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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unsustainable tech product packaging


Linx evaluation kit - case not to scale
For the last 40 years or so I have been designing and developing electronic products.  Many of these products incorporate short range radio controls, and this has become a specialty of mine.  For the last 20 years or so I have been working with a company called Linx Technologies that make a broad line of miniature radio chips and antennas that are ideal for small products.  When they introduce a new product I sometimes order an evaluation kit from them that typically costs around $100.  These kits include battery-powered demonstration circuits that help to familiarize you with how they work.  

Linx have just released an exciting new radio product that I plan to use in a project I am currently developing so I ordered the relevant evaluation kit (see their promotional image above).  In the past, these kits were shipped in small custom fitted cardboard containers and it was quite simple to recycle the cardboard materials.  Not so with this newest kit that came in an aluminum case that weighs almost 3 pounds and measures 14" x 10" x 4".  I was stunned when the package arrived because it was so huge and heavy.  The distributor (Digi-Key Corp.) packed it in sustainably sourced paper packing material that can be recycled, but I have no idea what I am supposed to do with this large metal case.  I do not need to clutter my home office with this albatross, and will simply store the components on a shelf.  Here are is a picture of the relatively tiny (and not very fragile) parts inside the case:
Kit with all parts visible
I find the idea of shipping small items weighing only a few ounces in a 3 pound case to be completely offensive to my sensibilities as someone committed to living sustainably.  From my perspective this is a 1950s style Mad Men style promotional concept that has no place in today's world and it made me angry.  I also have to question the 1 pound stack of documentation that came in the kit.  While it is convenient to have paper manuals, technology companies do not commonly send any paper documentation with their samples since everything an engineer needs to know about their products is available from their website.  15+ years ago I used to have bookshelves filled with thick technical manuals, but they have all disappeared in favor of PDF documents readily available on corporate websites.

My small rural town recently switched to a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) program which requires our trash to be placed in specially purchased orange trash bags that cost $1 for a small bag and $2 for a large bag.  The purpose of this program is to incentivize increased recycling in our town and I am hoping it will have the desired effect.  Currently the town recycles around 20% of its waste stream, while I am averaging 60%.  The impact of the new program on me is that I resent companies that send me products packaged in bulky non-recyclable materials.  I have conveyed my displeasure to the sales person I work with, and he says he will talk to the marketing department at his company about my concern.

There are so many companies that are embracing social responsibility on so many levels that it makes me sad to see a good company that ignores the realities of a planet with finite resources.

After seeing this blog post, the Linx salesman that I work with offered to pay for return shipping of the offending metal case via FedEx.  I appreciate his thoughtful response to my displeasure.

A friend saw my blog and has asked if he can have the case.  Giving it to him has a lower carbon footprint than shipping it back across the country.  Everybody wins!