Apple recently unveiled a new ‘member’ of its team: Liam, a robot that safely and quickly takes apart iPhones and recovers any reusable materials.
As we update our electronic devices, it can be difficult to know how to properly dispose of our old ones. Throwing them in the trash is a no go – electronic waste, such as old computers, phones, TVs and appliances comprises two per cent of landfill waste in the US but accounts for up to 70 per cent of the toxic waste there, thanks to materials such as mercury and iron seeping out of devices as they break down. Finding a convenient way to recycle them can also be tough and not all recycling programmes offer transparent information about how they process unwanted gadgets. It is estimated that around 70 to 80 per cent of global e-waste is sent to developing countries where it ends up in landfill or in circulation in the informal sector, where valuable materials are extracted under conditions that can harm human health before being sold.
In an effort to try and sustainably manage the e-waste caused by its products, Apple has developed and introduced a robotic system, dubbed Liam, which breaks down and recycles old iPhones. Liam is, in part, a response to the fact that recycling Apple products can be more difficult than other forms of e-waste, given that the batteries are glued into the devices, making them tricky to disassemble.
The 29-armed bot takes apart iPhones and safely extracts materials, like lithium, copper, silver and tungsten, so that these can be reused in other products, thereby avoiding the need to source their raw counterparts. The whole process takes 11 seconds, meaning Liam could take care of 1.2 million handsets per year, which may sound fast but, as pointed out in an article by Reuters, it still wouldn’t be quick enough to process the 231 million phones Apple sold in 2015 alone and representatives of Greenpeace and iFixit have questioned just how much impact the initiative will have.
Liam is part of Apple’s broader environmental plan, which also includes running their stores, factories and offices entirely on renewable energy and a take-back scheme that allows customers to send in their old device once they finish with it and, if the device still has any value, receive a gift card equivalent to that value.
There is currently one Liam set up at Apple HQ in California and a second robot is planned for Europe. To learn more, head to Apple's website or check out the video below: