Apple Vows to Stop Using Rare Earth Minerals to Build its Electronic Devices… did it Have a Choice?

Apple plans to stop mining rare minerals, metals, and materials in manufacturing its iPhones, MacBooks and all of its other products. The tech giant also vows to make use of 100 percent recycled materials during  production to combat the effects of the depleting mineral resources. However, the company was quick to admit that it has yet to discover how to carry out the initiative. “We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it. So we’re a little nervous, but we also think it’s really important, because as a sector we believe it’s where technology should be going,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple SVP of Environmental Policy.

Apple’s announcement is in line with its recent progress report, highlighting its recent achievements in environmental protection. However the company notes that only a small portion of its devices use recycled materials. Recent research reveal that rare minerals — such as tantalum, zinc, copper, tungsten and cobalt — used in electronics production are already geared towards complete depletion. One step that the company plans to undertake is to gather parts from devices returned by customers and turn them into high-quality recycled materials. The company is encouraging their customers to recycle their smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices. According to the company, the biggest challenge so far is to recover aluminum from discarded, recycled products without compromising its quality.

Depleting resources leave companies no choice but to recycle

Apple’s decision to use 100 percent recycled materials may come as no surprise as the earth’s reserves of rare minerals have greatly diminished. In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Nature cautioned that minerals used in the production of electronic devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and wiring are rapidly decreasing. As part of the review, a team of international experts from academic, government, and industrial institutions across five continents analyzed data and demand estimates on global mineral supply sustainability in the coming years.

The research team found that mining exploration failed to keep up with future demand. The experts also noted that recycling these resources will not help in meeting these demands. In addition, the research team found that shifting to a low-carbon society will require large amounts of metals and minerals to develop clean technologies. The experts cautioned that the society currently does not have the means to meet the additional need for raw materials.

The findings underscore the need for international coordination to put more focus on exploration efforts, identify various minerals located in different areas, and determine bilateral agreements that various countries may require, the researchers said.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also stressed on the changing landscape of mineral use worldwide, pointing out that the use of these resources increased dramatically over the years.

“Many mineral commodities have changed in importance over time. Conversely, the use of most metals has skyrocketed during the industrial age, with iron, copper and aluminium being mainstays of much of the world’s economy and infrastructure. Rare earth elements are much more important than they were 30 years ago and are indispensible [sic] in technologies such as smartphones, wind turbines and hybrid cars. Other changes have only recently started developing…World reserves of almost all commodities are greater now than they were 50 or 100 years ago even though large amounts have been produced. This is because the time value of money leads most companies to only drill out 20 or 30 years’ worth of reserves even though much larger resources might be available. Some mines have had 20 years’ worth of ‘reserves’ for more than a century,” said USGS official Dr Lawrence Meinert.

Sources include:

DailyMail.co.uk

News.VICE.com

ScienceDaily.com

Mining-Technology.com

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