Recyclable Laptop Designed for Disassembly

More than 2 million tons of computers, laptops, cell phones and other electronic gadgets become obsolete in the U.S. each year, but only a fraction of that e-waste is recycled.

Despite the growth of takeback programs and e-waste recycling services, all too often consumers discard their old electronics or let them pile up in a dark corner of their homes or offices.

The problem is "the end of life process is incomplete," said Aaron Engel-Hall, a master's candidate in mechanical engineering at Stanford University. "There is a gap between consumer and recycler."

But what if people didn't have to haul their gadgets to an e-cycling center, or find a service to pick it up from them? What if they could do everything needed to make recycling possible at home?

A team of students from Stanford and Aalto University in Finland answered those questions by designing a prototype for a laptop that can be disassembled easily so the electronic components can go into an envelope for mailing to an e-cycling program and the rest can go into the household recycling bin. And all that can be done by hand in less than two minutes without any tools. (The laptop is pictured above and the images below show how it comes apart.)

Actually, disassembly can take as few as 45 seconds, said Engel-Hall, who was a member of the design team. "This laptop represents a new class of electronic products,"  he said. "You can disassemble this on your couch. In 10 steps. With no tools."

Engel-Hall talked about the project last week at Autodesk's Sustainability Summit in San Francisco, where the company showcased the latest additions to its lines of design software and prominent applications of its tools -- such as the design of the NASA Ames Sustainability Base that's scheduled to open in May, the electric bike PiCycle that's getting a lot of buzz, and the recyclable laptop.

Engel-Hall and his two classmates in Stanford’s ME310 course made up the U.S component of the eight-member team. In the course, students from Stanford and other universities collaborate on design challenges posed by global companies. The Stanford-Aalto team’s challenge to design a fully recyclable consumer electronic device came from Autodesk, which provided the funding to support the team’s work as well as design software. (As part of its education program, Autodesk provides its software free to students.)