Re­spon­si­ble iPhone Own­er­ship

An En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist’s Dilemma

iPhone Life Magazine - - Life+Tech - by Chris Vasques

For the past 20 years, I have been what you would call an early adopter, pur­chas­ing new gad­gets (in­clud­ing new iPhones start­ing with the iPhone 3G) as soon as I could get my hands on them. Af­ter study­ing ecol­ogy for the past cou­ple of years, how­ever, I have slowly be­come more aware of how con­sumerism af­fects the en­vi­ron­ment. I love Ap­ple for a whole host of rea­sons, but I have fused my af­fec­tion for new tech­nol­ogy with a re­spect for sus­tain­able prac­tices. In that spirit, I de­cided to ex­am­ine the life­cyle of the iPhone from man­u­fac­ture to dis­posal to learn how Ap­ple en­thu­si­asts like my­self can max­i­mize earth-friendly prac­tices while con­tin­u­ing to en­joy new tech­nol­ogy. Here, I'll share my find­ings.

An iPhone Is Born

If you look closely, you'll find the words “De­signed by Ap­ple in Cal­i­for­nia” etched on to the back of most iPhones. But where is the iconic smart­phone ac­tu­ally man­u­fac­tured? While the text “As­sem­bled in China” also ap­pears on the back of the iPhone, in re­al­ity com­po­nents for the de­vice are man­u­fac­tured by over 200 sup­pli­ers in fa­cil­i­ties around the world, ac­cord-

ing to Ap­ple. Un­like per­sonal elec­tron­ics com­pa­nies such as Sam­sung who man­u­fac­ture many of their own parts, Ap­ple's sup­ply chain is ex­tremely com­plex.

With such var­ied sources, how does Ap­ple en­sure en­vi­ron­men­tal safety, ad­e­quate la­bor con­di­tions, and fair treat­ment of work­ers from such var­ied sources? Ap­ple hasn't al­ways had the best track record, es­pe­cially at Fox­conn, the gi­ant as­sem­bly plant in China that has a his­tory marked by harsh work­ing con­di­tions, child la­bor, and em­ployee sui­cides.

How­ever, Ap­ple's rep­u­ta­tion is chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally un­der CEO Tim Cook's lead­er­ship. Cook has ex­panded ef­forts to au­dit each step in Ap­ple's sup­ply chain. Ac­cord­ing to Ap­ple's 2017 Sup­plier Re­spon­si­bil­ity Progress Re­port, the com­pany con­ducted 705 au­dits of fa­cil­i­ties in 2016, the most of any year so far. In 2016, Ap­ple re­moved 22 smelters (which mine and re­fine raw ma­te­ri­als used in iPhones, such as cobalt, tin, tan­ta­lum, tung­sten, and gold) from its sup­ply chain. These smelters are no­to­ri­ous for un­load­ing mas­sive amounts of sul­fur diox­ide and ni­tro­gen ox­ide into the at­mos­phere, of­ten caus­ing acid rain. The im­pacts of unchecked smelters are felt in our rivers, streams, oceans, forests, soil, and wa­ter sup­plies. Ap­ple now re­quires sources to meet strict guide­lines and has vowed to con­tinue work­ing only with smelters who meet its high stan­dards.

In re­sponse to ef­forts such as these, Green­peace has her­alded Ap­ple as the green­est tech com­pany in the world for the past three years. Ap­ple also has im­pres­sive plans for the fu­ture. Cur­rently, Ap­ple uses 96 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy for its data cen­ters, fa­cil­i­ties, and re­tails stores. By 2020, Ap­ple has vowed to reach 100 per­cent sus­tain­ably sourced en­ergy and is also work­ing to switch partners in its sup­ply chain to re­new­able en­ergy.

Ap­ple also has plans to move away from min­ing en­tirely, aim­ing in­stead to make all new iPhones from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als by ex­pand­ing re­cy­cling tech­nolo­gies for alu­minum to in­clude tin and cop­per. As far as pa­per and pack­ag­ing, Ap­ple an­nounced it has suc­cess­fully achieved 99 per­cent sus­tain­able sourc­ing through re­spon­si­bly man­aged pa­per, bam­boo, and sug­ar­cane waste.

A Day in the Life

While the sus­tain­abil­ity of iPhone pro­duc­tion falls on Ap­ple, the re­spon­si­bil­ity passes on to us as con­sumers as soon as we pur­chase a de­vice. The iPhone has be­come in­ti­mately in­te­grated in our ap­proach to daily life. We wake up to it, we say good­night to it, and our hands reach for it mul­ti­ple times per hour through­out the day. One key resource we use to keep our iPhones alive and in ser­vice is elec­tric­ity. When we plug our de­vices in to a wall out­let at home or work, 65 per­cent of that power comes from fos­sil fu­els, ac­cord­ing to the US En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Agency.

Ad­just­ing the source of your iPhone's juice to so­lar can dis­place daily charg­ing from your en­ergy bill and sweep clean your con­science just by know­ing you have a sun-pow­ered iPhone. At less than $50, the Anker 15W Dual USB Pow­erPort So­lar Charger is a great op­tion that comes with two ports and charges at the ideal 2.1 amps un­der direct sun­light.

