With the announcement of the new MacBook Pros (somewhat) recently, there’s been a lot said about Apple’s apparent neglect of the Mac lineup. As a Mac user myself, I wanted to see if I could find any hard evidence of this neglect. To do this, I gathered data on every model of Mac released, when it was introduced, and when it was discontinued from everymac.com. You can use this to calculate how many different Mac models were sold each year.
While there are certainly fewer Mac models than at its peak, it’s still in line with the 2002-2008 period. The problem with this measure is that it doesn’t take into account how much effort Apple puts into the computers it does sell. The poster child for this is the Mac Pro, which got a major update in 2013 and hasn’t been updated since. To measure this, I calculated the average age of the Mac lineup for each year.
You can see there’s been a slow upward trend through 2014, but over the past 2 years the product line has gotten dramatically older on average. This appears to be mostly driven by the fact that half of the Mac product lines (MacBook Air, Mac Pro, and Mac Mini) haven’t been touched since 2014, and the iMac wasn’t updated in 2016. Since I use a MacBook Pro, which has been consistently updated, this doesn’t affect me directly, and Apple deciding to stop making new computers also won’t make the computer I’ve already bought run any better or worse. Despite all that, I think there’s still a bit of angst that comes from the fact that using a particular operating system is a big investment in time and money that pays off over the life of many computers. This apparent neglect at least got me to think whether I should keep doubling-down on my investment or try to diversify my risks. Realistically, as long as Apple keeps making laptops I’ll probably keep using them, but if they ever decide to stop I hope they can give it to me straight instead of silently letting it go.
If you’ve spent any time in San Francisco, you’ve probably come across the trio of trash, recycling, and compost bins. While initially inscrutable, there’s a small amount of joy that comes with being able to correctly sort the various parts of a disposable coffee cup into the right bins. The trio of bins, sometimes referred to as “The Fantastic Three,” are the result of a broader city initiative to generate zero waste by 2020. As warm and fuzzy as it feels to keep trash out of the landfill, is putting your paper cups in the compost bin actually going to make progress towards zero waste given the mountains of trash that end up in the landfill today? I decided to take a closer look at the zero waste policies and better understand if these small actions are worth it.
Progress so Far
Any news article about San Francisco’s garbage inevitably references the 80% diversion rate, which means that of all the waste that’s generated by the city, only 20% of it ends up in the landfill. While there’s some disagreement over how the diversion rate is calculated, there’s one stat that’s hard to argue with: the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills each year.
As you can see, the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills has gone down steadily since 2000. What’s even more impressive is the population of the city has grown over that time period, which means that the amount of landfilled garbage has gone from 6.2 pounds per person per day in 2000 to 2.7 in 2012. If you simply extrapolate these trends forward, the city will generate zero waste in 2024. While hitting zero waste in 2024 is unlikely for a lot of reasons1, it does confirm that we’re making significant progress towards the goal. I think this will cause the social norms to continue to shift in the coming decade to a point where it will seem abnormal to just throw something in the trash and not recycle it in some way2.
Getting to Zero
Things are trending well, but what has the highest impact to make sure we continue to make progress? Fortunately, the city has compiled some statistics on the makeup of garbage that enters the landfill which gives us some clues:
There are a couple of things that stand out. The biggest is that a whopping 60% of garbage entering the landfill could have been composted or recycled. The city has already created a convenient system for recycling a majority of waste, but now relies on individuals to use that system. If you don’t have a compost bin already, it’s really easy: just buy a small garbage can and compostable garbage bags and put it somewhere in your kitchen. Toss any food scraps or dirty paper products in there, and throw that bag in the green bin when you take out the rest of the trash. You’re probably already familiar with recycling, but which plastics are recyclable was a little unclear to me: if it’s hard or rigid, it’s recyclable, if it’s a bag or film, it’s not.
While that covers a majority of what we throw away, there’s not much you can do about the next 2 largest categories, which makes up 11% of the waste. From what I can tell, composite is the closest to an “other” category, meaning there’s no single answer for how to recycle it. Plastic film is the next largest, and while the city has banned single-use plastic shopping bags, there’s still a lot of plastic film used for packaging food and other products. There are some companies that allow you to buy everyday products made and packaged with compostable plastic, but until you can buy those products at your local grocery store I would focus on the things you can compost and recycle.
While not anywhere near the largest category, it’s good to know that you should almost never have to throw away clothing, shoes, or other textiles. Even socks with holes in them can be ground up and turned into building insulation. The city started a new initiative recently to get recycling rates for clothing higher, and if you go to that site you can find the clothing drop-off location nearest to you.
Roofing is a surprisingly large category, and while I don’t know anything about recycling roofing material, the city has a pretty aggressive policy about recycling construction debris. This has been very successful already, so there’s reason to be optimistic that this is one of the more solvable categories.
Going into this investigation, I didn’t know what to expect. A lot of environmental issues seem almost fatalistic, so it was refreshing to find that this problem was being pragmatically addressed with real results to show for it. It’s also an issue where the actions of individuals are the biggest thing standing in the way of success, so I hope this motivates you to make composting and recycling a little bit more part of your everyday routine. This is my first time looking into the topic, so if you have any comments, corrections, or new data, please contact me.
The biggest reason a linear extrapolation isn’t a good way to estimate when we’ll hit zero waste is that the easiest waste will get kept out first, leaving only the hard to recycle waste. ↩