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How Smart Design can solve e-waste challenge

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There are no easy solutions to the many enmeshed challenges of e-waste, but by designing for reuse, repair, refurbishing and recycling, we can make real progress, writes ED BOYD Senior VP, Experience Design Group, Dell.

Global concern about the mountains of e-waste generated every year has been rising for quite some time – and with good reason: In 2014, the United Nations estimated that humans produced 41.8 million metric tons of electronic waste – and even though IT products made up just 7 percent of that waste, that still represents almost 2.9 million metric tons of waste or 2.9 billion kilograms our industry generated in a single year.

Understand end-of-life

For all the concern about user experience in design, there is one aspect of product design that gets ignored entirely too often by others – one that has major impacts on the business, the environment, and people around the world: end-of-life design.

Designing for a second life requires a deep understanding of the downstream processes for handling electronics. One way to enable this is to open up dialogue between designers and recyclers. These experiences and conversations with recyclers get the designers thinking about beautiful products that are also optimised for repair, refurbishment, and recycling.

Big and small changes can make refurbishing and recycling significantly easier. For instance, on a recent field trip our engineers learned that having laptop cases open from the top instead of the bottom greatly extends the time it takes to dismantle. Using snap fits vs. glues and adhesives help minimize processing time. And designing instruction manuals with icons, pictures, and videos rather than text allows recyclers to work and repair at the same time instead of pausing to read detailed instructions.

Think Modular

Modular thinking is another way to address e-waste.  One example that we’ve employed with our commercial notebooks is creating a single access door for all major components, which makes it easier for users to repair by themselves versus requiring a user guide and trained technician.

Your trash is our treasure

Turns out “trash” can be a workable and cost effective material for designers. We’re seeing it in the growth of the circular economy, with innovative uses of waste products being turned into the building blocks of exciting projects and products. Adidas, for example, just made a slick shoe out of ocean plastic – a material we’re exploring for use in our packaging.

This idea of turning trash into treasure holds true for electronics design as well. Some of us in the industry are using recycled plastics for our products. At Dell, we are turning the plastic from e-waste into new parts for OptiPlex all-in-ones, desktops and monitors. We are also using other industries’ excess carbon fiber in select Latitude, and Alienware laptops.

Critical to all of this is strong recycling infrastructure.  If Dell did not have recycling operations in 83 countries and territories, “closing the loop” would become more challenging.

We owe it to our customers, our communities and our planet to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with design. It’s not always just about the beauty on the outside, but the hidden beauty: the resources we leave out, what we recycle, and how we extend the workable life for the next person to enjoy.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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