Apple to use recycled rare earth metals in key iPhone component

September 19, 2019 09:29
Apple says its use of recycled rare earths should not be linked with the US-China trade tensions. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple said on Wednesday that its new iPhones will use recycled rare earth elements in a key component, Reuters reports.

Recycled rare earths will be used in Taptic Engine, a part that lets iPhones mimic a physical button click despite being a flat pane of glass.

The part is about one-quarter of the rare earth elements inside the iPhone models, according to the report.

Rare earths, a group of 17 specialized minerals, have become a flash point in trade tensions between the United States and China. 

China dominates the processing of the raw minerals, and has implied through its state-controlled media that it could restrict rare earths sales to the United States.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said Apple’s use of recycled rare earths 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,” 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.”

In consumer electronics, rare earths reside in tiny speakers and actuators. The parts are so small that collecting them for recycling is difficult and expensive.

For now, Apple will use recycled rare earths from an outside supplier, not from previously used iPhones.

Apple declined to name the supplier or say what products the rare earths were recovered from, though the company did say the source was post-industrial, meaning material generated during manufacturing processes rather than from discarded consumer products.

Jackson said that Apple’s scale helped make the project economically viable.

In other initiatives, the company said that aluminum from enclosures recovered through its trade-in programs will be melted down and made into new MacBook Air laptop computers. 

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