Apple Recycling Program: Advantages and Disadvantages

Apple Recycling Program: Advantages and Disadvantages

The Apple Recycling Program includes several initiatives that form part of its overall corporate social responsibility and its specific environmental strategy. Since the early 1990s, the company has been running similar activities that encourage its customers to responsibly dispose of their old and discarded Apple products.

However, with the arrival of the new millennium, especially when Tim Cook became the new chief executive officer, Apple has been ramping up its corporate social responsibility and sustainability programs and activities. The Apple Recycling Program has been expanded to build further the materials recovery capabilities of the company.

The pronounced purpose of the program is to reduce the wastes generated by the internal activities of the company and the consumption behaviors of its customers. Achieving this goal has compelled Apple to launch mission-critical tactics while accomplishing several notable milestones in the process. Take note of the following:

• Materials Identification: The company has identified 14 priority raw materials to transition to recycled and renewable contents. These include aluminum, cobalt, copper, glass, lithium, paper, plastics, rare earth elements, steel, tantalum, tin, tungsten, and zinc. The identification of these materials has allowed Apple to be intentional when it comes to integrating recyclability in the design and production of its products.

• Trade-In Program: Apple has also been running trade-in or buyback deals as part of its sales promotion and overall marketing strategy. Customers who trade in their eligible devices in Apple stores or other authorized retail stores can receive either a credit for their next purchase or receive an Apple Gift Card that they can use anytime. The items that can be traded in ranging from iPhones and Mac devices to Android phones.

• Free Recycling: Items that are not eligible for the trade-in program can still be accepted by the company for recycling and upcycling. Official stores and authorized distributors across the globe also double as collection centers that accept old and discarded electronic devices as part of its value-added and after-sales services. The company processes and recycles these items for free.

• Materials Recovery: Apple has also built its material recovery capabilities. For example, in 2019, it opened the 9000-square-foot Material Recovery Lab in Texas. This facility uses large machinery typically used in e-waste recycling facilities. The company has also been using the recycling robot called “Daisy” that can disassemble 15 different iPhone models and 200 iPhone products per hour.

• Refurbishing: Note that Apple products acquired through the trade-in program are refurbished and thus, upcycled to make them valuable and marketable once again. These refurbished products are reintroduced to the market with price tags significantly lower than when they were first introduced. The company had refurbished 10.4 million products in 2020 alone and has made them accessible to end-use consumers.

Pros: Advantages and Benefits of the Apple Recycling Program

Of course, the obvious advantage of the Apple Recycling Program concerns the environment. The cradle-to-grave model of the modern linear economy has promoted consumption and business activity expansion at the expense of excessive waste generation.

Nonetheless, with the emergence of modern concepts such as the circular economy model, recycling through upcycling, whole systems thinking via regenerative design, and cradle-to-cradle process, among others, as well as in response to the ongoing climate emergency, larger companies such as Apple have rethought the way they do business.

It is also important to highlight the fact that the particular recycling program of Apple has specific advantages or benefits both to the company and its consumers.

Advantages to Apple

1. Circular Supply Chain

Building a competitive advantage through a supply chain based on a circular economy model is one of the benefits of the Apple Recycling Program. Note that there are several cost implications in running this program. Building and operating material recovery facilities require substantial investments and upkeeps.

However, the company offsets these drawbacks by upcycling and reintroducing the recovered materials to its supply chain, thereby affording it substantial cost savings from procuring newly unearthed and processed raw materials. Recycling and recovering raw materials also promote a more secured and sustainable supply chain.

Building a circular supply chain has now been part of the modern business strategy of Apple. The 2021 Apple Environmental Progress Report revealed that the company has been using 100 percent recycled aluminum in the enclosures of devices such as MacBook, Mac Mini, iPad and iPad Air, and Apple Watch, among others.

The main logic boards of these devices are also made from 100 percent recycled tin solder while the Taptic Engines found in iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 6 are made from 100 percent recycled rare earth materials and tungsten. The company has also used recycled papers in the packaging and paper works of these products.

2. New Source of Revenue

Another advantage of the Apple Recycling Program is that it opens new market and sales opportunities to the company through the refurbishing of discarded Apple products. Remember that Apple reprocesses and upcycles old Apple devices to make them marketable to a particular class of customers or segment of its market.

These refurbished items are good as new. They are readily marketable because the company guarantees that they are 100 percent functional after subjecting them to usual qualitative assurance testing. Apple fundamentally maximizes the revenue-generating potential of its circular supply chain and its entire recycling program and environmental strategy.

