Let us be frank: Apples’ new wireless headphones, the AirPods, are wonderful products. Apple has launched the new headphones after a delay of about two months. Reports are now emerging that not only are the products difficult to repair or recycle, they pose a fire threat as well. Recyclers have confirmed that the Lithium-ion batteries that power the diminutive AirPods may spontaneously ignite when they are taken for disposal.
Apple has faced a lot of flak in the recent past for packing its products so tightly it is very difficult to disassemble and recycle. Most of the chiding has come from environment protection watchdogs and Apple has sought to be a more environment-friendly company. Apple has wagered a lot on the tiny headphones, each of which weighs only 4 grammes. It can be safely said that the AirPods are the future of Apple’s listening devices. The Apple Airpods, which ship separately from the Apple iPhone 7, use microphones, optical sensors, and a motion accelerometer for in-ear detection to enable the best sound quality possible. The AirPods have been acclaimed for their sound quality, noise cancelling functions and ease of use: no Bluetooth connection is required to pair the headphones with the smartphones. You simply need to open the AirPods charging case while holding it near the iPhone. A card pops up that prompts you to pair, and you’re ready to go, thanks to the special W1 chip inside each AirPod. The same chip is also capable of informing your iPhone when the AirPods aren’t in-ear anymore and music playback will stop automatically. The technology is amazing.
The safety of the AirPods is not on such sure ground, however. The AirPods have three separate lithium-ion batteries, one in each pod and one in an accompanying charging case we mentioned above. Recyclers melt them for the copper inside. But the lithium-ion batteries in AirPods cannot be shredded because they could catch fire while being destroyed, according to this report by iFixit, which took apart the AirPods for extensive testing. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit confirmed that “There could easily be a billion of these things over the next 10 years” which could lead to a big recycling bottleneck besides a fire hazard. Willie Cade, CEO of Chicago-based PC Rebuilders & Recyclers, who was quoted here, said the labour involved in removing the batteries would make it hard to be cost-effective while removing and recovering and said that during recycling, when the AirPods went into the shredder,”there’s a relatively high risk of fire.” The AirPods are also nearly unrepairable, as accessing any internal component is impossible without destroying the outer casing. The AirPods ship at $159 a pair.