Article

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: 5.48). 08/2009; 43(13):5106-12. DOI: 10.1021/es803568p
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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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