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Ever Wonder What's Happened to the More Than 570 Million iPhones Sold Since 2007?
What happens when electronics come to the end of their useful life? For the vast majority of these devices, they either collect dust somewhere in our homes or offices or get sent to the landfill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 12.5 percent of electronic waste, or e-waste, is recycled in the U.S.
Bloomberg recently dug into Apple's e-waste problem—namely the fate of the more than 570 million smartphones that have been sold since the first generation iPhone debuted in Jan. 9, 2007—and found that the tech giant has collected more than 40,000 tons of e-waste in 2014, recovering enough steel to lay 100 miles of railway track.
Apple has sold 570 million iPhones in the past 9 years. What happens to these phones when they reach the end of the road? Photo credit: Flickr
It's clear that our increasingly digital world has left a shocking impact on our planet. These gadgets require a massive amount of energy to manufacture and its potentially hazardous components can have a toxic and even deadly imprint on planetary inhabitants.
With a growing number of smartphones, computers and tablets piling up in our drawers or the landfill, United Nations officials estimated that the volume of e-waste generated worldwide is expected to climb by 33 percent by 2017 to 65 million tons.
Apple will have to face this mounting e-waste catastrophe as each new product comes along. However, as Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives told Bloomberg, Apple has led the industry in recycling efforts:
In the electronics recycling business, the benchmark is to try to collect and recycle 70 percent, by weight, of the devices produced seven years earlier. Jackson says Apple exceeds that, typically reaching 85 percent, including recycling some non-Apple products that customers bring in.
That means it will have to get hold of and destroy the equivalent of more than 9 million of 2009’s iPhone 3GS models this year around the world. With iPhone sales climbing to 155 million units last fiscal year, grinding up Apple products is a growth business.
Apple has a free reuse and recycling program that allows users to turn in their old iPhones, iPads or computers (Mac or PC) for Apple gift cards if the device qualifies for reuse. If it doesn't qualify for reuse, Apple will recycle it at no cost to the consumer.
Apple works with the Hong Kong-based electronics recycler Li Tong Group that follows a strict and secretive multi-step process that consists of breaking down every single element of an old phone and capturing 100 percent of the chemicals and gasses that's released during the process, Bloomberg reported.
"There’s an e-waste problem in the world," Jackson told Bloomberg. "If we really want to leave the world better than we found it, we have to invest in ways to go further than what happens now."
Jackson, who once headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agecny, has achieved a number of green initiatives since she was tapped to take charge of Apple's environmental affairs in 2013. From banning a number of toxic chemicals from their products to overseeing the company's $1.5 billion green bond, the largest such bond from a U.S. business.
Apple has banned these chemicals in their products out of concern for the environment. Photo credit: Apple
The Cupertino, California-based company is currently running its entire nation-wide operation on 100 percent renewable energy and has committed to running its overseas supply chain on renewables as well.
"I think people expect it of us. I think our customers hold us to a high standard," Jackson told Bloomberg.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is a big believer in big businesses taking charge on environmental sustainability.
"The environment must also be on the business agenda," he said in a speech at Bocconi University in Italy in November.
"As business leaders, we have a responsibility to address this, and urgently," he continued. "We have obligations to our companies and our shareholders because climate change impacts supply chains, energy crises and overall economic stability."
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By Sharon Kelly
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By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
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Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.