Apple's Recycling in 2015 Yielded 35,000 Ounces of Gold

Gold. There are television shows that follow gold miners who toil, sweat, and use massive machinery to extract 3,000-plus ounces of gold in a mining season. We love those shows (at least I do), and we celebrate every hard-won ounce the plucky miners get. But it turns out Apple mined more than 10 times that amount in 2015, and it did so in recycled devices.

Liam, Apple's #1 Gold Miner?

Apple's #1 Gold Miner?

Apple issued its Environmental Responsibility Report for fiscal 2015 this weekend, and The Huffington Post noted that one of the factoids mentioned by Apple is that it recovered 2,204 pounds of gold in its recycling and "take-back" programs. That works out to 35,264 ounces of the stuff. At roughly US$1,235 per ounce at today's price, that's roughly $43,551,040 worth of gold recovered.

Under the heading "Amount of material recovered for reuse through take-back initiatives in 2015" Apple said it recovered more than 61 million pounds of precious metals, glass, aluminum, steel, and plastic. That includes the above-mentioned gold and 6,612 pounds of silver. All of those numbers, in pounds:

  • Steel: 23,101,000
  • Plastics: 13,422,360
  • Glass: 11,945,680
  • Aluminum: 4,518,200
  • Copper: 2,953,360
  • Colbalt: 189,544
  • Nickel: 39,672
  • Lead: 44,080
  • Zinc: 130,036
  • Tin: 4,408
  • Silver: 6,612
  • Gold: 2,204

In the report, Apple said:

We also see a huge opportunity to improve the way we reclaim finite resources from our products. Existing recycling techniques, like shredding, only recover a few kinds of materials and often diminish their quality. So we invented Liam, a line of robots designed to disassemble 1.2 million phones a year, sorting all their high­quality components and reducing the need to mine more resources from the earth. Liam prototypes are operating in California and the Netherlands. It’s an experiment in recycling technology, and we hope this kind of thinking will inspire others in our industry.


So far, of course, few, if any, of Apple's competitors have stepped up to copy Apple's environmental efforts, the one are Apple CEO Tim Cook has said more than once he wishes they would take Apple's ideas and run with them.

Apple didn't actually specify that Liam was responsible for all that gold. In fact, the wording makes it appear as if those huge quantities of reusable materials came about from a variety of efforts. If so, Apple's recovery efforts could yield even bigger results in the future.

And it also shows the value in being serious about recycling at an industrial scale. $43 million in gold and a few tens of millions more in other materials isn't even a drop in Apple's financial buckets, but the company has a significant shot at making even recycling profitable.

And, the company noted, every pound of whatever it recovers is a pound that doesn't have to be taken out of the ground.