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Apple promises to stop mining for rare-earth materials
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-04-20 09:12:59

Apple has one of the most aggressive sustainability and recycling programs in tech, but it still pulls plenty of metals and toxic rare-earth materials out of the ground to make iPhones, iPads, Macbooks and other products.

That's about to change. The company is set to announce a new, unprecedented goal for the tech industry, "to stop mining the earth altogether".

Apple plans to stop mining for rare-earth materials, and exclusively use recycled materials (from iPhones and other Apple products, presumably). Incredibly ambitious goal - one among many environmental goals the company revealed yesterday - and quite laudable. They have the money to blaze these trails, and I'm glad they're using it for this.

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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-16
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Not convinced by the intentions
By benoitb on 2017-04-20 09:36:41
Better than not caring at all I guess.

But if they were genuine in their intentions, they would make their devices repairable.
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Okay but...
By _QJ_ on 2017-04-20 10:20:00
How we will be able to verify that on facts and numbers ?

This is just an add disguised in an intention.
A dog in a dress doesn't make a bride.

Edited 2017-04-20 10:20 UTC
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RE: Not convinced by the intentions
By Kochise on 2017-04-20 12:57:04
https://www.apple.com/fr/iphone/c...

iPhone 7 : 769€ (32GiB) or 989€ (256GiB) for 138g

This is 5572-7166€ per kg.

Gold is 38410€ per kg. So iPhone is 5.36-6.89x cheaper than gold.

Such a bargain.
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Welcome initiative
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-04-20 17:13:43
This is a welcome initiative as, after-all, mineral resources are limited. Of course, Apple has the cash reserves to have a good probability of success with this venture.

There are the obvious precious metals such as gold but also the copper (circuit traces and wires), indium and tin (transparent electrodes in the displays), and lithium (batteries) and many others in various components.

One challenge though - recovery processes are not perfect and there will be some losses. Unless Apple will also accept recycled metals from other sources (say Samsung), there will always remain a need to mine the metals used in electronic devices. Apple may gain an advantage in being "first" with this approach as this will prevent other device manufacturers to also be able to claim not requiring mining these metals.

It is also possible to realistically consider such an initiative at this time. This is because the supply of electronic gadgets is no longer in the crazy growth mode it was even five years ago. So, one is simply looking at continuously recycling the metal present in the current inventory of devices. Maybe there is a plan to use less and less of these metals with each generation of devices?

As a final thought, this may be an attempt to circumvent the pressure for repairable devices.
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RE: Welcome initiative
By Alfman on 2017-04-20 19:17:38
BlueofRainbow,

> As a final thought, this may be an attempt to circumvent the pressure for repairable devices.

Yea, a big part of the picture is not only how we dispose of electronics and recycle them, but also how we can extend their lifespan without disposing of them so much in the first place. This of course is bad for sales, which is why companies don't talk about it :(


From the article:
> That's about to change. The company is set to announce a new, unprecedented goal for the tech industry, "to stop mining the earth altogether".

This sounds good on paper, but I question how much this will actually change in the real world. I remember when some companies were supporting the environment buying solar/wind power or whatever, but the dirty coal power didn't actually get curbed because it was just an accounting change. The new green money was simply displacing the existing money that was already being spent on green energy anyways.

In the same vein, if apple buys exclusively recycled materials, well that's great. But if the decrease in supply of recycled materials results in an increase in demand for mined material equal to apple's shifting footprint, then it's all just a marketing ploy.

It doesn't really matter who gets the recycled materials, what's far more important is increasing the supply of recycled material so that less mining is needed in the first place. In this light the move to put one's brand on recycled material seems a bit petty to me if that's all it is. What we really need is a more holistic approach.

Edited 2017-04-20 19:18 UTC
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Too Expensive?
By XD3l on 2017-04-20 21:41:49
I imagine they found it cheaper to stop mining... that's all.
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RE[2]: Welcome initiative
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-04-20 22:49:20
Alfman,

I also wish that devices could be more easily repaired. However, the drive toward more power in smaller fashionable devices means that this is becoming more and more difficult from an engineering view point. Nevertheless, displays should remain replaceable because of their fragility. Similarly for batteries because of their finite life-span.

So far nearly all headlines about this initiative by Apple emphasize the "stop mining" and "recycling of Apple devices". However, reading through the document put out by Apple reveals that ultimately some of the materials and metals will actually be recycled from global waste sources.

This may be just a marketing strategy after-all. Only time will truly tell. Yet, the expression of such an ideal will eventually drive others to aim for greater recycling of materials and metals in the manufacture of their products.
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RE[3]: Welcome initiative
By kwan_e on 2017-04-20 22:56:40
> However, the drive toward more power in smaller fashionable devices means that this is becoming more and more difficult from an engineering view point.

It doesn't need to be repairable by everyone and their grandmother. Just repairable enough (ie, with documentation etc) that such minded people can perhaps make/maintain a business out of it where they can afford the expensive tools to do the job.
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Geopoliticalâ
By Adurbe on 2017-04-20 23:02:36
I think this is more of a geopolitical move than pure environmental.

Many of the "rare earth minerals" are mined from China. And the state itself has been stockpiling for Years.

At last count (2015) China controls 85-95% of the global supply of rare earths, with 70% of the world's light rare earths coming from a single mining operation in Inner Mongolia.

With the Trump presidency and the North Korea politics in that region, the political stability and therefore access to those minerals are now being called into question. Apple is taking steps to mitigate that risk.
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Unexpandable RAM!
By Softfailur on 2017-04-20 23:23:38
Let's not forget the fact that in 2017 this company still offers a computer with soldered-on, unexpandable, staggering 4 GB RAM (i.e. base model of Mac mini). Paraphrasing one of Apple's marketing slogans: 'It's broken out of the box!'.

This also applies to these new and shiny (Thunderbolt3/USB-C) MacBook Pros. Almost every type of work one will do with 8 GB RAM configs ends up with a swap file. So flash storage is degenerating so much faster over time. And guess what... in the TouchBar-equipped models it is irreplaceable. It is literally part of the main computer board. So any eventual SSD repair/replacement needed ends up with replacing the whole computer...

As long as this argument stands correct, every Apple's "action" to become more environmentally friendly company should be perceived accordingly.
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