Apple's New Macs Use '100 Percent Recycled Aluminum,' But What Does That Mean?

Maddie Stone just a moment. 0 comments
Recycling Sustainibility Mining Apple E-waste Green Electronics

Apple’s second press blitz of the fall delivered details on a bunch of new devices . But the company also made some announcements on the environmental front that are generating buzz and raising questions, particularly regarding the recycled materials some of its 2018 product line will use.

Specifically, Apple announced that the 2018 models of its MacBook Air and its back-from-the-dead Mac Mini are being built with a 100 percent recycled aluminum case, using a custom alloy that incorporates excess aluminum scavenged from the manufacturing process. Apple claims these changes, along with the incorporation of post-consumer recycled plastic into the Mac Mini, have reduced the two products’ overall carbon footprints by nearly 50 percent, and that the new MacBook Air is the “greenest Mac ever.”

It’s the latest in Apple’s ongoing effort to fashion itself as a company environmentally-conscious consumers can feel good buying from. Last spring, Apple announced that all its data centers, stores, and offices are now powered by renewable energy , and it debuted a second-generation version of an iPhone recycling robot that will somehow factor into the company’s ambitious long-term goal, first announced in 2017, of ending the mining of virgin materials altogether.

Devices made with “fine shavings of recaptured aluminum,” per the company, give us a more concrete glimpse of what a post-mining Apple could look like—or at least, an Apple that spends less time contracting others to blast the Earth for ore and more mining its own supply chain. But like Apple’s other recent environmental claims, it comes with important caveats and leaves plenty of open questions.

We don’t, for instance, know how much aluminum the company will continue to mine and refine for its other products, including its new iPad Pro and a range of legacy devices that use the metal for their enclosure. We don’t know how environmentally intensive its new alloy production process is, and it isn’t clear what numbers Apple did (and didn’t) include in its math to figure that recycled aluminum will cut the new devices’ carbon footprints in half. When reached for comment, Apple sent us quotes from its latest publicly-available environmental responsibility report that explain how the company seeks to recover aluminum both from manufacturing and from dead phones using its recycling robots.

We do know that aluminum is a big part of Apple’s environmental footprint—accounting for a full quarter of the company’s carbon emissions from manufacturing, per Apple’s own math—and that the company has made reducing this particular impact a priority. Aluminum is extracted from bauxite ore (which is mined in a wasteful and ecologically-destructive process) before being smelted into a pure compound. Apple is now attempting to mitigate this energy-intensive process by sourcing more metal smelted using hydroelectric power and less using fossil fuels. Recovering more metal from the manufacturing process so that there’s less need to mine the Earth for it should shave that footprint down further.

Josh Lepawsky, a geographer at Memorial University of Newfoundland who studies the environmental lives of our electronics, said Apple should be applauded for this effort. While coverage of the tech industry’s environmental impact often focuses on the mountains of e-waste we produce, in reality, the bulk of the emissions and pollution our devices generate comes from their production rather than end-of-life. This, Lepawsky argues, is the real e-waste problem, and it’s not an easy one to fix. Simply tracking down thousands of raw material suppliers—say nothing of reducing waste and environmental impact throughout a supply chain—presents a wicked challenge for a company like Apple.

“It is actually kind of easy to poke holes in their argument and there are really important holes,” Lepawsky said. “But I think it’s really important for us as consumers to understand what they are trying to do is really, really hard.”

Of course, time will tell how much of an impact a recycled aluminum case here and a recycled tin logic board there will have on the planet. Lepawsky noted that even if Apple stopped purchasing new aluminum altogether, that wouldn’t necessarily curb demand across the market, as the metal the company used to buy would suddenly be available to others, perhaps at a lower price-point. “Individual companies or even sectors can reduce their demand but that doesn’t necessarily mean aggregate demand ends up going down,” he said.

