You see them nearly everywhere: the woman in the salon having a loud conversation, people walking in the grocery store, your fellow students. It would seem that these little pieces of plastic have been glued into our ears.
What you might not realize is that AirPods aren’t recyclable. Apple itself hasn’t included AirPods on the list of recyclable products on the environment page of their website.
AirPods are held together with glue, making their parts nearly impossible to reuse. Not only that but Vice.com reported that because of how they’re composed, there’s no safe way to remove the lithium ion battery. These batteries have been known to catch on fire or explode and Time Magazine noted that landfill fires have increased over the past few years.
The Atlantic reported that those batteries that give you 3 hours of charge in just 15 minutes, degrade a little every time you charge them. The lifespan of these batteries is roughly 12 to 18 months. Ultimately, two years after you purchase your AirPods, they’ll be essentially useless.
But this doesn’t make Apple the enemy, they have put a lot of effort into recycling their products. In 2017, they announced that they were pursuing a closed-loop supply chain where 100 percent of their products are recycled or renewed. Now they have programs such as the Apple Upgrade Program; customers are offered a discount on a new iPhone when they turn in their old one to be recycled.
With the release of the 3rd generation of AirPods recently, hopefully they’ve corrected the previous generation’s issues. But there’s a much bigger problem at hand.
Earlier this year Time reported that 6 million pounds of discarded electronics are processed every month in Fresno, California, alone. That amount seems staggering, but less than a quarter of electronic waste (E-waste) is recycled in the US. The remaining three quarters will go to landfills or incinerators.
AirPods aren’t the cause of the United States E-waste but reporters and tech geeks alike have voiced their opinions on what is considered a “disposable product”. It isn’t a new concept for tech to be disposable. If your devices aren’t dying, you’re not buying.
“Companies design for performance and sales, not life span,” wrote The Atlantic.
Our devices are designed to die and we as consumers continue to consume. We throw away our old things in favor of a new shiny one without much thought of their impact. Instead we shove our old electronics into the back of a drawer until we figure out what to do with it. Or maybe we just drop it in the garbage without a second thought.
19 states banned electronics in trash and in the remaining states electronics end up in landfills. Many people simply don’t know what to do with their old electronics. How many times have you questioned whether you can throw out that dead light bulb?
Recycling these items hasn’t been made particularly easy. Sure, we know about Apple’s Upgrade Program, but what about your old android? The ‘ancient’ computer in your basement? Mp3 players and digital cameras?
Luckily, if you’re looking to recycle your old electronics, many stores offer recycling programs, including Best Buy and Amazon. Some will even pay you for your old tech. But when it comes to AirPods, they’ll probably end up in the trash either way.