Apple is one of the world’s top phone makers, shipping an estimated 218 million iPhones last year alone. Sometime this year it may pass 1.5 billion iPhones since the first one debuted, meaning in a little over a decade, Apple’s shipped enough phones to circle the planet more than 13 times.

That’s great for Apple’s bottom line, and helped to turn the Cupertino company from a niche computer maker into one of the world’s most highly valued companies — ever. But it’s not so great for an employee’s conscience.

Apple’s mammoth success — and the business of countless other computer and gadget makers — has come at a high cost, counted in untold tons of aluminum, cobalt, copper, glass, gold, lithium, paper, plastic, steel, tantalum, tin, tungsten, zinc and many other raw materials that are smelted, extruded, compressed, etched and polished into the magical device you’re using to read this story.

“You have a perfect storm brewing of everyone needs this stuff and the supply is rapidly shrinking,” said Callie Babbitt, an associate professor of sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. Some materials could be used up in the next half century, she said, leaving us without key components for the screens on our TVs and tablets, or pieces that help magnets make the alert vibrations on our watches and phones.

Whether Apple will attract academics, recyclers and other companies to participate in its new program is an open question.

In the meantime, it’s also working to collect more unused or destroyed iPhones to either refurbish or send them to Daisy. The company said US customers can now return iPhones to Best Buy stores too.

It’s also expanded its iPhone Upgrade Program, a monthly installment plan people can use to pay for their iPhones. When new devices come out, they can merely turn in their old iPhone and get a new one, restarting the clock with a new installment plan. As you probably guessed, those phones either get refurbished or sent to Daisy.

A next step could be for Apple to fully lease phones to us, said Jim Puckett, executive director of the electronics waste watchdog group Basel Action Network. That would help to cut down on waste, as we’d give the phone back to Apple with each new upgrade.

And before sending the iPhone to recycle, we recommend you strongly to backup all your data at first and then erase them.


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