Apple’s new iPhone 12 is made from recycled rare earth minerals in response to environmental concerns

In this photo illustration the new iPhone12 Pro is seen displayed on an iPad screen. (Photo by Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
In this photo illustration the new iPhone12 Pro is seen displayed on an iPad screen. (Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Amid the fanfare of Apple’s iPhone 12 announcement on Tuesday, the company also revealed what it is doing to address concerns about the environment.

The tech giant said growing concerns about “e-waste” meant it would not be including earbuds or chargers with its latest phones, and that the gadgets would be produced using recycled rare earth materials.

Apple said the measure was part of its pledge to become “100% carbon-neutral” in all aspects of its business by 2030.

(GERMANY OUT) metal trading Company Haines and Maassen GmbH in Bonn, The company trades mainly with the rare earth elements and specialty metals. The rare earths elements are indispensable raw materials for many key technologies of electronic products to medical equipment. The largest deposits are located in China. The Bonn metal dealers are among the most important suppliers of rare earths in Germany because of its good trade relations with China .  (Photo by JOKER / Alexander Stein/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Rare earth elements and specialty metals that are used in weapons and consumer electronics. (Getty)

Activists have previously raised concerns about e-waste and the environmental impact of mining for rare earth materials for smartphones as consumers continuously upgrade.

Rare earths, a group of 17 specialised minerals used in weapons, consumer electronics and other goods, have caused trade tensions between the US and China.

China has threatened to cut off the supply of some elements as a result of the tensions, raising fears of shortages.

Watch: Apple launches iPhone 12

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said Apple’s use of recycled rare earths was “not related” to trade tensions but could help it maintain a steady supply.

She told the Reuters news agency: “This is one of those happy coincidences where what is good for the planet is really good for business at the same time.

“One of the things we talk about a lot internally, just in general, is how much more resilient this makes our supply chain.”

In this photo illustration the new iPhone12 is seen displayed on a smartphone screen. (Photo by Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The new iPhone 12 is displayed on a smartphone screen. (PA)

Apple will use recycled rare earths from an outside supplier for the time being, and not from previously used iPhones.

Apple is experimenting with ways to recover rare earths from its phones using its robots, which can remove tiny parts and separate them into collection bins to aggregate enough material to make recycling viable.

According to the US Geological Survey, China has the world's largest rare earth deposits, with 44 million tonnes of reserves.