Intentional Inconvenience: Apple Inc. Earth Day Scandal

Intentional Inconvenience

I work at an Apple store and I identify as an environmentalist. This is hard for me to do because of their contradictory nature.

Judging by my actions, I’m pretty good at being an environmentalist, especially compared to the average Angeleno. For example, I don’t own a car, I don’t buy bottled water, I ride my bicycle or use mass transit, I don’t buy many books (I get them from the library), I only use rechargeable batteries, I bring my own bags to the grocery store, I use trash, and when I buy, I try to buy used.

I could be a better environmentalist. I could be Vegan. Not only do I eat meat, sometimes I eat burgers, even the occasional McDonalds when I’m too hung over and/or unprepared to make a sandwich. McDonalds sure isn’t buying their lettuce from local farmers. Damn, that shits terrible. I could be dumpster diving too! And my friends have chickens, how cool are chickens? Where is my garden?

I could have a different job too. The company I work for has been called out more than once for its environmental policies (Wired April 2006, Wired August 2006, ZDNet 2005, Greenpeace) and it is time to call them out again.

I wouldn’t feel moral if I didn’t call them out again, especially on this beautiful 2008 Earth Day. Maybe this is “fearless feedback.” Maybe blogging about this in a public sphere, instead of escalating my grievance through management, is the most appropriate and efficient way to hold Apple to the fire and make a company I work for better.

Today a customer came in and asked me if he could bring his computer in to be recycled or at least disposed of environmentally. I didn’t know the answer so I told the him that I would help him find out if that was a service that we offered. I went to the back of house and asked a few people if we recycled computers and how we would go about doing that and low and behold one of my managers got really fired up about it and we went on a retail policy adventure. What we found out is that he was not eligible to have us recycle his computer for him because you have to “opt in” to that service at the time of purchase! I felt bad, offered to help him find a third party solution, but had to turn the customer away. I got upset and wanted to know how to “opt in” customers so I could do it myself and awareness raise my coworkers.

It was striking to me that I couldn’t recall ever being trained how to opt someone in to this awesome service no one told me about. After a little bit of searching I found this Apple website explaining how to “qualify” for the recycling service. It gives five steps to “being green:”

Purchase. When you purchase any qualifying Apple computer or monitor from either a retail Apple Store or the online Apple Store, you now have the option to participate in the Apple Recycling program.

Opt in. When you make a purchase through the online Apple Store, you will be given the opportunity to opt into the Apple Recycling Program. For the retail Apple Store, a Mac Specialist will offer the option to participate at the point of sale.

I have worked at two Apple stores cumulatively for over a year and I have never been told about a Apple Recycling program nor have I been trained how to opt a customer in to this service. I found out that opting in really means that I have to get the customers email and press a button labeled Permissions to “YES,” meaning that Apple has the permission to email stupid shit all the fucking time, forever (unless you remind the customer that they can change these preferences at or something like that because that link doesn’t exist, I need to check if I forgot it or it actually doesn’t exist), so why would anyone in their right mind click “YES?” It takes too long and pisses the customer off. If I do happen to collect the customers email and click allow permissions they get an email (I don’t know when, but a colleague showed me what her email looked like, so they do exist). What do you do once you get the email?

Print the email. After you opt in, Apple will send you an email with instructions on how to recycle your old equipment for free. For online Apple Store customers, the email will be sent once your new equipment ships. Print out this email, as you’ll need it later.

If I had known that I could help the environment by getting emails and pressing a button and reminding the customer of this confusing notion that if they want to recycling their computer in the next few years they have to jump through the hoop of also opting out of the other thousand email they will receive from Apple after the initial recycling email. Is Apple actually eexpecting its customers, so used to ease of use, to print off a barcode and save it for three years? This is inconvenient on purpose. Apple makes everything so easy so why are they making this so hard?

Package. Package your recycled computer and monitor in a box or carton appropriate for ground transportation. Must be packed to ensure product will not shift or break. You must place CPUs and monitors into two separate boxes. Securely seal each box. Weight limit per package is less than 70 lbs. For ground packaging guidelines, see

Take to FedEx. Take the equipment, packaged for ground transportation, and a printed copy of the Apple Recycling email to a FedEx location. To find the FedEx location nearest you, please visit

This may or may not seem like an innocent mistake on Apple’s part, but make no mistake, Apple’s computer recycling program is bullshit. Apple makes everything so easy so why are they making this so hard? They don’t want to spend the money. Apple does not think that it is worth it, to their company, or to society. The computer recycling program is fluff to make the company look better. It doesn’t measure up to the competition and Apple needs to change their policy.

