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PRECIOUS STUFF

Apple’s recycling programs salvaged $43 million worth of gold from discarded products last year

By Marta Cooper

The headline on this story has been corrected.

Apple says it collected nearly 90 million pounds (40,800 metric tons) of old iPhones and other electronic waste in 2015, through its electronic-device recycling programs. The haul was enough for recyclers to recover more than 61 million pounds of material for re-use, though most of it was from non-Apple products.

Here’s what was reclaimed, according to Apple’s recently published annual report on environmental responsibility (pdf):

Material Volume (lbs)
Steel 23,101,000
Plastics 13,422,360
Glass 11,945,680
Aluminium 4,518,200
Copper 2,953,360
Cobalt 189,544
Zinc 130,036
Lead 44,080
Nickel 39,672
Silver 6,612
Tin 4,408
Gold 2,204

On current prices, that amounts to roughly $1.7 million worth of silver, $6.5 million of copper, and $43 million worth of gold.

To extract these materials more efficiently from its own products, Apple has a new robot that can disassemble an iPhone in 11 seconds and sort out the parts for recycling. The robot, known as Liam, was unveiled at an Apple press conference in March. Liam prototypes are now being used at Apple facilities in California and in the Netherlands, the company says. “It’s an experiment in recycling technology, and we hope this kind of thinking will inspire others,” Apple notes in its report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Apple itself had recovered $43 million of gold by recycling Apple products. In fact, as Motherboard pointed out, most of the products are not Apple’s, and most of the recycling is done by third parties; many US states require electronics manufacturers to pay to recycle a certain quantity of general e-waste. (In its report for 2014 (pdf, p. 17), the company noted that less than 10% of what its recycling programs collected was Apple products. It did not give a corresponding figure in the 2015 report.) The headline and text have been changed to reflect this.