Saturday, June 19, 2010

How green is your iPad? An analysis of the iPad's environmental report (Part 2: recycling)

We continue with our analysis of the iPad's environmental report. We decided to divide it to two more parts to make our analysis more readable, so today we'll discuss recycling, tomorrow we'll focus on materials and on Monday we'll finish with the social aspects of the iPad's manufacturing.


When it comes to recycling Apple's efforts include three important parts:
1. Apple minimize waste in the first place through "ultra-efficient design and use of highly recyclable materials". 2. Apple "offers and participates in various product take-back and recycling programs in 95 percent of the regions where Apple products are sold." 3. "All products are processed in the country or region in which they are collected." The question of course is whether it's enough to get consumers to actually recycle their iPad once the day when they wouldn't like to use it anymore arrive.

So let's look at the data Apple provides on its recycling programs on its website:

Apple has instituted recycling programs in 95 percent of the countries where our products are sold, diverting more than 83 million pounds of equipment from landfills since 1994. In 2008, Apple recycled 33 million pounds of electronic waste, achieving a worldwide recycling rate of 41.9 percent — our best ever. (To calculate this rate, we use a measurement proposed by Dell that assumes a seven-year product lifetime. The weight of the materials we recycle each year is compared to the total weight of the products Apple sold seven years earlier.) We are committed to achieving an industry-leading recycling rate of 50 percent by 2010. [Apple went up from 38 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2006].

This data does not refer of course to the iPad (no one probably wants to recycle it yet..) but it gives us an indication on the levels of recycling we can expect. So is 40%-50% a good recycling rate? Well, if you look at the national figures it is.

According to a report of
Electronics TakeBack Coalition, the recycling rate of computer products in the U.S. is 18% and for cell phones it's 10% (2007 figures). But is it enough? Not really. Just think about it - if iPad unit sales will reach 10 million in 2010 as Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty predicts, then a recycling rate of even 50% will still generate 7.5 million pounds (or 3,400 metric tons) of electronic waste. And don't forget we're talking here just about waste generated just from a single year of consumption.

What Apple needs to do? Apparently the infrastructure is sufficient, but what might be even more important is to provide consumers with a good incentive to recycle their iPad. Currently for example if you recycle your iPod with Apple, you get 10% off a new one. I guess Apple will need to find a better incentive for iPad users if it really wants to get most of them to recycle their iPad and not just about half of them.

Parts on the analysis published so far:
Part 1 - the iPad's Carbon footprint

More resources on the e-Books vs. physical books environmental debate can be found on our website at

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting Sustainable Reading!