OEM "obsolescence in hindsight" creates e-waste

I own a really nice HP Blackbird 002, a very high end gaming machine which I treated myself to for Christmas one year ago (not the full $5600 machine, but the #2-3K newegg version). I haven't had much luck with it, had to send it back for a power supply issue (it's about 75 lbs, ugh) after six months. This morning there is no power again, arrgh, no led light on the power supply, I eliminated possibilities of bad cable or current etc.

Then I googled around looking for repair advice on power supply issues, and found this "helpul" advice page for recyclers provided by Hewlett Packard "Product-End-of-Life Disassembly Instructions".

"This document is intended for end-of-life recyclers or treatment facilities. It provides the basic instructions for the disassembly of HP Products to remove components and materials requiring selective treatment, as defined by EU Directive 2002/96/EC, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)".

Ok, sounds legal. Now, keeping in mind Friday's post about how a PC is composed of parts made by a dozen different electronics manufacturing companies, mostly overseas outsourcers, and how little a brand has to do with power supply, motherboard, chip, RAM, case, etc., explain these instructions for "proper" recycling:

"Using wire cutters, cut the clamp that secures the wires to the power supply cover"

"Using wire cutter, cut all cables connected to the PCA in the power supply"

Keep in mind, all of these cables have quick pinch and release connectors, shown in the diagram... but the recycler is instructed to cut them with wire cutters.

Then, get this:

"Cut 12 Capacitors from PCA,
as shown in Figure 7."

!!! Well, that's interesting !!!

In HP's defense, one likely issue they are trying to deal with in the power supply shown in the diagram is "fraudulent warranty" returns. Unscrupulous repairers may diagnose a power supply under warranty as "faulty" and then resell the (good) power supply. If HP is paying for a warranty replacement, they have every right to demand DOS (Destroy on Site).

However, this document is about WEEE. The implication is that if HP has anything to do with paying the recycling fee, HP can execute "obsolescence" or DOS requirements.

What is the likelihood that someone who gives me an HP Blackbird had a power supply problem? Based on my experience this year, plenty. The power supply should be tested for reuse, and if it's faulty, it may have had bad capacitors, which should be either replaced and recycled.

But what is the likelihood that all 12 of the the capacitors, including those on the motherboard, video cards, sound cards, etc. all failed? Virtually ZERO.

That means that this document is virtually 100% certain to be instructing the recycler to destroy over $2000 in parts and components. A cost to be passed down to the consumer, a lost job to the repairer and refurbisher, and a lost computer to someone who could not have afforded a brand new HP Blackbird 002.

Of course, any repairman in Egypt could tell you for 100% certain whether those capacitors were bad or not. They could tell you the likihood that the capacitor is bad without looking at the machine, just as soon as you told them the make, model, etc. of each component. They could tell me, on my Blackbird, which of the different component manufacturers they have had to replace capacitors for. But they will remove the capacitors with a soldering gun, not wire cutters, because they will replace those capacitors.

And a single HP Blackbird 002 is, coincidentally, the same value as an average year's wages in Egypt.

Now, contrast the instructions for "end of life" with HP's similar document for a product still under warranty, called "Troubleshooting Power Supply Issues". The pains they go through to make, extra, extra sure the power supply is indeed the problem! The emphasis on several other possible issues, the process of elimination you need to do before the power supply is deemed faulty! This is actually the more correct document - I know, because it is through this trial-and-error process that Good Point Recycling gets good computers, which we resell (with a 99+% satisfaction rate). The manufacturers will say to take all these steps to eliminate software conflicts, loose cables, switches, home wiring, etc. because fairly often the components are still good.

In neither document, the "end-of-life" nor the "troubleshooting", does HP commit any sin except to protect its shareholders. This is not a diatribe against the manufacturers, they are doing their job producing returns for investors. Heck, my IRA may have a big chunk of HP stock, and I'm not complaining about them making money. But this is another wake up call to the "environmentalists" who believe that current computer manufacture extended responsibility laws bring us closer to cradle-to-cradle eco-nirvana. The OEMs have a conflict of interest when it comes to making electronics recycling more affordable. A single refurbished HP Blackbird could pay for the cost of recycling 20 large TV sets. But if you cut off all 12 capacitors, per the "end of life" instructions, you instead have one more piece of junk on top of the 20 TVs.

The end-of-life document for the HP Blackbird reads like a set of instructions for a hospital to embalm first, heal second. If the HP Blackbird 002 was not "end-of-life" before the instructions were followed, it will be now. Wake up, Product Stewardship advocates.

1 comment:

RecycleBill said...

I don't know much about computers but in the 1970s I worked for a GM dealer where factory reps and used car salesmen could determine the mileage on a car based on the amount of wear on the brake pedal. They knew how many times you would roll the window up and down before the crank fell off. Planned obsolescence was an almost exact science even then so it's no surprise that manufacturers have taken it this far.