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Apple ups phone recycling with ‘Daisy’ robot but still relies on mines

Inside a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, Apple’s Daisy robot breaks apart iPhones so that 14 minerals, including lithium, can be extracted and recycled. Apple is already using recycled tin, cobalt and rare earths in some of its products, with plans to add to that list. The company last month bought the first commercial batch of carbon-free aluminum from a joint venture between Rio Tinto and Alcoa.

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Daisy, less than 18 metres in length, uses a four-step process to remove an iPhone battery with a blast of -80°C air, and then pop out screws and modules, including the haptic module that makes a phone vibrate.

The components are then sent off to recyclers for the minerals to be extracted and refined. Daisy can tear apart 200 iPhones per hour. Apple chose the iPhone to be the first of its products that Daisy would disassemble because of its mass popularity, said Jackson.

Apple is considering sharing the Daisy technology with others, including electric car manufacturers. Daisy does have its sceptics, including some in the tech world who want the company to focus more on building products that can be repaired, not just recycled.

“There’s this ego that believes they can get all their minerals back, and it’s not possible,” said Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, a firm advocating for electronics repair, rather than replacement.

That may partially explain why the mining industry isn’t worried.

“Apple is in an enviable position, because they can do this,” said Tom Butler, president of the International Council on Mining and Metals, an industry trade group. “Not everyone else will be able to follow suit.”

Reuters

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