Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, already in use in some states, are designed to ensure devices are either easier to recycle or more durable, with longer device life spans.
“There is a lot of concern in sustainability circles that manufacturers are making things with shorter and shorter life spans, and products are perhaps even intentionally made to become obsolete to induce replacement purchases,” said Beril Toktay, a professor at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. A study published in April’s Management Science focused on government policies used to encourage electronics makers to put more thought into what happens at the end of the product life cycle concludes, “What we have found is that sometimes when you design for recyclability, you give up on durability, and when durability is the goal, recyclability is sacrificed,” Toktay said.
The decline in solar power costs has meant photovoltaic panels have popped up on rooftops and backyard solar farms around the world. Most of those solar panels will, however, reach the end of their useful life in a couple of decades. Many other electronic devices have even shorter life spans. Even simple choices, such as using glue or fasteners, impact a device’s recyclability.
Thin-film photovoltaic panels are much more cost effective to recycle than crystalline silicon panels because they contain precious metals. But crystalline silicon panels have much longer life spans because their components degrade much more slowly.
In theory, a product that is both easy to recycle and more durable would be the pinnacle of environmentally responsible product design. Automobiles with thicker metal frames that last longer and also have more recyclable materials are one example. In such a scenario, EPR policies emphasizing durability and recyclability work hand in hand.
“These kinds of trade-offs are common,” said Atalay Atasu, a professor at the Scheller College of Business. “You really have to distinguish between different product categories to consider the recyclability and the durability implications and make sure that your policy isn’t conflicting with the objective.”
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology