Potential recycling opportunity in Apple announcement

Potential recycling opportunity in Apple announcement

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

Apple CEO Tim Cook's announcement that the company would invest $100 million to bring some manufacturing back to the U.S. in 2013, could mean an uptick in business for e-scrap recycling firms.

Speaking with Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook said the insourcing of some manufacturing would specifically apply to the company's Mac line of desktop and laptop computers. While the company is infamously secretive when it comes to products and manufacturing processes, some common industry benchmarks shed some light on the amount of electronic waste generated by the manufacturing process.

Several sources, speaking with E-Scrap News, say that modern computer manufacturing generates approximately 0.5-1.0 pounds of waste per pound of finished computer product. Additionally, defective units identified during quality-assurance testing, or returned by purchasers, typically account for 2-3 percent of the total units produced. According to Gartner, Apple shipped 5.63 million Mac units in the U.S. market during the first three quarters of 2012.

However, some are cautious to make precise predictions on what, specifically, Apple's move to bring some manufacturing back to the U.S. will mean for recycling.

"In general, one has to expect the various parts to come from other regions, and then assembled and augmented with OS and software," says David Daoud, of the market research firm IDC.  "So in terms of environmental impact, it may be less of an effect here in the U.S., and given companies' need to contain cost, there will be greater emphasis on waste reduction and more on optimization."

While the investment dwarfs the $9.5 billion Apple spent on manufacturing in its most recent fiscal year, some speculate the pilot project is part of a growing insourcing trend. Chinese OEM Lenovo, for instance, recently announced it would expand its North Carolina distribution center into a manufacturing facility, employing 115 local workers. Other companies, such as GE, are also discovering that the savings from outsourcing manufacturing to Asia are substantially reduced by higher quality-control, logistics and workforce training costs.

Apple's primary manufacturing partner Foxconn is also rumored to be considering manufacturing operations in Detroit or Los Angeles, and component supplier Samsung already produces chips used by Apple at a facility in Texas.

"It's not known well that the [processor] for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S., and many of these are also exported. The glass is made in Kentucky," explained Cook in the Bloomberg interview. "And next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac. We've been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it's broader because we wanted to do something more substantial."

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