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Apple has literally extracted a ton of gold from recycling old hardware

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Apple’s Liam robots are primed to pull apart 1.2 million old iPhones this year.


Image: Apple

Apple says it recovered more than a ton of gold from recycling discarded iPhones, iPads, computers, and probably a few Android handsets, too.

Apple revealed in its 2015 annual environment report that through its take-back initiatives it recovered over 61 million pounds of metals and plastics, the most valuable of which was 2,204lb (997.1kg) of gold.

The company accepts old computers, phones and tablets from any manufacturer as part of its effort to cut down e-waste and reuse valuable metals for new devices.

It’s primed its Liam robots to pull apart 1.2 million iPhones this year as part of that effort, alongside hundreds of third-party e-waste recyclers that it works with.

By weight, gold accounted for the smallest amount of metal extracted from old devices, but the most valuable.

At today’s gold prices it would be worth roughly $40m, Business Insider noted. According to Fairphone, a Dutch smartphone maker aiming to source conflict-free minerals for its devices, the average smartphone contains about 30 milligrams of gold. At this rate, Apple would need to recycle 33.3 million smartphones to recover 2,204lb of gold.

Apple also pulled out 23.1 million pounds of steel, 13.4 million pounds of plastic, 12 million pounds of glass, 4.5 million pounds of aluminium, 2.9 million pounds of copper, 189,544lb of cobalt, 39,672lb of nickel, 44,080lb of lead, 130,036lb of zinc, 4,408lb of tin, and 6,612lb of silver.

Cult of Mac has calculated the value of each metal here, but none comes close to the value of Apple’s gold haul.

Apple notes that these materials are recovered for reuse in new devices, rather than to be sold on metal markets. Including materials that were not reused, last year it collected 89 million pounds of e-waste, which it counts as waste diverted from landfills.

According to Apple, its Liam line of robots is equipped to take apart 1.2 million phones a year and can deconstruct a single iPhone in 11 seconds, removing valuable metals such as gold, silver and platinum.

Apple’s reuse of these materials is just as important as diverting materials from landfill. A 2013 report by the consultancy 911 Metallurgist highlighted that there was more gold in a pound of electronics than in a pound of gold ore.

It estimated that a ton of iPhones would yield 324 times more gold than a ton of gold ore from mines in Peru.

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