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Microsoft to phase out toxic plastics

In response to environmental concerns, software giant plans to end use of polyvinyl chloride plastic by Dec. 31.

Microsoft, in response to environmental concerns, will phase out all use of polyvinyl chloride plastic by the end of the year, the software giant announced Wednesday.

Microsoft is joining other industry titans such as Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Sharp and Samsung that have recently taken steps to eliminate their use of polyvinyl chloride plastics, otherwise known as PVC or vinyl, in the packaging of their products.

PVC can emit hazardous dioxins during its production process and when burning the material, environmental and health organizations say. Dioxins are a synthetic chemical linked to cancer and impairment of immune and reproductive systems, studies have shown.

"The long-term environmental effects of PVC are well-known, and we are proud that our efforts have eliminated an estimated 361,000 pounds of PVC packaging since July of this year alone," Pamela Passman, Microsoft vice president of corporate affairs, said in a statement.

Last year, Microsoft established a goal to eliminate its use of PVC plastics by the end of 2005. The software giant, which uses PVC clamshell packaging for such products as Microsoft Office and Windows, is on track to obtain its goal by Dec. 31, Passman noted. The company has turned to other alternatives such as polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET).

Other companies also are turning to packaging alternatives like PET or cardboard, said Michael Schade, PVC campaign coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. The cost to use alternatives can be less or on par with PVC plastics, but in some cases more expensive, he said.

PVC plastics are frequently used by the electronics industry for packaging and for housing electronic components and cabling. Companies that use PVC for cabling are having difficulty finding alternatives, Schade said.

Microsoft began exploring how to eliminate its PVC use back in 2003, after several customers wrote letters to the company expressing concern, and as other countries outside the U.S. began to evaluate the repercussions of PVC packaging, Joan Krajewski, Microsoft's environmental attorney, said in a statement.

Microsoft also contacted its partners, requesting they forego the use of PVC packaging when re-bundling its products.

"The reason we were using plastic to begin with was because we wanted our products to be seen on the shelves. If you think about our hardware...our mice...we wanted people to be able to see and almost touch it," Jay Watts, Microsoft senior manager of package engineering management, said in a statement.

He said the company is examining other eco-friendly alternatives to packaging besides its use of PET. Some of these alternatives include packaging made of corn starch, sugar and vegetable oils.

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice also noted HP's efforts in reducing its use of PVC plastics. But that didn't stop environmentalists from demonstrating at its headquarters on Tuesday.

Greenpeace International protested over concerns of the company's use of brominated flame retardants and PVC in its computers, printers and other electronics. HP, however, responded that it has taken action to reduce its use of PVC in its products, as well as other steps.