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Apple launches iPod recycling program

Customers who bring in used devices get a discount on a new iPod and free disposal of the old one.

Apple Computer introduced a nationwide iPod recycling program on Friday that rewards participants with a discount.

Customers who return a music player to one of the company's 100 retail stores across the United States will get 10 percent off the purchase of a new one. Apple pledged to dispose of all the iPods brought in for free. To be eligible for the offer, people must bring in a standard iPod, an iPod Mini or the photo version, and use the discount the same day.

The move should appease critics of Apple's environmental record, who protested outside its headquarters during an annual shareholder meeting in April. Inside the meeting, a representative of an environmentally oriented mutual fund questioned Apple CEO Steve Jobs specifically about the Mac maker's recycling program.

The company promised to process returned iPods in the United States and not to ship the hazardous materials they contain, which include lead, overseas.

On Friday, Apple's share price fell on a report from Web that the company is overstocked with tens of thousands of iPod models. Some analysts have put the stockpile down in part to slowing demand for the devices.

In the past, however, the company has seen its profits and stock price soar on the popularity of the iPod portable music player, which it introduced in 2001. The company sells more digital music players than anyone, with consumers buying more than 5 million of them over the course of January, February and March alone. >

Critics have blasted Apple for the fact that the iPod's battery is difficult and expensive to replace, giving consumers an incentive to throw them out and buy new ones. Apple recently agreed to extend service warranties and replace batteries for free in certain cases. The agreement is part of Apple's settlement of several class action suits related to iPod battery complaints.

Green Century Capital Management, the investment firm that raised questions at Apple's annual meeting, praised the new recycling program.

"We're very happy to see Apple take this step," Andrew Shalit, a shareholder advocate at Green Century said in a statement. "As shareholders, we see it as a way to increase foot traffic in Apple Stores and increase iPod sales. As environmentalists, we know that it will reduce the amount of toxic waste in our landfills and help consumers understand that electronics manufacturers can and should take responsibility for e-waste."

However, the investment group is urging the company to do more to combat waste. Specifically, it said it will press Apple to expand its free recycling program to cover computers and monitors and accomodate consumers who don't live near an Apple Store.

Environmental groups have been sounding the alarm for some time over the volume of waste generated by the electronics industry. The issue is starting appear on the U.S. legislative agenda, with several states passing electronics recycling laws and federal lawmakers forming a committee to study the issue at a national level.