Apple Aims to Create Products From Recycled Materials

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-03 08:37

Large-scale mining that produce raw materials for electronic devices can have quite an impact on the environment.
[Photo by Sebastian Pichler]

In honor of the annual Earth Day celebrations, Apple announced its intent to use 100% recycled materials to produce their electronic devices. In the future, the company plans on ceasing to to mine the earth for metals and rare earth materials to use in their products.

The United Nations University released a report earlier this year stating that the world recycled only less than 16% of e-waste. E-waste is the catch-all term for electronic devices that are no longer useful.

On April 21, Apple released its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report for the 2016 fiscal year. In the report, the company detailed its plans to reduce its carbon footprint. It also plans on encouraging its suppliers to use renewable energy. The company aims to reduce the energy necessary for manufacturing Apple products, as well as the energy the products use.

To make the use of recycled materials in production possible, Apple plans on closing its supply chain loop. Currently, the supply chain looks like this: raw materials go through processing, manufacturing turns materials into products, products go to consumers, and products finally become e-waste. This process repeats every time the company produces products from raw materials.

The Plan for Recycled Materials

To close the loop, Apple wants to completely cut out the use of raw materials and the generation of e-waste. The process becomes a cycle rather than a linear chain. Old products turn into materials that can go through manufacturing again and produce new products.

The foremost reason behind Apple's initiative is the company's awareness of how its manufacturing is affecting the planet. This initiative is Apple's way of contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. Apple is also aware that the planet's resources are finite. Come to think of it, mining raw materials when the same materials are sitting in landfills does seem to be wasteful.

However, the use of 100% recycled materials may be somewhat far off in the future. Even Apple admits that it's still not that sure about how to achieve their goals. The scale of the project, for one thing, seems quite challenging.

Apple uses “Liam” robots that can take devices apart and sort the components for reclamation. However, the robots are presently capable of dismantling just 2.4 million phones a year. Apple sells far more units than that each year. Thus, if Apple wants to produce devices entirely from recycled materials, they need to have the equipment and set up for their plans to work.

The Future of Tech Manufacturing

Apple has a noble goal, and it's one that other manufacturing giants might want to look into emulating. The problem is that even Apple still doesn't completely know how to go about making their goals a reality.

It's also quite unlike Apple to announce plans that they don't completely know how to accomplish. However, the company thinks that it's important to lay out the direction that they think technology should go. With Apple's position and reputation in the tech industry, the use of recycled materials has the potential of influencing other companies to do the same thing. Climate change and global waste are real threats, so perhaps the near future is the time for large-scale changes that will be better for the planet.

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