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Apple's 'Rigid and Exacting' Recycling Processes Focus on the 'After-Life of an iPhone'

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Original poster
Apr 12, 2001
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In a new article posted yesterday by Bloomberg, interesting details have been shared about one of Apple's secretive iPhone recycling plants. Detailing the "after-life of an iPhone," the piece focuses on the plant located in an industrial park in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district and run by Apple contractor Li Tong Group, whose sole purpose is the deconstruction and recycling of iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

A few unnamed sources described Apple's recycling process as "the most rigid and exacting" when compared to other technology companies like HP and Microsoft. Apple typically exceeds the industry benchmark of collecting and recycling 70 percent of the devices produced seven years prior, according to Lisa Jackson, environmental affairs lead at Apple. It's known to reach marks as high as 85 percent.

"I think people expect it of us, I think our customers hold us to a high standard," Jackson said by phone from the company's Cupertino headquarters. "It's difficult, because these are incredibly complex pieces of product."
That standard would put the company currently allocating the equivalent of 9 million units of the iPhone 3GS from 2009. The yearly growth of the iPhone, subsequently resulting in more devices to churn in the future, has helped Li Tong Group grow as well, with the company expecting to open a new facility in San Francisco soon. The plant in Hong Kong currently holds about 300 employees.

The exact process of deconstructing the iPhone "is remarkably similar to Apple's production model, only in reverse," after users trade in or recycle an old iPhone at one of Apple's own retail stores or online. Unlike other companies who salvage certain components to aid in the repair of broken devices, Apple has "a full-destruction policy."

The recycling process is so specific to Apple that any iPhone scrap can't intermingle with another brand's devices, which is why the recyclers build dedicated facilities for the Cupertino-based company. Apple also regards the process as a step in increased safety, since it's getting potentially hazardous materials out of the hands of those in the public at risk during an unauthorized deconstruction.

Graphic via Bloomberg

Apple pays for the service and owns every gram, from the used phone at the start to the pile of dust at the end, said Linda Li, chief strategy officer for Li Tong. The journey, consisting of about 10 steps, is controlled, measured and scripted through vacuum-sealed rooms that are designed to capture 100 percent of the chemicals and gasses released during the process, she said.
The process helps Apple avoid an abundance of counterfeit products flooding secondary markets. It's also another environmentally conscious feather in Apple's cap, siphoning the hazardous material within an iPhone into repurposed reincarnations like aluminum or glass tiles. "There's an e-waste problem in the world," Jackson said. "If we really want to leave the world better than we found it, we have to invest in ways to go further than what happens now."

Check out Bloomberg's full report on the Hong Kong recycling plant for more details on the process.

Article Link: Apple's 'Rigid and Exacting' Recycling Processes Focus on the 'After-Life of an iPhone'
 

H2SO4

macrumors 601
Nov 4, 2008
4,758
5,867
It’s ironic and a bit of a quandary for a big business like Apple that whilst releasing a new model at least every year to entice customers, (I know they don’t have to buy), that they focus the most on the last item in the chain of, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
 
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nortofthe13th

macrumors member
Jan 3, 2014
64
118
This is actually quite impressive.
We know consumers want the latest and greatest, and companies want to make them. This is a fantastic way to show responsibility for the waste that this cycle inevitably creates. And to that I say, well done.
 
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dBeats

macrumors 6502a
Jun 21, 2011
636
214
Can the iFixIt guys now stop whining and just post awesome teardowns?
 
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iPhD

macrumors member
Jun 22, 2007
66
64
Apple owns every gram, including the pile of dust at the end.


iDust. Revolutionary. Visionary.
 
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Turnpike

macrumors 6502
Oct 2, 2011
435
266
New York City!
I don't care who you are, or what industry you're in (as long as it's manufacturing), if you read the full Bloomberg article and understand most of it, you HAVE to say that's pretty impressive. This kind of program makes me like Apple as a brand even more, and this kind of thoroughness makes me like Apple as a stock even more.
 
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dontwalkhand

macrumors 603
Jul 5, 2007
5,583
1,755
Phoenix, AZ
I'm kind of saddened by this as some of the phones still worked, and they crush it to smithereens. I feel the same way when I see good cars get crushed under the crusher or that mess of a cash for clunkers program.

I'd rather they sell the items at a discount than crush it. Only crush the true broken ones. Imagine all of those android phones that people recycled at Apple and Apple deemed it worth no value- even though it worked just fine. Or say an iPhone 4S
 
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Zaqfalcon

macrumors 6502
Mar 22, 2010
361
138
Ha! As if some kind of magical magnet can extract and sort all the many heterogeneous components in the iPhone dust into separate materials for re-use. This would be an incredibly complex process consisting of a massive variety of screening and separating processes.

I would very interested to know how much of the end materials end up as 'Hazardous waste stored at a licensed facility' ie landfills, 'other extracted materials such as gold and copper' and 'reincarnated as aluminium window frames, furniture and glass tiles'.

Good on Apple for putting effort into this serious waste management space.
 
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Sharewaredemon

Contributor
May 31, 2004
1,983
177
Cape Breton Island
It’s ironic and a bit of a quandary for a big business like Apple that whilst releasing a new model at least every year to entice customers, (I know they don’t have to buy), that they focus the most on the last item in the chain of, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Growing up I was taught RRR but now in my experience it seems everyone has forgotten what reduce and reuse mean.
 
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