Apple Vows to End Reliance on Mining, Pledges to Use Only Recycled Materials

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An increasing number of brands are hopping on the sustainability bandwagon with each passing year. Just this past month, CVS announced they’d be removing harmful chemicals from 600 of their beauty and personal care products; Chipotle reaffirmed its commitment to natural ingredients free of additives; and corporate giant Walmart launched a brand new sustainability platform to reduce carbon emissions.

The moves make perfect business sense, seeing as 52% of people worldwide make purchasing decisions, in part, due to mere packaging that shows a brand is making a positive environmental and social impact. Not one to be left behind the times, Apple has now vowed to end its reliance on mining and plans to make all of its products from recycled materials or renewable resources in the future.

Apple’s popular iPhones — as well as virtually all modern smartphones — require commodities like gold, tantalum, and tungsten. Unfortunately, these materials are often mined in war-torn regions of the world with extremely questionable labor practices.

In Apple’s annual Environmental Responsibility Report released earlier this month, the company went into detail about its plans to implement greener, more humane practices — an endeavor that even Apple admits may be difficult. In fact, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives, told VICE that the brand doesn’t even know how the goal will be achieved yet.

“We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” said Jackson.

Still, the company understands the need to change its ways. The report said, in part:

“Traditional supply chains are linear. Materials are mined, manufactured as products, and often end up in landfills after use. Then the process starts over and more materials are extracted from the earth for new products. We believe our goal should be a closed-loop supply chain, where products are built using only renewable resources or recycled material.”

The report specifically states that the company has already started to reuse materials. For example, Apple melted down aluminum enclosures used on the iPhone 6 to make Mac mini computers for its own factories. Apple has also said they’ll be moving to a 100% recycled tin solder for use in the iPhone 6s main logic board. In addition, Apple has started to produce aluminum in new ways; the new iPhone 7 enclosure already uses 27% less aluminum than the iPhone 6.

Eventually, the company hopes to make all of its devices entirely from recycled materials, which includes aluminum, tin, copper, and tungsten. On the Moh’s hardness scale, tungsten carbide receives a rating between an 8.5 to 9 out of 10; however, it’s also a highly recyclable commodity. This makes it a durable option, as well as a sustainable one, for electronics makers who want to avoid mining.

Apple also wants to improve how it powers its manufacturing operations. Seven of its major suppliers have pledged to power Apple production entirely with renewable energy by the end of 2018, according to the report.

“We’re making strides toward our commitment to bring four gigawatts of renewable power online by 2020, a key step in reducing our manufacturing footprint,” Apple added.

While 100% renewable energy might seem like an ambitious goal, last year 96% of the electricity used at Apple’s global facilities came from renewable sources. All of Apple’s data centers are 100% renewable, as are their operations in 24 countries.

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