E-Waste

Please Stop Throwing Out Your Electric Razor and Toothbrushes. Please.

How far will you go to keep a tiny lithium-ion battery from landing up in a landfill, or starting a fire? For me, it was eight Torx screws and 10 minutes on a Sunday. But I can see why so many of these devices end up in the wrong place.

For some people, a device starts to feel “old” when it can no longer last a convenient time away from its charger. Just recently, both my electric toothbrush and razor showed the first signs of irksome decline. The shaver didn’t make it through a full week on the road, and the toothbrush can only go one or two brushing sessions before it starts slowing down.

Razors and toothbrushes fall into what I consider the Migraine Middle of battery service. One one end of the device spectrum are devices that are tiny, formed with glued-together, rounded plastic, or just notoriously awful to open. You know there’s a battery in there, but you look it up or just look at the thing and think, “No way can I get that battery out.” On the other end are devices where instincts tell you that the battery should be replaceable or removable—phones and laptops, cars and trucks, big kids’ toys, and the like.

In the middle are objects that have discrete batteries, little or no official repair information, and often annoying barriers to battery removal. I only recently realized that one could replace the battery in a SodaStream Source, for example. I can’t say how I thought the little water droplet lights on the front lit up without a battery, but such is the way of Migraine Middle products. Without the battery, the device still works, because it is essentially a gasket enclosure for a bottle and a valve you open up by pushing down on it. But you might never think of the battery when disposing of it.

When I went to dispose of an even older (at least 20 years old) Norelco electric razor recently, I sought to remove its battery before chucking it out. I couldn’t find a manual, but none was really needed. It took some light prying, the removal of 8 Torx screws (thanks, Pro Tech Toolkit!), and the snapping of some lightly soldered connectors, but I got the battery out.

You can see, though, why way too many of these types of batteries are endangering the earth, and waste workers. As Earth 911 points out, an electric toothbrush is many different materials that should, ideally, be recycled separately: a plastic case, metal motor and wires, a circuit board, and the battery. The same goes for razors. If it wasn’t such a tricky item to properly dispose of, you wouldn’t see multiple search-driven blog posts about how to recycle them. Colgate wouldn’t have partnered with TerraCycle to recycle them (in Australia) if it was a simple task.

So, what should you do if you really have to get rid of a shaver or toothbrush? Remove the battery, and pull out the circuit board and motor if you can. If you can’t get the battery out, dispose of the whole device as e-waste. Use Earth911, Call2Recycle, or your local government to find the best way to dispose of the battery, circuit board, or whole device. Recycle the plastic, if you can separate it (you might have to know your local recycler), or dispose of it with as little circuitry inside as possible.

Device Page

Electric Toothbrush

Repair guides and support for battery-powered toothbrushes.

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But the best move is to replace the battery and keep using your device. The core technology of razors and toothbrushes is a battery that powers a vibration motor, and it really hasn’t improved much in decades. I can confirm this, because I have taken apart two electric razors in the past month. Inside, they are a circuit board, a battery, and a few twiddly motors. If the main issue with your razor or toothbrush is a weak battery, consider how much you’re willing to pay to get a brand-new, state-of-the-art … stick that shakes razors or bristles back and forth, just like your old model did.

Device Page

Razor

Repair guides and support for electric shavers, disposable razors and blades, and straight razors, for both men and women.

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I replaced the battery in the razor, and intend to replace the toothbrush battery soon. We have a guide on replacing the battery in a Braun Series 7 shaver, and, if you have the right screwdriver, it’s simply a matter of keeping track of the screws. The necessary battery can easily be found online. Oral B batteries (which we sell!) are soldered to their compartments. If you’re dead set on getting rid of your toothbrush, you can just rip the battery out—just don’t use metal tools and try to avoid the connection points. Installing a new battery is going to be a quirky soldering project for a future weekend, but it’s not a particularly tricky job.

Whatever you decide, please help us keep one more tiny battery out of garbage compactors and ultimately out of the earth. Besides making the world better and keeping critical workers safe, you’ll get to see how yet another object on this earth works, up close. It might fill your morning routine with a tiny bit more wonder.