Apple, take back any Apple computer anytime. Imagine Apple claiming responsibility for every computer it has made, for every piece of plastic it has added to the world, for every toxic chemical . . . Set the precedent Apple, for the rebels chose to think different!

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11 Responses to “Intentional Inconvenience: Apple Inc. Earth Day Scandal”

  1. brooklynreview Says:

    This was really interesting. Thanks. I used to work for an Apple store too. I’m pretty sure they would make it easier to recycle their products if enough people started demanding it, but wouldn’t it be nice if it came from forward-thinking Apple themselves?

  2. Homegrown Evolution Says:

    Amazing. Apple’s “opting out” and we’re all paying in the end. Interesting story MW . . .

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Translation of what the author is saying: “I am incompetent at my job and it inconveniences me to learn new procedures. I also have no knowledge of how challenging it is to set up an automated process that works in 200+ stores, train thousands of employees on how to deploy it, and successfully communicate it to customers. Therefore, I’ll whine about it in public rather than try to educate myself or work constructively to improve the process. I think I’ll go get drunk tonight. At least I don’t drive a car.”

  4. Anonymous 2 Says:

    ditto to Anonymous….

    right on…this guy obviously spends way to much time (energy) on the computer, but at least he doesn’t own a car!!!! haaahaaa

  5. Anonymous 3 Says:

    Anonymous is nothing but a flame. Ditto to Anonymous 2.

    I’m not an Apple fan but not an unnecessary basher either. My opinion of Apple is that they hold themselves to a high, shit-don’t-stink standard and they need to live up to it. I agree with the author; Apple claims their computers and technology are so easy then put up or shut up at the end of the life cycle.

    I can’t say any of the major PC manufacturers have any better plans for responsible disposal of their product but at least they don’t look down their noses at others.

    My $.02.

  6. Zeke Says:

    The original poster is uninformed and lazy, not to mention inconsistent in his values and a drunk.

    What’s inconvenient about obtaining a recycling document and saving it along with the Apple Care document, receipts for purchase, manuals, etc. that you will be saving in a safe place anyway. Or is the author one of those feckless idiots who loses all documentation within 7 days?

    Apple is the most environmentally conscious computer manufacturer in the industry. Greenpeace picked Apple to bash because it wouldn’t generate any publicity to bash Dell. Other manufacturers like Dell have elaborate “plans” for recycling. Apple has a functioning program. Huge difference.

  7. Ray Says:

    You are kidding right? You know that, in general, co’s are not required to clean up contaminated groundwater until it migrates off site. There are millions of gallons of crap in US groundwater and you are wasting our time bitching about Apple?

  8. Anonymous Says:

    It’s just a company, don’t read into it too much just because you think iPods are super awesome (which they are).

    Why do people feel like they’re always entitled to something or that someone owes them something when they don’t? Apple doesn’t HAVE to do anything. They don’t owe you anything. They certainly don’t you a recycling program. The fact they’ve spent some time working this up is quite nice, but I could care less either way as long as they continue to cause growth in their stock price (I’ve made 27% since last year! wahoo! free computer!)

  9. Anonymous Says:

    What a bunch of big box retail fanboys.

    Apple sucks, deal with it. They don’t have unions, they are bad for the environment, they have drm all over their shit.

    There are no good companies that aren’t controlled by their workers. Why are you running to defend a company that succeeds in a system designed to reward uncooperative behavior? FAIL

  10. Zeke Says:

    “What a bunch of big box retail fanboys….etc.”

    This is perhaps the most ignorance I’ve ever seen displayed in only 5 sentences. You are the best argument I can think of for population control.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah, because I can imagine all the execs in a room going “Hey, how do we INTENTIONALLY make recycling an inconvenience.”

    And to another poster…thank god there isn’t a Union. The last thing we need is more people getting on the “Pay me more than I’m worth” boat. I never understood how some guy with a high school education, sitting on a factory line can pull as much or more than a college graduate. Nuts!

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