Apple comments on AirPods' environmental impact, touts recyclability

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 28
A searing article that lambasted Apple over the "disposability" of its hugely popular AirPods earbuds seemingly struck a nerve. The company recently agreed to speak publicly on the matter and in doing so revealed details about its AirPods recycling program, which costs recyclers more to process than can be extracted from the device.




In early May, Motherboard ran a scathing critique of AirPods, focusing in large part on its environmental impact as a "disposable" device. The article called Apple out for marketing a product design that seemingly runs counter to the company's well-groomed, eco-conscious public image.

Like other Apple products, AirPods are not designed to be user serviceable. Sensitive circuitry is protected by a nearly impenetrable outer shell and held together with gobs of glue, but owners looking to keep the device functional will inevitably require a replacement for its diminutive Lithium-ion battery.

AirPods' lifespan is something of a mixed bag. Depending on use, some find the earbuds last years with only minimal battery degradation, but AppleInsider testing found a pair of first-generation AirPods lost half its battery life in two years.

Speaking with OneZero, Apple did not deny that AirPods are nearly impossible to repair or that they contain batteries that degrade over time. In a report on Tuesday, the publication, distributed through Medium, said Apple took umbrage to reports characterizing those issues as specific to AirPods or that the device is somehow a worse environmental offender than larger electronics.

Apple made a point to mention its recycling program, which has accepted AirPods since the product's inception in 2016.

"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," Apple said in a statement.

In another rare move, Apple agreed to connect OneZero with Wistron GreenTech, one of the company's recycling partners. A Wistron representative said AirPods' design requires disassembly by human workers using hand tools, a laborious process that removes critical components -- the battery and audio drivers -- from the polycarbonate shell. The battery and drivers are sent to smelters and metal refiners, respectively, to extract valuable material like cobalt.

Wistron confirmed that the value of materials gleaned from recycling AirPods does not cover the cost of processing, saying Apple pays the firm, and presumably other contracted partners, to make up the difference. Apple said it is working on streamlining the recycling process for AirPods and other products, suggesting out-of-network recyclers might one day be able to accept AirPods without financial backing from the tech giant.

Users interested in recycling their AirPods can take the device in to Apple or request a free shipment label through the company's Trade In webpage. Unlike other Apple products, there is currently no incentive to recycling AirPods beyond peace of mind.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    revenantrevenant Posts: 524member
    so ... because recycling does not make enough money we should stop doing it? this is the stupidest thing i have heard in some time.

    apple pays the difference ... so the problem is?

    companies like apple that are truly trying to be green find that it usually costs more (perhaps not in the very long run). so instead of being worth 1.2 trillion apple is worth a little less because they care about the environment we all live in.

    oddly enough, imagine if apple was not trying to recycle these--that would never make front page news.
    n2itivguymwhitefred steinracerhomie3loopychewgutengelminicoffee
  • Reply 2 of 11
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,178member
    Well done Apple, problem solved.  

    Over to you Android vendors with ‘billions’ of cheap plastic handsets with a shorter life expectancy than AirPods.  Let’s see your recycling strategies!
    mwhitefred steinRobPalmer9racerhomie3lkruppStrangeDaysbadmonkminicoffee
  • Reply 3 of 11
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,667member
    Hipsters are mad that AirPods aren’t made of wood, because ear splinters should be a thing. LOL.

    To be entirely fair, it would be nice if you could take your AirPods to an AASP or Apple Store and get the batteries changed every couple of years for a reasonable price (and in fact this should be uniform program across devices with built-in, non-user-accessible batteries, like the Magic Mouse et al). Better still, for larger devices perhaps the battery could be made more user-changeable, but I get that for safety reasons Apple doesn’t want to do that. Consumers are generally ignorant of how dangerous lithium-ion et al batteries are when damaged/punctured/et cetera.

    But seriously, those folks at Motherbored are apparently seriously in need of something better to do with their time if they think AirPods are any sort of serious environmental hazard, given that a) they’ve always been eligible for the recycling program and b) the amount of completely un-recyclable plastic crap made by other tech and tech accessory companies, for starters, and then moving on to non-recyclable plastic crap made by other industries.

