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

by

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.

iPhone recycling process

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.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
61 months ago
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.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago
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.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago

I'm pretty sure that I've received at least one recycled iPhone...

If you read the entire article at Bloomberg, you'll see that Apple does re-use phones that are suitable to the purpose. MacRumors simply left that out of its reporting.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
61 months ago

Apple owns every gram, including the pile of dust at the end.


iDust. Revolutionary. Visionary.

With so much dust I don't think your vision would be too good imo.
Score: 1 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone 12 Pro in Graphite and iPhone 12 in Blue Shown Off in Unboxing Videos

Monday October 19, 2020 8:20 am PDT by
While the iPhone 12 Pro does not launch until Friday, we now have an early unboxing video of the device courtesy of Twitter account DuanRui, providing a closer look at the shiny new flat-edge design and sleek Graphite color option. Ben Geskin re-uploaded the unboxing video to YouTube, which we've embedded below: Geskin has also uploaded an unboxing video of the iPhone 12 in Blue: ...

Kuo: iPhone 12 Pro Demand Higher Than Expected

Sunday October 18, 2020 10:39 pm PDT by
TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a research note this morning detailing what he's seen with the volume of iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro pre-orders in the first weekend of sales. Kuo had previously indicated that Apple's estimated shipment allocations for the new iPhone models placed the iPhone 12 at the top with 40-45% of inventory allocation (up from 15-20%). However, ...

New Photos Offer Better Look at iPhone 12 Color Options

Tuesday October 20, 2020 2:34 am PDT by
As we wait for the iPhone 12 review embargo to lift later today, more pictures are circulating of the devices in real-world lighting conditions, providing a better look at the different colors available. Leaker DuanRui has shared images on Twitter of the iPhone 12 in white, black, blue, green, and (PRODUCT)RED. The black and white colors are similar to the iPhone 11 colors, but the other...

Hands-On With Apple's MagSafe Charger for iPhone 12

Monday October 19, 2020 11:54 am PDT by
Alongside the new iPhone 12 models, Apple introduced a MagSafe charger that attaches to the back of the iPhones using magnets embedded both in the charger and in the iPhone. It allows for speedier charging and paves the way for a portless iPhone in the future. MagSafe chargers are shipping out and are in some Apple retail locations now, and we picked one up to check it out. Subscribe to the ...

Some Apple Watch SE Owners Experiencing Issues With Overheating [Updated]

Monday October 19, 2020 11:38 am PDT by
There may be an issue with the new Apple Watch SE, which some users have found is overheating after a few hours of usage. Several Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea have run into problems, as noted in a Reddit post chronicling the complaints. There have been six reports from Apple Watch SE owners in South Korea who have had their Apple Watches get hot and malfunction, with a yellow spot...

Apple's New MagSafe Charger and Cases Begin Arriving to Customers

Saturday October 17, 2020 10:10 am PDT by
Apple's new MagSafe charger and cases have begun arriving to some customers earlier than expected, and images of the accessories have started to surface on Twitter. The photos provide a first look at the products in real-world use. As of writing, some MagSafe cases are also available for pickup at select Apple Stores in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. Filip...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 14.1 With Multiple Bug Fixes Ahead of iPhone 12 Launch

Tuesday October 20, 2020 10:06 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.1, the first major updates to the iOS and iPadOS 14 operating system updates that were released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.1 come a week after Apple released the golden master versions of the updates to developers. The iOS 14.1 update can be downloaded for free and it is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access...

Watch: iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Unboxing Videos and First Impressions

Tuesday October 20, 2020 6:05 am PDT by
Apple's embargo has lifted for iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro reviews. In addition to our detailed review roundups for each device, we've rounded up over a dozen unboxing videos and first impressions below. iPhone 12 in Blue on left and iPhone 12 Pro in Pacific Blue on right via Engadget Key new features of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro include a flat-edge design, 5G support, a much faster A14 ...

Apple Plans to Enable 5G in Dual SIM Mode With Software Update Later This Year

Monday October 19, 2020 9:20 am PDT by
iPhone XS models and newer feature both a physical SIM slot and a digital eSIM, allowing for a feature known as dual SIM, dual standby. This means you can have two lines of service on one iPhone, which is useful for purchasing data-only plans while traveling abroad or having personal and business lines on a single iPhone. 5G will not be available in Dual SIM mode on the iPhone 12 and iPhone...

Brazilian Certifications Suggest iPhone 12 Mini Features 2,227mAh Battery and iPhone 12 Has 2,815mAh Battery

Friday October 16, 2020 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone mini has the shortest battery life out of all the iPhones in the iPhone 12 lineup due to its small size, but Apple has not provided public information about the battery's capacity. A regulatory filing from Brazil, however, suggests the iPhone 12 mini has a battery capacity of 2,227mAh. The same regulatory information says the iPhone 12 features a 2,815mAh battery, which is...