By using more recycled materials and extracting many more reusable materials from its end-of-life products, Apple has set itself the goal since 2017 of relying only on this type of material in all of its products.
Ahead of the Earth Day celebration on April 22, Apple is providing an update on its initiatives to achieve this goal of products made exclusively from recycled materials. With the absolute aim of creating a virtuous circle where the products withdrawn from service are used to manufacture the next ones.
Before even talking about dismantling, there is the reconditioned product sector. Depending on the country, the choice and variety of ranges offered in this section of the Apple Store are more or less extensive. In 2021, this represented 12.2 million products sold to new owners who preferred them to new. It’s welcome but it’s still a drop in the bucket.
In terms of materials, we know that Apple has long been fond of aluminum. In 2021, more than half (59%) employed in the manufacture of its products came from recycling processes. Some products use this variety 100%, especially for their frame. In its previously published environmental report, Mac mini, MacBook Air, all iPads and the latest 14 and 16 “MacBook Pros as well as Apple Watch SE and Series 7 were classified in this second category.
Ecology: future Apple products will use “green” aluminum
Plastic is also in the viewfinder. The protective films of the iPhone 13 boxes have disappeared. However, even on a newly arrived product, this is not yet in order. This is the case of the iPhone SE 2022 whose screen, when you open its box, remains covered with a plastic film while a film of paper covers those of the iPhone 12 and 13. By 2025, Apple promises to remove all plastic from its packaging. In 2021, this presence amounted to 4%. A long way has been traveled since since 2015, Apple says it has reduced this share by 75% in its packaging.
Other recycled materials have seen their proportion increase in the last year in the manufacture of products. Recycled rare earths, for example, accounted for 45%, as opposed to 55% coming directly from mining. The iPhone 12 was an exception when it was released, with 98% of the rare earths it contains coming from recycling. These minerals are found in the speakers, in the Taptic Engine, the camera modules or in the microphones. Gold from recycling channels entered Apple products in 2021 through the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro. It is used for the plating of the motherboards of these phones and the cabling of the front and rear cameras.
At the other end of the chain, when the customer has parted with his product, it is necessary to recover as many recyclable components and materials as possible. For a ton of disassembled iPhone components, Apple claims to be able to recover a volume of gold and copper equivalent to what the extraction of 2,000 tons of earth and ores would have generated.
The Daisy robot was designed to automate iPhone disassembly before sorting its components. The 15 phone models supported by the machine have increased to 23. Daisy can handle ranges from iPhone 5 to 13.
However, this robot only manages a fraction of the iPhones withdrawn from the market. In its press release, Apple speaks of a maximum currently of 1.2 million phones per year. And in her previous report, she explained again that Daisy works mainly in the Netherlands, with iPhones collected from telephone operators or sellers who take back old models against the purchase of a new one (another Daisy turns in the USA).
Daisy, Apple’s new robot that recycles the iPhone
Apple does not seem to be part of building armies of Daisy, in any case it has not expressed the intention. On the other hand, it offers free licenses of the inventions of this robot to companies or researchers who would like to develop their own disassembly chain. Daisy is not the only one to skin iPhones, her companion Dave helps her sort out some reusable materials like tungsten from the Taptic Engine.
A third thief has been added to this device: Taz the grinder. It is designed to recover more rare earths and better separate magnets from audio modules than more conventional grinders for electronic devices. Taz is in test, after a collaboration of Apple with a Texas company specialized in the recovery of materials.
Apple also spoke in its report of semi-automated machines or custom-designed tools to help, for example, in the dismantling of AirPods cases. The latter remain in the shadow of the progress made by Apple to disassemble and recover internal parts or materials. In its 2021 report, Apple thus spoke of ongoing research to recover elements of its Pencil, another delicate accessory to disassemble but which does not sell in the same proportions as the AirPods.
This is the paradox of the situation, Apple must find ingenious and effective ways to disassemble devices which it led the design from A to Z and extract the most valuable elements.
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