2.5 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones have been globally recalled due to instances of batteries exploding, resulting in a major loss in rare earth minerals and a mountain of e-waste. This is the second recall for this phone model, the first recall resulted in replacement phones. When the replacement phones were also found to also catch fire, Samsung asked customers to shut off their phones and return them altogether. The fact is that not all of these phones will make it back to Samsung for recycling and even if they do a large percentage of the materials that make up these devices can’t be recovered.
The bulk of the waste caused by these defective batteries could have been prevented if Samsung hadn’t designed the phone batteries to be glued in. If the phones would have been manufactured with easily removable batteries, the solution could have been as easy as mailing Galaxy Note 7 users a new, less explosive, battery. Instead we are left with 2.5 million, practically new, phones that can no longer be used.
The average smartphone, which weighs less than a pound, requires about 165 pounds of raw mined materials according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on the other hand, was one of the largest and most advanced smartphones and required close to 500 pounds of raw minerals. This phone contained about 50 different elements, less than 25% of which are recoverable in the recycling process. The planet’s reserves of rare earth minerals used in electronics are quickly diminishing, and it’s becoming more obvious that we need to drastically change the way we manufacture electronics in order to make products more easily repairable and recyclable.
This event was an environmental tragedy and we hope all smartphone manufacturers will learn from this and make their products with repair and recycling in mind.
Read more about California's existing e-waste laws.