Roadmapping the Future:
Solutions, even technological ones, are often more successful when their core elements are simple and robust, rather than loaded with the complicated mechanisms and delicate sensors that make up many products sold to consumers in wealthy nations.
Solutions from Down the Supply Chain:
Apple's immense production combined with the complexity of tightly integrated electronics makes for recycling and waste reduction programs are equally sprawling, with frustratingly entangled trade-offs. External electronics recycling programs might look promising, but vendors that cut corners means terrible environmental consequences for locals; recycling the scraps of aluminum from their machining-heavy manufacturing processes is good, but requires significant energy to reprocess. Apple has made numerous public statements about their efforts to build fair trade supply chains, recycle materials and devices, and working to shift their energy consumption to 100% renewables over the years, but the company's infamously secretive culture makes it hard for outsiders to accurately parse the impact of those actions. Maddie Stone, writing for Gizmodo, attempts to sort through the various elements and efforts that go into making phones, laptops, and wearable electronics at scale.
Now that the "away" portal of China's recycling market has slammed shut, cities and states in the U.S. are struggling to manage the low-value plastics—in some cases burning masses of material and damaging local air quality: "In Philadelphia, for example, the city currently burns 200 tons of recyclables a day—half of what it collects. The result is an increase in carcinogens spewing into the air around the city’s incinerator in nearby Chester, Pa." To better deal with the glut of plastics, firms are figuring out sensible applications for down-cycled plastics, like turning them into railroad ties or shipping pallets.
A new kind of waterproof zipper that seems legitimately useful and reliable enough to stand alongside the venerable toothed zipper that has been with us for a little over a hundred years in its mature form.
When you think of standards, the engineering kind, things like screw thread profiles and sheet metal thicknesses might come to mind—but the need for standards goes far beyond plastic and metal. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a Noah's Ark like assortment of material standards, from fish tissue to dust; from soil and paint, to peanut butter.