Part 1 of Dog Hill Media’s “Planned Obsolescence” Series.
Terry “the Trash Man” Watson pulls apart an old coffee brewer for parts, and offers his perspective on planned obsolescence.
I recently came across two dead Keurig Model B70s at the local dump. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I figured I’d take them apart, learn how they were put together, and salvage any parts that had value. Surely someone could use the good parts, right? In that way I’d at least help reduce the waste stream a bit (hopefully the new owner would be kind to the earth and use refillable coffee pods!).
I thought it would be easy to take these machines apart. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Ah, yes – designing a product so that it is difficult or impossible to repair. This is an old technique used by manufacturers to get consumers to buy their latest machine. Manufacturers know that even the most determined consumer will give up trying to repair a product if the repair takes too long or is too frustrating.
As consumers, we are surrounded by products that can’t be repaired. Take clothes irons – some are epoxied shut at the factory, which makes repairing a broken power cord (a common problem with an iron) impossible.
And those smoke detectors with sealed lithium batteries? By law the battery has to be non-replaceable, which means a dead battery kills the entire detector! What’s worse, many detectors are programmed to die at 10 years, even if they are functioning perfectly. The consumer (i.e. the victim of planned obsolescence) has no choice but to shell out cash for a brand new smoke detector.
That’s right – obsolescence by legal obligation. Cue the sound of the cash register – ca-ching!!! Fill that landfill with functioning smoke detectors, boys!! Thou shalt consume!
The Keurig B70 is just one more example of an unrepairable product. The design of the top plastic piece of the B70 (explained below) makes disassembly impossible without breaking things (Keurig confirmed this to me on the phone). The top piece I tried to pull off broke in two.
Think of the B70 as a car without a hood. Spark plug bad? Gee, sorry about that- it looks like you’ll need to buy an entire new car from Keurig Motors. Top off the wiper fluid? Hmm, can’t help you there – at this point you’ll need to upgrade to our new model.
What follows is a series of pictures and descriptions of some of the difficulty I encountered in taking apart a B70, along with some light commentary.
WE MAKE NO REPRESENTATION ABOUT THE ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF THIS INFORMATION. WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURY TO PEOPLE OR DAMAGE TO PROPERTY IF YOU DISASSEMBLE YOUR KEURIG. DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I UNPLUGGED THE MACHINE BEFORE TAKING IT APART. I WORE SAFETY GLASSES AND GLOVES AT ALL TIMES.
First, a look at the Keurig B70’s outside components
The outside shell of the B70 consists of five main pieces: a metal base plate, a plastic base plate, a front piece, a back piece, and a top piece. The chassis with the water heater, valves, and tubes etc. sits inside. The K-cup arm extends out beneath the top piece.
Note the hook slots on the sides, and the four main slots at the top that accept the top piece. The screw holes next to the far left and far right slots are the kiss of death! The front and back pieces are screwed together here, so I couldn’t access these screws without removing the top! And you can’t remove the top! Also, see the thin plastic ridge (best seen at right edge)? This ridge fits into the top piece, and gets ruined if you try to pry off the top.
The above picture shows the groove that accepts the front and back pieces. The four thick tabs are about as flexible as a piece of granite. Two smaller tabs are visible near the upper right.
Keurig Model B70 Disassembly
I removed the water tank and drip tray. These two parts alone ($25) capture most of the salvage value! I should have quit right here! Oh well – time to remove parts of the arm. I started with the cover that says “KEURIG”.
I lifted the handle and took out these two screws. BONUS: the Keurig B70 has screws of different sizes, lengths, and styles. This adds to the frustration. That needle is sharp, ask me how I know. The rubber gasket around the needle just slides off and has value! ($6)
With the handle still open and the cover screws removed, the cover slides forward and back a little – less than an 8th of an inch. Pushing it back toward the machine and then lifting the cover removes it. It barely takes any force. ($4)
In the above picture I’ve removed the remaining screws and pulled the plastic base off. The heater tank and pump are visible, but I still can’t access them, or anything else.
In the middle of the above picture you can see one of the 6 tabs of the top piece. The top can’t be removed from down here.
I removed these two screws holding the top piece to the arm. The top piece was then only held in place by the interior tabs. On the first machine (while wearing safety goggles and gloves), I tried to pry the top off with a screwdriver. No luck. Finally, frustrated, I pulled straight up on it and the piece broke (see pics above).
On this second machine, though, I took extreme measures to remove the top without damaging it. It would take me some effort, but I was sure someone would need this part. I used an oscillating blade tool to carefully cut open the back piece. Planned obsolescence be damned!
I had to cut the rest of the back off, piece by piece. The tabs were still holding tight! Hey, that’s a worthless used solenoid visible at right. Wait, why am I doing all of this?
With the top off I could remove the arm. I unscrewed its check valve (water tube), and unscrewed the micro switch. Three screws at the base of the arm hold the arm to the chassis (below the 2 top piece screws). Lastly, I removed the steel pin (the one under the spring) which slides out to the left.
I could now remove this screw holding the front piece on. I finally had full access to the chassis- solenoids, pump, tubing, valves, transformer, heater, etc. None of this has any real value, though!
At this point I’m selling a few parts online. I’ve shipped parts to multiple states and overseas, so these Keurigs will live on!! Is that a good thing? I don’t know. In any case, I’ll recycle the plastic pieces that have no value. The wires and metal get put on the scrap metal pile.
1. My salvage effort should have ended once I had the water tank, drip tray, the easy-to-get-to stuff on the K-cup arm, and maybe the inlet tube underneath. Digging further isn’t worth the time or effort. Nobody wants an old pump or solenoid.
2. Don’t bother trying to repair a B70. Remove the easy parts noted in 1 above, raise the white flag, and move on.
3. Nothing lasts forever, but products should be repairable. They should also be built so that their materials (plastic/metal etc.) can be easily separated for recycling.
We are all victims of planned obsolescence and the mountains of waste it generates. While we can’t stop it 100%, we can minimize the damage. Let’s take good care of the things we buy so they last as long as possible. Remember to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
(1) A wonderful short film on planned obsolescence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdh7_PA8GZU
Terry Watson, doghillmedia.com columnist
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