Apple letter divulges product tidbits

To satisfy environmental critics, Steve Jobs does something he doesn't do often--share product details.

To satisfy environmental critics, Apple has had to do something it hates--share product details.

Apple Chief Steve Jobs made the company's first public commitment to environmental action Wednesday by posting a 1,880-word letter on the company's Web site touting its efforts at recycling old products and eliminating toxic substances from new ones. The disclosures, according to Jobs, were meant to answer criticism from environmental groups and break the silence about Apple's track record on green practices.

But in doing so, Jobs did what he almost never does.

According to the letter, Apple will introduce its first Macs later this year that have displays backlit by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are free of the toxic substance mercury. (It previously has relied on fluorescent lamps and liquid crystal displays that contain hazardous substances like arsenic and mercury, which can leech out into the environment.) In addition, Jobs said that new Macs in 2007 will have glass monitors that are free of arsenic.

"Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays by the end of 2008. Apple plans to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury by transitioning to LED backlighting for all displays when technically and economically feasible," he wrote.

Apple enthusiast site AppleInsider speculated that the 15-inch MacBook Pro will be the first to get the LED treatment, with other laptops likely to follow.

Jobs' openness was well-received among environment activists like Greenpeace. "Today we saw something we've all been waiting for: the words 'A Greener Apple' on the front page of Apple's site, with a message from Steve Jobs saying 'Today we're changing our policy,'" according to a statement from Greenpeace.

Less of a product disclosure than a public service announcement, Jobs also said that the company will begin taking back unwanted iPods for free recycling at its stores around the world beginning this summer. It previously had accepted iPods for recycling at only its U.S. stores.

Still, Greenpeace said this move did not go far enough.

"But while customers in the United States will be able to return their Apple products for recycling knowing that their gear won't end up in the e-waste mountains of Asia and India, Apple isn't making that promise to anyone but customers in the USA," according to Greenpeace. "Elsewhere in the world, an Apple product today can still be tomorrow's e-waste. Other manufacturers offer worldwide takeback and recycling. Apple should too!"

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