Accelerated timeline for cobalt and other elements paves new path for key recycled metals in batteries, magnets and circuit boards.
Apple has announced a major acceleration of its work to expand recycled materials across its products — including new 2025 targets to use 100 percent recycled cobalt in all Apple-designed batteries; all magnets in Apple devices will be composed of entirely recycled rare earth elements; and all Apple-designed printed circuit boards will use 100 percent recycled tin soldering and 100 percent recycled gold plating.
In 2022, the company significantly expanded its use of key recycled metals and now sources over two-thirds of all aluminum nearly three-quarters of all rare earth metals, and more than 95 percent of all tungsten in Apple products from 100 percent recycled material.
“Our ambition to one day use 100 percent recycled and renewable materials in our products works hand in hand with our goal to achieve carbon-neutral products by 2030,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “We’re working toward both goals with urgency and advancing innovation across our entire industry in the process.”
Charting progress to 2025
Cobalt is a critical material in most consumer electronics batteries, but the mining of it is rife with human rights abuses including child labor. Apple-designed batteries found in iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook and many other products represent a significant majority of the Apple’s cobalt use; the company’s significant expansion of its use of 100 percent certified recycled cobalt over the past three years all but eliminates its need for unearthing new cobalt and makes it possible to include in all Apple-designed batteries by 2025. In 2022, a quarter of all cobalt found in Apple products came from recycled material, up from 13 percent the previous year.
Apple’s use of 100 percent certified recycled rare earth elements has also expanded in the last year — going from 45 percent in 2021 to 73 percent in 2022. Since first introducing recycled rare earths in the Taptic Engine of the iPhone 11, Apple has expanded its use of the materials across its devices — including in all magnets found in the latest iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook and Mac models. As magnets are by far Apple’s largest use of rare earths, the new 2025 target means nearly all rare earths in Apple products will soon be 100 percent recycled.
As part of the accelerated new timeline, all Apple-designed printed circuit boards will use 100 percent certified recycled gold plating by 2025. This includes rigid boards, such as the main logic board; and flexible boards, such as those connecting to the cameras or buttons in iPhone. Since pioneering an exclusively recycled supply chain for gold in the plating of the main logic board for iPhone 13, Apple has extended the material’s use in additional components and products — including the wire of all cameras in the iPhone 14 lineup; and printed circuit boards of iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods Pro, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and HomePod. Apple is also working to encourage broader adoption of recycled gold for non-custom components across the electronics industry.
By 2025, the company will use 100 percent certified recycled tin soldering on all Apple-designed printed rigid and flexible circuit boards. In recent years, Apple’s use of recycled tin has expanded to the solder of many flexible printed circuit boards across Apple products, with 38 percent of all tin used last year coming from recycled sources. The application of recycled tin across even more components is underway, and the company is engaging more suppliers in this effort.
Progress in responsible sourcing of primary and recycled materials
As Apple reduces its reliance on newly mined minerals, it is also pursuing ways to directly support communities whose livelihoods depend on mining. The company is partnering with experts such as the Fund for Global Human Rights to provide support for frontline human rights and environmental defenders, including in the African Great Lakes region; as well as vocational education programs that enable members of local communities moving away from mining to build skills and pursue new opportunities.
Apple continues to broaden its efforts to sources primary minerals responsibly. In the transition to recycled and renewable content, it has prioritized 14 materials based on environmental, human rights and supply impacts that together account for nearly 90 percent of the material shipped in Apple products: aluminum, cobalt, copper, glass, gold, lithium, paper, plastics, rare earth elements, steel, tantalum, tin, tungsten and zinc.
Apple was the first electronics company to publish a list of cobalt and lithium refiners in its battery supply chain, with cobalt in 2016 and lithium in 2020. In 2017, the company mapped its supply chain for rare earths. And since 2015, every identified smelter and refiner for the four main conflict minerals — tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold — has participated in independent, third-party audits.
In 2022, about 20 percent of all material shipped in Apple products came from recycled or renewable sources. This includes the first use of recycled copper foil in the main logic board of iPad (10th generation), the introduction of certified recycled steel in the battery tray of MacBook Air with the M2 chip, 100 percent recycled tungsten in the latest Apple Watch lineup; and the aluminum enclosures found in many Apple products, made with a 100 percent recycled aluminum alloy designed by Apple.
From minerals to plastic
Apple has also announced progress on its 2025 commitment to eliminate plastics from its packaging through the development of fiber alternatives for components such as screen films, wraps and foam cushioning. To address the remaining 4 percent plastic in its packaging footprint, Apple is working to replace labels, lamination and other small uses. In the last year, Apple developed a custom printer to introduce digital printing directly onto the boxes of iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, eliminating the need for most labels. And a new overprint varnish found in iPad Air, iPad Pro and Apple Watch Series 8 packaging replaces the polypropylene plastic lamination found on boxes and packaging components — the company says this innovation has helped avoid over 1,100 metric tons of plastic and over 2,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Advancing electronics recycling
Apple’s continues to work to pioneer advancements in end-of-life disassembly and recycling. Through extensive efforts including partnerships with leading research institutions and the Material Recovery Lab in Austin, Texas, Apple is developing ways to give materials in its products new life, and helping inform design decisions that support disassembly and recovery.
The company’s iPhone disassembly robot, Daisy, separates batteries from other components; and enables specialty recyclers to recover cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements — which are largely lost through traditional electronics-recycling processes. Apple estimates that more than 11,000 kilograms of cobalt have been recovered from batteries extracted by Daisy and then returned to the secondary market since 2019.
Daisy is just one example of how Apple’s innovations in recycling and disassembly can drive industrywide change. The company’s Dave robot, now deployed with a recycling partner in China, helps further recovery of rare earth elements by disassembling Taptic Engines.
Apple has also begun deploying overhead projector-based augmented reality (AR) systems to recycling partners, which guides the disassembly of devices including MacBook and iPad by projecting video imagery directly onto a work surface. The company publishes Apple Recycler Guides for global recyclers to maximize efficiency of material recovery while safeguarding human health and safety. As recycled and renewable materials can contribute to lowering each product’s carbon footprint, enhanced recovery is also bringing Apple closer to its goal to be carbon neutral across its entire supply chain and the life cycle of every product by 2030.