On Wednesday, Apple announced that Apple’s new iPhones will use recycled rare earth elements in a key component. This company mentioned that it will use recycled rare earth in its “Taptic Engine,” which is a part that lets iPhones mimic a physical button click despite being a flat pane of glass. This part is about one-quarter of the rare earth elements inside the iPhone mode.
Rare earth which is a group of 17 specialized minerals has become a flashpoint in trade tensions between China and the United States. These elements are mainly used in weapons, consumer electronics, and other goods.
Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives mentioned that “Apple’s use of recycled rare earth was “not related” to trade tensions but could help it maintain a steady supply.
Jackson told Reuters that “This is one of those happy coincidences where what is good for the planet is really good for business at the same time. One of the things we talk about a lot internally, just in general, is how much more resilient this makes our supply chain.”
rare earth resides in tiny speakers and actuators In consumer electronics. The parts are so small that collecting them for recycling is difficult and expensive.
Currently, Apple is going to use recycled rare earth from an outside supplier and not from previously used iPhones. Apple rejected to name the supplier or mention what products the rare earth was recovered from, although Apple did say the source was post-industrial, meaning material generated during manufacturing processes rather than from discarded consumer products.
Jackson mentioned that “Apple’s scale – new iPhone models are typically sold tens of millions of units per year – helped make the project economically viable. We have essentially made a market for this entrepreneur, this innovator, who found a way to recycle rare earth,”
Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, mentioned that Apple’s move was a first for the industry. Rare earth elements aren’t being recycled from electronics right now, and that’s a huge problem — China has a stranglehold on the virgin material supply. This is a great idea — Apple could single-handedly create a hugely needed market for recycled rare earth.”
On Wednesday, Apple announced that “aluminum from enclosures recovered through its trade-in programs will be melted down and made into new MacBook Air laptop computers”. In the past, Apple disclosed that cobalt recovered from iPhone batteries disassembled by robots at its recycling labs in Texas is put into new iPhone batteries.
Currently, this company is experimenting with ways to recover rare earth from its phones by using its robots that can remove tiny parts and separate them into collection bins to aggregate enough material to make recycling viable.
Jackson also mentioned that “There are some innovations of ours that we actually want people to copy. So as much as possible – as long as it doesn’t give away some of our other design and engineering innovation – we are happy to bring along the recycling industry. We have started to be much more transparent around this technology development than we usually are.”