Apple's Next MacBook Will Probably Be Terrible For The Planet

It'll probably have a bigger screen and a thinner waistline, but will it recycle?
A 2015 Apple MacBook
A 2015 Apple MacBook
T3 Magazine via Getty Images

The new MacBook is slated to be even smaller than previous iterations, if the rumors about it are true.

But unless Apple makes a U-turn on its sustainability problems, this MacBook will be second verse, same as the first.

Apple's "new ultra-thin 13- and 15-inch MacBooks," scheduled to be released at the end of the second quarter this year, are rumored to be bigger but thinner versions of its 12-inch model, 9to5Mac reports. Though Apple hasn't confirmed any reports, the company has made no secret of its trajectory toward shrinking hardware (and it's running out of USB ports to take away from its MacBook Air).

In any case, a slimmer product is great for your aching shoulders, and terrible for the recycling industry.

As our gadgets get smaller and smaller, it becomes much harder to recycle them. Manufacturers are increasingly ditching screws for glue, making their screens and innards harder to replace or reuse. Many batteries are more difficult, if not impossible, to get to.

Those tiny devices are often "recycled" by a process called shredding, in which a gadget is crushed down to its smallest pieces and scrapped for metals and small parts. But as we've reported, shredding is neither effective nor sustainable, and can leave much of a device's mass contaminated and unusable.

The new MacBook is rumored to feature a type of "metal injection molding" hinge that'll afford it some unprecedented thinness. The new hinge will be die-cast using finely powdered metal, by the same manufacturing company -- Amphenol -- that makes hinges for Microsoft's Surface tablets. And boy, are those things worthless to recyclers.

"In general the Surface is awful to recycle because it's glued together -- the process to disassemble these devices takes too long, and requires way too much heat to be viable," Kyle Wiens, who created the repair website iFixit, told The Huffington Post. "I imagine the new MacBook will be the same as the old, with some incremental design changes and the same recycling problems."

The old MacBooks are so difficult to fully recycle, he says, because their batteries are impossible to separate from their metal casing. If you can't take out the battery, the device can't even be shredded, let alone repurposed. Charged batteries are hazardous and can explode.

Meanwhile, customers have few viable options for fixing up their own Apple products. The company still doesn't sell replacement parts, uses proprietary screws and actively works to shut down independent Apple repair shops, VICE reports.

"We'd like to see a new MacBook with a removable battery," Wiens said. "Make the product straight-forward to disassemble, don't glue the assembly, and provide information to recyclers."

Wiens' iFixit does offer guides for repairing tech products, though much of the smallest, sleekest gadgetry is impossible to repair safely.

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