In 2021, Apple became the most valuable company in the world. As such, it’s one of the biggest contributors to the excess carbon emissions produced from manufacturing and the 50 million metric tons of e-waste thrown away each year. Recently, Apple announced that they plan to make every Apple product and every Apple operations carbon neutral by 2030:
It sounds good, right? Some of it might be greenwash but some of it might be meaningful change. Let’s take a closer look to find the good and the bad in Apple’s environmental plan — and how other manufacturers are reacting to the initiative.
As you’ve seen with Apple’s video above, the company mentioned a few plans for achieving carbon neutrality. Here are some of those:
Recycling Apple Products
There are a lot of precious metals and harmful chemicals that go into manufacturing each phone, computer, and electronic device. To address that, Apple is looking for ways to extract aluminum, steel, tin, tungsten, and plastic from old devices. This will reduce the amount of mining and energy they need to use to assemble a new Apple product.
Apple already released several products mostly made from recycled and reused materials and plan to eventually make every Apple product from 100% recycled or renewable materials. With this in mind, it’s using robots like Liam and Daisy to disassemble phones and recover materials which are then reused.
Manufacturing Using Clean Energy
There’s no doubt that manufacturing new phones and recycling old phones will still take a lot of energy despite having new methods and technology. Apple will still need to power robots, furnaces, and a ton of sorting equipment to effectively assemble and deliver products, and of course to recycle old products.
Apple is no newcomer to using renewable energy. It even claimed that it already reached carbon neutrality across all corporate, retail, and data centers by switching to 100% renewable energy. Now, its 2030 plan includes bringing its entire supply chain to net zero.
Zero Waste Facilities
Apple already has some facilities that are zero waste but most facilities have yet to achieve that target. When you go zero waste or even try to minimize waste, you’ll also need more energy, and unless that comes from clean energy, you might do more harm than good. Since Apple aims to use 100% renewable energy, however, that shouldn’t be an issue.
What Apple Has Done So Far
Here are some of the things that Apple has done so far that might’ve greatly reduced its carbon footprint.
Less Plastic Packaging
With the release of the iPhone 13, Apple ditched the plastic wrapping from its packaging and instead included two strips of tape on the bottom to keep the box sealed. Since the iPhone 12, the plastic that you have to peel off on the screen has been also replaced with a paper-like material.
No Power Adapters
Apple not including chargers for the Apple Watch and iPhone might have been controversial last year and we’ll talk more about that later. For now, here are two good things that came with ditching the charger in the box:
The first iPhone that Apple sold without the charger is the iPhone 12. By that time, most iPhone users already had a collection of power adapters from previous models. If users get a new adapter with each new phone, the odds are high that they’ll toss the old one, sending it to the landfill. So this move probably already saved hundreds of millions of chargers going to the landfill.
Packaging is also a whole lot smaller due to the removal of chargers, which means less cardboard and paper wasted. Distributing millions of iPhones and other products is also now more efficient with the smaller package size since more units can fit in a single shipping container. Fewer shipping containers means fewer emissions from the cargo ships, trucks, and other transport that deliver Apple devices around the world.
Another reason why some people are getting mad at Apple is that it refuses to use larger batteries. According to its 2021 Environmental Progress Report, one of its goals is Energy Efficiency, not just in manufacturing facilities, but more importantly, in the products themselves.
I think Apple is on the right track here. By focusing on more efficient systems and software that uses less power, its iPhones or MacBooks will have a longer battery life without needing a bigger battery. That will allow less mining for cobalt and lithium, and prevent toxic old battery acid from seeping into landfills.
Apple is also known for holding back on fast charging tech since fast charging is less efficient than standard charging. Fast charging also degrades batteries faster, rendering them useless much sooner.
I know people would still love to have those extremely fast charging speeds, but if you want to go green, you’ll have to stick with slow and efficient charging.
While Apple is doing something good things, there’s always a dark side. Apple is good at influencing the market. It can control its own consumers, and of course, it’s still largely profit-driven.
