Evolution of Product Lifespan and Implications for Environmental Assessment and Management: A Case Study of Personal Computers in Higher Education

School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, PO Box 872402, Tempe, Arizona 85287-2402, USA.
Environmental Science and Technology (Impact Factor: 5.33). 08/2009; 43(13):5106-12. DOI: 10.1021/es803568p
Source: PubMed


Product lifespan is a fundamental variable in understanding the environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of products. Existing life cycle and materials flow studies of products, almost without exception, consider lifespan to be constant over time. To determine the validity of this assumption, this study provides an empirical documentation of the long-term evolution of personal computer lifespan, using a major U.S. university as a case study. Results indicate that over the period 1985-2000, computer lifespan (purchase to "disposal") decreased steadily from a mean of 10.7 years in 1985 to 5.5 years in 2000. The distribution of lifespan also evolved, becoming narrower over time. Overall, however, lifespan distribution was broader than normally considered in life cycle assessments or materials flow forecasts of electronic waste management for policy. We argue that these results suggest that at least for computers, the assumption of constant lifespan is problematic and that it is important to work toward understanding the dynamics of use patterns. We modify an age-structured model of population dynamics from biology as a modeling approach to describe product life cycles. Lastly, the purchase share and generation of obsolete computers from the higher education sector is estimated using different scenarios for the dynamics of product lifespan.

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Available from: Gregory Alan Babbitt, Jul 22, 2014
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    • "Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) have been widely used as a video display component of both televisions and computers, representing a significant and challenging fraction of the end-of-life electronics waste stream (Lee and Hsi, 2002; Lee et al., 2004; Li and Wen, 2006; Poon, 2008). Because of their volume and toxicity, obsolete CRTs pose a major concern in Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling (Babbitt et al., 2009; Nnorom et al., 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: This research focused on the application of the hydrothermal sulphidisation method to separate lead from scrap cathode ray tube funnel glass. Prior to hydrothermal treatment, the cathode ray tube funnel glass was pretreated by mechanical activation. Under hydrothermal conditions, hydroxyl ions (OH(-)) were generated through an ion exchange reaction between metal ions in mechanically activated funnel glass and water, to accelerate sulphur disproportionation; no additional alkaline compound was needed. Lead contained in funnel glass was converted to lead sulphide with high efficiency. Temperature had a significant effect on the sulphidisation rate of lead in funnel glass, which increased from 25% to 90% as the temperature increased from 100 °C to 300 °C. A sulphidisation rate of 100% was achieved at a duration of 8 h at 300 °C. This process of mechanical activation and hydrothermal sulphidisation is efficient and promising for the treatment of leaded glass. © The Author(s) 2015.
    08/2015; DOI:10.1177/0734242X15597777
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    • "The rapid technological change, especially in electronic market leads consumers to purchase more products while creating consequences such as decreasing products usage time (Babbitt et al., 2009), progression of products obsolescence and accelerating Electronic Waste (e-waste) generation. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the US and many other countries. "
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    ABSTRACT: Consumers often have a tendency to store their used, old or un-functional electronics for a period of time before they discard them and return them back to the waste stream. This behavior increases the obsolescence rate of used still-functional products leading to lower profitability that could be resulted out of End-of-Use (EOU) treatments such as reuse, upgrade, and refurbishment. These types of behaviors are influenced by several product and consumer-related factors such as consumers' traits and lifestyles, technology evolution, product design features, product market value, and pro-environmental stimuli. Better understanding of different groups of consumers, their utilization and storage behavior and the connection of these behaviors with product design features helps Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and recycling and recovery industry to better overcome the challenges resulting from the undesirable storage of used products. This paper aims at providing insightful statistical analysis of Electronic Waste (e-waste) dynamic nature by studying the effects of design characteristics, brand and consumer type on the electronics usage time and end of use time-in-storage. A database consisting of 10,063 Hard Disk Drives (HDD) of used personal computers returned back to a remanufacturing facility located in Chicago, IL, USA during 2011-2013 has been selected as the base for this study. The results show that commercial consumers have stored computers more than household consumers regardless of brand and capacity factors. Moreover, a heterogeneous storage behavior is observed for different brands of HDDs regardless of capacity and consumer type factors. Finally, the storage behavior trends are projected for short-time forecasting and the storage times are precisely predicted by applying machine learning methods. Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Waste Management 12/2014; 36. DOI:10.1016/j.wasman.2014.11.024 · 3.22 Impact Factor
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    • "phase, which has been declining (Babbitt et al., 2009), that may reduce over-production. However, it is possible to argue that the product/service system design can have a more significant influence on the downstream impacts of the PC. "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper describes the life cycle engineering of an integrated desktop computer system from the perspective of a small to medium enterprise (SME). Using a novel approach which considers the motivations of actors at various stages during the life cycle of the PC it attempts to engineer the lifecycle through design features which have been chosen to influence these critical decision points leading to more desirable pathways from an environmental perspective. Using these motivations it extracts design principles and ultimately design and service features to (1) promote long lifetime with the original user (2) facilitate refurbishment and reuse (3) be easy to disassemble and (4) contain minimal valueless fractions at end of life. This has been achieved largely through two specific design features and supported by post-sale services to the consumer. The first of these features is a high quality finish using a solid hardwood chassis to create an emotionally durable product that is easy to refurbish and eliminates negative value plastic fractions at end of life. The second feature is a strong focus on ease of disassembly to facilitate upgrade, refurbishment and deep disassembly at end of life. The service offering is also crucial and upgrade services and buy back are available.
    Journal of Cleaner Production 07/2014; 74. DOI:10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.03.042 · 3.84 Impact Factor
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