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Cascade Asset Management was featured in a story by the Washington Post on September 11, 2018 highlighting one of the challenges to the repair and recycling industry - embedded (glued in) batteries in phones and tablets. They make the process of replacing, repairing and recycling these devices extremely difficult and time consuming. Improper handling of the Li-ion batteries in these devices can also lead to thermal events where the batteries start reacting, smoking, combusting, and eventually catching on fire. The Washington Post also published a five minute video on the topic.
Everyone who handles laptops and tablets with embedded batteries needs to be careful and use proper tools to prevent the mishandling of these products. We also need to encourage manufacturers to design products that are easier and safer to repair and recycle. By doing so, their products can last longer and their customers can enjoy their products more, and not get frustrated with tablets that have little battery life.
Behind the scenes of the Washington Post story:
Tech columnist Geoff Fowler visited Cascade's Madison, Wisconsin facility on Sepember 4th to learn more about our process for refurbishing and recycling electronics - mainly smart phones and tablets. Geoff was told about our processing center by our friends at iFixit and the Electronics Reuse Conference.
He and his camera man watched the whole process from receipt and tracking of equipment, disassembly of non-working electronics, shredding of hard drives and SSDs, data wiping, and refurbishment of equipment. They were particularly interested in what it took to safely remove embedded batteries from tablets and phones.
Cascade handles tens of thousands of batteries each year from discarded laptops, tablets, phones, medical devices and more, so we see our fair share of them. We've also experienced 5 different instances of thermal events where batteries from iPhones or iPads have started reacting, smoking, heating up and sometimes catching on fire. All the events were safely contained and did not spread. We're lucky - other operations have seen their inventory go up in flames and cause tragic consequences.
Cascade has put in place a number of safety protocols and equipment to properly prevent and respond to thermal events, but these protections also mean that it takes more time and money to effectively remove embedded batteries from these devices. (Learn more about battery safety from an EPA Webinar Cascade participated during the summer of 2018.)
A great alternative to prying out glued batteries is to make devices with removable batteries. These devices exist and feature batteries that can be popped out and packaged for offsite recycling so that the rest of the device can be more easily repaired or recycled.
During the visit by the Washington Post, they observed Cascade technician Isauro Flores-Hernandez meticulously taking apart an iPad, first removing the broken screen, then unfastening components held in place with tiny, proprietary screws, and finally removing the battery. To melt the glue that holds the battery in place in the Apple case, Isauro heats up the tablet on a hot table that is set to 100 degrees Celcius (212 degrees Fahrenheit) for three minutes. Still it takes him several minutes to carefully pry the battery out of the case so that it does not bend and the integrity of the battery is not compromised. Watch this video that demonstrates how much of a challenge it is to remove iPad batteries.