16 October 2020

Motherboard: “AirPods are a Tragedy”

Even if you only own AirPods for a few years, the earth owns them forever. When you die, your bones will decompose in less than a century, but the plastic shell of AirPods won’t decompose for at least a millennium. Thousands of years in the future, if human life or sentient beings exist on earth, maybe archaeologists will find AirPods in the forgotten corners of homes. They’ll probably wonder why they were ever made, and why so many people bought them. But we can also ask ourselves those same questions right now.

Why did we make technology that will live for 18 months, die, and never rot?

AirPods were destined to become e-waste from the moment they were manufactured. And AirPods become e-waste after just eighteen months, when the irreplaceable lithium ion battery dies.

I would put this in the planned obsolescence category of products, but it’s not really planned obsolescence, it’s planned failure, Wiens told Motherboard. When they made these products, they knew they were only gonna last for 18 months. They didn’t put that on the outside of the box, knowing that the battery is not replaceable, and here we are.

Caroline Haskins

This article may feel a little over-dramatic, but the underlying issue is real: many electronic products are not designed to be refurbished or recycled and end up contributing to our growing plastic pollution problem. Apple likes to parade sustainability, to draw attention to their recycling programs, to claim they are removing wall chargers and EarPods from the packaging to reduce the phone’s environmental impact, but the fact of the matter is it was Apple’s decision to replace a perfectly functional universal connector with their proprietary solution, thereby pushing consumers towards a new product with a shorter lifespan, in order to make more profits selling accessories and drive up their stock price.

AirPod internals
Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty

If AirPods are anything, they’re future fossils of capitalism.

AirPods proved to be massively successful – by some estimates, Apple will sell 82 million units this year – but that only magnifies their negative environmental impact. And, as with most changes introduced by Apple, other manufacturers followed suit, removing the headphone jack and offering their own wireless headphones. In the coming years it’s entirely possible that Apple will eliminate the cable charger as well, in favor of their MagSafe wireless chargers. I don’t think this has the potential to launch a new line of disposable chargers, but depending on the effects of wireless charging, it could reduce the lifespan of smartphone batteries, leading users to replace them more often – and creating more e-waste in the process.

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