Why the E-Waste Industry Loves the iPad

As I predicted during its launch, the iPad may be a green machine, but it's going to have a number of not-so-green impacts.

Back in January, I wrote:

First and foremost, the production of electronics has a huge environmental impact. Precious and rare metals to build the gadgets, global supply chains to bring those materials to manufacturers (and bring those gadgets to market), and the energy used during their lifetime are the beginning of the problem.

There is also the huge problem of end-of-life management for these gadgets.... At worst, we're throwing away far more gadgets than we should be, and neither manufacturers, retailers or governments have yet put in place a good way to collect even a fraction of what's discarded.

But the biggest problem to my way of thinking is that the tablet will just be an addition, not a replacement.

But here's a wildly different take: The head of Electronics Recyclers International issued a press release this week praising the device for just that reason.

ERI chairman and CEO John Shegerian on Friday issued the following statement, which I reprint in its entirety:

It's a rare occurrence, but once in a while a consumer electronics product comes along -- the flat screen television for example -- that captures the imagination and interest of the public so well that the product immediately becomes a "must have" item and part of modern culture.

Apple's iPad is such an item. We at ERI marvel at visionary entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs who lead their organizations to think outside of the box and provide groundbreaking devices such as this. The side effect of such innovative excellence is that millions of older, obsolete devices will be discarded and left behind as the new superior technology is adopted. Fortunately, organizations such as ERI are committed to the responsible recycling of such items so they do not end up in landfills or illegally exported."

In other words, let us now praise the culture of waste and planned obsolescence that we have spent so much time developing.

(Bonus note: Apparently Shigerian is also looking forward to the release of 3D televisions, as they will lead to a similar landslide of unwanted and discarded 2D television sets.)

I've heard it repeatedly in the months since the iPad was announced and since it went on sale: "With this gadget I can get rid of my smartphone / netbook / laptop and just use the iPad" -- or else buy a new, no-frills cell phone and use the iPad for everything else.

Even though ERI is one of the "good guys" of e-waste recycling -- they support the recently launched E-Stewards responsible recycling program, among other green initiatives -- I fail to see how more gadgets bought, and more gadgets discarded can ever be a good thing for the planet.

Steve Jobs photo CC-licensed by Flickr user mattbuchanan.