After problems with its phones bursting into flames, Samsung has recalled the Galaxy Note 7 for the second and final time. Anyone who owns one of these devices should back up their data, shut them down, and return them for a refund.
Nearly 2.5 million of these phones were manufactured, and about 1 million devices have been sold. Samsung says the recalled devices won’t be repaired, refurbished, or resold ever again.
Since the phones are too dangerous to be refurbished and reused, they will have to be disposed of somehow. Getting rid of the phones is going to create a sustainability nightmare.
To understand why getting rid of the phones is so problematic, let’s take a closer look at the phone and why the device is being recalled to begin with.
At the center of the exploding phone is the Galaxy Note 7’s defective battery. Charging the device causes the battery to short-circuit, generating enough heat for the device to catch fire.
This isn’t the first time an overheating battery has prompted a cell phone recall. But unlike other models, the Galaxy Note 7’s battery is glued into the device. Having a fixed battery means the consumer can’t just replace the faulty part. The consumer has to replace the entire phone.
As with many other consumer goods, the most sustainable (and profitable) way to dispose of a cell phone involves finding a way to extend its life.
Stripping a phone down to its components to turn into something else is often not worth the time and energy, meaning cell phones are not truly recyclable, Motherboard reports.
Smartphones weigh little, but the manufacturing process is heavy. The average smartphone requires 165 pounds of raw materials, most of which are discarded in the process.
If that statistic wasn’t wasteful enough, Motherboard also reports that many of these natural resources are rapidly being depleted.
Compounding the problem of being unable to recycle the phones is the issue of how Samsung will even begin to acquire all the Galaxy Note 7s.
Samsung is taking no chances with this recall. Returning the device involves a kit featuring a fire resistant box and rubber gloves. Once the package is in transit, it can only be shipped by less-efficient ground methods.
“Think how much easier it would have been to manage the Note 7 problems, too, if it had been possible to simply remove the battery,” Alex King, the director of the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute at the Ames Laboratory told Motherboard.
“Addressing safety concerns by making the batteries removable in future generations will have the side-benefit of making the phones easier to recycle, too.”
If you own one of the recalled phones, here’s how to return it for a refund.