Apple seems to want the public to perceive it as an environmentally-conscious entity, as evidenced by the company's recently published Environmental Responsibility Report. But as it turns out, they may be hindering recyclers from salvaging old iPhones and Macs by ordering the devices to be shredded instead.
Motherboard found that Apple has a penchant for turning their devices into shards of glass and metal. Instead of letting recycling companies reuse the parts, which would be the logical (and more environmentally-friendly) thing to do, the remnants are "shredded into commodity-sized fractions of metals, plastics, and glass."
Quoting an internal document obtained by Motherboard, there is "No reuse. No parts harvesting. No resale" in Apple's "recycling" process. To be fair, though, Apple's "commodity-sized" quote indicates that the shredded bits of metal and glass are then sold, presumably to recycling companies.
On that front, Motherboard points out that Apple uses third-party contractors to recycle e-waste on their behalf — namely SIMS Recycling Solutions, ECS Refining, and Metech Recycling. Agreements in place give Apple the final say over what is scrapped and what is recycled.
We're presuming that the tech giant has ordered the shredding for data and brand protection purposes. The crux of the matter is that, despite their environmentally-friendly intentions, user privacy takes precedence over recycling. Beyond that, it's possible that Apple simply doesn't want other parties building iPhones out of second-hand parts.
The news comes after Apple unveiled Renew, a recycling program which encourages customers to return their old products in exchange for an Apple gift card, at a lower value than they would sell for on the open market, according to Motherboard.
Furthermore,Apple has vowed to not to use metals and toxic rare-earth materials to manufacture their devices. This was evident in their environmental report, which read:
We're going deeper to pioneer a closed-loop supply chain, where products are made using only renewable resources or recycled material to reduce the need to mine materials from the earth. That means continuing to invest in ways to recover materials from our products—like Liam, our line of disassembly robots—and encouraging our customers to return products through Apple Renew, our recycling program. And we're launching projects and experiments that help us learn how to close loops. For example, we've melted down iPhone 6 aluminum enclosures recovered from Liam to make Mac mini computers for use in our factories, and we're transitioning to 100 percent recycled tin solder on the main logic board of iPhone 6s.
However, this aim is not reality just yet, as Lisa Jackson, Apple's VP of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives told Vice. Jackson admitted that the company was "nervous" about the revelation, considering it was "announcing a goal before we've completely figured out how to do it."
Apple has its sights set high on the environmentally-conscious scale: They want their global facilities to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy, according to their 2017 report. Apple says 96 percent of their corporate facilities were powered in this way last year.
As it stands, Apple's environmental aspirations are certainly commendable, but whether they can eliminate the mining aspect of phone production (which is notorious for labor abuse and water pollution) remains to be seen.