Apple launched its Reuse and Recycle trade-in program for the iPhone over two years ago, with the program allowing users to get credit to purchase a new iPhone upon trading in their older iPhone.
Has anybody wondered what happens to those iPhones once re-acquired by Apple? For those that did, a new Bloomberg article sheds light on what the company exactly does to the devices.
According to the report, there are a handful of Apple factories in the world that are dedicated to dismantling, grinding and then recycling iPhones. One such plant is located in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong, with the facility owned by the Li Tong Group, a contractor for Apple.
What happens is that, after the customer sends in their iPhone to the Reuse and Recycle program, the device is examined for defects. If the smartphone is ok, the customer gets the credit and the device is sent to a recycle contractor, who can decide if the iPhone can be re-sold in the second-hand market. If the smartphone is not ok or is deemed not suitable to be re-sold, the device is sent to a recycling plant.
In the facility, iPhones are subjected to a deconstruction process that is said to be very similar to the production line of the smartphone, but in reverse.
Other global brands such as Microsoft and HP have certain protocols in place for the recycling process involving their devices, but people that are involved in the iPhone recycling operations claimed that the protocols put in place by Apple are the most exacting and rigid in the industry.
The comments were made by sources that refused to identify themselves as they are not authorized to reveal the information. Apple and Li Tong, upon being contacted, also declined to shed more light to the matter such as the number of iPhones being recycled and specific details on the process.
However, according to Apple head of environmental affairs Lisa Jackson, the company collects and recycles as much as 85 percent of devices by weight released seven years earlier, including non-Apple devices that some customers bring in. The figure is much higher than the benchmark in electronics recycling, set at 70 percent, with Apple previously saying that it was able to collect 40,000 tons of electronic waste in 2014, which is equivalent to enough steel to manufacture 100 miles of rail tracks.
Given that figure, Apple will be looking to recycle over 9 million units of the iPhone 3GS, which came out in 2009. Li Tong, in fact, expects an increase in global capacity by over 20 percent this year across its three sites in Hong Kong and dozen more across the world. The contractor is even opening a new facility located in San Francisco, showing that iPhone recycling is a growing business.
Apple pays for the recycling process and retains ownership of everything that results from it. Li Tong chief strategy officer Linda Li, reveals that the process taken 10 steps, with each step controlled, measured and scripted within vacuum-sealed doors to make sure that all of the gases and chemicals released during recycling are captured. Hazardous waste is shipped to licensed storage facilities, contactors can make commissions on materials such as copper and gold, and the remaining materials are recycled into other objects such as aluminum window frames and glass tiles.
The recycling process is absolute, with everything about the iPhone destroyed. Some of the chips within the devices can be kept and used to repair those of other working iPhones, but those are destroyed as well.
Why is Apple doing this? It is to prevent fake Apple devices from appearing in the market, according to Jackson, who added that the company is developing ways to reuse the components. The company is also helping in the fight against the electronic waste problem, which is starting to become a global threat due to the massive numbers of electronic devices being thrown away annually.