As the result of an increased demand for safe and effective products, Americans have seen a rise in the number of recalls in recent years. Products are typically removed from the market after accidents, adverse reactions, or even deaths are reported to manufacturers.
In some cases, companies are ordered to take their product off the market by government agencies. Whatever the reason, once these products are recalled, manufacturers are left with the dilemma of how best to dispose of or recycle these products.
Airbags are standard in every vehicle manufactured after 1998 and have been credited with saving more than 40,000 lives since 2012. The year 2015 saw a massive recall of airbags in several vehicle brands spanning various model years.
The recalled airbags were manufactured by Takata, and because of improper use of propellant in the manufacturing process, they posed a real danger to consumers. The malfunctioning airbags were responsible for dozens of serious injuries and 8 deaths.
After discovering the problem, it was determined that more than 60 million vehicles were affected and would need to be retrofitted with new airbag units. Given that automakers place safety as a priority, many vehicles have several airbags installed, which causes a serious problem when the time comes to dispose of defective units.
Recycling company Quest Resource Management Group was chosen by many dealerships across the country to make sure the recalled airbags were properly disposed of and recycled. Dealerships remove and replace the consumer’s airbag, then the defective airbag is placed into a special receptacle provided by Quest.
Once the receptacle is full, the dealership schedules a pick up time and Quest Resource Management Group takes the container to a recycling facility. This process ensures that the dealership is in compliance and that the airbags are not reused, thereby reducing liability.
Though it does not happen often, every now and then, smartphones are recalled. The most recent smartphone recall involved the highly anticipated Samsung Galaxy Note 7. This smartphone was released in September 2016, and reports of its dangerousness soon followed.
The devices in question got extremely hot and, in some instances, caught fire. Airlines were made aware of the issues with the phone, and many banned the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 altogether. Others required passengers to completely power off their devices for safety reasons.
The main cause of overheating in these devices was traced back to the battery. Due to the design of the phone, the battery placement necessitated a massive recall. Over 3 million of these smartphones were deemed unrepairable, and they therefore needed to be destroyed.
Additionally, Samsung had manufactured an additional 1 million smartphones that had not even been sold before production was shut down. Even under the best of circumstances, disposing of this many devices presented a huge environmental challenge.
After learning of the massive Samsung recall, environmental activist group Greenpeace called for environmental responsibility on the part of the company and strongly advised Samsung against simply throwing away the phones. In addition to arguing that Samsung should recycle the precious and semi-precious metals used to make these phones, Greenpeace requested that the company make their disposal methods public.
This was a significant request, since of the 50 elements required to make the Galaxy Note 7, only 12 are recyclable by today’s standards. With this added challenge, it will be difficult for the company to recycle millions of recalled devices, potentially causing even more environmental problems.
Not only that, smartphone manufacturing puts a huge strain on natural resources, many of which are rare and require a lot of manpower to mine. The elements used to make smartphones include, but are not limited to, cobalt, neodymium, gold, and palladium, and these elements are rarely recycled.
Additionally, many smartphones are constructed in such a way that they are not easily dismantled, with components that are not easily replaced. This means that the lifespan of the smartphone is shortened significantly.
Samsung has not announced what it plans to do with the recalled devices, and has only indicated that it does not plan to repair or resell them. Greenpeace has made its demands public and the organization has gathered over 25,000 petition signatures challenging Samsung make a transparent effort to recycle as many the of the phones’ components as possible. However, Samsung has not yet responded to this request.
Legal Obligations Associated with Recalls
Once products have been recalled, companies are typically required to destroy or responsibly recycle them. In addition, the manufacturers are required to show proof that they have complied with the terms of the recall.
This often involves an audit conducted by an outside company to ensure that the product has been destroyed as agreed and serves as a means of verifying disposal methods. If a company fails to comply with the recall terms, they could face product liability lawsuits and government sanctions.