Apple unveils ‘Daisy’ iPhone recycling robot for Earth Day

It’s been almost exactly one year since the world’s most valuable technology company declared its intention to make future iPhones and MacBooks entirely out of recycled materials. And behold: Just in time for Earth Day 2018, Apple is introducing the latest manufacturing innovation that it believes will help the company automate its way toward that goal.

Dubbed “Daisy,” the robot builds on a previous generation of technology called Liam, which Apple developed to deconstruct iPhones and strip out components to reuse for other purposes — and not necessarily just for new electronic gadgets.

She’s featured on the cover of Apple’s 2018 environmental progress report and can handle nine types of iPhones.

We created Daisy to have a smaller footprint and the capability to disassemble multiple models of iPhones with higher variation compared to Liam,

Apple believes it can recover materials that traditional recyclers don’t yet have the capability to recycling — and at a higher quality.

From the report: “We hold ourselves to a strict definition of a closed loop: To meet our goal, we must use 100 percent responsibly sourced recycled or renewable materials and ensure the equivalent amount is returned to the market.

Recognizing that this goal could take many years to reach, we remain committed to responsible sourcing of primary materials as we make the transition.”

While the Cupertino, California, company hasn’t set a timeline for its ambitious push into a circular manufacturing model for its products, it has prioritized what it’s recovering from the older ones. It has active projects focused on mining aluminium, cobalt, copper, glass, paper, plastics, stainless steel, tin, tungsten and rare earth elements including neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium.

According to the Apple report, Daisy can recover 1,900 kilograms of aluminum (used in enclosures), 770kg of cobalt (a material crucial for making batteries), 710kg of copper (crucial in circuit boards) and 11kg of rare earth elements (which play a role in controlling magnets, and also are used in the cameras and haptics devices). That’s just a partial list.

The company plans to install Daisy in multiple locations, starting in the United States (she’s already in Austin, Texas) and Europe. Here’s the list of products the system can handle: iPhone 5; iPhone 5s; iPhone SE; iPhone 6; iPhone 6 Plus; iPhone 6s; iPhone 6s; iPhone 7; and iPhone 7 Plus.

And here’s the caveat: Right now, Apple can only work with end-of-life devices that are returned to it directly. So the company is putting considerable muscle behind the Apple GiveBack trade-in and recycling program. That includes offering credit toward a future purchase.

Apple didn’t disclose much detail about current recycling rates in its new report, but the company recycled 68.5 million pounds of materials across its own operations during 2017, according to its latest environmental index.

The collection challenge could limit Daisy’s potential, at least initially, according to a statement by Gary Cook, the senior IT sector analyst at Greenpeace USA.

Rather than another recycling robot, what is most needed from Apple is an indication that the company is embracing one of the greatest opportunities to reduce its environmental impact: repairable and upgradeable product design,” Cook noted. “This would keep its devices in use far longer, delaying the day when they’d need to be disassembled by Daisy.

Apple already has reduced “primary aluminium consumption” across all of its products by 23% since 2015, according to the report. And it has “specified” 100% recycled tin for the solder used on logic boards for several iPhone models. “Unfortunately, tin is not recovered by all electronics recyclers,” the company noted in its report.

“So, we're prioritizing responsibly operating recyclers that recover tin, in addition to the copper and precious metals, from the main logic boards retrieved by Daisy.”

Written by Heather Clancy, Editorial Director, GreenBiz.

Daisy, Apple's new recycling robot, can disassemble nine versions of the iPhone. Its predecessor, Liam, was custom designed for the iPhone 6.   Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Apple

The new robot supercharges its predecessor's capabilities, operating more quickly and tearing down a much higher number of device models.   Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Apple

Daisy can disassemble up to 200 phones an hour. Assuming Daisy runs 24 hours a day, that would total 1.75 million iPhones a year. Liam could take apart 1.2 million iPhones a year when it launched two years ago. Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Spencer Lowell/Apple

Daisy is located in Austin, Texas. A second machine will eventually be placed in Europe.   Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Spencer Lowell/Apple

Daisy's improved technology allows Apple to sort out materials that traditional recyclers can't recover.  Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Apple

Daisy is part of Apple's push to promote Earth Day. The company has been focused for years on making its products and its operations more environmentally friendly and has long said it aimed to run its operations entirely on renewable energy. Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Apple

Daisy's predecessor, Liam (pictured here), has been retired.   Caption by Shara Tibken / Photo by Apple

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