Some of today’s more “socially aware” companies like to talk about becoming a closed-loop manufacturer. The topic seems particularly prevalent in the electronics industry, where generally higher profit margins may make it easier to actually accomplish such a challenging goal.
The most recent example of this is Apple. One of its key strategic objectives is to bypass the mining industry as much as possible by “mining” instead the innards of its customers’ discarded electronic devices.
Apple does quite a bit of this activity already, as it turns out. In 2018, the company reported that it refurbished nearly 8 million of its devices — thereby helping to divert nearly 50,000 metric tons of electronic waste from landfills.
But now it’s doing even more. Apple has developed a robot that is engineered to disassemble electronics. The robot, dubbed “Daisy,” is able to disassemble 1.2 million devices per year, retrieving 14 types of minerals for reuse. There are now multiple locations in the United States which can receive discarded Apple iPhones for disassembly and closed-loop manufacturing.
Of course, Apple’s lofty objective isn’t without its critics. Some note that Apple eschews the idea of manufacturing devices that can be repaired, rather than merely recycled. Others rebut the idea, noting that advancements in electronics make it unrealistic that the life of any single Apple device would ever extend longer than single-digit years.
Still others doubt that Apple will ever succeed in becoming a true closed-loop manufacturer. Kyle Wiens, who heads up iFixit, a firm that advocates for electronics repair versus replacement, is one such detractor. Says Wiens, “There’s this ego that believes they can get all their minerals back — and it’s not possible.”
What are your thoughts about the potential of closed-loop manufacturing and the Apple experience? Feel free to share your observations with other readers here.