Will Liam save us? : an analysis of Apple's zero-waste goals and waste networks associated with the MacBook : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Media Studies at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
As popular awareness of global environmental crises rises, the circular economy model is
increasingly heralded as a means to address the environmental impact of traditional extractive
economies. Technology provider Apple has been among high-profile corporations quick to
adopt a circular model, announcing their plans to both end mining and become zero-waste. In
this thesis, I analyse Apple’s zero-waste plans using my own notebook as a case study. A
discourse analysis of the company’s 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report reveals that the
zero-waste approach is (at least in part) a marketing strategy. It works to increase Apple’s
power and consumer base. The zero-waste strategy is presented as distinct from their social
responsibility, echoing the way that waste is conceptualised within the circular economy. Both
Apple’s zero-waste plan and the circular economy rely heavily on technological innovation to
offer solutions to waste. Waste is understood as something distinct from, and entirely
controllable by, human intention.
Individual case studies of my notebooks aluminium casing and hard disk drive
demonstrate that vast waste networks of human and nonhuman actors enable Apple to function
as they do, and are in fact integral to any economy organised around the pursuit of profit.
Within this context, attempts to circumvent the worst harms associated with the extraction,
production, consumption, and disposal contexts of ICT equipment will end up reinscribing or
reinforcing wasteful practices. Through an auto-ethnographic description of dealing with the
notebooks possibly failing battery, I argue that understanding ourselves as separate from waste
networks (as zero-waste discourses encourage us to do) similarly forecloses the possibility of
disrupting the most negative impacts of waste. Repair tentatively emerges as one way of
destabilising the power of large corporations that benefit from capital such as Apple.
Ultimately, the case studies presented here raise serious doubts about both Apple’s zero-waste
strategy and the circular economy in general.