What’s more—as many environmentalists have noted—if Apple truly wanted to do the planet a solid, it’d make devices that last longer and are easier to take apart, it would let recyclers take its devices apart rather than making them shred everything, and it would stop fighting independent repair companies and right to repair laws that enable users to prolong the life of their Apple devices.

Greenpeace, a leading watchdog of the electronics industry’s environmental impact, told Earther in an emailed statement that Apple’s effort to source recycled aluminum for its products is “welcome, especially given the carbon intensity of aluminum and the dire impacts of climate change.”

“However, to truly be the greenest laptop ever, Apple must prioritize design features that extend product life, including replaceable batteries and the ability to upgrade and repair more easily,” the statement continues.

These next steps, of course, could cut into Apple’s bottom line. And as much as Apple wants to be seen as an environmental leader, it probably doesn’t want to compromise its status as the world’s richest company in order to do so. - Download Hi-Res Songs

1 Ariana Grande

​Thank U, Next flac

Ariana Grande. 2018. Writer: Crazy Mike;Scootie;Victoria Monét;Tayla Parx;TBHits;Ariana Grande.
2 Mesto

Wait Another Day flac

Mesto. 2018.
3 Anne-Marie

Rewrite The Stars flac

Anne-Marie. 2018. Writer: Benj Pasek;Justin Paul.
4 Rita Ora

Let You Love Me flac

Rita Ora. 2018. Writer: Rita Ora;Easyfun;Fred Gibson;Noonie Bao;LotusIV;Ilsey Juber.
5 Conor Maynard

How You Love Me flac

Conor Maynard. 2018. Writer: Yoshi Breen;Thom Bridges;Hardwell;Rik Annema;Conor Maynard;Cimo Fränkel;Snoop Dogg.

There You Are flac

ZAYN. 2018. Writer: Joe Garrett;Levi Lennox;Michael Hannides;Anthony Hannides;ZAYN.
7 Fitz And The Tantrums

HandClap flac

Fitz And The Tantrums. 2017. Writer: Fitz And The Tantrums;Eric Frederic;Sam Hollander.
8 (G)I-DLE


(G)I-DLE. 2018. Writer: Riot Music Team;Harloe.
9 Clean Bandit

Baby flac

Clean Bandit. 2018. Writer: Jack Patterson;Kamille;Jason Evigan;Matthew Knott;Marina;Luis Fonsi.
10 Mark Ronson

Nothing Breaks Like A Heart flac

Mark Ronson. 2018. Writer: Thomas Brenneck;Maxime Picard;Ilsey Juber;Conor Szymanski;Clement Picard;Mark Ronson;Miley Cyrus.
11 The Chainsmokers

Beach House flac

The Chainsmokers. 2018. Writer: Andrew Taggart.
12 Martin Garrix

Dreamer (Nicky Romero Remix) flac

Martin Garrix. 2018. Writer: Yury Parkhomenko;Aleksandr Parkhomenko;Ilsey Juber;Brian Lee;Mike Yung;Martin Garrix.
13 Clean Bandit

Mama flac

Clean Bandit. 2018. Writer: Jason Evigan;Jack Patterson;Grace Chatto;Ellie Goulding;Caroline Ailin.
14 Marshmello

Project Dreams flac

Marshmello. 2018.

Good Years flac

ZAYN. 2018. Writer: Anthony Hannides;Michael George Hannides;Khaled Rohaim;ZAYN;Herbie Crichlow.
16 Imagine Dragons

Bad Liar flac

Imagine Dragons. 2018. Writer: Jorgen Odegard;Daniel Platzman;Ben McKee;Wayne Sermon;Aja Volkman;Dan Reynolds.
17 Seth Hills

Centipede flac

Seth Hills. 2018.
18 Bastille

Grip flac

Bastille. 2018. Writer: Dan Smith;Espen Berg;Joakim Haukaas;Mark Crew;Simen Eriksrud;Thomas Eriksen.

Suggested posts

Other Maddie Stone's posts