The company is refurbishing over 7.8 million devices and recycling over 48,000 metric tons of e-waste according to its 2018 environmental report released this week.
It is recycling a range of materials including aluminium, cobalt, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, tungsten and zinc, using a robot system called Daisy to dismantle iPhones and Macbooks.
“A limited supply of recycled cobalt is available on the market for use in batteries like ours, not because recyclers lack the ability to recover cobalt, but because many recyclers don’t have enough scrap sources, like batteries,” said Lisa Jackson, Vice President, Environment, Policy & Social Initiatives at Apple. “So we set out to find new sources of scrap for our recyclers, starting with our own supply chain. We began sending iPhone batteries recovered from Daisy, Apple’s iPhone disassembly robot, to our upstream recycler in Apple’s battery supply chain.”
After a successful pilot program, battery and final assembly suppliers now send Apple’s battery scrap to recyclers for batteries of new Apple products. The recycling helps reduce the cost of the batteries, as cobalt is in demand for electric vehicles.
Elements like neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are used in magnets for audio applications, in cameras, and in haptics technology. Traditional recycling doesn’t recover these rare earth elements as they are used in small quantities and technology has not advanced sufficiently to recover them. However, Daisy recovers the small components that contain rare earth elements from the iPhone and this creates an opportunity for new technology to recycle these materials.
Next: Recycling aluminium
Aluminium is a large proportion of many of Apple’s devices, but the process uses a lot of carbon. In 2108, 100,000 devices yielded 1.5 tonnes of the metal for recycling, and a joint venture between Alcoa and Rio Tinto will commercialise patented technology that eliminates direct greenhouse gas emissions from the traditional smelting process used to produce the metal.
Apple says it helped accelerate the development of this technology and has partnered with both aluminium companies, and the governments of Canada and Quebec, to collectively invest a combined $144m (128m) to future research and development.
“Apple is committed to advancing technologies that are good for the planet and help protect it for generations to come. We are proud to be part of this ambitious new project, and look forward to one day being able to use aluminium produced without direct greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing of our products,” said Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.
The recycled aluminium will be used across the range of electronic devices. “Our launch of the new MacBook Air and Mac Mini with enclosures made from 100% recycled aluminium was just the beginning,” said Jackson.
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