February 18, 2008

Week 35 Results: 50.1 oz of plastic waste. HP Sucks!

I like to think of myself as pretty Zen, mellow, going with the flow. Eh hmm… my ego likes to think that about me. So I write posts about loving what is and being mindful of little things like cheese wrappers and taking time out for silence. But sometimes, a gal just wants to vent. And this is one of those times. HP sucks, ya’ll! HP can bite my ass!

The beautiful 19″ LCD monitor you see in the photo is not just a nice backdrop for this week’s plastic waste. It is this week’s plastic waste. And metal. And who knows what else. And no amount of learning to fix stuff or even learning to fix stuff will make it better. Here’s the tally:

Items used this week but purchased before the plastic project began:

  • 1 plastic seal from a bottle of cayenne pepper. Purchased a long time ago and never opened until this week. It does seem to still be good.
  • 1 Liquid Silk lube bottle (#3 PVC plastic!) and pump. I already discussed this product in my post last week about using olive oil as a personal lubricant. Normally, when I have a product in a plastic bottle, I finish up the rest of it before adding the container to the tally. This time though, after learning about the ingredients in Liquid Silk, I decided to discard the rest of the bottle using the method required by the U.S. EPA for disposing of PPCPs (pharmaceuticals and personal care products.) I mixed it up with a bunch of cat litter, poured it into an old milk carton, and put it in the trash. Flushing is NOT recommended for products that contain harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, the landfill is the best option we have for stuff like this.
  • 1 HP vs19d LCD monitor.So here’s the rant. Last Saturday, I turned on my computer, as usual, pressed the button on my monitor, and nothing happened. The computer came on. The monitor did not. I made sure all the cables were connected. I plugged it into different outlets. Nothing. Not even a blink. I called HP. The monitor, which is only 1-1/2 years old, is out of warranty. The 3-year warranty I purchased with the system only covers the computer, not the monitor. But they’d be happy to sell me a new one.No way. I’m the girl who fixes things instead of replacing them. So I got out my Yellow Pages (One reason to keep a Yellow Pages around… you never know when your computer will go down and you’ll need to find a computer technician without looking them up via your computer!) and found a local guy, Leon Pang at Domino Computer (he’s awesome, by the way) who said he might be able to fix the monitor. I headed straight over to his place and dropped it off.Monday, he called me with bad news. He had opened up the monitor, tested the circuits, figured out where the problem was and what part was needed (a particular board), called HP, only to be told that HP will not sell replacement boards for these monitors. They will only sell a whole new monitor. This board is not something you can find on eBay or elsewhere. It’s specific to that monitor and if HP won’t sell it, you’re screwed.

    So I bought a lightly-used monitor from a guy on Craigslist to replace that one. The “new” one is a Dell. I’m hoping to have better luck with it. In the meantime, I’m stuck with this piece of HP crap in my plastic purgatory (and I say crap because the computer I bought from HP [Pavilion d4600y, if you want to know] has been one headache after another too, although because of the warranty I’ve been able to get it fixed each time.)

    I know there are places to take our old electronics to be recycled. But wouldn’t it be better if equipment were manufactured so that it could be repaired when broken? Why do my LCD screen and plastic housing have to be melted down and recycled when all that’s needed is a small board inside?

    Anyway, I’m stuck with the broken monitor because of my policy this year of holding onto all my plastic waste instead of sending it off god knows where to be recycled. And believe it or not, I actually estimated the weight of the plastic parts by taking a screw driver to the thing myself and separating out the metal from the plastic because that’s the sort of thing that someone like me does on a Sunday afternoon after cooking huevos rancheros completely from scratch. More on that later.

    So, did I just let this issue go? Of course not. I’ve already written to the CEO of HP as well as told my story on the web site of Californians Against Waste, an organization that is working on legislation to handle toxic e-waste. Here’s the text of my message to HP via the CEO’s contact form:

    Dear Mark Hurd:

    Nowadays, most companies are trying to “green” their operations. I’m sure HP is looking into ways to be more environmentally friendly. With that in mind, I’d like to share a disappointing experience I had this week with an HP product:

    A year and a half ago I bought an HP desktop computer and 19″ LCD monitor (vs19d) directly from HP. Since then, I’ve had many problems with the computer and even had to replace a burned-out power supply. But since I had purchased a 3-year warranty, the problems were resolved by your support staff.

