Apple just announced that it plans to stop relying on mined rare earth minerals and metals to make their products, and instead use only recycled sources.
Mines where rare earth mineral are extracted are often sites of exploitation, where workers, some children, are exposed to extremely toxic substances and dangerous working conditions for scant pay. The effluent from the mines poisons soil and groundwater supplies and wreaks environmental devastation, too. Virtually all smartphone companies—as well as manufacturers of a long list of other tech products—rely on the rare-earth supply chain to make their products.
Apple wants to stop. It just isn’t sure how to yet.
“Can we one day stop mining the Earth altogether? It sounds crazy, but we’re working on it,” the company wrote in its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report published Wednesday.
Vice News called the move unprecedented for the tech industry, and spoke to Lisa Jackson, the former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency who now heads environment initiatives for Apple.
“We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” Jackson told Vice News. She hopes the announcement will send a message to mining companies that Apple is looking for recycled materials—perhaps prompting some of them to pivot their focus.
“Who knows more about recovering metals than people who mine them?” she said. “So some of the same smart people who do that, if they think there is a market for their services on the other side might get involved.”
Notably, Jackson also said that Apple is not exploring ways to elongate the lifespan of its products—like its iPhones, which the company says work for three years—or ways to make them more repairable as a means of conserving materials or reducing e-waste. “I think a product that lasts is really important, and a lot of people buy Apple products because they know they do last,” Jackson said.