Does your iPhone really get recycled when you give it back to Apple? This report says it might not

iPhone 14 pro
(Image credit: Future/ iMore)

What do you do with your old iPhone after you've upgraded to the shiny new, best iPhone on the market? Some trade-in their old handset for the new one. Others try to sell it themselves. Or if you've got an older device, you may just give it back to Apple to recycle. But does your iPhone actually get recycled if you do this. This report suggests that it doesn't.

In what reads like a plot of an Ocean's flick, over 99,000 iPhones which were supposed to meet their maker (quite literally) in the recycling shredders, found themselves on a secret detour to the grey markets of China. This little escapade was courtesy of employees at GEEP Canada, a partner of Apple’s recycling program. These “recycled” iPhones were not meant for resale; they were supposed to be destroyed to recover precious materials.

These devices, which were fully functional and ready for a second life, were instead smuggled out and sold off, completely unbeknownst to Apple. The scale of this “recycling” ruse? Massive. Apple’s audit revealed shocking discrepancies with missing products and misplaced data. It’s not just a breach of contract – it’s a full-on heist of tech that could’ve been an environmental or security risk, had they contained sensitive data.

Apple's recycling efforts today

Despite the blip with GEEP, Apple's recycling efforts today are nothing short of industry standard. Gone are the days of just smashing up old iPhones to bits – Apple uses high-tech machines to separate your old iPhone into its components.

One example is Daisy, Apple’s smart recycling robot that disassembles iPhones piece by piece, recovering more materials for reuse than ever before. This is part of a bigger strategy where Apple aims for a circular supply chain, pushing the envelope on sustainability.

Apple has made significant strides in enhancing its recycling technology, from advanced shredding techniques to introducing robots like Daisy, which can process numerous iPhone models per hour, salvaging materials like cobalt and tungsten.

The focus now is not just on recycling, but on creating long-lasting products that can go through multiple owners before they even hit the recycling line. The biggest example of this is Apple's Self Service Repair program, which allows tech-savvy users and third-party repair shops to use Apple's own hardware and tools to repair the latest Apple devices.

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Connor Jewiss

Connor is a technology writer and editor, with a byline on multiple platforms. He has been writing for around seven years now across the web and in print too. Connor has experience on most major platforms, though does hold a place in his heart for macOS, iOS/iPadOS, electric vehicles, and smartphone tech.

  • Just_Me_D
    Maybe I’m in the minority, but once I’ve wiped the phone, given it away or turned it in to Apple, I don’t care what happens to it at that point because I’m too busy enjoying the new one.

    Anyway, this reminds me of a time when restaurants used to give leftover food to the homeless until someone complained. Now they have to throw the unused food away of which some people are calling wasteful. It’s a catch-22.
  • Wotchered
    So long as a phone has been completely cleared I suppose it does not matter.
    I wonder how many have been ?