Apple recycles cobalt to use in new batteries

April 23, 2019 // By Nick Flaherty
Apple is recycling cobalt, aluminium and rare earth elements from old devices
Apple is recycling cobalt from old batteries to use in new ones in its latest products. It is also recycling significant amounts of aluminium and rare earth elements through new process technologies.

The company is refurbishing over 7.8 million devices and recycling over 48,000 metric tons of e-waste according to its 2018 environmental report released this week.

It is recycling a range of materials including aluminium, cobalt, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, tungsten and zinc, using a robot system called Daisy to dismantle iPhones and Macbooks.

“A limited supply of recycled cobalt is available on the market for use in batteries like ours, not because recyclers lack the ability to recover cobalt, but because many recyclers don’t have enough scrap sources, like batteries,” said Lisa Jackson, Vice President, Environment, Policy & Social Initiatives at Apple. “So we set out to find new sources of scrap for our recyclers, starting with our own supply chain. We began sending iPhone batteries recovered from Daisy, Apple’s iPhone disassembly robot, to our upstream recycler in Apple’s battery supply chain.”

After a successful pilot program, battery and final assembly suppliers now send Apple’s battery scrap to recyclers for batteries of new Apple products. The recycling helps reduce the cost of the batteries, as cobalt is in demand for electric vehicles.

Elements like neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are used in magnets for audio applications, in cameras, and in haptics technology. Traditional recycling doesn’t recover these rare earth elements as they are used in small quantities and technology has not advanced sufficiently to recover them. However, Daisy recovers the small components that contain rare earth elements from the iPhone and this creates an opportunity for new technology to recycle these materials.

Next: Recycling aluminium

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