An official lineup of iPhone 15 announced on 13th September, 2023. Photo Credit: Apple

Apple announced the iPhone 15 series on Wednesday, 13th September (HKT), showcasing its new 48MP camera, USB-C charging point, and for the first time, 100 percent recycled materials in its design, an initiative to act upon climate change.

According to Apple’s Newsroom, their environmental strategy includes the equipment of new iPhones with 100 percent recycled cobalt in the battery, 100 percent recycled copper in the MagSafe charger and logic board, and 75% recycled aluminum in the enclosure.

Moreover, it announced responsible packaging – phasing out plastics in packages – by replacing non-biodegradable plastics with 99 percent recyclable and degradable fiber. Compared to 2015, when plastics comprised 21 percent of Apple’s packaging, this is a significant leap towards responsible production.

During the Apple Event held on Wednesday, Kaiann Drance, Vice President of iPhone Product Marketing, said, “This [iPhone 15] is good for our users and good for the environment since it helps conserve finite natural resources.”

Apple’s journey toward carbon neutrality began in 2020 when it announced the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Since then, Apple has shown various attempts, including the recently launched Apple Watch Series 9, also known as its first carbon-neutral product, using 100 percent renewable energy for its production.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, said, “We’ve achieved an important milestone in making the world’s most popular watch carbon neutral. And we will keep innovating to meet the urgency of the moment.”

Eco-friendly or Greenwashing?

While Apple’s goal toward carbon neutrality is admirable, critiques have also raised concerns over Apple’s marketing mechanism concerning ‘greenwashing.’

Greenwashing, also known as a deceptive marketing strategy, is used by companies to convey misleading images to consumers, presenting itself as more eco-friendly than its actual environmental impact.

Greenwashing: When Companies Aren’t as Sustainable as They Claim. Video Source: Wall Street Journal

Despite Apple’s launch of “clean” products, it is crucial to consider the potential environmental implications of buying new iPhones. With Apple’s current marketing strategy of presenting its products as “green,” consumers, as well as eco-friendly users, are tempted to replace and update their old devices. This increases the number of phones ending up in landfills, aggravating the generation of e-waste from old electronic equipment.

This leaves a question of whether Apple’s current climate approach is sustainable and addresses the urgent environmental crisis in the fast-changing era dominated by consumption-culture.

Why does this matter to Hong Kong?

Apple store at IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong, is crowded with people. Source: Juhui Kim

Hong Kong is home to many iPhone users, with Apple sharing 45 percent of Hong Kong’s smartphone market in July 2023. According to Statista, an international data analysis platform, a boost in the sale rate of iPhones in Hong Kong has been continuously observed with the launch of new iPhone models. This suggests a similar phenomenon to be seen in the coming few days after the new iPhones are officially available online and in physical stores.

However, according to Hong Kong’s Environment Protection Department, nearly 70,000 tonnes of waste from electrical and electronic devices are generated annually in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, a study by Chinese University funded by AIA Group indicated that while the average length of Hong Kong residents’ replacement of mobile phones ranges to 21 months, a mere 1 percent of the old devices get recycled at recycling centers.

Hence, despite Apple’s “green” products being equipped with eco-friendly technology, in the context of Hong Kong, this may simultaneously generate concerns that revolve around issues of environmental sustainability, waste management, and recycling.

Benjamin Choi, a 31-year-old businessman working at Central, who plans to preorder iPhone 15, expressed worries about the potential implications of Apple’s marketing strategies on the environment.

He said, “To survive in the competitive smartphone industries, Apple, just like many other companies, introduces new products every year. This will make Apple fall into a dilemma between producing eco-friendly products or making them look eco-friendly.”

“Since Apple is the global leading technology industry, it gives them greater responsibilities to think about the potential impacts of their products on the environment,” he added.

Featured image: Apple

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