Here's an­other fac­tor to con­sider. Just think about how many de­vices the iPhone has elim­i­nated from most of our lives: HD cam­eras, GPS de­vices, cal­cu­la­tors, voice recorders, mp3 play­ers, video play­ers, clocks, alarm clocks, pe­dome­ters, cal­en­dars, hand­held gam­ing de­vices, flash­lights, in­ter­net brows­ing de­vices, and a whole host of other de­vices that third-party apps can re­place. When we con­sider all the elec­tric­ity, plas­tics, charg­ers, me­tals, pack­ag­ing, and man­u­fac­tur­ing we elim­i­nate sim­ply by own­ing one de­vice, we must take a mo­ment to pat our­selves on the back and praise Ap­ple's un­tir­ing com­mit­ment to mak­ing other de­vices ob­so­lete. Even with­out so­lar charg­ing, you are do­ing the world a ser­vice by us­ing the great­est gad­get killer in his­tory.

“Green­peace has her­alded Ap­ple as the green­est tech com­pany in the world for the past three years.”

A Re­spectable, Re­us­able Re­tire­ment

Af­ter serv­ing time as our go-to de­vices for al­most every­thing, even­tu­ally our iPhones be­gin to show their elec­tronic age. We up­date the iOS, we up­date apps, and we (gasp) put a few dings, dents, scratches, and cracks on our bat­tle-rav­aged tech tool. Some of us up­grade ev­ery year while oth­ers clutch an aged-gen­er­a­tion iPhone as long as it will turn on. While I used to be an early adopter, I now see the value of buy­ing used iPhones. If we can de­lay grat­i­fi­ca­tion a bit and buy used, we can be cer­tain we are buy­ing items on our own terms and help cut down on en­ergy and ma­te­rial use.

Hold­ing on to an iPhone for as long as pos­si­ble is the en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able move, but how long is too long? The gen­eral con­sen­sus is about three years. Wait longer, and the bat­tery starts to se­ri­ously de­grade, the hard­ware doesn't quite match the iOS anymore, and a host of other is­sues be­gin mak­ing the iPhone a source of frus­tra­tion in­stead of joy.

A Peace­ful Pass­ing: Is There iPhone Life Af­ter iPhone Death?

When the day fi­nally comes to up­grade your iPhone, you have sev­eral op­tions of what to do with your re­tired de­vice. If it's still func­tion­ing, sell­ing lo­cally is best. Oth­er­wise, trade-in ser­vices such as Gazelle, Swappa, and Glyde will pay you fast in cash or gift cards with min­i­mal has­sle and ef­fort. Fi­nally, you can al­ways look to eBay for a com­mu­nity of mil­lions who are buy­ing and sell­ing all day long, ev­ery day.

If your de­vice is dam­aged or non-func­tional, you can take ad­van­tage of Ap­ple's Re­new pro­gram, which ac­cepts items in any con­di­tion to re­spon­si­bly re­cy­cle. Ap­ple's head of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs said Ap­ple has re­claimed and re­cy­cled 85 per­cent of what it sold 7 years prior, an im­pres­sive feat con­sid­er­ing the in­dus­try av­er­age for 7 years be­fore is 70 per­cent. But what does Ap­ple do with your old iPhone? First, they de­ter­mine if they can re­pair it and re­sell it into the used mar­ket. If the iPhone is be­yond re­pair, they re­move valu­able com­po­nents such as the LCD screen, cam­era, and pro­ces­sor for sale into the com­po­nent mar­ket­place. Ap­ple's two de­con­struc­tor ro­bots named Liam can take apart 2.4 mil­lion iPhones per year. Any left­over pieces are then ac­tu­ally re­cy­cled. Ap­ple does its best to re­cy­cle every­thing in North Amer­ica, but of­fi­cially, the com­pany doesn't dis­close what ul­ti­mately hap­pens to any of the bro­ken-down com­po­nents.

For non-Ap­ple trade-in ser­vices ac­cept­ing iPhones for re­cy­cling, this process is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. With­out state of the art equip­ment, these other com­pa­nies are gen­er­ally in the busi­ness of sell­ing busted iPhones at whole­sale. These iPhones are not likely to be bro­ken down for parts here in the states by these com­pa­nies.

Fi­nal Thoughts

As a stu­dent of sus­tain­abil­ity, I am be­com­ing more aware of the im­pact of the pur­chases I make. As en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious as I try to be by buy­ing lo­cal, buy­ing used, and avoid­ing the trap of prod­uct ob­so­les­cence whether planned or per­ceived, I still man­aged to rack up 72 or­ders on Ama­zon in 2016. Hav­ing a deeper aware­ness about how our prod­ucts are made is im­por­tant, but life de­mands bal­ance. I know if I spent all of my time stress­ing about where ev­ery last item in my life came from, or feel­ing guilty and ashamed when it fi­nally ar­rived, I would drive my­self in­sane. Hav­ing a global con­sumer mar­ket pro­vides a con­ve­nience that pays in­cal­cu­la­ble time div­i­dends in our busy lives. Over the last 200 years, we have pushed the tol­er­ance of the en­vi­ron­ment in the name of a bet­ter qual­ity of life. Now, we are shift­ing to­ward find­ing bet­ter ways to con­tinue to make in­no­va­tive prod­ucts in a more thought­ful way that takes into ac­count all the reper­cus­sions of our ac­tions. By tak­ing these steps, we can care about the en­vi­ron­ment and con­tinue our love of new tech­nol­ogy.

“Ap­ple’s two de­con­struc­tor ro­bots named Liam can take apart 2.4 mil­lion iPhones per year.”

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