AirPods have been incredibly profitable for Apple since the company launched the product in late 2016. Unfortunately, the device carries a massive future liability that Apple executives and shareholders need to consider today. The plastic product consists of a variety of other materials, including tungsten, tin, tantalum, lithium, and cobalt, and cannot be easily repaired or recycled by an electronic waste facility. In short, AirPods are a product with an average 18-month lifespan but a 1000-year afterlife.
Today, after the pods are worn out, lost, or broken, they become someone else’s problem–typically a landfill’s problem. This is likely to change in the near future, especially now as the first wave of AirPods reach the end of their short lives.
Just as 3M has been found responsible for cleaning up the contamination from its once profitable but hazardous products and substances, and Purdue Pharma may be on the hook for the extraordinary external societal cost opioids have imposed upon communities across the country, Apple will also likely end up bearing the considerable cost of remediating hundreds of millions of improperly disposed AirPods. This is for the simple reason that earth-friendly citizens, eco-conscious legislators, and environmentally-focused lawyers will demand it.
Forewarned is forearmed: Apple and its senior executives must get out in front of this issue right now by educating their customers about the need to dispose of their old AirPods properly and then make it quick, easy, and convenient to do so.