Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

iFixit Really Doesn’t Think Apple Deserves Any Credit for Using Recycled Aluminum in New Products

iFixit took apart a couple of the new Apple Watch models and found a wildly different battery in the 40mm model than in the 44mm. They also took the time to snark about the recycled aluminum case.

Craig Lloyd:

Now, about Apple’s claim that the Series 5 Sport cases are made from “100% recycled aluminum.” While using recycled materials is great, the truth is most of the world’s aluminum is already recycled, and recycled aluminum is dramatically cheaper than the freshly-mined variety. The real question is whether Apple uses any recycled aluminum that wouldn’t have been recycled anyway. And after analyzing Apple’s statements on the matter, the answer seems to be no. Apple is in line with industry standards, and isn’t remaking the field. Recycling all the lithium or cobalt in their batteries would be a true leap forward, and Apple may well be working on something like that, but using recycled aluminum isn’t much to get excited about.

Let’s start with the overall argument: Apple’s use of recycled aluminum is a form of greenwashing because aluminum is already recycled, so they shouldn’t get credit for using the existing supply chain. That seems, to me, like a harsh oversimplification of a reasonable and more nuanced critique.

If it’s truly the case that the aluminum Apple uses has likely always been recycled — as Lloyd implies in the second and third sentences of this paragraph — one would think that they would have mentioned this before. After all, they’ve long explained that one of the reasons they use aluminum in the first place is because it’s highly recyclable. If Lloyd’s implications are correct, it should be trivial for Apple to make products that are ostensibly nearly fully recycled already and turn them into 100% recycled aluminum, right? But they didn’t say that they were doing so until the introduction of the new Mac Mini and Retina MacBook Air last year, which suggests that Lloyd’s cynical reading is simply incomplete. Furthermore, it’s worth asking why none of the company’s major competitors ever attempts to argue environmental bonafides.

For what it’s worth, I think Maddie Stone wrote a much more thoughtful critique of the company’s environmental efforts last year for Gizmodo. It acknowledges that electronic supply chains are complex and that Apple’s extensive use of the material presents further complications, that using fully-recycled aluminum in cases is a step forward, and says that many of the trace components in the company’s products are still mined in unsustainable ways. All terrific arguments. Lloyd’s critique is shallow and misleading.

Then there’s the way Lloyd pointed out that using recycled aluminum is cheaper than mining more — why bring this up? It isn’t actually relevant; it doesn’t change Lloyd’s argument one bit if you drop it. But it does leave the impression that Apple’s use of recycled aluminum is at least partly for economic reasons — which, I guess, is supposed to be inherently bad and evil. That’s a ludicrous argument. Environmental efforts can go hand-in-hand with economic incentives, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And if I’m being nitpicky — and I most certainly am but, well, they started it — Apple dropped the “Sport” designation with the introduction of the Series 1 and 2 models.