Apple reduces mining impact through recycled rare earth elements

Tech giant says its new iPhones prove rare earth materials can be recycled, contrary to conventional belief.

Apple is claiming to have developed the first smartphone to use 100 per cent recycled rare earths in its new iPhone.

A key component of its new models, the Taptic Engine, contains only recycled rare earth materials, representing around a quarter of the total rare earth elements used in a new iPhone.

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Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said the devices represented a major breakthrough for the sector.

“People said that you couldn’t use recycled rare earth materials, but our new iPhones prove you can,” she said in a statement.

The innovation is a step towards the company’s long term goal to make its products using only recycled and renewable materials. It has a strategy to create circular supply chains, and last year launched its “disassembly robot”, Daisy, to help streamline its recycling processes.

Daisy can take apart 1.2 million iPhones a year, and the company now has two in operation, in the US and the Netherlands. It also refurbishes iPhones, with more than 7.8 million devices undergoing treatment in 2018, avoiding more than 48,000 tonnes of electronic waste.

The latest Apple products also use more recycled metals than previously. For example, the enclosures for iPads and Apple Watches will be made with 100 per cent recycled aluminium for the first time. And from this year, aluminium recovered through the company’s trade-in programme is being melted into enclosures for the MacBook Air.

One hundred per cent recycled tin is also being used in the solder of the main logic boards of more than 15 different products, while recycled cobalt is being used in new batteries, it added.

Through reusing these materials, Apple claims it is avoiding the mining of more than 280,000 tonnes of bauxite, and more than 34,000 tonnes of tin ore over the next year.

The company also opened a materials recovery lab in Texas earlier this year, which will use robotics and machine learning to improve disassembly, sorting, and shredding of recovered phones.

Compiled by Roshna K.

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