What does it take to make an iPhone?

iPhones are taken for granted by consumers who rely on their cellphones for virtually everything from purchasing items to running a business to ordering their next meal. However, most don’t know what materials are used to make an iPhone or why it is vital to human and animal health to recycle all discarded iPhones.

What’s Inside Your iPhone?

In addition to numerous metals like aluminum and iron, iPhones are composed of rare earth elements that need to be mined and processed. Unfortunately, the mining of rare earth metals is a lucrative, worldwide business that remains, for the most part, unregulated.

Environmental damage caused by mining is extensive and permanent. These are just a few impacts:

  • Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are released by drills used to dig for minerals.
  • Deforestation results in the loss of animal habitat.
  • Millions of gallons of water are needed to mine minerals.
  • People can be displaced from their homes when mining companies appropriate large land areas.
  • Land is often permanently disrupted and spoiled with waste dumps.
  • Abandoed mines can cause sinkholes—endangering roads and homes.

Nearly one-quarter of an iPhone’s bulk is composed of aluminum, a metal found in ample supplies throughout the Earth’s crust. However, aluminum can’t be used in its natural state. Instead, it must first be processed by refining bauxite, an ore rich in aluminum.


Lithium-ion batteries needed to charge iPhones require lithium, a lightweight metal that is not a naturally occurring element. Instead, lithium production consists of extracting the metal from underground saltwater reservoirs. Water from these reservoirs must be pumped to the surface, where it is dried by sunlight. The lithium carbonate left behind after saltwater evaporates is then made into lithium.

Consequences of mining lithium include water pollution, air pollution, and soil contamination. Lithium mining is also responsible for mass fish deaths in Tibet, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.


Most of the wiring inside an iPhone is made from copper, a non-renewable metal found in ore deposits throughout the world. However, since copper is a non-renewable metal, supplies are finite. Once copper ore deposits are depleted, there will be no more copper on Earth.

Copper mining pollutes the air, contaminates water, severely damages local biodiversity, and permanently devastates coral reefs.


Most gold in iPhones is found in the motherboards and specific circuitry. However, the amount of gold in a typical iPhone is worth less than $2 or $3. The reason gold is used instead of silver is that silver oxidizes rapidly when exposed to air.

To extract gold from the earth, miners use cyanide, an extremely toxic material that is known to cause death in humans and animals. In addition, gold mining produces other polluting substances like mercury, arsenic, and cadmium.


Like copper, iron is a non-renewable metal that is not naturally reproduced in the Earth’s geological formations. In fact, the iron mined today was created nearly two billion years ago early in the planet’s history.

Iron extraction destroys forested land when companies dig massive holes in the Earth’s crust and build huge chemical plants to process iron. Additionally, manufacturing iron pollutes the atmosphere by emitting carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide throughout the various stages of processing iron for iPhones.What Does It Take To Make An iPhone? 1

(Click image to enlarge.)

Resource: https://www.statista.com

Why Recycle iPhones at Potomac eCycle?

When you bring your iPhone to our ecycling facility, you are helping us recover gold, silver, copper, and other metals that can be reused without harming the environment. Recycling iPhones instead of disposing of them in landfills also prevents further contamination of soil, water, and air.

Contact Potomac eCycle today for more information about our comprehensive ecycling services.

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