Texas Campaign for the Environment: e-Waste

from iPod to iTrash

e-Waste Apple Campaign

After more than a year of pressure from consumers, Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Computer TakeBack Campaign, Apple announced on April 21, 2006, that starting in June if someone buys a Mac in an Apple retail store or on the Apple website, Apple will recycle an old computer of any maker for free.  Apple announced in June 2005 that they would take back iPods, but only at Apple retail stores.

However, Apple has yet to set any public recycling goals, as Dell and HP have, so it’s too soon to tell how committed Apple is to publicizing its program and making it work.  In addition, Apple has actively opposed  practical legislation in Maine, Minnesota, New York and Washington State to handle the hazards of toxic e-waste.  In contrast, HP was very actively supporting the producer takeback recycling bill that passed in  Washington State this March. 

Producer takeback recycling means that the recycling and disposal costs will be built into the purchase price. By incorporating recycling costs into the purchase price, the model costs less. It creates bottom-line incentives for design changes, which in turn makes products more recyclable.


In April 2006, Apple shareholders voted in the highest numbers ever in favor of a resolution to require the Board of Directors to report on ways to improve its computer take back system.  The resolution received the backing of 10.3% of shareholders voting.  The proposal was supported by 44 million shares worth about $3.2 billion.  This is the highest vote a proposal on computer waste has received.  Proposals filed in 2002 at HP received 8.3% and Gateway 7.5%. Read the  shareholder resolution.

Claims vs. Truth on Apple TakeBack Recycling

If you look at Apple's website you would think the company was ahead of the pack with regards to how it handles electronic waste and design for the environment. However, the reality is something different.

Apple Claims: "Apple has long been an advocate of product stewardship, and we believe that this concept extends to the proper disposal of electronic equipment at the end of its useful life."

BadApple Truth: Apple lobbied against legislation requiring companies to set up takeback programs in Maine, Massachusetts andWashington. (The Maine legislation passed in 2004.) Apple lags far behind Dell and HP in its policies or programs to take back its own obsolete products. Some of Apple's product designs (especially the iPod) discourage product upgrades and reuse.

Apple Claims: "Producers should provide a means to facilitate environmentally friendly recycling of their products at the end of electronic products' useful life."

BadApple Truth: On April 21, 2006, Apple announced that in June 2006 if would begin recycling an old computer for a customer that buys a new Mac  computer on the Apple website or at an Apple retail store.  (See TCE/CTBC release)  In April 2005, Apple announced it would take back obsolete iPods, but only at Apple retail stores.  (See TCE/CTBC press release.)  However, Apple still has not released public goals for their recycling effort which would push the company to make sure that its customers know about the recycling programs and are using them.

Apple Claims: "Governments should develop a legal framework and public policies to promote appropriate end-of-life management, including environmentally friendly disposal and recycling."

BadApple Truth: If Apple truly believes this, why has it lobbied against such legislation in Maine, Massachusetts and Washington State? Apple offers the type of producer takeback recycling programs in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Europe and Maine. Why is Apple treating the rest of its American customers as second-class citizens?

Apple Claims: "Materials generated from the recycling of our products should be used as feedstock for new products whenever possible."

BadApple Truth: Only about 10% of unwanted electronic products (including Apples) are recycled in the U.S. This extremely low number is a direct result of companies like Apple making it difficult for its customers to find recycling options.

Apple Claims: Apple recognizes that reducing the environmental impact of business starts with the design of our products... These efforts do minimize the environmental impact of our products... Using recyclable materials cuts the amount of waste going into landfill. Selecting more environmentally friendly substances for use in our products makes them safer for users and the environment during their useful life and beyond.

BadApple Truth: Apple lags behind competitors such as Dell in designing its products with safe end-of-life in mind. Dell has pledged to phase out toxic plastics as well as toxic flame-retardant coating on plastics. Apple has not. The batteries in the popular iPod generally fail after about 18 months. Currently, customers must remove all songs and data from their iPods and pay shipping and around $60 to have their battery replaced. These inconvenient and costly requirements mean that many iPods are ending up in landfills or with irresponsible "recyclers" instead of having a longer useful life. Apple's eMac was designed in a way that if one component fails, the entire system was rendered useless. The colors that Apple uses in its plastics can make recycling more difficult.

Summary: Apple claims do not equal Apple action. Customers and the public have high expectations of a company that "Thinks Different." Dell and HP have embraced principles and legislation that pledges companies to work with customers to take back their obsolete electronics products. Apple has not. Apple has, to date, failed to disclose any goals for e-waste recovery and recycling, unlike its major competitors (Dell and HP). Based on their answers on the Computer Report Card, Apple recycles far less than these competitors. Saying one thing and acting another way entirely puts Apple's brand image at risk and can eventually hurt market share.

*For a list of environmentally and socially responsible recyclers go to: www.ban.org.

Campaign Press

Who's the greenest of them all?   (Globe and Mail)

Green Apple? Jobs outlines plans   (Austin American Statesman)

Steve Jobs Issues Statement on Apple’s Environmental Commitments   (Computer TakeBack Campaign)

Take Action

Links

  • An international network of activists seeking to prevent the globalization of the toxic chemical crisis.

    Basel Action Network
  • Information on the policy of Extended Producer Responsibility and other strategies to make manufacturing processes less toxic.

    Clean Production Action
  • EWG documents high levels of toxic flame retardants in mothers milk across the country, including one sample from Texas.

    Environmental Working Group Mothers Milk Report
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons conceded that its own staff and inmate workers in its computer recycling enterprises were exposed to harmful heavy metals above allowable safety limits.

    Federal Prisons Admit Toxic Exposure of Staff and Inmates
  • The following companies have signed the Electronic Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship, the most rigorous criteria for sustainable and socially just electronics recycling. Got E-Waste? Electronic Recyclers You Can Trust
  • iDud aims to call attention to the diminishing lifespan of consumer electronics and its impact on our wallets, our environment, and our sanity. This campaign focusses on the iPod because the iPod is the market leader in mp3 players and is widely praised for its design. The volume of iPods that Apple sells means it has a much greater impact on consumers and the environment than other players. http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/iPod/
  • The web site for the National Computer Takeback CampaignNational Electronics Takeback Coalition
  • Testing of food from Dallas supermarkets finds BFR Contamination.Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Contamination of U.S. Food
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