Apple sets sights on 100 per cent recycled iPhone

Apple has pledged to work towards using 100 per cent recycled materials in its products in the future and move to a closed-loop supply chain as it seeks to end its reliance on mining.

Apple sets sights on 100 per cent recycled iPhoneIn it annual environmental report, the global tech giant says it is learning about how to create closed-loop supply chains through investigations into materials and is seeking to improve recycling technologies where recycled content is not yet available at the required quality.

Speaking to Vice News, Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environment at Apple, said: “We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it. We’re a little nervous but I think it’s really important, because as a sector we believe it’s where technology should be going. We are committing as a company to not necessarily having to source from the earth for everything that we need.”

To begin with, Apple says it is working on getting more customers to recycle their old devices through its Apple Renew programme, allowing the company to recover used parts and materials that can then be reused.

Last year, the company unveiled ‘Liam’, a line of robots that can disassemble iPhone 6 models and recover components for reuse. There are currently two Liam lines in operation, one in California and one in the Netherlands, each capable of processing 1.2 million phones a year (for comparison, Apple sold 78.29 million phones in the first quarter of 2017).

Apple says it has created material risk profiles for each of the 44 elements used in its products, identifying environmental, social and supply risk factors across the life of each material. This has highlighted the need to work on supply chains for recycled aluminium, as well as tin and cobalt.

‘Ambitious’ commitment highlights mobile industry’s resource use problem

In response to Apple’s announcement, Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook said: “Apple’s commitment to 100 per cent recycled materials is ambitious, and highlights the need for greater urgency across the sector to reduce resource consumption and e-waste that are causing significant impacts on the environment and human health. 

“Transitioning to non-virgin raw materials will help to decrease the demand for mined metals and other inputs, and increase recycling rates of electronics directly.

“This commitment, and Apple’s recent progress in transitioning its supply chain in Asia to renewable energy, puts it far ahead of others in the sector. Major IT brands such as Samsung, Huawei, and Microsoft should quickly match Apple’s leadership, if they don’t want [to] risk falling even further behind.”

Apple’s announcement comes less than a month after Samsung’s commitment to refurbish and recycle 4.3 million Galaxy Note 7s recalled worldwide due to their propensity to explode.

In the UK, trials have been undertaken to boost the recovery of critical raw materials from electrical waste. Many consumer electronics contain small quantities of valuable materials like precious metals, graphite and cobalt, which are vital for the creation of electronic products but are diminishing in supply.

The Critical Raw Material Closed Loop Recovery project is exploring commercial opportunities for harvesting these critical raw materials and is aiming to increase the recovery of target CRMs by five per cent by 2020 and 20 per cent by 2030. 

Cook added: “While transitioning to 100 per cent recycled materials is critical to reducing the sector's footprint, it is also fundamental for Apple and other major IT companies to design products that last, are easy to repair, and recyclable at their end of life.”

Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Report 2017 can be read on the company’s website.

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