Upon reading poor ratings of the iphone 11, I became curious to evaluate newer versions of the iphone, (iphone 13 pro max), to discover whether Apple has made improvements to their practices in aims of making their products more sustainable. Apple has been criticized for contributing to our global environmental crisis through waste toxicity, carbon emissions, and producing products to break. Apple has also been in the hot seat as the cost of the iphone has risen by over 60% from their launch in 2007. Additionally, Apple has been reported for poor labor practices in their production and manufacturing factories. Although some progress has been made in the newer models of iPhones such as the materials used and energy efficiency, Apple still makes blanket statements with broad goals such as being “100% committed to tackling climate change” and “transitioning our entire manufacturing supply chain to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030,” without concrete plans of a achieving this end. Apple does not support their statement by making conscious choices to come out with a new iphone frequently and both enabling and encouraging unnecessary purchases from consumers. Due to the culmination of environmentally harmful practices and poor workers rights, I gave this product a 0.5/3.
Apple’s iphone 13 pro max has been advertised as relatively more “environmentally friendly” in its Product Environmental Report as it is made of 99% recycled tungsten and 98% recycled rare earth elements. It should be noted that almost all chemicals and metals used in tech products are harmful to the environment and to the health of living organisms including humans. With that said, tungsten has been reported to be comparatively of a low risk. Tungsten is also easily recyclable as it is predicted that almost 35% of tungsten has been recycled today, and almost all varieties of tungsten are receptive to being treated for recycled scrap materials. There are still many studies being done on the environmental and health implications of tungsten, so Apple should keep an eye out for any further information on the materials they are using. The other material, “recycled rare earth elements,” is where Apple could increase their transparency and improve their environmental impact. These materials are primarily mined which has a variety of negative implications. Animal habitats are destroyed for these materials, contributing to our loss of biodiversity and loss of species. These practices also lead to deforestation and pollution as heavy machinery bulldozes untouched lands for these materials. Additionally, these materials are not recyclable, therefore the end of life cycle from an iphone is very wasteful. Apple misleads consumers by advertising their Apple trade-in system, where you can return your device and they’ll give it a new life or recycle it for free. This trade in system is great in that it can offer old iphones to consumers for a cheaper price so they don’t have to buy a new iphone, but if the phone is damaged or old enough that consumers are not interested in it, it cannot be recycled or reused. In terms of packaging for the iphone 13 pro max, Apple states that “100% of the wood fiber comes from recycled and responsible sources” and “95% of the packaging is fiber based, due to our work to use less plastic in packaging.” Apple has cut the amount of packaging used for an iphone nearly in half. This has both saved Apple money and lowered their carbon footprint. Still, more eco friendly and biodegradable options should be explored, while continuously reducing the amount of materials needed.
The production and manufacturing processes of technology and iphones have been notoriously energy intensive and polluting. I will focus on the statements made by Apple in their Product Environmental Report to discover if Apple is greenwashing as they have in past reports. First, Apple discusses their suppliers energy use by saying, “All iPhone 13 Pro Max final assembly supplier sites are transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy for Apple production.” This statement is not backed up with any current data or specific plans of how Apple is going to make this transition. More importantly, this could mislead consumers to think Apple is making great improvements in terms of their energy efficiency, but in reality, the Apple iphone uses an extremely high amount of energy in the digital economy for their servers, or “the cloud.” I could not find any statements from Apple on this side of their energy use, therefore it is likely that they utilize fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful chemicals. Apple also mentions in their Environmental Report that zero waste is sent to the landfill in the “final assembly” of their products. I interpret this to mean that up until this stage in production, scraps and materials are sent to landfills as we know that Apple generates a high amount of waste in their production phase. Iphones are assembled in China where there are few environmental and human rights regulations, and then transported to the United States, resulting in high emissions from the transportation process. Apple has followed the GreenScreen assessment for their chemical and cleaners used in production to improve the environmental health risks associated with other unsafe chemicals. Overall, Apple is making improvements from their past models to improve the safety and mitigate the environmental risks of their products, but with such a high volume of production and energy usage, Apple is still producing at an unsustainable rate.
In Apple’s Environmental Report, they state that they “ work closely with our suppliers to provide safe and healthy workplaces where people are treated with dignity and respect, and to reduce suppliers’ environmental impact.” However, in the recent outbreak of Omicron, it was reported that Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory, Apple’s largest iphone plant in the world located in Central China, is offering extra cash for workers who will work amidst the unsafe conditions. I do not believe that this falls in line with treating their workers with “dignity and respect” and poses major health risks. Foxconn factories have been accused of labor abuses, poor working conditions, and harsh penalties for workers who make mistakes. From what I could find, no significant changes have been to alleviate these problems. Just three weeks ago a Bloomberg article was released stating that “Foxconn’s iPhone Factory Women Workers Don’t Want To Return.” This article discusses that more than 85% of the workers at this factory are women and almost all 25 or younger. These women discuss how many feel ill after eating the food provided to them, and how they often find worms, insects and even safety pins in these meals. Additionally, these workers are experiencing a much below average salary but have no leverage to do anything about it with strict No Union laws. Many workers also reported that they would not speak out about the unjust conditions in fear of losing their jobs. Apple and Foxconn have done little to address this issue and oftentimes avoid responding to reporters' questions surrounding these issues.