Greenpeace, Apple clash over toxic waste

Environmental group's ranking of hardware vendors purports to show which are green, which lag ecologically.

The environmental track records of Apple Computer and Lenovo Group have been singled out for criticism by environmental group Greenpeace in a report on toxic chemicals used by the technology industry.

The Guide to Greener Electronics, published late last week, is designed to help consumers and businesses gauge how green tech companies are. Rather than focusing on recycling, customers wanting to buy green should focus on the toxic chemicals used by tech suppliers, Greenpeace claims.

"The scoring is weighted more heavily on the use of toxic substances in production rather than criteria on recycling because until the use of harmful substances is eliminated in products, it is impossible to secure 'safe,' toxic-free recycling," Greenpeace said in a statement.

Nokia and Dell came out top in the ranking, with the Finnish handset manufacturer leading the way in 2005 by eliminating use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in its products. Dell also has set ambitious targets for cutting its use of PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), according to Greenpeace.

Lenovo and Apple fared less well, with the Chinese PC manufacturer ranked last. Greenpeace claimed that Lenovo earned some points for its chemicals management and voluntary take-back programs but needs to do better on all criteria.

A Lenovo representative said the company meets worldwide environmental regulations and argued that Greenpeace's ranking doesn't accurately reflect its environmental record.

"We sell our products primarily to commercial enterprises, not consumers, and we offer recycling services on a bid basis to any commercial customer with whom we do business. Those bid services do not appear on our Web site, and company Web sites were noted as one of the main sources for Greenpeace's evaluation," the representative added.

The environmental group also said that Apple could do more to match its environmental record with its hip and trendy image. "It is disappointing to see Apple ranking so low in the overall guide. They are meant to be world leaders in design and marketing; they should be world leaders in environmental innovation."

A representative for Apple disagreed with Greenpeace's rating and the criteria it had chosen. "Apple has a strong environmental track record and has led the industry in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, as well as many BFRs. We have also completely eliminated CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors, which contain lead, from our product line," the representative said.

The EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, which limits the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, went into force in the U.K. on July 1 and should go some way toward forcing the technology industry to clean up its act.

In July, Palm was forced to stop shipping its Treo 650 smart phone in Europe, because it violated the RoHS directive.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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