AirPods Are Disposable and Hard to Recycle

Apple AirPods are finally here. Eager to see what’s inside, we ripped them open like expectant children on Christmas morning. And like children, we cried a little when we opened the box: the inside is a series of little boards, interconnected by origami-folded ribbon cables, soldered together into one hot mess. And the charging case isn’t any better. All in all, accessing any component—including the batteries in the case and in the ‘Pods—is impossible without total destruction.

AirPods case destroyed and showing battery during teardown

We talk about repair a lot, and there’s a reason for that—it’s good for consumers and good for the environment, just like recycling. Usually, being repairable goes hand in hand with being more recyclable. The easier it is to untangle the parts, the easier the device is to recycle. When products are glued shut and soldered together, like the AirPods, it costs recyclers more than they can earn from recovered materials. If AirPods are Apple’s new standard earbud, they’ll sell hundreds of millions of them. That’s millions of AirPods that are, essentially, disposable.

AirPods teardown

Apple AirPods Teardown Highlights:

  • A set of AirPods contains three batteries, one in the case and one in each earpiece. The earpiece battery is a 93 milliwatt hour battery, which is about 1% of the charge capacity in an iPhone 7. The battery in the case weighs in at 1.52 Wh—about 16 times the power capacity of the earpiece batteries.
  • Our X-ray imagery (provided by Creative Electron) shows quality issues in the AirPod case’s processor. Excessive empty spaces in the solder, known as voiding, could be evidence of low quality standards, or a rushed product release. Could issues with the AirPod case be what delayed release?
  • Accessing any case component is impossible without destroying the outer casing, earning the AirPods a nigh-unprecedented 0/10 on our repairability scale.

Check out the full AirPods teardown here.