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Apple vows to scrap mining and start using 100% recycled materials

Apple has released its 2017 Environment Responsibility Report just two days before the world celebrates Earth Day.

In the report, which covers the 2016 fiscal year, Apple pledged to one day stop mining the earth for rare minerals and metals and to start using 100 percent recycled materials for its products.

To achieve this lofty goal, Apple says that is working on a “closed-loop supply chain”, in which products are built using only renewable resources or recycled materials.

Although Apple is unsure exactly how it will make good on its vow, it has begun by encouraging its customers to recycle old devices through a program called “Apple Renew”. On top of that, the company is piloting new recycling techniques that use disassembly robots to put reclaimed materials into new products.

Apple has named the disassembly robots “Liam”, and claims that they can take apart 2.4 million phones a year, recovering resources such as aluminium, tungsten and cobalt.

Apple's Liam

Liam in action.

Since each material is different, Apple has created different schemes for them. Reclaimed Aluminium from iPhone 6’s, for example, has already made its way into Mac mini computers.

“We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives and a former head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, told VICE News.“So we’re a little nervous, but we also think it’s really important, because as a sector we believe it’s where technology should be going.”

Apple’s environmental scorecard for last year is pretty impressive.

In 2016, 96 percent of the electricity used in Apple’s global facilities came from renewable energy, reducing the company’s carbon emissions by over half a million metric tonnes.

When feasible, Apple produces its own renewable for energy, such as the 17-megawatt rooftop solar installation that sits atop of the newly designed Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino.

In cases where it is unable to build such facilities, Apple, like Google, purchases renewable energy from nearby sources, offsetting its emissions.

As well as devices and power consumption, packaging is also on the agenda. In 2016, Apple used 131,000 tonnes of fiber, of which 62 percent was recycled, 38 percent was virgin fiber from responsibly managed sources and less than 1 percent was virgin fiber that did not comply with Apple’s sustainable specification.

Looking forward, Apple says that seven of its suppliers will be switching to 100% renewable energy by the end of 2018. It has also partnered with other organisations such as RE100 and ChemSec to drive clean energy initiatives and help achieve a toxic-free environment.

In an official response, Greenpeace praised Apple but called on the company, and its peers, to focus on building devices that last longer. Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook said:

Apple’s announcement comes less than a month after Samsung’s commitment to refurbish and recycle 4.3 million Galaxy Note 7s recalled worldwide, sending a strong signal to Samsung and the rest of the sector that much greater innovation is possible. While transitioning to 100% recycled materials is critical to reducing the sector’s footprint, it is also fundamental for Apple and other major IT companies to design products that last, are easy to repair, and recyclable at their end of life.

In addition to saving the Earth, research shows that consumers are “putting their money where their hearts are” and more likely to purchase goods and services from companies committed to social responsibility.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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