Nothing About the New iPhone Is ‘Good for the Planet’
Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro may be durable, but it’s not green
Apple unveiled its latest iPhones at a keynote event on Tuesday that was, as usual, filled with messaging about the environment. Rest easy if you want to upgrade: Apple’s official trade-in program is “great for you, great for the planet.”
That message was scrawled in gigantic letters above Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people, who added, “because we reuse and recycle, it’s great for the planet.” But the production of new iPhones is inherently wasteful and destructive, warn advocates who have long spoken out against unsustainable practices in the tech industry. Consumers who buy new phones should know that there’s no green way to do it.
“I think it’s great that they’re continuing to innovate, but you have to wonder whether it’s in the planet’s best interest, or yours as a consumer, to buy into the flow of new models,” says Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, which advocates for right-to-repair legislation across the United States.
Repairability goes hand in hand with longevity. The various components of a smartphone are difficult to reclaim, and so new materials are invariably extracted from the planet for new product rollouts. Apple pledged to develop a closed-loop supply chain in 2017, but progress is slow. Earlier this year, the company announced it had developed a robot named Daisy that could disassemble 200 iPhones an hour and reclaim cobalt for use in new batteries, though that’s one piece of a very complicated puzzle — and also requires those iPhones to be returned to Apple in the first place.
“The most environmentally friendly phone is the one that’s already in your pocket.”
Meanwhile, the company tries to thread the needle between touting its environmental commitments and selling fresh hardware every year. Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, played up the durability of the new iPhones, saying that tougher glass and superior manufacturing will radically prolong their life expectancies. Apple CEO Tim Cook called them “the most powerful and most advanced iPhones we have ever built.”