Because of the reputation of Apple, the positive perception from the general public, established demand for consumer electronic devices, and the high resell value of Apple products, there is a niche market for its refurbished devices. Data from 2017 revealed that the market grew four times faster than new phone sales in 2017.

Remember that the company has refurbished 10.4 million products in 2020 alone. Furthermore, in 2018, the company has refurbished around 8 million devices. Assuming that it has refurbished 3 million iPhone X that has a new market price of USD 549.00, selling them to the market will generate an additional 1.647 billion in revenues for Apple.

Advantages to Consumers

1. Discounts on New Products

The Apple Recycling Program also had specific benefits to end-use consumers. The particular trade-in program allows these users to receive credit from their surrendered old consumer electronic devices. The company has opened this program to Apple and non-Apple devices such as Android smartphones from Samsung and Google.

Credits received from traded old devices can be used directly to reduce the price of a specific new Apple product or as a stored value in an Apple Gift Card that could be used anytime. The cost-savings to the consumer can be relatively significant. This is truer if he or she would trade several used and unwanted but eligible Apple products.

Of course, Apple also offers to recycle ineligible devices for free. While this might seem a mere after-sales marketing ploy to encourage consumers to hand over their old devices, it is important to note that recycling can be expensive. The specific recycling program gives consumers an opportunity to do their part in lessening wasteful consumption.

2. Access to Apple Products

The refurbished market also allows other individuals to purchase and experience Apple products at lower price points. It is important to note that Apple products, especially the newer ones, are inherently expensive. They are essentially accessible to individuals belonging to the upper limits of the middle-income to high-income populations.

Buying refurbished Apple products has several advantages. As mentioned, their price points are considerably lower than when they were first introduced in the market, thus allowing consumers to save money. The usability of these refurbished items can outweigh its cost, especially when considering the reputation of Apple for building long-lasting products.

Apple explains that its refurbishing process follows standards and undergoes controls or measures that are similar to standards and measures used in manufacturing new products. These refurbished items also have the same standard warranties. For example, when an individual buys a defective refurbished product, Apple will replace it with a newer one.

Cons: Disadvantages and Limitations of the Apple Recycling Program

Running a recycling program has considerable drawbacks and challenges. For starters, it is important to note that building internal recycling and upcycling capabilities require a high upfront capital cost and recurring operational expenses.

Consumers might not be too keen on handing over their discarded products. Some might lack the behavior attuned with a circular economic model. Others might find more value in selling their old items to second-hand users than trading or giving them away.

It is also imperative to note the particular recycling program of Apple has specific disadvantages and limitations both to the company and its consumers.

Disadvantages to Apple

1. Considerable Financial Risk

Recycling is not always cost-effective. Remember that Apple has to spend a considerable amount of money in building material recovery facilities, operating recycling centers, maintaining logistics, and developing relevant technologies to run its global Recycling Program. Some might argue that the company should spend money on direct value creation instead.

Adherents of the traditional and stakeholder-centered theory of corporate social responsibility would argue that the only responsibility of a business organization is to generate profits for its owners and investors while adhering to the other established social responsibilities of businesses to include legal adherence and ethical compliance.

Channeling money on the recycling program puts Apple at risk of financial losses, especially if it fails to create and maintain a feasible revenue model. The fact remains that there is a need to monetize this program, as well as all of its corporate social responsibility initiatives of the company, including its particular environmental strategy.

Disadvantages to Consumers

1. Other Consumer Options

Observers have noted that the trade-in values of several old products are considerably less when compared to selling them to a second-hand user. The credits that a consumer might receive from exchanging their old devices can be lower than its value in the second-hand niche market. Hence, in some cases, they are better off reselling these items to willing end-users or external traders.

The specific trade-in program has a specific drawback as well. Apple has the sole mandate of deciding what a particular discarded device is worth. The quoted amount a user received online is not necessarily the actual amount he or she will receive once an Apple employee or its authorized representative checks the item.

It is also worth highlighting the fact that not all old Apple and Android devices are eligible for trade. The company still has to decide whether it remains valuable or not. Ineligible products are recommended for recycling. Consumers are not paid for this transaction.


  • 2021. Environmental Progress Report. Apple Inc. Available via PDF
  • Perez, S. 2019. “Apple Expands Global Recycling Programs, Announces New Material Recovery Lab in Austin.” Tech Crunch. Available online