The issue was brought to the forefront last week when Twitter user and electronics recycler Devin Wilson called out the company’s so-called “recycle mode.”
Sonos states on their website that "sustainability is non-negotiable," and that they design products to minimize impact, but I work at an e-waste recycler and have demonstrable proof this is false.— ralph waldo cybersyn (@atomicthumbs) December 27, 2019
Sonos's "recycle mode" intentionally bricks good devices so they can't be reused. pic.twitter.com/VJDNhYOxRy
Users looking to upgrade to a new speaker can activate recycle mode on select devices, which will immediately provide them with a 30% discount toward a new product. Once the function is activated, the speaker begins a 21-day countdown before its data is wiped.
The problem is, however, that once recycle mode is selected in the Sonos app, the device is automatically bricked after the 21 days. At this point, the device can no longer be resold or given away even if it was in perfect working condition.
Sonos makes no effort to actually confirm that the device was recycled either, leading to the possibility that its speakers will end up in a landfill regardless of its program.
Someone recycled five of these Sonos Play:5 speakers. They're worth $250 each, used, and these are in good condition. They could easily be reused.— ralph waldo cybersyn (@atomicthumbs) December 27, 2019
Unfortunately, the person who recycled them put them in recycle mode. pic.twitter.com/TNx2MEOWqu
Wilson argued that the trade-up scheme is more about getting users to purchase new devices than actual sustainability.
“Anyone even remotely familiar with recycling can tell you the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle.'” Wilson wrote on Twitter. “Recycling takes energy and, while it saves materials, reuse is always better. Sonos is throwing any claimed environmental friendliness in the trash in order to sell more speakers.”
Wilson also added that Sonos’ program “is the most environmentally unfriendly abuse and waste” of hardware that he’s “seen in five years working at a recycler.”
“We could have sold these, and ensured they were reused, as we do with all the working electronics we’re able,” Wilson wrote. “Now we have to scrap them.”
This whole situation is screwed up, especially since it's actively harming the environment in direct contravention of their stated values, and Sonos is the only manufacturer I know of that does it. Who the hell came up with this idea?— ralph waldo cybersyn (@atomicthumbs) December 27, 2019
And while Sonos claims that recycle mode can be turned off if accidentally activated, a search of customer complaints online shows users being told that the function is irreversible. Users have also purchased second-hand speakers only to later discover that they were rendered useless by recycle mode.
In a statement to the Verge, Sonos defended its trade-up program as a way to reduce older products.
“Over time, technology will progress in ways these products are not able to accommodate. For some owners, these new features aren’t important,” Sonos told the Verge. “Accordingly, they may choose not to participate in the trade-up program. But for other owners, having modern Sonos devices capable of delivering these new experiences is important.”
The company continued by arguing that recycle mode provides “an affordable path” for owners looking to upgrade.
“For those that choose to trade-up to new products, we felt that the most responsible action was not to reintroduce them to new customers that may not have the context of them as 10-plus-year-old products, and that also may not be able to deliver the Sonos experience they expected,” Sonos told the Verge.
Despite the company’s statement, electronic recyclers still view the program as largely counterproductive. While Sonos says it is “committed to continuously improving our sustainability practices,” no indication has been made that it will alter recycle mode.
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