Daisy, Apple’s recycling robot, will now disassemble used iPhones in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Photo: Apple.


Most Western kids have grown up with the idea of a mythical poisoned apple first presented to them in the Grimm’s fairy tale. Today, the idea of a toxic apple rests also beneath the skin of their once pristine Apple iPhones. You won’t find any of the industrial elements listed on the back of your phone, but according to e-cycle.com, “When improperly recycled or [discarded] in landfills, [mobile phones] ultimately cause negative effects to nearly every system in the human body.” Among the toxins that can leak into the groundwater, reappearing as persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) in the food chain, there are:

  • Lead in circuit boards and batteries and as a stabilizer in PVC products,
  • Mercury in batteries, crystal displays, and circuit boards,
  • Arsenic found in the microchips,
  • Cadmium in the cell phone batteries,
  • Chlorine as a component of plastics in cell phones, particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC),
  • Bromine found in fire retardant chemicals known as brominated flame retardants, and
  • Lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries containing heavy metals including cobalt, zinc, and copper.

A shiny apple of a different sort, but obviously one that requires further thought when being disposed of.


In this year’s Earth Day press release, Apple announced that it has quadrupled the number of locations to which U.S. customers can send their phones to be recycled. The company has added all Apple stores and the apple.com website to the current locations—Best Buy stores and KPN retailers in the Netherlands. Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, explained, “Advanced recycling must become a part of the electronics supply chain, and Apple is pioneering a new path to help push our industry forward.”

The company said it received back about nine million iPhones in 2018 and refurbished more than 7.8 million of them. For those not rebuilt, Apple’s robots, first Liam and now Daisy removed and saved copper, aluminum, and cobalt to be used in new devices. Consequently, Apple helped “to divert more than 48,000 metric tons of electronic waste from landfills.”

Daisy is housed in a 9,000-square-foot research lab in Austin, Texas. Kyle Wiens of the repair site iFixit calls Daisy the deathbot for end-of-life iPhones. Actually, Daisy is somewhat ironic in that she replaces Apple’s first phone disassembler from 2016, Liam, and she is partially constructed from a number of parts saved from Liam. Daisy is recycled Liam, dedicated to recycling even better than Liam did.

Apple released a short video to show how Daisy—and before her, Liam—actually works. (You can view that video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQqSK6NUXtQ.)

Daisy is capable of disassembling 200 iPhones per hour. Photo: Apple.

Daisy is large, measuring 33 feet long, and it has five arms that can take apart any of 15 different iPhone models, from iPhone 5 (2012) to iPhone Xs (2018). Faster than Liam, it can strip a phone down to its parts and empty the aluminum cases at a rate of 200 phones per hour. In addition Apple explains, “For the first time, cobalt recovered through this process is now being used to make brand-new Apple batteries—a true closed loop for this precious material.” The tin recovered is used for 100 percent recycled tin, “a key component of the main logic boards of 11 different products. The company’s engineering of an aluminum alloy made from 100 percent aluminum allows the new MacBook Air and Mac mini to have nearly half the carbon footprint of earlier models.”

As part of its Earth Day celebration on Monday, April 22, 2019, Apple also released its 2019 environmental report, “which contains additional information on the company’s climate change solutions, including its recent announcement that 44 of its suppliers have committed to 100% renewable energy for their Apple production. (The report can be seen at www.apple.com/environment.)

The lifespan of a new iPhone continues to be extended with refurbishing promising additional lifecycles, and Daisy’s extracting and saving materials to be used in building the next generation of Apples.

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