    Call me when the cheap plastic/polycarbonate Android phones have a unified recycling program other than “throw it in a drawer and forget about it,” Motherbored. Till then, you’re a clickbait site.
    edited May 28 LordeHawkn2itivguyracerhomie3badmonk
  • Reply 4 of 11
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,654member
    The limited lifespan and subsequent waste of electronics is definitely an issue. There are a couple key differences between iPhones and AirPods. First, it takes a bit of work, but the battery can be replaced in an iPhone. It absolutely cannot in AirPods. Second, due to advances in the processor and iOS capabilities, an iPhone is essentially obsolete in 4-5 years. headphones should be able to function indefinitely. I'll note again that wired headphones eliminate all these concerns - no Li battery, no battery to wear out, longer useful life. I actually have a 20 year old pair of headphones that still works fine, despite having an 'obsolete' 3.5mm plug.

    The fact that you can recycle AirPods mitigates the issue somewhat, but the most ecological option is always to continue using what you have, not recycle it and buy a replacement. Recycling doesn't magically eliminate the waste, it simply reduces it. If Apple is going to continue to be so bullheaded against wired headphones, they should put their money where their mouth is and make BT headphones that last at least as long as their phones. People gush about Apple's designs, but serviceability and the resultant product longevity are part of design. 
    planetary paulavon b7uroshnormuthuk_vanalingamdecoderring
  • Reply 5 of 11
    I'd bet that Apple will improve the economics of AirPod recycling over time. The first generation AirPod, like all of Apple's first generation products, has deficiencies. Question: Is there a recycling program for any other wearable? headphones, watches, goggles, ????


  • Reply 6 of 11
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 67member
    I get that this product wouldn’t exist in its current form without a tightly sealed in battery that can’t be replaced, but the fact that Apple has designed a product which requires to be tossed after battery life worsens is still a shame.

    iOS and Mac devices can at least have their batteries replaced and can go on to live long lives. 

    At the end of the day it’s trade offs I suppose. If we want earphones to be as small and light as AirPods, the cost is that the whole unit gets thrown out when the battery is done. 
    muthuk_vanalingamdecoderring
  • Reply 7 of 11
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 4,193member
    MplsP said:
    The limited lifespan and subsequent waste of electronics is definitely an issue. There are a couple key differences between iPhones and AirPods. First, it takes a bit of work, but the battery can be replaced in an iPhone. It absolutely cannot in AirPods. Second, due to advances in the processor and iOS capabilities, an iPhone is essentially obsolete in 4-5 years. headphones should be able to function indefinitely. I'll note again that wired headphones eliminate all these concerns - no Li battery, no battery to wear out, longer useful life. I actually have a 20 year old pair of headphones that still works fine, despite having an 'obsolete' 3.5mm plug.

    The fact that you can recycle AirPods mitigates the issue somewhat, but the most ecological option is always to continue using what you have, not recycle it and buy a replacement. Recycling doesn't magically eliminate the waste, it simply reduces it. If Apple is going to continue to be so bullheaded against wired headphones, they should put their money where their mouth is and make BT headphones that last at least as long as their phones. People gush about Apple's designs, but serviceability and the resultant product longevity are part of design. 
    I agree.

    At the very least the battery should be replaceable and that requires design changes that definitely can be implemented. I would also like to see a warning on the current box that makes it clear that the device can only be charged for a set amount of cycles before degrading sets in to impact usability and that the batteries are not replaceable.

    Long term I think legislation in the EU will force change onto manufacturers if some major jump in battery tech doesn't arrive first.

    As an aside, I am currently involved in preparing a multinational in its efforts to challenge an EU government's plans to demand a minimum percentage of recycled plastic in its product range. It turns out that tech advances have led to a new formulation which only uses a small amount (lets say 200g) of 'virgin' plastic in the company's products. Adding recycled plastic degrades the performance of the product and to meet the government's requirements, the amount of virgin plastic would actually double to achieve the same performance. The case here is that it is better environmentally speaking to use 'virgin' plastic than include recycled elements. I am also training salespeople on how to 'sell' the product in the face of an industry that is obsessed with the 'price per kilo' mentality. The new product is more expensive per kilo but you actually need far less of the product to get the same performance.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 11
    LatkoLatko Posts: 398member
    mcdave said:
    Well done Apple, problem solved.  

