Washington Post Urges Big Tech to Adopt Safer Batteries

Recyclers everywhere are rejoicing over the Washington Post’s well-researched exploration of the tech industry’s obsession with built-in batteries and the massive risks they pose.

Lithium-ion batteries are inside a lot of the things we own: smartphones, e-cigarettes, cars, children’s toys. Pound for pound, they’re incredibly efficient—packing a high energy density that other types of rechargeable batteries can’t reach. They’ve enabled the tech industry to make devices thinner than ever, by sealing these rechargeable packs inside of our favorite devices.

But this wonder-material comes at a cost. Batteries are an accident waiting to happen, causing fires in homes, planes, and recycling facilities. This volatility, and the fact that they’re glued in, makes it hard for recyclers to quickly, safely, and profitably remove batteries. And gadgets are increasingly ending up in municipal recycling facilities and landfills, where local governments are completely unprepared for how to handle them.

Remains of an iPad battery that caught fire
The remains of a used iPad battery that caught fire at the Cascade Recycling Center in 2017. The battery was punctured during an attempt to pry the device apart and remove the battery. (Aaron Piotrzkowski)

It’s all well and good for a manufacturer to tout clean energy practices and recyclable packaging, but far too few tech companies are thinking about realistic end-of-life practices. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Geoffrey Fowler provides not only a full picture of current end-of-life troubles—he also offers potential solutions for these problems:

  • Tech press can talk more about longevity, and less about the shiny new stuff.
  • There’s nothing stopping us from going back to removable batteries—let’s do it.
  • The tech industry should do the responsible thing: Give up a couple of millimeters in pursuit of a safer, more environmentally sound device. We’ll still buy it.

Fowler isn’t alone. US PIRG published a post today calling for manufacturers to divulge best practices for safe battery removal. And there’s you, too. Stand up and support local right to repair legislation. Let’s solve this—very fixable—battery problem.

Read Geoffrey Fowler’s full battery exposé in the Washington Post here