Circular economy

Liam, the iPhone-recycling robot, doesn’t know about reusing

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

According to the U.S. magazine Grist, Apple prefers to destroy smartphones without recovering the parts that still work.

Do you remember Liam, Apple‘s futuristic iPhone-recycling robot, triumphally presented in a promotional video a few months ago? The robot is a sort of Kali Goddess of circular economy: thanks to its 29 arms it can disassemble a smartphone in 11 seconds flat, separating screen, screws, SIM card tray and battery.

However, this might not be as good as it sounds. According to Grist, the American bible of environmental information, Liam is not really a friend of circular economy. Apple, in the interest of maintaining secrecy on the composition of its products, doesn’t want still functional components to be reused and put back into the market by recyclers, on the contrary, it wants them to be destroyed.

This is a waste, as reported by Grist. When old Apple devices are destroyed, many of their components – chips, cameras, etc. – are still perfectly functional and could live a second life in refurbished smartphones, toys, drones, and much more. Intact screens, which could be used to give a few more years of life to cracked phones, are pulverized. Therefore, the minerals composing the screen go completely lost.

Moreover, all the energy that was used to mine, refine, ship, and assemble these minerals goes wasted. According to Apple’s latest environmental report, the making of an Apple device requires on average the emission of 116 kg of CO2.

Liam can manage 1.2 million iPhones per year, and Apple created a special program for its customers called Renew to keep Liam busy. Even the American magazine admits that this initiative is praiseworthy in a way: giving old smartphones to Liam is surely better than keeping them in a drawer or throwing them away in the garbage. But from the point of view of circular economy, having phones destroyed by a robot is not the most efficient choice.

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