Ever wondered if iPhones can be recycled? On Monday, Apple Inc. revealed Liam, a robot designed to rip apart out-of-use devices and recover recyclable materials, such as tungsten and silver.
The company has built Liam as a response to the criticism that Apple’s sleek and seamlessly designed products are so tightly constructed that they can be difficult to disassemble, refurbish or recycle.
After being under development for nearly three years, Liam was initially focused on the iPhone 6. The robotic system will be expanded to be able to handle different devices and recover more resources that could be reused, according to Apple.
It started operating at full capacity in February 2016, and its efficiency is awe-inspiring: one iPhone 6 is taken apart every 11 seconds, as Liam recovers copper, aluminum, tin, cobalt, tungsten, gold and silver parts.
Assuming that the system will be working uninterrupted and at the same rate, Liam can handle as many as a few million phones per year. While that’s impressive, it’s not enough to match the 231 million phones Apple sold annually (according to a 2015 report).
Apple’s initiative was welcomed by Greenpeace as an example of how the tech company can keep more products out of landfills. However, the environmental group has also wondered if the Liam robot could actually have a significant impact on iPhone recycling volumes.
Liam won’t work with independent e-waste recyclers, which are currently receiving the bulk of discarded iPhones. Gary Cook, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace, is not as excited about Liam.
It’s great that Apple got a robot to do it, he said. But he believes a more convenient solution would be making it easier for humans to take apart the devices and recover the reusable materials.
That’s why Greenpeace recommended that Apple build its devices easier to deconstruct. China and the United States account for nearly a third of the discarded electronic equipment in the world, and according to an April 2015 United Nations University report, only a sixth of the global e-waste is recycled or made available for reuse.
Hoping to push the idea of a circular economy in electronics, Apple will create and install a second Liam. This time, its services will be offered to Europeans, but experts are still not convinced that will solve the recycling problem.
Putting robots in California and Europe is not the answer to our problem. It’s great that Apple wants to address that problem, but unless they can place one of these robots inside every recycler in the world, the impact is going to negligible.
Watch Liam deconstruct an iPhone 6 in the video below:
Image Source: InfoBae