Where do iPhones go after they die? The first iPhone was released in 2006, and some are still working or becoming collectors’ items, however, most are recycled. On Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, Bloomberg released some specifics about how Apple, Inc. recycles their phones.
iPhones that are sent to Apple are shredded but not destroyed. None of the components of the products are reused because the tech giant fears the black market will use them to create counterfeit Apple devices.The products are shredded and then their scraps are separated for recycling.
Bloomberg reports that in 2014, Apple collected over 40,000 tons of waste from their recycled electronics, which would be enough steel for 100 miles of train tracks. The company assures consumers that any hazardous waste is safely discarded.
The waste from electronics is referred to as e-waste. This includes VCRs, televisions, copiers, stereos, computers, fax machines, and printers. Many of these devices can be refurbished, recycled, or reused.
According to the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, specific parts of e-waste are listed in detail and regulated, according to universal waste rules. This includes the process for recycling or recovering devices.
Apple recycles 85 percent of collected devices, by weight, for products seven years or older. This surpasses the 70 percent standard set by the recycling act. The company even processes devices they do not manufacture, as consumers turn them in. This is important to Apple as they are fast approaching one billion iPhones sold.
In short, Apple will have to collect and destroy over nine million iPhone 3GS models, sold in 2009, or a mix of old and broken iPhones worldwide in 2016, to meet the necessary recycling requirements. In the last fiscal year, 155 million iPhones were sold, which means shredding iPhones is a profitable growing business on its own.
According to Macworld, the company is as quiet when it comes to their recycling process as they are with the development of new products. The head of Apple’s environmental affairs, Lisa Jackson, told Bloomberg the tech giant is looking into different methods of recycling that will allow them to reuse components rather than shred them.The companies that are contracted to dispose of iPhones have agreed to a list of over 50 rules that cover insurance, auditing, and security, which must be followed to the letter.
Apple collects old iPhones at their stores in exchange for gift certificates. A test is performed on the iPhone before deciding to buy back the product or make the offer to scrap the device for the consumer. Apple stores in the U.S. have paid out $100-350 depending on the working model. Then more meticulous tests are performed to determine if the mobile device can be refurbished or scrapped.
Currently, Apple’s process is kept under lock and key. There is a Hong Kong factory in an otherwise undisclosed area, that has 24-hour security. Nevertheless, Bloomberg reports the processing plant is in an industrial park in the Yuen Long district and belongs to the contractor Li Tong Group. The plant is designated for the meticulous destruction of iPhones and other Apple products. This is where iPhones, Macs, and iPads go after they die.
According to Bloomberg, there are iPhone disposal factories all over the world. Apple requires these facilities to be bound by the same non-disclosure agreement as their research and development team. The factories that shred the company’s devices are even required to weigh the waste to ensure all the components have been destroyed.
Bloomberg states that Apple has the most rigid and exact processing methods, compared to any other technology company. This information was reported to Bloomberg by people who are involved in the disposal process. They are not authorized by Apple to talk about clients, therefore, their identities are protected.
Jackson believes this type of behavior from Apple is because customers expect high standards. She does, however, state the disposal process is complicated due to the complexity of their products. Neither Apple nor Li Tong Group would give Bloomberg access to their Hong Kong disposal factory, give any information specific to their shredding and recycling process, or state how many units the factory recycles.
Apple has sold over 570 million iPhones since January 2006 when Steve Jobs announced that they had “reinvented the phone.” Apple does not know how many of those old iPhones are still floating around. Nonetheless, the tech giant wants to keep their devices out of the landfills.
Bloomberg states that Apple pays contractors to shred their products, however, they own every ounce, right down to the pile of dust left after the process is complete. The chief strategy officer for Li Tong Group, Linda Li, told Bloomberg the destruction of the iPhone is a complex process of 10 steps that are measured, controlled, and scripted through vacuum-sealed rooms which trap 100 percent of any gasses and chemical that are released.
When iPhones are collected to be sent to their death, the memory has to be wiped and logos removed before shipment. Apple will not allow iPhone scraps to be mixed with other brands. This makes it imperative for recyclers to have designated factories. Apple employees monitor the processing plants where iPhones go after they die.
By Jeanette Smith
CalRecycle: What Is E-Waste?
Macworld: An Apple plant in Hong Kong shreds iPhones into tiny pieces
Bloomberg Business: Where Your iPhone Goes to Die (and Be Reborn)
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Inline Image Courtesy of Rod Waddington’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License