AirPods are one of Apple’s most beloved new products. But, if you love them so much that you use them every day, expect the irreplaceable batteries to only last a few years at most.
AirPods have been on the market for a little over two years now. Throughout the last few months, we’ve been seeing more and more complaints of battery life issues with AirPods—mostly from users who’ve been using theirs for hours on end every day. With that much use, battery life will degrade in a matter of a couple of years. Unfortunately, that just means you’ll be throwing out your AirPods and buying a new pair.
Discarding your AirPods may sound extreme, but the batteries in the earpieces and the charging case cannot be replaced. Once your AirPods can no longer hold a significant charge, into the garbage they go.
AirPods Weren’t Designed to Be Repaired
First off, the reason that you can’t just replace the batteries in these things is that AirPods weren’t designed to be repaired in the first place. And no, it’s not that Apple just makes them extremely difficult to repair. Rather, AirPods aren’t designed to be repaired, period—if they break or the battery degrades to an unusable state, you’ll be throwing them out and buying a new pair. Sorry.
Just have a look at iFixit’s teardown of a pair of AirPods. Everything is glued together, and you can’t even remove the battery without destroying the earpiece. The same goes for the charging case. On their blog, iFixit says that “All in all, accessing any component—including the batteries in the case and in the ‘Pods—is impossible without total destruction.”
Apple does offer repair services for AirPods, but we can’t imagine how Apple is repairing them. They’re probably just replacing AirPods with new ones, because there’s no way Apple’s “battery service” involves actually replacing the battery in an earpiece. It isn’t possible.
On par with Apple’s usual M.O., the cost to “repair” your AirPods out-of-warranty is about the same cost (or more) as a brand new set. So even if you aren’t throwing out an old pair of AirPods yourself, Apple is discarding them for you when you take them in for “repair.” How convenient.
The Biggest Concern Is E-Waste
Of course, many die-hard AirPod users would gladly continue to pay $160 every 2-3 years to keep rocking out wirelessly. The cost to the consumer isn’t the biggest factor here. It’s unnecessary e-waste.
If AirPods aren’t repairable, they should at least be recyclable, but even that’s not possible. Here’s the thing: it would cost recyclers more money than they could earn back from the materials extracted from AirPods. In other words, the process of extracting the components would be too time-consuming and expensive.
For a company that keeps making a big deal about recycling, Apple doesn’t seem to be measuring up to its standards with its AirPods.
This Is About All Wireless Earbuds and Beyond
We can’t single out Apple here. We’re sure all AirPod competitors are guilty of creating a product that can’t be repaired or recycled. After all, the smaller the components get and the more tightly packed they become, the harder it is to repair and recycle them effectively. And after seeing inside a pair of AirPods, we can’t say we’re surprised they can’t be repaired or recycled.
This doesn’t just affect tiny wireless headphones, either. It’s a problem for pretty much any gadget that packs in so many components to the point where you just can’t extract individual parts efficiently enough, or without destroying the whole device.
Luckily, devices like phones, tablets, and computers aren’t quite as bad as AirPods. You can at least replace a lot of the individual components, including the batteries, which are usually the first things to die in most electronics. But more and more devices are becoming disposable. That’s not only bad for landfills—it puts an unnecessary burden on your wallet.