Apple vows to ‘pioneer’ closed-loop mining supply chain

Tech giant Apple has pledged to "go deeper" in developing new products that promote the circular economy by using only renewable resources or recycled materials that negate the need to mine materials.

Outlined in the firm’s 2017 sustainability report is a pledge to “one day stop mining the earth altogether”, as Apple seeks to introduce new products and operating techniques into the market.

Apple announced it is transitioning to 100% recycled tin on the main logic board of the iPhone 6s, while also using reclaimed aluminium to build new devices. The company is looking to recover cobalt from lithium-ion batteries used in the phones, the report stated.

“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,” a statement from the report reads. “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 programme.”

Liam, the aforementioned recycling robot, deconstructs old iPhones so that the various parts can be used for future devices and other products. This also includes the capability to melt down the minerals to create Mac mini computers used in iPhone assembly facilities.

For every 100,000 iPhone 6 devices produced, Liam can recover 1,900kg of Aluminium, 800kg of Copper, 0.3kg of Gold, 55kg of Tin, 550kg of Cobalt, and 24kg of Rare Earth Elements. Conflict minerals such as Tungsten and Tantalum can also be recovered.

Apple doesn’t necessarily need to recover as much tin, compared to aluminium, due to an existing market of recycled content. Major tin producers have today (21 April) agreed to new reporting requirements aimed at strengthening the supply chain credentials of the sector.

The company’s closed-loop approach extends to its packaging. Through a partnership with WWF, 320,000 acres of Chinese forest have been recommended for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

The recommendation forms part of a two-year forestry programme, which has protected or created enough sustainably-managed working forests to cover all of Apple’s product packaging requirements. In total, 99% of the paper used in Apple product packaging is from recycled or responsibly-managed sources.

Renewables round-up

Apple has been at the forefront of business involvement with renewable energy for some time, and the latest sustainability report touches on some important landmarks. In 2016, Apple revealed that 96% of its electricity used at global facilities was generated from renewable sources, reducing CO2 emissions by almost 585,000 metric tonnes in the process.

All of Apple’s data centres are powered by 100% renewables, and the company is classed as 100% renewable across 24 countries. In total, seven of Apple’s major suppliers are committed to running Apple manufacturing facilities on renewable energy by the end of 2018.

Last month, Apple announced that it had tripled the number of supplier sites listed in its energy-efficiency programme aimed at reducing onsite emissions, and has also introduced a “first-of-its-kind” risk assessment tool covering supply chain risks related to material sourcing, environmental impact and health and safety.

Matt Mace

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