Apple pushes the pace in the use of recycled materials
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Apple pushes the pace in the use of recycled materials

Translation: machine translated

Apple wants to use only recycled cobalt for the batteries in new iPhones, MacBooks and iPads by 2025. Ambitious targets have also been announced for other parts in devices bearing the Apple logo.

Cobalt is valuable. Cobalt is needed to build batteries - not only for smartphones, but also for electric cars. And cobalt is a trigger. The metal is in demand in the industry and, at a price of just under 40,000 dollars per tonne, is not exactly a bargain. Cobalt is sometimes mined under difficult conditions. Or to put it plainly: according to Unicef estimates, tens of thousands of children work in ore mines, particularly in the Central African Republic of Congo, where there are large cobalt deposits. Fatal accidents happen again and again.

Companies that are committed to sustainability and social responsibility endeavour to avoid being associated with such reports. Apple is one of the pioneers in the tech industry. Among other things, it favours recycling. For example, old iPhones are dismantled by Apple's own robot in order to be able to reuse as many of the metals and rare earths they contain as possible.

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In a media release, Apple has now announced that it will use 100 per cent recycled cobalt in all batteries developed in-house by 2025. The company says it has "significantly accelerated its efforts". In 2025, the magnets in its devices will also be made entirely from recycled rare earths, the circuit boards it develops will be soldered from 100 per cent recycled tin and they will be coated with 100 per cent recycled gold.

Apple publishes an annual environmental report. Although the version for the 2022 financial year is not yet available, Apple has "significantly increased" its use of important recycled metals, according to a press release. More than two thirds of all aluminium and almost three quarters of all rare earths are already sourced from recycled material. The gap here is smaller than for the controversial cobalt. According to Apple, a quarter of the cobalt used in 2022 came from recycled material. In 2021, the figure was just 13 per cent. So Apple still has a long way to go here.

The battery is removed from an old MacBook.
The battery is removed from an old MacBook.
Source: Apple

No modern consumer electronics device works without cobalt. The metal has a high energy density and serves as the positive terminal in lithium-ion batteries. Despite the great importance of cobalt for laptops, smartphones, smartwatches and the like - electric cars require around 3,000 times more cobalt. The automotive industry would like to see similarly ambitious targets for the use of cobalt to those that Apple has now formulated.

Sustainability of smartphones is hardly comprehensible

If you want to buy a smartphone that has been produced as sustainably as possible, you will probably come across the Fairphone quite quickly during your research (go to the devices in the shop). Because you can replace individual components, it stands to reason that you can use the device for a long time. And a long service life is actually the best thing you can do in terms of sustainability. After all, the resources that a new device costs are the biggest factor in its environmental impact.

In its sustainability strategy until 2030, Apple is also focussing on long-lasting products, among other things. The recycling materials campaign that has now been announced should help to achieve the targets.

Whether an iPhone or a Fairphone or perhaps a device from Samsung, Google or Xiaomi is better for the environment is hard to say. So far, manufacturers have not shown any increased interest in becoming comparable. Greenpeace did create a ranking in 2017, but has not published it again since then. Today, there is an "Eco-Rating", which is backed by some major network operators in Europe. However, some larger ones are also missing, not least all Swiss companies, for example. Some prominent names are also missing from the smartphone manufacturers: Sony, Google - and Apple.

Cover photo: Apple

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Journalist since 1997. Stopovers in Franconia (or the Franken region), Lake Constance, Obwalden, Nidwalden and Zurich. Father since 2014. Expert in editorial organisation and motivation. Focus on sustainability, home office tools, beautiful things for the home, creative toys and sports equipment. 

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