German Federal Environment Agency President calls for sealed battery ban

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I campaigned vocally for bigger batteries in smartphones. And got them. I did the same for black themes and apps for AMOLED-screened phones. And (on the whole) got them. And I've been ranting in various articles and shows about the perils of sealed batteries - but at least it's not just me who's very much against them. In this case, I noted an article quoting the President of the German Federal Environment Agency, who's also vehemently against the idea, noting in particular the damage to the environment when two or three year old phones, containing rare earth metals and toxins, get thrown away simply because the battery doesn't last long enough any more.

From the article (with translation from the native German):

FlasbarthThe President of the Federal Environment Agency would ban tablets and smartphones with built batteries. "That the battery component cannot be easily replaced is grotesque. They must prohibit it," said Jochen Flasbarth the Frankfurter Rundschau According attending a conference.

In an interview with EU Flasbarth had declared several months ago that only a ban would make sense: "The EU could legalize within a few years some of the Ecodesign Directive." In a recent EU draft to extend the Ecodesign Directive, it was all about the power consumption of devices, not their construction.

For example, the Nokia E7, Lumia 920 and HTC 8X are completely sealed, requiring special tools to open - contrast this with the more environmentally friendly Nokia 808 and Lumia 820, where a new battery can be slotted in after two years of use, to fully extend the device's life, in theory indefinitely.

"The Federal Environment Agency advertises being about lower resource consumption. With raw material consumption of 200 kg per capita per day, the Germans are at the top of the world in this regard, which not only damages the global environment, it is also dangerous for our international competitiveness," said Flasbarth. 

According to the article, battery life (in cycles) is rarely quoted by manufacturers. Apple promises that the iPhone battery will have, after 400 full charge cycles, still "up to 80 percent" of its original capacity. Which sounds acceptable, but this only really represents about a year of use. After two years (typically at the end of a mobile contract), battery life will be barely more then 50% and the device will be in danger of being discarded. It's true that old phones can be taken to manufacturer service centres for battery replacement, but this typically costs almost as much as the phone is worth at that point, so (anecdotally) people often don't bother.

The article also points out that sealed batteries can also hinder battery recycling if and when phones make their way back to proper recycling centres: "contained cobalt can be recovered, as a rule, only when the battery can be easily detached from the rest of the device".

See also my treatise on the pros and cons of sealed versus replaceable batteries. With pressures rising from both sides, I can feel a compromise approaching - where devices come with nominally sealed batteries and 'flush' designs but where it's only the work of a minute for an end user with a screwdriver to remove or replace the battery if needed.

Source / Credit: Heise Online