    Then, last week, my monitor stopped working. It wouldn’t power up. I called HP and was told the monitor was not covered by the 3-year warranty and that I’d just have to buy a new one. I asked if they could fix it, and they said it would cost more than the price of a new monitor to fix and they would not do it.

    So I took the monitor to a local computer technician, who opened it up, tested the circuits, figured out where the problem was, called HP to order a replacement board, and was told that they will not sell these parts. They will only sell a whole new monitor. This technician is from China and told me that in China he would have had access to a replacement part but that they were not available in the U.S.

    It is this kind of business policy that is creating so much toxic e-waste for the planet. Even if the monitor can be recycled, why should the energy and transportation be expended to recycle an old monitor and manufacture a new one when all the old monitor needs is a new board and there are computer-savvy technicians who are capable of installing such a part?

    I believe that for computer companies to go green, it’s important to create modular products with parts that can easily be replaced rather than requiring the entire machine to be trashed. And I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

    I have reported this story to Californians Against Waste https://www.cawrecycles.org/, an organization that is working on ways to eliminate the problem of e-waste, and I plan on writing about it on my own personal website Fake Plastic Fish.

    I would love to be able to report that HP is taking steps to correct this problem. Thanks so much for your time.

    Beth Terry

    As always, I’ll let you know if I hear anything back from HP. Whew. Now I can put this puppy to rest.

And now on to this week’s new plastic waste:

  • 1 Refresh Endura single-use eye drop container.
  • 1 plastic cap from a glass bottle of Kahlúa. Whatever possessed me to buy a bottle of liquor with a plastic cap? It surely wasn’t a necessity. But a few months ago I wasn’t being as careful as I am this year. I have no other excuse.

Now I’m interested to hear your frustrating (or successful) electronics stories.

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10 years ago

3 years ago, I bought a Lenovo Thinkpad R500 for nearly 850$. Thinkpads are supposed to last forever, there are some IBM Thinkpads that still rock til date, but this one’s a Lenovo.

So, within the first year the screen developed dead pixels all over and they replaced it in warranty. Within 1.5 years the motherboard died. The cost of a new motherboard was quoted at $400 not including labor. If I sold it, I’d get $50. Instead I decided to sell some parts on eBay individually and made more money selling half the parts than $50. Lenovo really makes unreliable hardware. I swore to never touch anything from that brand ever again.

My mom’s assembled PC has been running for the last 6 years without ever creating any trouble. When the monitor started ghosting, we replaced the cable and it’s as good as new.

These companies need a good whipping on their behinds for manufacturing such expensive pathetic trash.

14 years ago

Might want to check out: http://boredprojects.blogspot.com/2008/06/hp-vs19d-fix.html

Lots of folks seem to have successfully used his suggestions.

15 years ago

As a tech, I guarantee the problem with the board (as is the problem with 95% of fried monitors) is that in trying to make them more light and more compact for consumers, the manufacturer stupidly put the capacitors for the back light right next to the heat sink. (Not sure how tech-oriented you are, as I just stumbled upon this post, but in other words, they put a heat-sensitive piece of the circuit board right next to the part of the monitor that sucks up all the heat. Yep, dumb, I know.)

The capacitors themselves? Easy to find for free in spare parts, less than $.50 if you really have to buy them, and it takes someone who knows how to solder about half an hour to take their time and test it afterward. I’m a little surprised the tech you took it to wouldn’t do it, but on the other hand, he could have been right to do so. Even if the part is replaced, you can’t move it, so it’s still sitting next to the heat sink, so it’s only a matter of time until it breaks again. He was right to try and order a new circuit board, but honestly, NO monitor manufacturer will replace them. It’s too costly and they know it’ll just break again in the same way because they won’t fix the defective design (people just love their compact, thin monitors too much).

