Apple Tackles E-Waste With iPhone Recycling Robot 'Liam'

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At its media event on Monday, Apple kicked off by discussing its efforts to reduce waste and improve its renewable energy infrastructure, marking a heightened focus on the company's environmental responsibilities.

As part of the presentation, the company also unveiled a robotic system it has developed that can disassemble old iPhones and recover recyclable materials.

The robot, called 'Liam', was introduced in a video showing how it deftly deconstructs an iPhone in order to repurpose a range of materials.

Liam is seen in the video rescuing cobalt and lithium from the battery, separating gold and copper from the camera, and extracting silver and platinum from the main logic board.


Apple revealed that the Liam system went into full-capacity service last month after nearly three years in development. It consists of 29 robotic modules on a single site near Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, and is capable of taking apart an iPhone every 11 seconds. A second robot is being installed in Europe.

The company said that Liam will initially focus on recycling junked iPhone 6 handsets, but Apple plans to modify and expand the system to deconstruct different models and recover more resources.

The robot appears to be a response to criticisms that components used in Apple's devices can be difficult to disassemble, refurbish and reuse. However, according to Reuters, Liam can likely handle no more than a few million phones per year, which is a small fraction of the more than 231 million phones Apple sold in 2015.

Greenpeace welcomed Apple's initiative as a good example of the company's environmental commitments, but the group questioned how much of an impact the Liam robot would actually have on overall iPhone recycling volumes. The bulk of discarded iPhones go through independent e-waste recyclers, which will not have access to Liam.

"If it's easy for a robot, that's great," said Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook, speaking to Reuters. "But making it easier for a human, who will be doing most of this, is part of the solution."

Last May, Apple received a perfect scorecard in Greenpeace's Clean Energy Index report, topping Amazon, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Yahoo for its commitment to renewable energy initiatives.

Yesterday's media event also saw the debut of new products, including the iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and new Apple Watch updates.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

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55 months ago
The best thing Apple can do for the environment is to make products that last for a very long time.

The best thing we can do as Apple users is to buy their products as infrequently as possible, and make them last a long time.

It's not what Apple would want to hear, but it's the truth. If it leads to lower profits, so be it.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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55 months ago
I wanna point out that the iPhone in the video isn't an existing iPhone. It has the 6(S) design with one big difference: no protruding camera. Which brings up the question: what was going on behind Apple's walls when making this video? It's their video showing off a product with their logo on it that does not exist.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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55 months ago

I wanna point out that the iPhone in the video isn't an existing iPhone. It has the 6(S) design with one big difference: no protruding camera. Which brings up the question: what was going on behind Apple's walls when making this video? It's their video showing off a product with their logo on it that does not exist.

It's a marketing video. I wouldn't put too much thought into it. Most of the video shows the dismantling of an iPhone 6 based devices, yet they show an iPhone 5 devices for the sim tray removal. Why? Maybe cause it looks nicer on camera?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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55 months ago

I wonder what the meaning behind the name "Liam" is.

Likes Imagining Annihilating Mankind
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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55 months ago

Why is this in PRSI? It's just a recycling robot, what is controversial about that?

Probably because recycling is good for the environment and some people think that protecting the environment should be controversial.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
55 months ago
All this technology and we have a camera bump on the new iPads. I'm not one to say "SJ would never do this", etc. But I do know with 100% certainty that if SJ was still around there would be no bump on the iPad, or the iPhone 6. And truthfully the bump doesn't bother me at all. But it does show me that Apple is forgetting the SJ philosophy that made Apple what it is today. And that's a scary thought to me. That little bump speaks volumes.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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