Design for recycling problems posed by new iPhones

Design for recycling problems posed by new iPhones

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

Design for the environment trends have resulted in the reduction or elimination of many hazardous substances, but as Apple's latest iPhones indicate, such changes do not always include designing products to be repairable or recyclable.

Product teardowns of the Cupertino, California giant's iPhone 5S and 5C by the online device repair guide iFixit reveal batteries glued to the product housing, which requires heat and prying to remove, rendering them extremely difficult to service or replace by technicians. By contrast, Apple's top rival in the smartphone market, Samsung, manufactures phones that are highly repairable according to iFixit, with the popular Galaxy line of phones designed with user-replaceable batteries and components that can be easily accessed by a repair technician.

Additionally, in the case of Apple's iPhone 5C, the polycarbonate body is bonded to a steel skeleton inside the phone, an approach that could cause separation issues if the phone is eventually recycled for material recovery.

Apple says its products have a 70 percent worldwide reuse and recycling rate, but the company is increasingly designing products with the assumption that they will be returned to Apple at the end-of-life stage. The company recently announced an expanded takeback program at Apple Stores, but the company has just over 400 of the retail locations worldwide.

Given the limited footprint of these locations, as well as the high value of refurbished and reconditioned iPhones on the secondary market, it is highly likely refurbishers and recycling firms will need to address the issues posed by Apple's design choices.

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