Apple sets new targets for recycled metals and minerals including cobalt

Pictured: Apple's 'Daisy' recycling robot

The US-based tech behemouth has this week stated that it will be possible for it to eliminate virgin cobalt from all Apple-designed batteries by 2025. Last year, around one-quarter of all cobalt used in Apple products was recycled, up from 13% in 2021.

Apple has attributed this uptick in recycled cobalt use – and believes further accelerated adoption of the material is possible – due to improvements in its recycling technologies and processes. For example, Apple’s own iPhone disassembly robot, Daisy, has enabled more than 11,000kg of cobalt ot be recovered from smartphone batteries in less than three years.

Apple has also worked with partner organisations to deploy high-tech solutions to help identify cobalt and other key metals and minerals in iPhone taptic engines and inside tablets, laptops and computers. One such solution involves using projectors that stream augmented reality (AR) guides to disassembling MacBooks and iPads onto work surfaces.

As the world becomes more digitized and as the electric vehicle (EV) market grows, demand for cobalt is expected to at least quadruple by 2030, at which point demand for virgin cobalt will outstrip supply. As such, efforts are needed to create a more circular economy for cobalt.

Moreover, in procuring recycled cobalt, companies can mitigate some of the ethical and environmental risks associated with the virgin cobalt supply chain. Cobalt is toxic to touch and to breathe in, making mining dangerous in locations with low levels of regulation and high levels of forced labour, like the DRC.

Apple has been publishing a list of all cobalt refiners in its supply chain since 2016, to this end. It was the first tech company to make this move.

Beyond cobalt

As well as setting the new recycled cobalt target for 2025, Apple has also pledged to only used recycled rare earth elements in magnets by the same deadline. At present, 73% of the rare earths used by Apple are from recycled sources, up from 45% in 2021.

Additionally, all Apple-designed circuit boards will be switched to 100% recycled tin soldering and recycled gold plating by 2025. Recycled gold is already used in the main logic board of iPhone 13s, all camera wires on iPhone 14s, and in the circuit boards of iPads, Apple Watches, Macbook pros, Mac Mini’s and Airpods Pros.

“Our ambition to one day use 100% recycled and renewable materials in our products works hand in hand with Apple 2030: our goal to achieve carbon-neutral products by 2030,” said Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives Lisa Jackson. “We’re working toward both goals with urgency and advancing innovation across our entire industry in the process.”

Apple’s climate targets were updated in 2020. More recently, in October 2022, the business issued new guidance for decarbonisation to suppliers.

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