Apple Expands Recycling Efforts With Gold, Tungsten And Other Elements in Its Products

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Apple’s 1st generation recycling robot, Liam, was designed to disassemble iPhones.


James Martin/CNET

Apple on Tuesday announced it’s taken more steps toward its efforts to make its products from recycled materials with expanded efforts to reuse gold, tungsten, cobalt and other elements. Overall, Apple said nearly 20% of all materials used in its products last year were recycled, its highest-ever amount.

As part of its regular environmental progress report, published ahead of Earth Day on April 22, Apple announced that more than half of the aluminum shipped in its products came from recycled sources, and that “many products” now use 100% recycled aluminum for their enclosures. The tech giant also said 30% of the tin in its products was recycled, noting that all the tin used to solder the main logic boards of the newest iPhones, iPads, AirPods and Macs was recycled.

Apple also said it expanded, for the first time, its recycling program to include gold captured from logic boards and wires in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro.

“There is no part of Apple this work does not reach,” Apple VP of Environment, Policy and Social initiatives Lisa Jackson said in a statement as part of the company’s announcement, citing progress toward the company’s efforts to achieve “carbon neutrality for our entire footprint” by 2030. “The details here matter, because they add up to meaningful, substantive progress in our work for the planet.”

The tech giant’s latest announcements are part of its ongoing efforts to remake how it creates its popular products, and during a time of record demand. Apple for years has highlighted green initiatives, including environmental report cards for each of its products, dating back to the iPhone 3G, released in 2008, and MacBooks released in 2009

Apple isn’t alone making environmental pledges, though it is among the most public about its efforts. Samsung spent its keynote address during the CES Consumer Electronics Show this January, pledging its TVs and appliances will be packed with recycled materials by 2025. Samsung has also joined other tech companies, including Apple, in offering at-home repairs, including by selling parts and tools online.

In recent years, Apple’s sought to stand out, announcing green initiatives for its supply chain partners, in addition to its carbon neutrality pledge. The company’s also invited press and competitors to view its various recycling technologies. That includes publicly disclosing automated robots it’s designed to help disassemble iPhones that can no longer be refurbished, recapturing glass, metals and other elements that otherwise would likely end up in a landfill.

The first of those machines was called Liam, announced in 2016 and designed to work with the iPhone 6. Daisy, another robot announced in 2018, recycled up to 200 iPhones per hour. When Apple invited CNET to its Austin, Texas facilities three years ago to see how the 33-foot long machine worked, Daisy could deconstruct any of 15 iPhone models, from 2012’s iPhone 5 to 2018’s iPhone XS. Apple said Tuesday the machine can now take apart 23 models of iPhones. The company also has a robot called Dave, which disassembles Taptics Engines, the technology that generates vibrations for alerts and other apps in our devices.

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Shredded materials at Apple’s lab in Austin, Texas.


James Martin/CNET

The company’s latest robot, announced Tuesday, is Taz. Apple said Taz uses “shredder-like technology” to separate magnets from audio modules and recover other rare earth elements.

As part of celebrating Earth Day, Apple said it will donate $1 to the World Wildlife Fund for each purchase made with Apple Pay on its website, in the Apple Store app or at its App Store this week through Friday.

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