Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sonicare Tossed for want of $5 Batteries

Made in China is bad enough, but tossing an expensive toothbrush because a couple of standard, AA Nickel Cadmium batteries have died, seems an absolute waste.

My wonderful Philips Sonicare died recently - the battery life between charges declined until a night in the charger wouldn't produce 2 minutes of brushing time.

So I searched to see if anyone had figured out how to replace the battery; I thought it would be fairly simple, especially after I discovered that the toothbrush uses standard AA batteries.

Well, it's possible to replace, if you have the correct tools and the skill to do it... But most people won't have the Dremel, soldering equipment, or the interest in performing what appears to be a somewhat complex operation.

Here's what Philips has to say on the official Sonicare Site:

"The batteries inside your Sonicare Elite toothbrush can't be replaced, but is easily removed for recycling. At the end of product life, and prior to disposal, remove the battery from the handle and dispose them in accordance with your local recycling program."

So Philips, who've made the batteries difficult to access (they aren't as simple to get to as Philips implies), expect us to recycle them. These batteries should be recycled - they are NiCad (Nickel-Cadmium), and Cadmium is a heavy metal, and considered to be quite toxic. The batteries need to be disposed of properly, and since I doubt that a recycle depot will accept the whole toothbrush, anyone who has bought one is going to have to pull it apart.

So why did Philips use a battery that has less power than a NiMH (Nicklel Metal Hydride) battery, that contains a toxic heavy metal, and that is prone to develop a "memory" that diminishes the battery's capacity? And why aren't they replaceable (or at least easy to recycle)? Most likely to sell more toothbrushes. Not content with a $10-$15 replacement brush, Philips has decided that every 4-6 years, you should buy a whole new unit, and thanks to a crappy battery that can't be replaced, that's exactly what a lot of people will end up doing.

I emailed this to Philips (in light of Philips claiming they were a "green" company), but the response I got back was just a re-iteration of my original email - a clever way to respond without having to actually say anything. Here's the email I received:

"Thank you for your email to Philips Customer Care.

We received your comments about the information stated on the link that you provided which is You mentioned that it indicates that Philips is a green company. You said that that doesn't hold much water, considering the battery can't be replaced and the unit needs to be tossed once the flimsy NiCAD battery fails. You stated that you don't like the idea of tossing and repurchasing products when an easily exchangeable part stops working. You also said that this seems like planned obsolence and a cash-grab. You mentioned that you will get something else to replace your now dead Sonicare. We understand your frustrations and we apologize for the inconvenience you encountered as a result of this issue. Your concern will be forwarded to the appropriate department. This will be taken in consideration for us to improve our service. "

I've done some minor edits on the above post to correct the grammar; the person replying either failed to re-read their reply, or doesn't speak English as their primary language (outsourcing customer service).

So... I've bought a Braun/Oral B Vitality Sonic toothbrush for $25. It has a battery that is easily removed (and replaced if you don't mind soldering). It's not as good as a Sonicare, but I couldn't give more money to Philips in good conscience.

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