Circular Economy

Apple to launch Material Recovery Lab

Apple is set to open a new research and development lab focused on closed-loop solutions later this year, after diverting more than 48,000 metric tonnes of electronic waste from landfill during 2018.

Based in Austin, the new 9,000 square-foot Material Recovery Lab will host engineering teams and academics working to develop and scale-up innovative recycling solutions that use robotics, machine-learning and artificial intelligence to close the loop on technology waste.

Work at the facility will cover three key focus areas – optimising existing recycling practices, improving the ability to disassemble devices, and developing the next generation of recycling technologies. Apple will share findings from the centre with the recycling industry and its competitors in a bid to push forward global progress on e-waste.

The unveiling of the Materials Recovery Lab was confirmed in Apple’s latest sustainability report, which also revealed for the first time the environmental impact of its updated ‘Daisy’ recycling robot system.

Launched in April 2018 to mark Earth Day, the AI-powered system was initially able to disassemble nine iPhone models to recover materials that traditional recyclers couldn’t.

According to the sustainability report, Apple’s stock of Daisy devices is now capable of recognising and disassembling 15 different iPhone models and collectively processed more than one million devices last year.

Devices to be processed through the Daisy system are sourced through Apple’s network of 5,000 stores and service providers will take-back systems. Before they are sent to the robotics facilities, however, they are first examined to see whether they can be refurbished and resold. During 2018, Apple refurbished 7.8 million devices.

In order to collect more used devices as it strives to meet an ongoing aim of building devices using 100 per cent closed-loop materials, Apple has now confirmed plans to roll-out its customer take-back scheme to retail chains in the US and Netherlands.

The firm already uses 100 per cent recycled tins in the logic boards of 11 different product lines and recently transitioned to a 100 per cent recycled aluminium allow for its MacBook Air and Mac Mini models, but hopes move made during 2019 and beyond will enable it to close the loop on cobalt and copper as well.

Its overarching aim, given the emissions intensity and human rights issues associated with metal extraction, is to “one day stop mining the earth altogether”.

“Advanced recycling must become an important part of the electronics supply-chain, and Apple is pioneering a new path to help push our industry forward,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice-president for environment, policy and social initiatives.

“We work hard to design products that our customers can rely on for a long time. When it comes time to recycle them, we hope that the convenience and benefit of our programs will encourage everyone to bring in their old devices.”