Forced e-waste

Continuing the discussion from Apple just force-upgraded me to Sonoma:

And this is one of the key problems with non-removable storage. The only way to ensure security is to destroy the motherboard such that it can never be repaired.

In the not-too-distant past, one could just remove and destroy the SSD. The rest of the computer could be fitted with a new SSD and become usable again, either by the original customer or by someone else buying it.

For all of Apple’s talk about being environmentally friendly, this design decision forces perfectly good older computers into becoming e-waste when they could otherwise be repaired and reused.


Fortunately, I believe my 2011 MBA is one that has a removable SSD. However, I doubt I could find a new SSD to install as I believe Apple used a proprietary connector.

Louis Rossmann talks about this (warning: some language not safe for work or children):

2011 MBA SSDs are definitely replaceable and upgradable.

So once your drive is removed, the rest of the computer may have resale value.

Hmmm, less than $100 to put a 1TB board in it. Only problem, I’d have to see if I still have a Lion installer.

Except FileVault encryption is enabled by default these days, so there’s no need to destroy the SSD when you’re finished using it.

3 Likes has links back to Lion. I started the download of the Lion dmg installer and the download still works.

See the Rossmann video I shared above.

Any R2-certified recycler (the only kind likely to get any significant amount of business) is prohibited from relying on manufacturer-provided erase mechanisms. They are forced to use expensive third-party wipe/verify tools - so expensive that they can’t afford to use them and still make a profit.

So they do the only other thing they’re allowed to do. They cut out the part of the board containing the SSD chips (which hopefully get shredded) and sell the rest as non-functional parts.


I haven’t had a chance to watch the video, but I thought it was talking about recycling (in which case having to break the motherboard shouldn’t cause any issues). My comment on encryption was responding to reuse/repair – this should still be possible, because when passing the machine on it’s not necessary to remove and destroy an encrypted SSD.

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The two are tied together. Many independent repair shops will buy these “recycled” systems for parts, but a cut-up motherboard makes them much less useful - you can still remove chips, but you can’t repair the board and use it as a replacement.

If the SSD would be removable (or of the R2 recycling standards would be changed to permit manufacturer-provided cryptographic erasure - Rossmann’s main gripe in this video), then a lot more of these “waste” boards would get repaired and reused.


Thanks. I got Lion & ML but Yosemite, El Capitan, and Sierra refused to download.

I tried Sierra and it seems to work using Safari with Catalina.

Are you perchance using Firefox? Sierra, El Capitan, and Yosemite are downloaded over HTTP so Firefox thinks they’re a security risk (which is technically correct, but unless you’re downloading over a connection you don’t control, it’s ok) and you have to approve downloading them by opening the Downloads window (Tools > Downloads or ⌘J), right-clicking each, choosing Allow Download, and clicking Allow download in the dialog.

Or just use Safari.

But doesn’t Apple take back and recycle computers if you turn them in? I know I sent a 2007 iMac in 4 years ago.


It sounds like the R2 standard was created by people who don’t understand encryption. Throwing away the FileVault key is not an “erase” mechanism – it instantly renders all of the data useless.

Yes, but recycling is far inferior to reuse.

They can recycle the aluminum and glass in the enclosure. And maybe after grinding up the boards and chips, they can recycle some of the metals. But that still leaves a lot of slag that is going to just get landfilled.

If the devices were more repairable, then they might still end up this way, but they’d see more useful life before that point. But Apple might sell fewer units.

Ultimately, political statements take a back seat to the bottom line.

I’m sure the people responsible for the standard have been made aware of this. But (if you believe the statements in the video’s comments thread), it would appear that the companies providing that expensive device-wipe software pay a lot of money (bribes, if you want to be cynical) to the organization responsible for the standard, so they get to effectively mandate the use of their expensive and unnecessary software.

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But it’s far superior to ewaste.

Apple only takes back devices with no trade in value for recycling. I assume that if they are paying trade in that they refurbish and reuse the machine.

At some point, almost every device becomes largely e-waste, though certainly some components or materials can be recycled or re-used considerably longer than the lifespan of the original device.

Nonetheless, in the direction of @Shamino’s comments, if it is possible to lengthen the useful lifespan of devices, that usually is superior to recycling, refurbishing, and e-waste by reducing the throughput of materials through the supply chain as well as avoiding or delaying the consumption of energy and materials by the manufacturing and recycling processes.

Policies that shorten the lifespan of devices by creating non-recoverable points of failure (like integral SSDs) come with real costs, including environmental ones, though they may be complicated to calculate accurately.


I’m not sure what happens to traded-in hardware, except that it does seem to confirm the huge markup that gets added to Apple’s own refurb pricing, regardless whether or not the hardware that’s traded is sold by Apple or not. Apple says in its promotional material that products that can be reused will be.

On the other feeler, it does seem clear that Apple is antagonistic to part resale and that they are fully intent on dominating the supply of parts and tools, up to and including component pairing and shredding recycled devices that are handed in rather than liberating their parts. Certainly if you ask Cory Doctorow (NSFW, citations included).

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Apple might argue that there are reliability costs to using non-integrated storage devices and that their customers are better suited with reliable products that need recycling less often. And remind you that they will recycle as much of an old product, including a 12 year old iMac, as is possible, at no cost to the consumer. (They even provided me a free FedEx label.)

As you say, it is a balance.