Out of the growing list of technologies available in the world, the Apple iPad stands to be one of the most highly sought after. It’s little wonder why this gadget is in top demand. Weighing about 0.65 kilograms, the iPad doubles as a computer for typing and surfing the web using Wi-Fi connections, and as a device for reading books, taking photos, and interacting on social media. In 2017 alone, Apple sold more than 40 million iPads.

The iPad, having evolved through 16 editions from 2010 has seen a lot of development leading to the current iOS 12. With each passing iPad generation, older iPads go extinct as Apple stops upgrading them to the latest iOS and app developers drop support. But how long can these remaining iPads last?

Life Cycle of an iPad

Due to the constant upgrades and consumer demands, the Apple iPad is largely a “cradle-to-grave” product. Previous editions of the iPad are quickly abandoned for new releases, and the old iPads find themselves one way or the other to the landfill. Placing them in landfills run the risk of toxic materials spilling and potentially causing harm to Earth and mucking up the environment for living beings.

Although a lot of work has been put in place by Apple to ensure recycling, this cradle to grave usage still exists. However, recently, Apple has begun to strive towards “cradle-to-cradle” products by collecting old products and sending them to India to be disassembled to recover materials that can be recycled and reused in the production of another device.

How is an iPad made?

The manufacturing process of an iPad is one of the fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing systems on earth. Not limited to one country, the entire manufacturing process is facilitated by inputs and materials from all parts of the world.

Items that are assembled together include; a back case, screen, frame, LCD screen, and battery among other parts. The back casings are made by Alcoa which is one of the largest producers of aluminum in the world. The black cases are made from aluminum, a type of metal that has a low density and resists destruction which makes it the perfect material for the slim and delicate Apple iPad. But in the processing of aluminum, a cooling agent known as cryolite is added during the process to reduce the extreme temperature.

The front of the iPad, meanwhile, is made from glass. It is unclear whether the glass is aluminosilicate glass by the Corning company or just regular glass but according to Apple, the glass is PVC and arsenic free. A rare earth metal known as cerium oxide is used to polish the surface of the glass screens. In addition, the glass is also one of the materials that Apple recycles. The glass is melted and molded into another form to be reused in other products.

Another part of the iPad is the frame that holds the iPad together. The frame is made up of polycarbonate plastic. Although, yes, it is plastic, and it can be melted, it tends to end up in a landfill. The LCD screen is invariably the most expensive part of the iPad. Made from crystals, it sits between two polarizers and the LCD display relies on liquid crystalline substances in the presence or absence of an electric field.

Apple iPad manufacturing process

There’s also the battery that powers the iPad. Made with rare materials like lanthanum, the Apple iPad battery is one of the most efficient parts of the iPad because it can be recharged and recycled over and over again. It stays inside the iPad and is powered by lithium combined with a metallic oxide catalyst, a dry solid polymer electrolyte, and a metallic current collector.

And last but by no means least are the iPad’s three silicon chips. Silicon is mined and the chips are mass manufactured in rooms where most of the work is done by robots. The silicon chip goes through heating and cooling systems before it is printed on. Silicon chips are not exactly recycled but in some cases, they are collected from old dissembled iPads and are recycled into solar panels by other companies.

Despite Apple’s move to “cradle-to-cradle” life cycle for the iPad, there are materials in the tablet that cannot be efficiently extracted in order to be recycled.

Apple iPads are currently assembled in China by a company known as Foxconn. Often the combination of robotic hands and manpower, the manufacturing process takes a lot of power and this accounts for 58% of the greenhouse gas emission in the iPad’s lifecycle.

After the manufacturing process, an iPad will last an average 3-5 years. But, other than disassembling the device, another way that an iPad can be recycled by non-manufacturer sources is by refurbishing.

What Does it Mean for an iPad to be Refurbished?

A refurbished device is one that has been used for a while and returned to the manufacturer or retailer because the device is now too old, the owner wants an upgrade or they just changed their mind about it. Many people also sell their iPads to reputable companies such as Europe-based recycling firm Plunc. This company, in particular, lets people recycle and sell old gadgets (including iPads) that they have lying around their homes, earning themselves some money in the process. These are all the ways in which an iPad may enter the refurbished pipeline.

Whichever the case may be, the device can be recovered by the manufacturer or a trusted seller (like those listed on RefurbMe) to be tested, repaired and cleaned. After these processes are complete, the device should function like brand new and, they should include a warranty too.

How an iPad is made

However, a refurbished iPad should not be confused with a used iPad. These are two different things. A refurbished iPad has a previous owner but was returned to the manufacturer or seller and has tested, repaired and cleaned before being resold. A used iPad, on the other hand, may not have been tested, cleaned or repaired before it is sold again.

An iPad can be refurbished by Apple through its Apple Certified Refurbished program or by a third-party seller and they will be in either good or excellent cosmetic condition. They can also be distinguished by the packaging, as an Apple refurbished iPad will come with Apple packaging and accessories, while refurbished items will likely come in unbranded packaging and while these packages may contain a charger, they may not include accessories like headphones.

There are a lot of seller-refurbished iPads on retail stores and sometimes, the retail stores confuse used iPad and the refurbished iPads in their descriptions. But, any reputable vendor will indicate clearly whether it’s a seller-refurbished iPad or an Apple refurbished iPad.