Earlier in the month, AirPods hit the headlines after a journalist called out Apple for selling a product that was “disposable,” arguing no part of the AirPods could be recycled efficiently.
The article, which featured in VICE’s Motherboard column, called AirPods “a product of the past,” adding that the earbuds would work for around 18 months, playing music and making phone calls, before “lithium-ion batteries will stop holding much of a charge, and the AirPods will slowly become unusable.”
“They can’t be repaired because they’re glued together. They can’t be thrown out, or else the lithium-ion battery may start a fire in the garbage compactor. They can’t be easily recycled, because there’s no safe way to separate the lithium-ion battery from the plastic shell. Instead, the AirPods sit in your drawer forever,” Caroline Haskins said in her scathing comment piece.
Because of the AirPods’ small form factor, they cannot be serviced or upgraded by users, and the product’s circuit board is protected by an outer shell that’s held together with glue, which means attempting to open them to replace the battery will result in them breaking.
For users who want to extend the life of their AirPods, they’d need to find a replacement for its Lithium-ion battery, which is difficult unless serviced directly by Apple or Apple Stores.
In a rare interview, Apple spoke with OneZero, telling them that they didn’t dispute the fact that AirPods’ batteries degrade over time, or that they’re almost impossible to repair.
The Cupertino firm added that it was possible to recycle AirPods and that Apple would take on the responsibility of doing so. Indeed, users can visit the Apple TradeIn website and order a shipping label to send off their old AirPods in a FedEx box, and Apple would do the rest.
“As with all of our products, we work closely with our recyclers to ensure AirPods are properly recycled and provide support to recyclers outside of our supply chain as well,” the company said in a statement when speaking with OneZero.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this story, however, is that Apple allowed OneZero to reach out to Wistron GreenTech, a recycling partner Apple uses to recycle AirPods and other products.
Wistron said that AirPods required “disassembly by human workers using hand tools, a laborious process that removes critical components” and added that the materials that were retrieved from recycling AirPods did not cover the cost of the processing; rather, Apple pays the company to recycle AirPods and makes up the difference.
Apple did add that they were “working on streamlining the recycling process” for AirPods and other products, and added that in future, third-party recyclers may be able to accept AirPods without needing financial backing from Apple, which would no doubt increase recycling of the products and reduce the amount of e-waste produced by firms like Apple around the world.
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