What is an iPhone made of
The apple's core: the environmental balance of iPhone, AirPods and Co.
Schoolchildren take to the streets for this, politicians have not been able to find adequate answers for years and experts are painting increasingly drastic future scenarios on the wall. Climate protection is without question one of the most important issues for humanity - now and for the coming decades.
Each individual can and should contribute something, but for large corporations the effect of switching to renewable energies and more environmentally friendly and renewable raw materials is of course even greater.
For several years now, Apple has been committed to becoming just such a more environmentally friendly company and, for example, one hundred percent to get along with renewable energies in the near future. But the group goes further and tries to rely more and more on recycled raw materials or biological plastics in the production of its devices. Let's grab a toolbox and see what materials are in the latest Macs, iPhones and iPads.
Apple employees are known for their confidentiality, but there are three ways to get information about the inner workings of the products. First, the videos in which Jony Ive, Apple's head of design, discusses the manufacturing techniques. Second, websites where experts like IHS Markit and iFixit break down electronic devices into their individual parts, for example to create repair instructions. And third, Apple's own progress reports on suppliers and important environmental issues.
Where do the Apple components come from?
- 1. Cambridge, England: iPhone processors are manufactured by ARM - a company co-founded by Apple.
- 2. Republic of the Congo: Metals essential for electronics such as cobalt, tungsten, tin and gold come from the Republic of the Congo.
- 3. People's Republic of China: Foxconn and Pegatron assemble iPhones, iPads and Macs at locations in the south and east.
- 4. Taichung, Taiwan: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company manufactures the A12 Bionic Chip in the world's first 7 nanometer factory.
- 5. Bangalore, India: The iPhone SE was manufactured here by Wistron. A planned Foxconn plant could build high-end iPhones.
- 6. Kentucky, USA: Corning makes high-quality gorilla glass for iPhone and iPad screens.
- 7. Texas, USA: The Mac Pro is assembled by Flextronics in Austin. Finisar's factory near Dallas produces the laser sensors for Face ID.
- 8. Arizona, USA: The processors used in Macs are manufactured in Intel factories in the USA.
The aluminum housing of the Mac and the glass displays of the iPhone make up the largest item in the range of Apple devices and their components. For this, Apple relies on Gorilla Glass from Corning. The material is too expensive for the large MacBook and iMac screens, so they have to make do with normal glass. However, the iMac is not designed to be picked up and operated with a finger.
Apple is silent about who makes the glass for the iPad. All that is known is that it is "primarily made using clean energy, which has reduced production emissions of the iPad Pro by 73 percent compared to the first iPad."
An exciting detail is known about the glass back of the iPhone XR, Xs and Xs Max. According to Apple, 32 percent of this should be made from “bio-based plastic”. This describes a material that is produced from renewable raw materials, for example food waste, corn, sugar beet or wood. Bio-plastics are also obtained from recycled plastic.
Anodized aluminum is a material Apple has been closely associated with since the 2000s. Back then, the PowerBook, the Power Mac, and then the iMac switched from a plastic shell to an aluminum case. Not only is it more classy, lighter, and more stable, it's also a great conductor of heat. This makes it an ideal material for slim computer cases.
Anodizing thickens the naturally oxidized outer layer of the metal into a durable, corrosion-free surface with controllable texture and color. Apple can offer silver, gold or gray MacBooks and produce the six colors of the aluminum frame of the iPhone XR. However, there is a catch with using aluminum. Although aluminum is the third most abundant element on the earth's surface after oxygen and silicon, it is so chemically reactive that it is never considered pure. Instead, for every ton of aluminum used in its manufacture, four tons of bauxite, a sedimentary rock that can be found in locations in China and India, has to be mined, heated and, using a large amount of energy, aluminum has to be extracted from it by melt-flow electrolysis.
To reduce the resulting CO2 emissions and save money, Apple began manufacturing the MacBook Air and Mac mini from 100 percent recycled aluminum last year. This is not as groundbreaking as it sounds: around 75 percent of the aluminum ever produced is still in use thanks to recycling. But only about a third of the aluminum in new products has been recycled because we are using more of the metal than in the past.
What's in the iPhone?
This photo from ifixit.com shows the various components of the iPhone XR - at least the ones that can be seen with the naked eye. The largest component is the battery. Apple is one of the world's largest buyers of cobalt - an important part of lithium-ion cells.
The most complex component of the iPhone XR is without question the A12 Bionic Chip, which is less than an inch in size, but still contains 6.9 billion transistors and creates 5 trillion calculations per second.
The aluminum for the case is melted from bauxite, a process that causes a quarter of Apple's total CO2 emissions.
The most expensive individual component is the LC display. It is made by suppliers in Japan and uses materials from many sources.
If you open an iMac, you will immediately see two large black speakers (on the picture on the first pages of this article on the far left and right). According to Apple's environmental report on the iMac with 5K display, these are made from 60 percent recycled material, while comparable parts in the iPhone, iPad and MacBook contain significant amounts of recycled plastics and bioplastics.
