I moved this week, and as part of the process have generated a pile of old and unused IoT devices that I can’t bear to trash because I hate the idea of so much electronic waste going into the landfill. I also have complicated feelings about bubble wrap.
Electronic waste is set to become a huge problem, and if my life is any indication, the internet of obsolete hubs, light bulbs, battery-powered trackers, and weird gadgets will make up a significant portion of that waste. This year, for example, Signify, the maker of Philips Hue smart bulbs, said its Version 1 hub from five years ago would no longer be supported, turning millions of plastic pucks into garbage.
Signify said it took this step because it no longer wanted to support the devices out in the field, and that the unsupported products would become a security risk over time. That makes sense, even if it does upset a lot of people who own Philips Hue bulbs and now have to shell out $60 for a new hub.
Subscriptions aside, those hubs are just the tip of a massive iceberg of obsolete gadgets whose end days are upon us. That’s why I was interested to hear about a stealth startup called Emplacement, that is working with Tile to direct customers to places where they can easily recycle their used Tile trackers (the trackers die after roughly a year.)
Zack Kielich, CEO of Emplacement, said he started the company because he was frustrated with the inability to easily find electronics recycling locations. He was also worried about e-waste. The company doesn’t have deep technology; instead, it tries to make it easy for device manufacturers to link their customers with places that will take their obsolete devices and recycle them.
The company has signed a deal with Tile that integrates the Emplacement API into the Tile app. So when a Tile’s battery dies, the customer can go into the app and get the name of the nearest recycling center that will accept the old Tile. When Tile started, it created a program whereby consumers would send their old Tiles back to the company, which would then recycle them. But that program was too expensive, so Tile killed it. But concern over e-waste prompted it to search for a new solution.
No, finding the nearest recycling center for a user isn’t as simple as popping an envelope in the mail, but Kielich and Tile are hoping that consumers will both find a nearby center and take the arduous next step of actually dropping the used trackers off. Some will, and some won’t. As a person who keeps all of her batteries in a bag to drop off every six months or so, I will likely use that information, but I’m sure others will shrug and toss their device in the trash.
I’d love to see more companies get involved in the program, though. I think such a prompt will push at least some people to recycle their devices. It might even get users to think about whether or not they need another connected device that’s destined for obsolescence. Kielich said that eventually, he’d like to build out a real service or work with vendors to establish similar programs. For example, Fitbit comes out with a new model every year or so, while many people’s trackers last much longer. Users could trade up for the latest model, much like they do today with phones (or did, before the current economic uncertainty and the prevalence of $1,000 handsets.)
Companies such as Gazelle already serve the phone niche, but Emplacement wants to build something similar for IoT devices. I’m in favor of these sorts of programs because I do believe that my moving box of defunct devices is only the beginning of an e-waste deluge caused by the IoT.