Most people assume that the primary reason for building the iPad in China is to take advantage of inexpensive labor. This may be true in part but another significant factor is the lack of strict environmental regulations (China currently ranks 116th out of 132 countries on Yale’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index rankings).
It turns out that your beautiful iPad is actually a mess of stuff and such that isn’t quite as beautiful when you break it down, including aluminum, glass, and a host of heavy metals and toxic chemicals. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the manufacturing process for each iPad results in over 285 times its own weight (1.44 pounds) in greenhouse gas emissions.
It also doesn’t hurt that each iPad requires 17 difficult-to-mine rare earth elements (though it isn’t possible to name exactly which these are as it is a well kept secret inside the Apple vault –particularly the one used to create their signature impact-resistant glass). Best guesses say they use Asahi for the glass, lanthanum in their lithium ion polymer battery, and a special neodymium alloy in the magnets found along the side and cover of the tablet.
So when you consider that China owns between 95 and 97 percent of the world’s supply of rare earths (while also being reluctant to export them directly), Apple has little choice but to work and play well with the Asian country. United States President Obama isn’t as eager to do business in this way however, having recently lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization against China and their current practices.
Some scientists have suggested that recycling electronics may help other countries, such as the United States, to reclaim some of these already mined and purchased materials, but only the Japanese are doing it with any real success. The problem stems from the fact that the minute concentrations found in each device mean the process to extract them has to be incredibly efficient to be feasible.