Multinational technology company Apple will use 100 percent recycled rare earth elements for magnets in its devices by 2025.
Silicon Valley giant Apple announced last week to boost the use of recycled cobalt for all Apple-designed batteries and recycled Rare Earth Elements (REE) for magnets to 100 percent by 2025. Additionally, the company estimates that all Apple-designed printed circuit boards will use 100 percent recycled tin soldering and 100 percent recycled gold plating by that time. The push is part of Apple’s overarching goal of making every product carbon-neutral by 2030.
According to the company’s press release, Apple has significantly expanded the use of recycled cobalt and REEs over the last few years. While only 13 percent of cobalt was recycled material in 2021, the company raised that number to a quarter in 2022, paving the way for its ambitious 100 percent goal. Likewise, Apple increased the use of recycled REEs in their magnets to 73 percent in 2022 from only 45 percent in 2021. Apple devices include REEs in several aspects: The color screens, the speakers, or the self-developed Taptic Engine that makes iPhones mimic a physical button click despite being a flat glass screen. However, according to Apple, magnets make up most of the company’s REE demand.
Recycling Presents Vast Opportunities but Is Confronted with a Myriad of Challenges
Apple is not the only company tapping into the prospect of recycling. Mitsubishi Materials, part of the Mitsubishi Group, plans to recover cobalt and other raw materials from used electric vehicle batteries starting in 2024. The increasing EV adoption across the globe puts further strain on the supply of REEs and other critical materials. Combined with China’s supremacy in the REE market, other nations are scrambling for alternative sources. Recycling thus presents a possibility of easing tensions. So far, recycling of REEs faces a multitude of issues (PDF), according to a 2019 paper by researchers from the University of Oulu, Finland: REE Recycling technologies are still new and sparsely implemented. Additionally, the process of recovering REEs is extremely energy intensive. Also, there is very little or no incentive for recycling because of a lack of government regulations and policies. Finally, the amount of REEs in products to recycle is very low, considering a common smartphone only contains a few grams of REEs. This culminated in high costs and thus no economic viability of recycling REEs. With companies like Apple and Mitsubishi entering the scene, this could change.
Photo: iStock/Andrey Mitrofanov