Create a Problem, Sell the Solution
This is one of Apple’s favorite tactics. “No headphone jack? Here’s a $10 headphone dongle you can buy.” And with the iPhone 12, “No charger? Here’s a $20 Power adapter.”
Sure, let’s go back to the power adapter dilemma. Let’s say that you do have a power brick from previous devices, well, surprise! Apple also changed the cable included, and that cable is now USB-C to Lighting instead of USB-A to Lighting. So yeah, unless you had an iPhone 11, most of your chargers from old iPhones won’t work with the cable included.
Sure, you can use your old pair of chargers, but who wants those old and possibly frayed chargers when you have a shiny new phone? Oh, and there’s also a new type of charger from them called MagSafe which is essentially a wireless charger with magnets. But oof, wireless chargers are terribly inefficient and of course, that’s more rare earth magnets, copper, and packaging probably going to a landfill in a few years.
Going back, this charger problem with Apple is still a good thing, if there are really some people who need to buy a separate charger, I guess the amount of prevented waste is still way more. But I still can’t help but be bitter especially when we can see that the company is earning more by forcing you to buy power bricks, cables, and MagSafe chargers even though it already managed to increase its profit margin by removing the chargers but keeping the same prices.
Oh, and of course, Apple is still refusing to put USB-C on iPhones, which is also another factor in growing unnecessary waste just to get more profit with proprietary Apple accessories.
Apple might be the most influential company when it comes to the tech industry. It revolutionized the personal computer with the Mac. It changed how we listen to music with the iPod. The smartphone we know today was more or less born with the first iPhone. The iPhone doesn’t have a large change per generation, but if there’s a change, other companies might follow.
When the iPhone 12 was released, Samsung came out with an ad mocking Apple for not having a charger. But after a couple of months passed, it deleted the ad, and viola, Samsung announced that the S21 won’t have a charger. It also cited going green as its reason for the change.
I don’t think the real reason is going green. The early ad promoting that the S21 has a charger obviously shows us that the company tried to capitalize on the situation. But once the iPhone 12 didn’t see the sales decrease that Samsung and other companies expected, it might’ve realized that it could increase its profit margins as well by ditching the charger and launching a greenwashing ad campaign.
Right to Repair
From the first iPhone, Apple didn’t want its consumers poking into iPhones as “consumers can ruin their perfect devices.” Well sure, as time passes, parts become smaller and become much more complicated, it’s only natural to have harder to repair phones right? If you think that then you’re right. But the thing is, Apple restricts most third-party repair, or even Authorized repair sometimes. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a famous case of Apple refusing to repair an iMac Pro.
The main problem with Apple and with companies in the tech or automotive industries is that they don’t want to sell parts. But in Apple’s case, this is taken to an extreme. The company also restricts manufacturers from selling parts, even to authorized repair shops.
The worst Apple product to repair is the iPhone. If you have an iPhone 8 or higher, and you break the rear glass, Apple can repair it… for $349 to $599! For whatever reason, Apple glued the iPhone’s back glass with glue that might hold the weight of an adult human. Fortunately, someone figured out that a laser can etch away that glue.
It’s not just the glue, though. The display, Touch-ID, and camera assembly are all paired to the phone as a unique part. If you replace it without having Apple or a good third-party repair to change the replacement part’s display numbers, you’ll lose features like Touch or Face ID, True Tone, or even slow your phone down.
Apple designs its phones and products with two things in mind: good performance, and planned obsolescence. For the company to be truly carbon neutral, it needs to ditch that planned obsolescence. Because even though hard-to-repair phones can still be recycled, planning for the phone to fail in a few years still wastes a ton of materials and the energy needed for it to be recycled.
Despite being harsh on Apple’s anti-repair and marketing tactics, it is still one of the companies that can actually reach its environmental goals. Of course, there is a ton it needs to do and improve, but just imagine if the world’s most influential company succeeds in this carbon neutral plan? The trend Apple sets for tech companies could create major change.
What do you think about Apple’s 2030 plan? Do you think it can be achieved? Let us know in the comments!