prohibit the sale of products with certain levels of toxic components, or require manufacturers to bear the cost of the entire product lifecycle, including disposal.  While these have helped improve the situation, they have not stemmed its growth.

Moreover, these sustainability efforts present a host of issues for manufacturers.  There is often little consistency in regulatory requirements from country to country:  existing products must be modified and tested for new compliance; suppliers must be targeted according to local requirements and also validated for compliance; and compliance must be readily accessible at every phase of the product lifecycle to avoid costly, late-stage design changes.

What to do?  Either consumers can stop buying products and manufacturers will stop making them (and we know that won’t happen) or we can enhance technology to help consumer electronics reach sustainability goals.  With innovative tools—software in particular—companies can design more sustainable products and packaging by considering energy efficient production, logistics, usage and component lifecycles.

Design and engineering decisions have a great impact on a product’s total environmental footprint. Software advances can help to ensure a high standard of consumer electronics product quality and appeal to consumers—while giving them the peace of mind about the environmental aspect of their purchase.

Considering this, one of the features of our “Smarter, Faster, Lighter” industry solution experience is end-to-end traceability, from requirements through qualification and validation of detailed hardware and software components.  It also allows a life-like visual mock-up that integrates these requirements and other features, before any physical product is even manufactured.