If you’re looking for long-term LCD operation, I can personally recommend Dell. Their computer/laptop rep might be hazy but their monitors are top-notch; I only ever see them broken by user error, say someone scratched their initials into it. The shop I work at doesn’t see them come in very much at all. Good luck with your monitor; if you know someone who can solder, then a quick fix is to simply replace the capacitor and that will last you several months to a year or two, but honestly, you’re better off getting a new one when price and time permit. Good luck. :)

15 years ago

Hi Beth, I’m 20, I’m a biology student and I’m from Argentina. I wish you all the best in your new eco-friendly lifestyle; I wish I could follow your example but most of the recycled products you buy are not available here. Your example and your ideas have made a difference in my life anyway, and even though I’m always very worried about the environment it has made me think a lot more about the plastic problem.
So I just wanted to recommend you to be careful when you buy things from “bulk bags” (I think that’s how you call them…) because my Mycology teacher has warned us about them. Most stores (at least here in Argentina) don’t know or don’t care about the fact that those huge bags of food can be easily colonized by dangerous fungi (like Aspergillus sp). I say dangerous because they can make you ill, I mean, the toxines the fungi produce can give you very strong diarrhea and nausea. So the ideal conditions for fungi not to appear, should be of very low humidity and temperature. If the store in which you buy doesn’t have those conditions, please be careful and try to get food from just-opened bulk bags or, well I don’t know… I just wanted to warn you.

Hugs and best wishes


Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
15 years ago

My Epson scanner (6 years old) has just started playing up and I will be attempting to take it in for repair on Thursday… Wish me luck!

15 years ago

I’ve got an HP computer as well (but not a monitor). I’ve found it to be lots of headaches, not the least of which is a bad bearing in the power supply fan which makes a nasty GRNNNRRRR noise on a regular basis. HP support continues to insist it’s a software problem. I had an HP printer that, once out of warranty, began breaking critical parts at an alarming rate until it was completely defunct.

So they lose ALL of my future business and I go out of my way to dis-recommend them to family and friends.

On a side note, HP has gone consistently downhill since they ditched their successful calculator division and decided to be like Compaq. Their stocks are decreasing in value while their machines decrease in quality. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see a poor attitude like “no spare parts!” from a company as it desperately tries to reclaim success.

Sorry to see they have blown your weekly tally so badly. Take heart that it’s not your fault and you’re doing a lot of good to hopefully balance out their stupidity!

15 years ago

Well…at least the cat is cute.

Sometimes that’s all you got…

15 years ago

Hi Beth,

My computer nerd partner responded to your plight, which I read aloud, by saying that you and/or your technician would probably find the needed part on eBay or Craig’s List. Millions of people, including computer nerds, are pissed off at having to buy entire new pieces of equipment when only a replacement part is needed. Therefor, if you can name the part, you can buy it cheaply, from someone who takes apart broken things to make them repairable. Failing that, strip it and sell the working parts of your monitor! What comes around, goes around…

15 years ago


Repair is a financially losing proposition for most companies.

Years ago, Sony was supreme in high tech maintenance for professional (broadcast) electronics. Their repair manuals were jewels containing two color images of all circuit boards, detailed explanations of how every circuit worked, location diagrams for all components, state diagrams showing mechanical and electronic modes. It made it a joy to have a Sony product break for those of us who had the pleasure to repair them and we all enjoyed the multi-day tech schools that were offered.

Those days are gone, Sony tech support gradually degraded and is now a part of the “send it back to us” scheme. It was killing them financially to produce that support.

With the cost of having a person check out the problem, the cost of keeping an inventory of parts and prices for them to sell to those who want to fix something, maintaining a parts dept. ready to take orders on things with tiny prices (and profits), the rapid rate of replacement by the “next generation” part (not planned obsolescence, simply an extremely high rate of tech improvements), it just isn’t worth it to support repair – beyond the “send it back to us” line that usually results in the inop unit being dumped and replaced by another. Though stuff does fail, the rate of failure on modern electronics is a small fraction of what it was years ago, particularly because the industry has been able to replace mechanical functions with “solid state” electronics.

I don’t think we will ever see a return to the repair shops that were so common in the old tube TV days. Environmentally, the flat screen is a huge advance over the CRT of yore and should last far far longer.

I second the positive comments about Dell flat screen reliability, even though the Sony 21″ CRT I use just refuses to quit, though occasionally it gives out a loud high voltage snap.

And last but not least, think of how cheap a flat screen is even as it is superior in so many ways to what came before.

christy b.
15 years ago

I got fed up with buying a new HP computer/monitor every 9-12 months from Costco so I switched to Mac – it was either that or throw them out the window to find some relief from my overwhelming frustration! I bought my current Mac just under 5 years ago. Had a few repairs/upgrades. I am considering a laptop though…so far the guilt has prevented the purchase.