    Over to you Android vendors with ‘billions’ of cheap plastic handsets with a shorter life expectancy than AirPods.  Let’s see your recycling strategies!
    Apparently you don’t even have a beginning of a start of an idea how massive this global issue is, and how symbolic Apple’s (and alike’s) efforts yet
    edited May 29
  • Reply 9 of 11
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,308member
    While the article singled out Apple it was actually about ALL earbuds. But the public never got that message did it? Only Apple EarPods are the problem, right?
  • Reply 10 of 11
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,547member
    avon b7 said:
    MplsP said:
    The limited lifespan and subsequent waste of electronics is definitely an issue. There are a couple key differences between iPhones and AirPods. First, it takes a bit of work, but the battery can be replaced in an iPhone. It absolutely cannot in AirPods. Second, due to advances in the processor and iOS capabilities, an iPhone is essentially obsolete in 4-5 years. headphones should be able to function indefinitely. I'll note again that wired headphones eliminate all these concerns - no Li battery, no battery to wear out, longer useful life. I actually have a 20 year old pair of headphones that still works fine, despite having an 'obsolete' 3.5mm plug.

    The fact that you can recycle AirPods mitigates the issue somewhat, but the most ecological option is always to continue using what you have, not recycle it and buy a replacement. Recycling doesn't magically eliminate the waste, it simply reduces it. If Apple is going to continue to be so bullheaded against wired headphones, they should put their money where their mouth is and make BT headphones that last at least as long as their phones. People gush about Apple's designs, but serviceability and the resultant product longevity are part of design. 
    I agree.

    At the very least the battery should be replaceable and that requires design changes that definitely can be implemented. I would also like to see a warning on the current box that makes it clear that the device can only be charged for a set amount of cycles before degrading sets in to impact usability and that the batteries are not replaceable.

    Long term I think legislation in the EU will force change onto manufacturers if some major jump in battery tech doesn't arrive first.

    As an aside, I am currently involved in preparing a multinational in its efforts to challenge an EU government's plans to demand a minimum percentage of recycled plastic in its product range. It turns out that tech advances have led to a new formulation which only uses a small amount (lets say 200g) of 'virgin' plastic in the company's products. Adding recycled plastic degrades the performance of the product and to meet the government's requirements, the amount of virgin plastic would actually double to achieve the same performance. The case here is that it is better environmentally speaking to use 'virgin' plastic than include recycled elements. I am also training salespeople on how to 'sell' the product in the face of an industry that is obsessed with the 'price per kilo' mentality. The new product is more expensive per kilo but you actually need far less of the product to get the same performance.
    Do your Huawei "FlyPods" ripoffs have serviceable batteries? 



    edited May 29 lkruppbadmonk
  • Reply 11 of 11
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,654member
    avon b7 said:
    MplsP said:
    The limited lifespan and subsequent waste of electronics is definitely an issue. There are a couple key differences between iPhones and AirPods. First, it takes a bit of work, but the battery can be replaced in an iPhone. It absolutely cannot in AirPods. Second, due to advances in the processor and iOS capabilities, an iPhone is essentially obsolete in 4-5 years. headphones should be able to function indefinitely. I'll note again that wired headphones eliminate all these concerns - no Li battery, no battery to wear out, longer useful life. I actually have a 20 year old pair of headphones that still works fine, despite having an 'obsolete' 3.5mm plug.

    The fact that you can recycle AirPods mitigates the issue somewhat, but the most ecological option is always to continue using what you have, not recycle it and buy a replacement. Recycling doesn't magically eliminate the waste, it simply reduces it. If Apple is going to continue to be so bullheaded against wired headphones, they should put their money where their mouth is and make BT headphones that last at least as long as their phones. People gush about Apple's designs, but serviceability and the resultant product longevity are part of design. 
    I agree.

    At the very least the battery should be replaceable and that requires design changes that definitely can be implemented. I would also like to see a warning on the current box that makes it clear that the device can only be charged for a set amount of cycles before degrading sets in to impact usability and that the batteries are not replaceable.

    Long term I think legislation in the EU will force change onto manufacturers if some major jump in battery tech doesn't arrive first.

    As an aside, I am currently involved in preparing a multinational in its efforts to challenge an EU government's plans to demand a minimum percentage of recycled plastic in its product range. It turns out that tech advances have led to a new formulation which only uses a small amount (lets say 200g) of 'virgin' plastic in the company's products. Adding recycled plastic degrades the performance of the product and to meet the government's requirements, the amount of virgin plastic would actually double to achieve the same performance. The case here is that it is better environmentally speaking to use 'virgin' plastic than include recycled elements. I am also training salespeople on how to 'sell' the product in the face of an industry that is obsessed with the 'price per kilo' mentality. The new product is more expensive per kilo but you actually need far less of the product to get the same performance.
    Do your Huawei "FlyPods" ripoffs have serviceable batteries? 



    So Apple shouldn't be any better than a cheap Chinese knockoff?
    muthuk_vanalingammac_128
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