Recycling electronics; the best and the worst hardware manufacturers

Lightning-fast innovations have come at a price. What was spectacular last year is now obsolete. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recycle these devices, writes Stewart McGrenary.

Automated disassembly for recycling is being developed and at its early stages, however it is nowhere near the level required to stem the tide of e-Waste which is currently being created by the West.  So more often than not, effective tech recycling has to be done manually.

In this two-part article, we will examine seven devices, highlighting their pluses and minuses related to recyclability. After separating the best from the worst, we will conclude with what manufacturers should be doing to make recycling easier. So here are the devices, with their pluses and minuses …

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Smartphone

Pluses

  • Its similarity to the Note 8; no disassembly problems due to updated designs.
  • Adhesive can be softened to the point where the back panel can be removed with care, patience and special tools.
  • The flex cable for the fingerprint sensor is located safely inside to avoid slicing.

Minuses

  • Battery buried in glue

Verdict: Overall, aside from the battery being immersed in glue, the Note 9 is a disassembler-friendly device.


Apple 13” Retina MacBook Pro Laptop

Pluses

  • Battery can be removed without heat
  • Trackpad board easy to remove

Minuses

  • Removing battery requires special tools
  • Must remove heat sink to remove cooling fan

Verdict: The 13” Retina has landed in the middle ground, depending on the disassembler’s point of view.


Apple Mac Mini

Pluses

There were no detectable pluses related to recyclability.

Minuses

  • T6 Torx screws preventing access – rare use in in computers.
  • Access to RAM
  • RAM memory soldered to the motherboard – removing will risk damage

Verdict: As far as disassembling for recycling is concerned, the Apple Mac Mini is a loser.


Nextbook Ares 8″ Tablet

Pluses

  • Battery connector slides out fairly easy
  • Cables and components disconnected without difficulty
  • Lighter adhesive around battery makes it easier to remove

Minuses

  • Heat gun necessary for removal of glass screen – caution: remove camera first

Verdict: The Nextbook poses no huge difficulty for disassembly, making recycling a pretty easy endeavour.


HUAWEI P20 PRO

Pluses

  • Panels separate with little effort
  • Antenna & motherboard removed easily
  • No problem removing the battery

Minuses

  • Removing the battery requires time and much effort

Verdict: With most of the components being modular, considering the risk of breakage to the glass, the P20 shows favourably for recycling disassembly.


Microsoft Surface Pro

Pluses

None that would benefit recycling.

Minuses

  • Screen held to the laptop with an excessive amount of glue
  • Battery engulfed in adhesive – heating poses danger, prying will break back cover
  • Removing 90+ screws will bring strain and take time

Verdict: The Surface Pro, a laptop-tablet hybrid, simply was not designed for easy disassembly.


LG G7 ThinQ

Pluses

  • Most components modular and can be removed with ease once you get to them

Minuses

  • Removal of battery, smothered in glue, is difficult beyond what is reasonable
  • Adhesive makes it tough to access the inside
  • Screen sealed with adhesive

Verdict: The overuse of adhesive made it extremely difficult to disassemble, let alone to recycle.


Read ‘Recycling electronics; the best and the worst hardware manufacturers – part two tomorrow.

Stewart McGrenary is managing director of Phonesmart Ltd | Plunc.com; based in Glasgow, Plunc.com it is the UK’s most trusted online recycler.