Apple envisions a future in which it sources all minerals in its products from recovered electronics, according to the company’s recently released environmental responsibility report.
The report, released last week, describes the company’s efforts to move toward a closed loop system. It also provides a highlight of its current goals and progress.
Pushing toward that goal will come one material at a time, according to the report.
In assessing which materials were most important to focus on first, Apple looked at the “global environmental, social, and supply risk factors spanning the life of each material.” The company used that data in conjunction with information on its internal operations, such as how much of each material is used and what might be most realistic to target.
That led staff to identify aluminum as a focus material. But when examining their aluminum recycling needs, the company realized the only source with high enough aluminum quality was its own recycled products, because it specifies such a high grade for its products.
The company determined “the only way to keep aluminum at this level of quality is to keep a clean material stream – not to mix it with existing scrap aluminum, which is what typically happens at recycling facilities. Our challenge is to recover the aluminum from our products without degrading its quality,” the report said.
That means the company shies away from the standard recycling stream and, instead, encourages customers to recycle their used products through Apple’s in-house recycling program. Inventions like “Liam,” the company’s iPhone-dismantling robot, keep the dismantling process also within the company.
After that, some of the components are harvested for materials and then go back into new Apple products. Others, such as iPhone 6 main logic boards, are sent elsewhere for the recovery of materials such as tin, which is not often recovered.
Apple’s progress has taught the company “a lot about how to create closed loop supply chains,” according to the report.
“For some materials, sourcing recycled content will be sufficient as long as we ensure the same amount is recovered, recycled, and put back on the market,” the report stated. “Where recycled content isn’t available at the desired quality, we can drive improvements in recycling technologies and a tighter closed loop – such as using material from old Apple devices to build new ones. And when there are materials for which recycling technologies don’t yet exist, we’ll need to invest in research and other technology solutions.”