One thing is certain these days; everyone has a pair of headphones, which they use in virtually every public situation.
Not only are they a great way to listen to your favorite music in a way that doesn’t disturb those with different musical; tastes, but as smartphones, computers, and other devices proliferate, they make it possible to listen to music, news, sports, and other programs in public without disturbing the peace.
As a general rule, you should never throw earbuds into the trash. Earbuds are recyclable as part of different electronic waste programs. Check with your local recycling center or landfill to see if they accept them. For Apple EarPods, you should send them back to Apple.
A Short Summary of the History of Headphones
Headphones have been around since the middle to late 19th Century, with telephone operators being the first users, along with British opera fans, who were able to enjoy live performances using gigantic headphones to feel like they were watching the opera live.
In the United States, the first frequent users of headphones were in the Navy because they needed to be able to listen to German radio transmissions during the First World War.
What Can I Do With My Old AirPods?
Old Apple AirPods can be dropped off at any Apple Store, Best Buy or Staples and they will recycle them for free. If your AirPods are still in working condition, you can trade 1st gen AirPods for $20 and 2nd gen AirPods for $25 at 9to5mac.com.
The real beginning of home headphone use came in 1957, when a major speaker company (Koss) developed a headphone that could be plugged into a record player and provide sound that approximated the sound from a concert hall.
However, the real impetus for the massive use of headphones that we are experiencing now came in 1979, when Sony released the Walkman. That served as the gateway to the portable music era, which has only expanded and proliferated until we can listen to anything we wish without wires.
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Small Headphones are the Most Popular, and That’s a Problem
Unfortunately, while headphones of all types are very useful in many ways, the vast majority of them are difficult to dispose of because of the way they are made and the materials that are used to make them.
The most popular and, therefore, most common, headphones are what have been called “earbuds.” These are the small headphones that come with almost every smartphone made. They started to become popular with their introduction of the iPod, and since the advent of the smartphone, their numbers have multiplied.
Does Best Buy Recycle Earbuds?
Best Buy will recycle earbuds. All you need to do is bring your old earbuds (or any used tech item) to your local Best Buy and they will accept them for recycling as part of their electronic waste recycling program, all at no cost to you!
Earbuds are not exactly environmentally friendly, and they’re also difficult to recycle, so many recycling centers won’t even bother with them. Earbuds are very small, which means their components are also tiny, and they are made with a wide variety of materials. That includes a plastic casing that is nearly impossible to recycle.
That said, if your earbuds are wired and they still work, there is an excellent chance someone will want them, so you can possibly get a few bucks for them. There are also several companies that specialize in recycling headphones, so look it up online and try t do the right thing.
What are Earbuds Made From?
A standard set of earbuds has three primary components, including the speakers and the casing to hold each one, and the line and plug that goes into the device. The speakers are made with magnets, which is how the sound gets into the small cones and to the ear.
The magnets in earbuds are made of metal, and the cones can be made of either thin plastic or paper. The earbud’s casing, which is where the magnet and speaker are located, is usually made of rubber or silicone, which makes them more environmentally friendly than over-the-ear headphones.
That’s because over-ear headphones often feature casing made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which is among the most toxic and least recyclable types of plastic there is.
As is the case with most headphones, earbud wires are either copper or aluminum, and they’re covered in the same type of plastic as is commonly found in electrical cords used in most appliances and computers. Therefore, they can be thrown in the trash without major pollution or health concerns. However, the landfill will still, well, fill.
Can Earbuds Be Recycled?
Actually, the answer to that depends on which earbuds you mean. If you have what is increasingly being referred to as “old-fashioned” wire earbuds, there are a number of possibilities for recycling them.
Again, as noted, you can always put them up on Craigslist or even the community bulletin board at the laundromat or grocery store in your town. You might be able to get some money and also keep your earbuds out of the landfill for a while longer.
However, necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. And a number of recycling centers have embarked on programs designed specifically to address the difficulty of recycling electronic waste, or e-waste, That means some recycling centers are collecting earbuds and doing everything they can to recycle them.
The potential market for earbuds is so huge, however, that some companies have popped up that have taken to pulling apart the components of earbuds and using them to make their own headphones. To drum up business, the most prominent of them is even giving large discounts to those who send their old earbuds for recycling.
How Can I Dispose of Wireless Earbuds?
The type of earbuds that are truly wireless, like the seemingly ubiquitous Apple AirPods, should never be thrown into the regular trash because they are made with lithium-ion batteries, which have to be handled carefully. These batteries also make wireless earbuds difficult to recycle.
In fact, many recyclers have described AirPods as a “nightmare” to recycle. Ironically, what makes them difficult to recycle is that lithium batteries are very recyclable, and they must be removed from wireless electronics before they can be recycled, and that has been described as extremely difficult by recyclers.
That means, when your AirPods can no longer be used, the only safe option available is to mail them back to Apple.
Thankfully, this is fairly simple, as part of the company’s device trade-in program. All you have to do is g to the Apple website, find their trade-in program, and enter your address. You will then receive a prepaid shipping label for your old AirPods.
So far, the company is not offering a new pair or even a discount for a new pair, but the process is free and easy and it helps keep the local landfill free of electronic waste. According to Apple, your old AirPods will be sent to specialists who will recycle everything. And at least your wireless earbuds are handled properly and aren’t contributing to the electronic pollution problem, right?
Both wired and wireless earbuds can be recycled as part of your local recycling center’s electronic waste programs. You can also check with your local landfill to see if they collect e-waste for recycling and disposal.
Powered earbuds, like Apple’s EarPods, should never be thrown away. Instead, check with the manufacturer to see if they have an exchange program. Apple’s program is really easy to use and actually gives you a credit toward other purchases!