Apple designs its products so that you’ll never have to take them apart. The Bloom laptop, designed by Stanford students concerned about e-waste, takes the opposite approach: you can break it down by hand into recyclable parts in 30 seconds flat. (That sound you hear in the distance is Cory Doctorow orgasming.)
Consumer electronics contain plenty of recyclable materials, but their tightly integrated manufacturing makes the various bits of glass, metal, plastic, and silicon near-impossible to separate by the average consumer. There are facilities that can accept whole computers for recycling, but that just kicks the can further down the road: “They spend 90% of their time prying 250 screws out of every device that comes in the door–it’s very expensive and time-consuming,” says Aaron Engel-Hall, one of the Bloom’s designers.
The Bloom laptop “closes the gap” between consumers and recyclers, Engel-Hall says, by making e-waste recycling as simple any other kind. Just turn two knobs on the Bloom’s 3D-printed plastic case, and the motherboard (borrowed from a Macbook), battery, and other mixed-material components drop right out. A postage-paid envelope behind the LCD screen will ship these “bad apples” to a facility equipped to handle them. All that’s left to do is chuck the empty shell into the kitchen recycling bin with your water bottles.
So why aren’t all laptops built this way? “People are not willing to sacrifice performance in their gadgets at all to make them green,” Engel-Hall says. To wit, the Bloom is slightly larger and heavier than your average laptop – but just barely. “We added a few millimeters,” he says. “Ideally we’d have [the case] milled out of aluminum, which would be thinner and stronger. We identified a different alloy from the one Apple uses, which would be acceptable in a normal recycling stream.”
But the Bloom’s modular design does give it one pretty cool feature not found in “normal” laptops: the keyboard and trackpad can detach from the case and connect to the computer wirelessly. Eco-friendly and innovative ergonomics? Bummer the Bloom is just a prototype, because I want one for Christmas.