I had occasion recently, to deconstruct an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier. As the parts came off the machine, I carefully separated them into piles; screws and springs, gears and wheels, optical components, switches and sensors, and e-waste. I stacked up the impressively cost-engineered multi-layer circuit boards, pausing to wonder at the computational power of the custom surface-mount devices, and was struck by the irony that the sensors and switches were now going to be attached to an Arduino – a device with a tiny fraction of the compute power. What a waste…
If manufacturers design their devices for re-use and re-purposing, then we could create a special category for extended life recycling, with a lower recycling tax base. The first step is to define a minimal reprogramming USB protocol, which automatically burns out a read fuse to prevent access to the proprietary ROM data on first use – functionally turning your printer into an Arduino-like object the first time you plug your USB cable directly into the circuit board.
Is there an e-book reader sleeping inside your old printer? How long would these devices last in new incarnations? How many more students around the world could create innovative derivative products based on obsolete down-cycled hardware?
We demand universal access to the compute resources we purchase.
If it lasts forever, let us make it work forever.
Addendum: Paul Bostwick (in the comments) adds this brilliant idea:
Maybe the original seller could roll out the secondary use ideas as a follow on product: Imagine a page that prints out after 100,000 pages printed or 4 years. “Dear owner of the Bubble Jet 3 series MFP. As your MFP enters its final months of usefulness, please consider the following options: The large molded plastic parts are all #4 so if you’d just like to have some destructive fun and your community recycles #4 plastic, you should be able to, with a phillips #2 screwdriver, render your MFP down to some bits in your recycling bin and just a few less easy to recycle parts. Among the harder to recycle is the controller board, it can (in a non reversible way) be turned into a simple MP3 player with our Remixer kit. Or a more sophisticated one with the Remixer Delux. The following website is dedicated to reemploying the controller boards and keypads on these devices so you can send these parts working or not to them and they’ll either safely dispose of them or integrate them into their projects – at no cost to you.”
In the less fanciful case of items that could not print their own organ donor instructions, I’d be more likely to fill out a warranty card if I knew I’d get at a later date some end of life tips and help on responsibly moving the goods along.