New Macbook Pro: What's the Eco-Impact of Building a MacBook from a Single Piece of Aluminum?


Photo via Gizmodo
Apple MacBook "Brick" Rumor Confirmed
Last week we speculated about the Apple Brick rumors circulating, and took a stab at what it would mean if Apple were actually creating a MacBook from a single brick of aluminum.

Turns out, those rumors were true. Apple has designed a way to make a MacBook from a 2.5 pound piece of aluminum. Their process is now fair game for some eco-impact analysis.Figuring out the impact can only come with details, and those are still emerging. You'll be going down the analysis path with us as we learn more.

What We Know So Far:
The unibody enclosure is made from one piece of aluminum, and pieces of the aluminum are removed to create the structure.

It seems that this process allows the MacBook Pro to use 50% fewer parts.

In the manufacturing stage, they start with a 2.5 pound piece of aluminum. The end structure is only 0.5 pounds (for the MacBook Air). That means that 2 pounds of aluminum is cut away.

Apple feels the new products are pretty dang eco-friendly. The new MacBooks are arsenic free glass, BFR free, mercury free, PVC free, is Energy Star compliant, the screen is LED and uses 30% less energy, they use 37% smaller packaging, and have earned an EPEAT Gold rating.

There are definitely some real pros to the new process, but what happens to all that aluminum that is cut away?


Photo via Gizmodo

Apple apparently is savvy about needing to treat that aluminum carefully. They report that through each stage we're cleaning, collecting, and recycling the material. While recycled aluminum uses up about 5% of the energy it takes to make something out of new aluminum (counting all the effort it takes from the mine to the manufacturing plant), reprocessing all that aluminum is very energy intensive. Just how much energy is put into taking that 2 pounds of aluminum, remelting it, reforming it, and recarving it for another MacBook? All that can add up and we're interested in learning more.

On the other hand, recycling plants love aluminum since it is easy to recycle. Less plastic parts mixed with metal parts could mean a much easier recycling process for used MacBooks.

This all sounds great so far, but we'll be taking a closer look as more information surfaces.

UPDATE: Engadget is live at the Apple event today and, according to a mini-documentary shown to the crowd, seems to feel the process isn't wasteful. We'll see if we can get our hands on the video to show you soon.

UPDATE:

Sounds as if the aluminum goes through some extensive milling steps, 13 in all. That means quite a lot of energy, and quite a lot of clean up is involved in the making of a single MacBook Pro.

We love it when companies come up with innovative ways to make their products, and strive for the greenest possible ways to produce something. It looks like this process, despite flaws, has some real improvements for the notebook in the big picture of its lifetime and total footprint.

More on Apple's MacBook "Brick"Process:
Apple's Mac Brick Rumors and the Environmental Impact
Discuss this in the forums

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Electronics | Environmental Footprint

Best of TreeHugger