Apple aims to make all its gadgets from recycled material, but doesn’t know how yet

Credit: arstechnica.com


Enlarge / In the future, parts from old iPhones could be used to build new ones. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)



Today Apple released its Environmental Responsibility Report (PDF) for the 2016 fiscal year, detailing the progress of the company's environmental initiatives and laying out some of its goals for the future. Apple remains committed to reducing its carbon footprint (down 23 percent from 2015), pushing its suppliers to use renewable energy (96 percent of Apple's own global facilities are renewable energy-powered), investing in wind and solar power, and in reducing the energy used to create its products and the energy the products themselves use. The report also talks at length about Apple Park (née spaceship), which it calls "the greenest corporate headquarters on the planet."


The most interesting of Apple's goals for the future is a stated desire to manufacture 100 percent of its devices out of recycled materials rather than mining new materials and throwing out used materials. Apple calls this a "closed loop supply chain."



A simple visualization of Apple's "closed loop." (credit: Apple)



The day that aspiration becomes reality may yet be far in the future, though. Apple has started some pilot projects, including using aluminum reclaimed from old iPhone 6 models to make Mac Minis for iPhone assembly lines, and using 100 percent recycled tin in logic boards for the iPhone 6S. Scale is the primary challenge. Apple's "Liam" robots, used to dismantle phones and sort their components to increase the number and quality of components that can be reclaimed, are currently capable of dismantling 2.4 million phones a year, a number far, far lower than what Apple sells. For aluminum in particular (probably Apple's single most-used material across all its product lines), the company says it's important that Apple's own high-quality aluminum not be mixed in with lower-quality scrap aluminum during the recycling process, as is currently common practice at recycling facilities.

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