Tech manufacturers make recycling batteries extremely difficult
Tech companies view themselves as “green” companies, but they are anything but “green”. Until about half a dozen years ago, cell phones had user replaceable batteries, but then all manufacturers, about the same time, made replacing batteries very difficult. Since batteries last about 2 years or so, based on normal charge/discharge cycles and usage patterns, many people just replace their phones.
This is environmentally a mess, of course. Worse, the glued in Lithium Ion battery must be removed at recycling centers, a process taking up to 40 minutes.
I should have taken a seat — the process took 40 minutes. To get to the battery, first Flores-Hernandez has to remove the electronics on top of it. Step one: He puts the iPad on a 100-degree heating plate for about four minutes to loosen glue that adheres the screen. Then off comes broken glass, the screen and dozens of tiny screws.
He learned how to do this through a training program from iFixit, an online repair community. Apple and many other manufacturers don’t provide instructions or analysis software to recyclers like Cascade. ….
About 30 minutes into iPad surgery comes the most delicate part: prying out the battery glued to the back of the iPad. After heating the iPad again to loosen glue, he uses a series of plastic squeegees to nudge the battery – as flat as a plastic comb and almost as wide as the iPad – out bit by bit.
Why did cell phone makers eliminate user replaceable batteries? Ostensibly it was to improve sealing against water splashes. But it seems more likely, it was intended as a way of letting phones appear to fail after about 2 years of usage, to encourage purchase of new phones.
The result, though, is an environmental mess as Lithium Ion batteries are difficult to remove, have caused fires at recycling centers, and end up increasing the amount of solid waste produced when working products are literally thrown away.
Notebook computer makers have also gone down this path of eliminating replaceable batteries. I used to use an old Macbook with replaceable batteries. I was “in the field” all day and use the Macbook to record and process video. During the course of the day, I’d go through 3 batteries – because it was easy to drop in a freshly charged battery. Today, we can no longer do that with Apple Macbook products as all have sealed batteries inside. Most notebook makers have gone down this route as well, although some can be opened with a screwdriver (or more often a special tool that you need to pay extra for) – at least many have not glued the batteries inside.