Apple and Best Buy developing Circular Supply Chains

August 2019—The Circular Economy is finally coming to products you care about. Apple and Best Buy are working to extend the life of products, to make it easier to repair them, and make sure they get recycled. Apple owners can now take their devices to Best Buy to be repaired. Apple’s vision of ending the use of newly mined materials may seem radical but they’re already making progress. (Those of you who know The Natural Step principles will see the first and third principle reflected here.)

Apple's radical goal — announced in 2017 — to eliminate its use of mining in favor of recycled and renewable materials has made notable progress, as its 2019 Environmental Responsibility Report details. The company has been working on a menu of 13 materials from aluminum to cobalt to plastic to zinc. Often, the work involves designing pathways where none exist. For example, markets for recycled tin are robust, but not for rare earth elements. The company now uses recycled tin solder in logic boards in 11 products.

This has been even tougher than it sounds. Many of the components Apple uses can’t use recycled metals as is; they’ve had to invent new alloys. But they have the sustainability bit in their teeth and are challenging others to get in their chariot.

Apple has consistently set a stake in the ground with commitments, as if summoning others to follow while daring doubters to eat their words. Apple announced in 2016 that it would use 100-percent renewables, which it achieved in 2018. So far, 44 percent of its suppliers have committed to clean energy, and Apple says it's on track by next year to produce or procure 4 gigawatts of clean energy in its supply chain.

Maybe someday soon we all won’t have to feel vaguely guilty about what’s inside our smartphones, where it came from and where it goes.