My current printer HP G85 I purchased refurbished 7+ years ago and the thing keeps going strong. I need a new one though – I need a CD image burner and this unit is so heavy that it is ruining my CADO wall unit that it is sitting on. I fear that a new unit will never last as long as this wonderful thing has. This I feel slightly less guilty about since the G85 will find a good home.

Perhaps the answer lies in “working with” captitalism and “the system”. Maybe technology companies could be encouraged to sell/give parts to charities that fix electronics for profit and job skills. Good PR, tax write-offs, green and happy customers to boot!

15 years ago

Speaking of repairing stuff, my hairdrier broke!!! I’ve used it about 20 times in the past 3 years (to avoid going out in the cold with wet hair, and once for a wedding) and I was using it the other day and it started making this horrible sound! I remembered your post about this very thing and I’ve decided to try to fix it. So far, I can’t get the thing open, but I’ll keep trying. Thanks for the inpsiration.

Also, I have a Dell laptop and it’s been good to me for the past 4 years. No problems what so ever (knock on wood!).

The Green Cat
15 years ago

Great post Beth. Planned obsolescence is killing us! We are so used to living in a throwaway society so I hope that voices like yours (and the other folks who read your blog) get heard so we can begin to change things! Let us know what sort of response you get to your letter.

bianca in Brooklyn
15 years ago

Yes, Beth. This is a big issue. We really need a system that encourages electronics to be long-lasting, fixable, and then finally taken back to be recycled. I went to a conference where Colin, NIM, spoke with others on sustainability and this was an issue that came up as one of the most important in the sustainability movement. The problem seems to lie in the inherent qualities of capitalism. But we can’t take capitalism as the problem and answer. We need a real solution.

On another note, my boss has been struggling with HP fax machine/printers in her office and HP continually sends “refurbished” ones to her. Therefore, I would be led to believe they do some kind of fixer-upper stuff. She’s finally written to the President and is being sent a brand new one. So, just keep at them. And the more we all complain and suggest, the more progress we’ll see. We have the power. That’s the real postive of democracy and capitalism. These kinds of systems are controlled by the people, by the consumers.

I had an accident with my Dell laptop a few years ago and on top of not giving me the right information to, perhaps, have avoided more damage they told me I was going to need a new motherboard that would cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Instead I had a friend fix it and it came back to me, good as new. I’m currently working on a similary issue with my ipod nano. I dropped it into a bucket of water the first month I was using it and Apple basically doesn’t fix anything for any less than what it costs to buy a brand new one. I know they do refurbishment but to slap the same handsome fee onto every problem is a bit absurd. I am frustrated with them, to say the least.

Good work, just keep at’em.

just ducky
15 years ago

You’re a hoot! HP better watch out!

Hopefully you will have better luck with your Dell monitor. My husband and I have purchased two Dell computers in the past year (one laptop, one desktop) and have loved them so far. We haven’t had any trouble at all.

I know that marketers do crap like not selling certain parts due to planned obsolescence…it is criminal as well as wasteful…somehow we’ve got to make planned obsolescence obsolete!

Deb G
15 years ago

Your letter to HP is awesome! I recently had to replace my lap top because it wasn’t fixable. I decided to go with a desk top in hopes that it would be more repairable. The trade off is that it uses more electricity. Sigh.

I’ve also had to buy 3 printers over the last five years. I’m going to see about taking things to a print shop to print rather than buying a new printer when the next one goes.

15 years ago

Great post, Beth. I’ve been working the HP on their “takeback” program in an attempt to return my useless power cord to them. However, my interaction has actually been a pretty pleasant one. The rep I talked to was knowledgeable and pleasant and he sent me a personal email with instructions on how to send stuff back.

On a totally unrelated note, I tried to send you an email but it got kicked back. Feel free to delete all this, as it has nothing to do with your plastic tally! :-)

hey Beth,

Yeah, I’ve been “rioting” for almost half a year now. Gotta tell ya: not. even. close. to the 90%. But working on it!

As for getting the posts on R4A, it is magic. I write a post and “poof” it shows up about half an hour later on their site. I’ve been told that Miranda is in charge of the “feeds”, if that helps. Anyhow, I don’t ever check comments on R4A, I don’t *think* they transfer over to my real blog, so I guess if there are any, they just get ignored.

Welcome to the Riot, Beth!