Dreamstime Images
Dreamstime L 92406947

Apple is Moving to 100% Recycled Cobalt Batteries

May 1, 2023
By 2025, Apple, Inc., plans to use 100% recycled cobalt in all of the batteries that it designs.

Download this article in PDF format.

“E-waste,” “electronic waste,” “e-scrap” and “end-of-life electronics” are all terms that describe used electronics that are nearing the end of their useful life, and are discarded, donated or given to a recycler, according to the EPA. A major source of e-waste, batteries and the materials they contain can harm the environment, particularly when those batteries aren’t properly disposed of.

If batteries wind up buried in landfills, for example, they can emit chemicals they contain to leach into the soil and groundwater. This, in turn, contaminates drinking water and harms people, animals and plants.

By making more sustainable batteries, electronics manufacturers can operate more sustainably while also adhering to any government regulations focused on reducing e-waste. In April, for example, Apple, Inc., announced its plans to be using 100% recycled cobalt in all of the batteries that it designs within the next two years. “Every day, Apple is innovating to make technology that enriches people’s lives, while protecting the planet we all share,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, in the announcement.

“From the recycled materials in our products, to the clean energy that powers our operations, our environmental work is integral to everything we make and to who we are,” Cook continued. “So we’ll keep pressing forward in the belief that great technology should be great for our users, and for the environment.”

What is Recycled Cobalt?

Cobalt mining is a controversial topic because of the poor working conditions and environmental damage that often occur in the mines. Children as young as seven may be forced to work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, and the mines themselves are often dirty and dangerous places. Cobalt mining can also damage the environment, pollute water sources and destroy forests.

Known to be more sustainable, affordable and ethically-sourced than primary cobalt, recycled cobalt has been recovered from used batteries or electronic devices. The material is then used to design and produce the new batteries, magnets or other products. This helps reduce demand for primary cobalt, which can negatively impact the environment when it’s being mined from the earth.

Along with its 2025 target to start using 100% recycled cobalt in all of the batteries that it designs, Apple is also pledging to use device magnets that incorporate entirely recycled rare earth elements within the same timeframe. And, it says that by 2025 all Apple-designed printed circuit boards will use 100% recycled tin soldering and 100% recycled gold plating.

These efforts are a part of the manufacturer’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. The idea of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by balancing emissions so that they are equal (or less than) the emissions that get removed through the planet’s natural absorption, carbon neutrality requires companies to reduce their emissions via climate action.

“Our ambition to one day use 100% recycled and renewable materials in our products works hand in hand with Apple 2030: our goal to achieve carbon neutral products by 2030,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social Initiatives, in the company announcement. “We’re working toward both goals with urgency and advancing innovation across our entire industry in the process.”

Still More Work to Do

In “Apple accelerates use of recycled materials across all its products,” Computerworld’s Jonny Evans applauds the company’s sustainability efforts but says there’s still more work to be done in this area.

“While Apple’s news sounds good, and it is reassuring to think that at some finite future point the majority of the components used in its devices will probably be recycled, reclaimed or renewable, that’s only part of the battle,” Evans writes. “Apple is just one company, and not every manufacturer has come anywhere near as close to matching the scale of its ambitions here.”

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Supply Chain Connect, create an account today!

About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.