With a few exceptions, all Apple products are now free from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a widely used synthetic polymer. PVC is not sustainable because it is made from petroleum - and it poses environmental and health risks. In addition, the incineration of PVC in waste incineration plants produces dioxin, a highly toxic pollutant.
In general, there is probably less plastic in Apple devices than you think. While the iMac with a 27-inch display weighs around 280 grams of it, you only find 16 grams of it, excluding the charging cable and power supply, in a 12-inch MacBook - that's only one-thirtieth of the last plastic MacBook from 2009.
In the past, technical devices contained so-called brominated flame retardants. If these get into the environment as waste, they can be deposited in the body and cause neurological damage there. In 2014 Greenpeace reported that Apple was the only company in the world that had stopped using PVC and flame retardants in all PC components and external cables. However, some experts suspect that since then certain Apple cables break faster because PVC is no longer used, which in turn leads to more waste.
What's in the AirPods?
The case of the AirPods is made of a polymer that can be found in many products and shapes. Acrylonitrile ensures stability, butadiene ensures strength and styrene ensures the glossy surface. The speakers use rare earth magnets made of neodymium, iron and boron. Each headphone also contains a tiny processor, an audio chip, Apple's W1 chip, a radio antenna and a battery. With its 93 milliwatt hours, the lithium-ion cell has only one percent of the capacity of an iPhone. More and more users are complaining that the AirPods batteries are getting weaker and weaker after two years of use. The headphones often end up in the household waste, even though they should actually be disposed of as electronic waste. It's not good for the environment. On the other hand, the AirPods no longer have cables that often broke with older headphones. In this respect, they usually last longer than the EarPods.
Plastic is often a component of packaging, which is particularly wasteful as it is usually thrown away quickly. However, this is not the only reason Apple has been using paper and cardboard for its packaging for a long time, because these materials simply look higher-quality. Almost all Apple devices are now in a white box. With the new MacBook Air, the designers have succeeded in removing 87 percent of the plastic that was used in the previous model. Like the pages of Mac Life, the paper in Apple packaging is made from recycled material or from responsibly managed forests. Apple supports several such sustainable forestry projects in the US and China.
Not only the material, but also the weight and volume of the packaging has decreased over the years. The packaging of the current 21.5-inch iMac weighs around 35 percent less and is 53 percent smaller than the original 15-inch iMac from 1998. This not only uses less material, it also reduces emissions for transport.
So while the paper packaging of your Apple device is becoming more and more efficient and sustainable and environmentally friendly, the situation is unfortunately very different with the metals and minerals inside the device. For a combination of geographic, political and economic reasons, technology-critical materials are being mined in countries around the world where there are legitimate concerns about unsafe conditions for workers, child labor and the funding of armed groups. At the center of concerns about so-called conflict minerals is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is rich in natural resources but politically unstable. There raw materials such as the ore coltan, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are mined in huge and automated factories of foreign companies as well as in small primitive mines. All of these materials can be found in Apple computers and models of iPhone and iPad. In its 2019 progress report, Apple says it supports the Fund for Global Human Rights, an organization that works locally for the rights of miners and mining communities. The report also states that working with suppliers who cannot or do not want to adhere to Apple's guidelines will be terminated immediately.
Apple has long been the focus when it comes to workers' rights and ethics. Organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth keep putting their fingers in the wound and regularly criticize the iPhone manufacturer on behalf of an entire industry. Labor rights organizations like China Labor Watch and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior are focusing on Apple's contractors to challenge labor practices in electronics factories in Asia.
Apple itself adheres to its own strict code of conduct for suppliers in order to raise standards for employees in the entire supply chain - more on this on the website apple.co/ 2IYzaGA. This code of conduct places strict requirements on suppliers by checking whether they are complying with occupational safety regulations, which are often stricter than local laws. However, like other companies, Apple has had difficulty sourcing degraded materials that can be reliably traced back to ethical producers.
In 2017, Apple was recognized in Amnesty International's Time to Recharge report for its efforts to improve traceability and accountability in the cobalt supply chain. However, the report also mentions that there is a risk that suppliers may forge guarantees of origin. As of December 31, 2018, Apple reported to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that 100 percent of smelting and refining companies in their supply chain had participated in an independent external investigation and that Apple had fired five subcontractors who denied that control.
Although the Apple headquarters in Cupertino knows how much work there is still to be done, they also look idealistically into the future. “It sounds crazy,” the 2017 environmental report admitted, “but we are moving towards a closed supply chain. One day we would like to be able to manufacture new products entirely from recycled materials. ”That would make the mining of new material superfluous. For example, Apple's second-generation recycling robot, Daisy, can now dismantle nine iPhone models and recover parts that contain high-quality materials for recycling.
Apple's environmental chief Lisa Jackson admitted that it has not yet been fully understood how a closed supply chain can be achieved, because recycling is unfortunately so complicated in practice that progress is slow. So Apple is not yet at the end of its efforts and there are still some construction sites and problems that need to be solved, but Apple is on the right track and is setting a good example. And if Lisa Jackson's goals are achieved, one day it could really happen that a Mac is only made of the materials of old Macs. As long as we users can do something for the environment and maybe not change our devices every year.
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