A few bad Apples or rotten to the core?

These problems of e-waste and toxic chemicals are not limited to Apple. Many potentially hazardous materials have important uses and are only dangerous if handled improperly. Apple is does not have the cleanest record, although nor is it the worst offender. Apple is placed 9 out of 18 according to Greenpeace. Apple has made significant improvements in removing toxic chemicals from its products. Many of the toxins found in the original iPhone, including PVC and BFRs, have been removed from more recent models, such as the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. However while it outperforms many fellow computer manufactures it falls well short its mobile phone industry rivals Nokia and Sony Ericsson in overall environmental impact. According to Greenpeace

“Apple has improved coverage of its take-back programme with take-back and recycling services now extended to Brazil and to the Asia-Pacific region, including India, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Korea and Australia. It reports a 2008 recycling rate (as a percentage of sales seven years ago) of 41.9 percent, up from 38 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2006; however, it needs to provide details on how this is calculated. Apple has set a goal of achieving a 50 percent recycling rate by 2010.”

These figures are positive developments however, Apple has failed to give information on future toxic chemical phase out plan and its supply chain remains far from transparent. As we found out ourselves, during are visit to the Li Tong Group, transparency is a problem at all stages of the lifecycle of an iPhone. Nonetheless we are not powerless to affect change.

The issues of e-waste go beyond corporate social responsibility. One survey showed 58% of existing iPhone users planned to switch to the iPhone 4. As users we have to ask ourselves do we really need the latest model? Could we cope without the annual free replacement handset included in the contract? When was the last time we had any of our electronics upgraded or taken to a repair shop? Apple is the world’s most valuable brand, the cost of protecting that almost certainly outweighs the cost of addressing these issues, thus as customers we do have the power to influence and change.

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