Compare and Recycle
22/11/2023

iPhone 15 Environmental Report Reviewed

iPhone 15 Environmental Report

The iPhone 15 lineup came in hot and during the launch event Apple paid great attention to their environmental efforts. Of course we went over iPhone 15 series Environmental Reports to check if this time the new iPhones have lived up to Apple's continuous promise of making their devices more eco-friendly and ultimately become carbon neutral by 2030. Let's take a look at how the iPhone 15 lineups new design and latest upgrades differ from the iPhone 14 series when it comes down to carbon footprint.

More Recycled Materials Bring The Carbon Emissions Down

The iPhone 15 series have all seen a positive change in carbon emissions. In fact, the average carbon footprint of the entire iPhone 15 lineup is 5.6kg of CO2-e (1,2) less when compared to the iPhone 14 series.

Apple has notable decided to remove the 128gb internal storage option for the iPhone 15 Pro Max and at first glance, this could be seen as a positive as there's one less model to manufacture. The iPhone 15 family tops at 1TB and although their reports show that production emissions have increased by 1.5% on average compared to 2022 iPhones, the overall CO2 has reduced. The biggest reduction of lifetime carbon emissions happened with the iPhone 15 Pro Max 1TB which produces 14kg of CO2-e less than its 2022 predecessor.

This may be down to 2023 Pro models now including 100% recycled cobalt in their battery and 100% recycled copper for the logic board for the first time ever. Apple have certainly taken it a step further with this material change and have also managed to squeeze in a further 20% recycled or renewable content including 100% aluminium for the internal frame and 100% recycled rare earth elements in all its magnets. In comparison, the iPhone 14 lineup made a good effort in including 100% recycled gold, 100% recycled tin and 15 components ,ade from at least 35% recycled plastic (3,4,5). The iPhone 15 lineup has had more significant internal design changes which made a dent at reducing lifetime carbon emissions for the first time in 5 generations of flagship iPhones.

Are iPhones Still Impossible To Repair

When it's anything to do with carbon footprint and carbon neutrality, our minds automatically revert to the idea of recycling and how this is the sole source of any sort of carbon reduction. But how much of it is actually down to recycling and even though it is a key part of the circular economy, has it been used as a tool for distraction?

Oftentimes, we forget about the design aspect of mobile phones and how much of an impact this has on the overall carbon output - the reports highlight it extremely well where iPhone production emissions take up 80% of the total carbon footprint, compared to end-of-life recycling at 1% only (1,2).

What happens to a mobile phone when it's at the end of life, is the important part. When it comes to lessening the impact that the iPhone has on the environment, design for repair is arguably much more important to keep iPhones in use for longer and it's no secret that Apple has historically made it extremely difficult for consumers to repair their iPhones independently.

"iFixit's testing shows that the iPhone 15 Pro Max has seen an increase in limitations compared to earlier models, earning it a 4 out of 10 in iFixit's repairability score."

Bloomberg

Like most tech brands, Apple is counterproductive, in the sense that they strive for carbon neutrality but push their customers to continue to upgrade their iPhones. Unfortunately, this difficulty is something that any tech brand will deal with if they want to survive financially and not to our surprise, Apple has not made any significant changes to the repairability of the iPhone.

It all comes down to design choices to improve repairability and as a result longevity; that's where we were hoping the big news would be within this iPhone generation. Currently, some iPhone components are still glued together in a way that makes them difficult to remove and replace. By designing iPhones with more modular components, Apple could make it easier for consumers to repair their own iPhones or even get it repaired by external technicians. It may even make the recycling process easier when it comes to iPhones but overall, Apple has made progress in extending the support and longevity of its iPhone 15 lineup but there is still room for improvement.

What's Been Left Behind

The iPhone 15 lineup came with a few things missing and one major change is the incorporation of the iPhone 15's USB-C. The days of using a lightning cable are gone and now replaced with the universal standard. This move is based on new EU regulations and although at first glance it seems to be a positive, it has also raised concerns about electronic waste. With millions of lightning cables out there, what's going to happen to them all? We are hoping that Apple is working on a recycling scheme for those.

Another change is that Apple has decided to say goodbye to its popular leather iPhone cases. Their new cases are made from 68% post-consumer recycled content, which is of course a win for the environment. It means that there is less demand for new materials to be used and more reuse of existing resources - it's a step in the right direction. In the past, Apple has taken steps to eliminate mercury, PVC and arsenic from their iPhones and have continued doing so for the iPhone 15 lineup. These substances are not environmentally friendly and Apple is continuing to put effort into making its products more sustainable. Although the switch to USB-C has its benefits, it also raises environmental concerns. The new recycled cases are a big plus, and the elimination of hazardous substances is another positive step. Overall, it seems like Apple is moving in the right direction, but there's still room for improvement.

Longevity And Support

Apple has taken several steps to extend the support and longevity of the iPhone devices over the years and we have to commend Apple for this, pushing other companies to do the same. Apple typically provides software updates for its iPhones for around 6 years and security updates for over 7 years, which means that users have access to the latest security features and bug fixes despite not having the latest iPhone. We think that this demonstrates what impressive things Apple can do to provide long-lasting products to its customers.

However, there are some areas where Apple could do better and further efforts towards iPhone longevity. One area of concern is repairability and this isn't a new issue! The iPhone 15 Pro Max has received a repairability score of 4 out of 10 from iFixit, which is significantly lower than the 7 out of 10 score that the iPhone 7 Plus received... it is logical to assume that the iPhone 15 Pro Max will be even more difficult to repair, suggesting that it may have a shorter lifespan? Apple could make several changes to improve this, one suggestion being using more easily replaceable component or providing detailed repair manuals. These changes would extend the lifespan of the devices and ultimately reduce the amount of electronic waste.

Takeaway

Although Apple have made a few changes to their products in this years releases, it is still evident that more can be done. With the money, knowledge and resources Apple have in house, they can very much make positive and powerful changes to better help the future of the environment and overall reduction of e-waste.

References:

  1. Apple, iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus Environmental Report. Available here.

  2. Apple, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max Environmental Report. Available here.

  3. Apple, iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus Environmental Report. Available here.

  4. Apple, iPhone 14 Pro Environmental Report. Available here.

  5. Apple, iPhone 14 Pro Max Environmental Report. Available here.  

Yasmin

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