13 November 2019

Repairability & the AirPods Pro

I would never have thought that I would care much about repairability, but ever since I’ve become more aware of how we deal with the planet, it’s become something that juts out when I’m considering a product.

Take the latest AirPods Pro for example. For all that is great about the product — and there is a lot great about it — the fact that it isn’t repairable is a huge turn-off.

This take from iFixit says a lot:

We can hem and haw about how much Apple’s actually recycling, but that isn’t really the point, because recycling should be a last resort. It’s destructive. Making a disposable product is terrible for the environment, whether it’s recyclable or not. The real environmental impact is in manufacturing, and Apple is planning on manufacturing a lot of AirPods.

This product will be successful. Millions of people are going to buy them. For many of them, $249 will be the most that they have ever spent on headphones. And, after a year and a half, their $249 investment is going to slowly stop working. Their battery life will slowly fade, alongside our hopes for a sustainable electronics industry.

For what it’s worth, I don’t endorse the headline from that article (who knows whether Apple could do better, or why they choose not to), but I agree with the thrust of these comments. Just the thought of having to throw away these products after a few years when it can no longer hold a charge is, frankly, appalling.

Edit (14 November 2019): For fairness’s sake, here is another perspective — at least Apple has put in significant effort (it appears) to ensure that the AirPods can be recycled:

Apple didn’t dispute that AirPods’ batteries degrade with time, that they’re essentially impossible to repair, or that you shouldn’t throw them either in the trash or the recycling bin. But the company did seem to take issue with the notion that any of this is unique to AirPods or that they’re as damaging to the environment as the myriad much larger electronic devices that are already filling the world’s recycling plants and waste dumps. (According to a United Nations report, less than a quarter of all e-waste in the U.S. is recycled.)

Most of all, Apple wanted to make clear that you can recycle AirPods — or at least important components of them — and you can go through Apple to do it. There’s a link on the company’s website to order a prepaid shipping label, which you can use to send the device to one of Apple’s recycling partners by dropping it in a FedEx box. Apple says that it has accepted AirPods for recycling ever since they were released, although it was only this year that the company added the product as a specific category of return on the website. The company also noted that you can bring your defunct AirPods to any Apple Store for recycling. 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.

Fundamentally, however, they don’t appear to be recyclable in any cost-effective or useful kind of way. But at least it is on Apple’s radar.

Might I still get a pair? I can’t pretend to remain unswayed by the hype but I hope that my willpower holds out for a bit longer — my Jaybirds X3 are holding up quite well and I need to learn to be content.

Apple Technology Environment Repairability

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