How Apple uses disassembly robots to work towards full independence from mined resources
Apple’s disassembly robot Daisy can pick apart an iPhone in 18 seconds to recycle its rare earth elements. Now, the tech giant needs more iPhone consumers to send in their old phones that gather dust in drawers at home.
27 Oct 2022

Even though Apple has been carbon-neutral for its global corporate operations since 2020, the tech giant is committed to being 100% carbon-neutral by 2030. This a bold statement for one of the world’s largest companies, which is dependent on mining complex and rare earth elements like tungsten, cobalt, tin, gold and others to build their high-tech products. Extracting materials continuously from the earth is a carbon-intensive process and can have an impact on the regions from which these resources are derived.

For Apple to make its production line carbon-neutral in less than eight years, the products would need to be built from renewable resources and materials, or all the product materials would need to work in a circular economy. With the complexity of microchips, integrated circuits, cameras, and batteries in iPhones, it’s understandable that Apple is focusing on the latter option.

This is where the disassembly robot Daisy comes in. To make sure that the battery, frame, camera modules, microchip, speaker, microphone, and every other small part of the iPhone can be rebuilt, Daisy can disassemble every single part of an iPhone, going as far back as the iPhone 5.

Right now there are two Daisy robots in the world, one in Austin, USA, and the other in Breda, the Netherlands. It can pick apart an iPhone in 18 seconds, meaning that 2.4 million devices could be recycled per year if Daisy was kept busy. But for Apple, the biggest challenge is finding old iPhones so that Daisy can be constantly fed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many iPhone users simply keep their old models in a drawer at home, instead of using the Apple Trade In programme when they’ve bought a new phone.

Despite this, Daisy still polishes up Apple’s recycling numbers quite a bit. In the fiscal year of 2021, Apple directed more than 38,000 metric tons of e-waste for recycling globally. From just one metric ton of iPhone main logic boards, flexes, and camera modules recovered by Daisy, Apple’s recycling partner was able to recover the same amount of gold and copper as more than 2000 metric tons of mined rock. 

But with Apple’s goal to one day achieve independence from mined resources, far more used iPhones need to be sent Apple’s way. Perhaps it’s a good idea to collect all your old iPhones that are gathering dust at home, to make sure that the next one is recycled.