Apple to include part made of 100% recycled rare earths in new iPhones

The tech giant’s new iPhones will use recycled rare earth elements in their “Taptic Engine,” a part that lets iPhones mimic a physical button click despite being a flat pane of glass. (Image by nui7711 | Shutterstock.com.)

Tech giant Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) has revealed it will use 100% recycled rare earth elements in a key component included in its new iPhones.

As outlined in the environmental reports for the new iPhone 11iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max, the devices’ “Taptic Engine,” which allows iPhones to mimic a physical button click despite being a flat pane of glass, will be manufactured with recovered rare earths.

The part represents only a quarter of the total rare earth elements used in each iPhone

The part represents around 25% of the total rare earth elements used in each iPhone, the company said, adding that  the move was “not related” to trade tensions but could help it maintain a steady supply.

“This is one of those happy coincidences where what is good for the planet is really good for business at the same time,” Apple’s environmental chief Lisa Jackson told Reuters. “One of the things we talk about a lot internally, just in general, is how much more resilient this makes our supply chain.”

China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of rare earths, has threatened to use its market dominance to make a political point in the ongoing trade war with the US.

Washington imports from China about 80% of the group of 17 chemical elements used in both consumer products, from phones to electric car engines, and critical military applications including jet engines, satellites and lasers.

Daisy at work

In its annual environmental responsibility report released earlier this year, Apple said it was recovering 32kg of rare earths from every 100,000 iPhones it recycles, thanks to a robot named Daisy.

“Elements like neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium are used in magnets for audio applications, in cameras, and in haptics technology,” Apple said. “Traditional recyclers don’t recover these rare earth elements because they are used in small quantities, and technology has not advanced sufficiently to recover them.”

Apple to include parts made of 100% recycled rare earths in new iPhones
Taken from Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Report 2019.

The company has also made headlines recently due to its attempts to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners. The move is seen as a way to ensure sufficient supply of the metal, an essential ingredient in the batteries that power its phones and tablets.

Apple has increased its engagement with cobalt miners in recent years due to scrutiny from international human rights organizations. According to Amnesty International, about 20% of the cobalt mined in Congo is extracted by hand by informal miners including children, often in dangerous conditions.

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