The New MacBook Air is made from recycled aluminum. Is this a big deal?

apple macbook air launch
Video screen capture Apple MacBook Air Launch

Sort of, but there is less to it than meets the eye.

There was a 30 second ovation from the audience as Apple's Laura Legros announced that the new MacBook Air would be made from 100 percent recycled aluminum! She explained that previously they relied on mining high purity ore,

Until today. Apple's metallurgy team has designed a new alloy that uses the excess aluminum from the production process delivering the same great characteristics that you expect from all our products. And this is a huge breakthrough.

In the video they claim to have

...invented a new custom alloy designed to use fine shavings of recaptured aluminum re-engineered down to the atomic level. This new alloy is as beautiful and robust as any we have used before. And it makes MacBook Air the greenest MacBook ever.

guy in suit melting aluminumApple MacBook Air Launch/Video screen capture

This is an important move, as previously those shavings from their industrial processes were not melted down and used for more Macs. But does it merit a half minute of applause? Probably not. This is pre-consumer waste aluminum from their own manufacturing; it's the goal of other engineers at Apple to reduce that waste to as close to zero as possible. We have noted before that having lots of pre-consumer waste means that you are probably doing something wrong, and that it is also the lowest level on the hierarchy of recycling.

They don't say whether they can use their atomic level engineering to melt down old MacBooks and turn their cases into new MacBook Airs. Nor do they seem to be doing this for any other Mac products other than the new notebook and Mac Mini, probably because they don't have enough shavings.

mining bauxite© Getty Images/ mining bauxite, the source of Alumina

Those waste aluminum shavings didn't go in the dump either; they would have been sold to other aluminum users, perhaps going into Teslas or F-150s or Budweiser cans, so it doesn't reduce the overall demand for aluminum by very much. Which is the fundamental problem: the use of aluminum continues to expand, creating demand for more virgin aluminum. As Carl Zimring noted in his book Aluminum Upcycled,

As designers create attractive goods from aluminum, bauxite mines across the planet intensify their extraction of ore at lasting cost to the people, plants, animals, air, land and water of the local areas. Upcycling, absent a cap on primary material extraction, does not close industrial loops so much as it fuels environmental exploitation.

apple computer bodyApple MacBook Air Launch/Video screen capture

Probably more important than the fact that the aluminum is recycled is the fact that the computer is thinner and smaller and uses less of the stuff than the older MacBook Air, because we have to continuously use less of the stuff until we get to a closed loop where all the aluminum we use is recycled.


We also have to demand that machines made from aluminum last a long time. I actually think Apple does a pretty good job at this; I am still using a 2012 Macbook Pro and it runs their latest operating system perfectly well.

So the new machine is perhaps the greenest they have ever made. They are using less aluminum and it is sorta recycled. But thirty seconds of cheering? That's a bit much.

The New MacBook Air is made from recycled aluminum. Is this a big deal?
Sort of, but there is less to it than meets the eye.

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