April 22, 2019 | 59° F

Apple's work in eliminating environmental impact

Apple products have been at the forefront of revolutionizing how consumers look at and use technology, and this year was no different. The latest iteration of the iPhone brought consumers a new way of touch screen manipulation in the form of 3-D touch, which is a capacitive sensing layer. 

Different companies create parts of these devices, which may have an impact on how efficient the construction process is for a new phone or tablet.

The Components and Logistics

Apple contracts its 3-D touch technology out to a company called Analog Devices Inc., in Massachusetts. This sensor layer is placed under a thin film behind the liquid crystal display (LCD). The raw materials actually used to make this are unknown, but Analog Devices makes several claims about their environmental policy on their website

The company is committed to reducing their impact by conserving water and energy while reducing emissions and waste, according to their site.

They have won several awards for their regulation, including a Gold certification by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Apple also has a unique “Retina HD” screen, referring to the high resolution made by LG Display in South Korea with a “Gorilla Glass” cover made by Corning in Kentucky.

LG's LCD is placed directly under the Gorilla Glass cover, which is better for the environment because it uses fewer materials and creates less waste.

It is also battery and space-efficient. 

The LCD panel is a layer of crystal which is above a layer of back-lighting and glass and below a polarizing film. This process requires automation to prevent flaws, which means that the facilities would have carbon emissions and water waste. 

LG Display states that they are committed to reducing water waste and rare earth minerals, have a regulation and management system in place and meet international standards for environmental management.

It is unclear how they minimize their carbon emission impact and what their goals are in the future, but some of their plants are in the process of receiving the Green Communities Certification.

Corning puts a mixture of different chemicals through an automated manufacturing process to strengthen the glass, after which it is placed in a hot salt bath during the ion-exchange process to create a damage-resistant high-compressed surface. 

This creates the cover glass, the part users can touch.

This cover glass is then shipped to one of LG Display’s factories where the whole setup comes together. The final display is sent to the Foxconn factories in China, where the actual phone is put together and mass produced.

Environmental Concerns

The logistical process, while necessary, is environmentally inefficient because shipping cover glass and the 3-D touch components from America to South Korea separately to build a display which is shipped to China releases a lot of carbon emissions that could be reduced by having the factories in the same area.

The use of rare earth minerals is a concern for a couple of reasons. While phones need these elements, their mining disrupts the nearby environment and creates both radioactive waste and other hazardous metal byproducts.

While rare earth mining was a violation in America and is one of the reasons why the Mountain Pass mine in California was shut down, it is not in China. As a result, China holds about 97 percent of rare earth minerals in the world — allowing them to freely place restrictions and embargoes on companies and countries.

The amount of plastic used in the iPhone display construction, including in the mounting frame, films and adhesive is another concern. Plastic is considered harmful to the environment for many reasons including the long photo-degradation process and sheer quantity associated with plastic.

Even if iPhones and their displays each contained a small amount of rare earth minerals and plastic, there have been more than 500 million iPhones sold worldwide, and only 1 percent of phones are recycled every year.

On a Positive Note

Apple is attempting to mitigate the environmental damage that is caused by their phones. Their website provides an Environmental Policy, which indicates their commitment to the cause.

According to the site, they are trying to reduce the carbon footprint each year and are attempting to regulate and restrict specific toxins from their products, although a full list of raw materials is not provided. 

About 87 percent of their energy use comes from renewable sources, according to the site. 

They have also started a Reuse and Recycling program, which provides consumers with an incentive for sending their device to Apple for recycling. 

Siddhesh Dabholkar

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