The story was taken up by the Tame Apple Press which lapped up the story, after all not only was a quirky story it was a good way to give their favourite brand a free plug.
However Motherboard smelt a rat when the numbers did not add up and did some digging
Apple would have had to have collected 33.3 million iPhones to recover that much gold and rather than refurbish and resell these iPhones for hundreds of dollars apiece in developing nations, Apple decided to destroy them to harvest roughly $1 worth of gold per device.
Basically what really happened was Apple paid independent recyclers to recycle old electronics—which were almost never Apple products. It is legally obligated to do so. So Apple never collected $40 million it actually ended up paying for the service.
In the US Apple has to recycle a certain amount of e-waste which is equal to its market share. Which is why Apple note that it recycled “71 percent of the total weight of products we sold seven years earlier.” That is not because it is a super cool company which is doing it out of the goodness of its heart, it is doing that because it has to.
Though Apple does have its own iPhone recycling and buyback programs, it accounts for a tiny fraction of the overall e-waste in the country.
In fact, phones and tablets often don’t count toward the overall recycling requirements in many state laws, so Apple has to collect old PCs and tellies to make up its numbers.
The question is why Apple thought it would be a wizard wheeze to spin this story and why did so much of the Tame Apple Press lap it up without checking?