Meet Apple’s New iPhone Recycling Robot

April 26, 2018 - 5 minutes read

These days, it’s trendy for tech companies to emphasize their empathy for the environment. With large data warehouses utilizing vast amounts of energy to keep Google running at top speed and Amazon’s footprint on Earth magnified with their cardboard boxes, green initiatives are warmly welcomed by most audiences.

In the spirit of Earth Day this past weekend, Apple released a few products and initiatives it’s been working to implement to improve its environmental impact.

A Greener Apple

Apple recently announced its biggest environmental accomplishment yet: powering its global establishments with 100% renewable energy. The company also rolled out a new Apple Watch challenge for Earth Day, advising customers to go outside and enjoy the Earth.

GiveBack is another initiative where Apple makes a donation for every device customers trade or turn in by April 30. The donation, made to environmental non-profit Conservation International, allows Apple to give back to the environment in more ways than one. Another cool green product is Apple’s new recycling robot, Daisy.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Apple’s original recycling robot, Liam, was announced in 2016. Some of its parts were used to build Daisy, the most current iteration of Apple’s recycling robot. Daisy, built in-house by Apple developers and engineers, can disassemble almost 10 different iPhone versions. It even sorts the recyclable and reusable components as such.

At its peak, the robot disassembles 200 iPhones per hour. Although Daisy doesn’t need to swap out tools or arms between varying versions, 200 phones per hour isn’t as fast as Liam’s 300 per hour. Liam only stripped down iPhone 6s, so the tradeoff for variety and quality over speed isn’t too bad.

The San Francisco-based tech giant’s CEO Tim Cook says, “We’re going to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible with the materials in our products, the way we recycle them, our facilities and our work with suppliers to establish new creative and forward-looking sources of renewable energy because we know the future depends on it.”

Daisy spends about two minutes on each iPhone, which goes through four different stations before reaching the end. Lisa P. Jackson is Apple’s VP of environment, policy, and social initiative and a former EPA Administrator. She says smartphone recycling poses unique problems. “It doesn’t make sense to recycle a phone the same way we recycle cars or a toaster. The glass is crushed, the aluminum is sold into the scrap aluminum market, and the rest is shredded into this pile of plastics and metals. It has some value, but not a particularly high level. It’s not going back into an electronic.”

A Step in the Right Direction

Jackson emphasizes that phones only end up in Daisy’s arms when they can no longer be refurbished or repaired. The robot saves a lot of phones from going into a landfill, where they’ll take millions of years to decay.

Mining is also a big concern for Apple, who sees consistent market shares for its product lines. Mining produces mass amounts of greenhouse gases, and mining of raw materials does account for some portion of 80% of iPhone 8’s footprint. “Most things that are mined have to be processed, and that’s a pretty energy-intensive process. If you can take that out of the equation, then you start seeing carbon reductions,” Jackson says.

It’ll be a while before mining is non-existent for Apple devices, even if they contain the same materials in the future as they do now. Jackson predicts it will still take 10 or so years for Apple to completely move away from mining, if it’s even fully possible.

What do you think of Apple’s green initiatives? Are there any other initiatives by other tech companies that inspire you?

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