Apple has pledged to one day manufacture its iPhones and other devices entirely from recycled materials, as it looks to reduce its use of on “conflict minerals” and other environmentally damaging resources.
Publishing its annual Environmental Responsibility report on Wednesday, Apple said it wanted to “one day stop mining the earth altogether”.
“It sounds crazy, but we’re working on it,” Apple said in the report. “We’re moving toward a closed-loop supply chain. One day we’d like to be able to build new products with just recycled materials, including your old products.”
However, Apple’s head of environmental policy, Lisa Jackson, has admitted that the company does not yet know when or even how it will achieve this goal.
“We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” Ms Jackson, a former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said in an interview with Vice News, broadcast on Wednesday evening.
As a first step, Apple hopes to encourage more of its consumers to return their iPhones when they upgrade to a new handset, as it ramps up its own recycling capabilities. Its in-house disassembly process, featuring a machine it designed called “Liam”, can currently take apart up to 2.4m phones a year. The company sold 75m iPhones in its the quarter ending in December 2016 alone.
“It’s an experiment in recycling technology that’s teaching us a lot, and we hope this kind of thinking will inspire others in our industry,” Apple said in its report.
Apple already uses 100 per cent recycled tin for the main logic board of its iPhone 6S and it is “experimenting with ways” to recover cobalt from its devices’ lithium-ion batteries, it said.
The electronics industry has faced criticism from human rights organisations over its extensive use of so-called conflict minerals, including tin and cobalt, mined from sites controlled by violent militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nearby areas.
In a recent report on the environmental impact of smartphones, Greenpeace estimated that in 2014, less than 16 per cent of global e-waste was recycled while “much of the rest likely went to landfill or incinerators, or was exported”.
“The intricate design of smartphones presents a particular challenge for safe and efficient recycling,” Greenpeace said of the industry in general. “The current production and consumption model for most electronics remains inherently unsustainable, relying on finite materials, extracted and processed using chemically intensive processes and dirty energy to make short-lived products, designed for obsolescence.”
Apple’s latest environmental report shows that 96 per cent of the electricity used in its global facilities, such as offices and retail stores, came from renewable energy, up from 93 per cent a year ago and 60 per cent in 2012. It is also pushing its suppliers to use more renewable power.
“Apple is the only major smartphone manufacturer who has committed to extend its commitment to be 100 per cent renewably powered to its product supply chain,” Greenpeace said in its report earlier this year.