Greenpeace has accused the U.S. green IT labelling registry EPEAT of "caving in" to pressure from leading manufacturers and approving a number of "ultra-thin" notebooks that will prove difficult to recycle.
EPEAT announced last week that it had undertaken a thorough review of five different "ultra-thin" notebooks from Apple, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba, including the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and concluded they could remain on the EPEAT registry.
"EPEAT is committed to foster greener electronics and to give purchasers the tools to evaluate green claims," said Robert Frisbee, chief executive of EPEAT in a statement.
"The system's rigorous environmental assessment processes result from a powerful stakeholder collaboration that includes purchasers, environmental advocates, government, manufacturer, recycler and academic participants. This latest series of stringent investigations demonstrates the power of that approach."
The organization said that it had undertaken a series of "fundamental inquiries" into the products and referred them to its independent Product Verification Committee (PVC) to see if they met the criteria set out for EPEAT-approved products.
It also confirmed that the PVC had undertaken a series of technical tests and concluded that the products met a range of criteria requiring them to be easy to disassemble or upgrade.
"EPEAT requested standard disassembly instructions from each manufacturer for the products in question, then commissioned a technical test lab to independently purchase these devices on the open market, and disassemble them according to the instructions provided," the organization said. "Lab personnel were not trained recycling professionals, so they could be expected to provide more universally applicable data regarding questions of time and ease of disassembly than would a demonstration by a recycler.
"The lab disassembled each of the purchased products with full documentation of each disassembly process, including its overall duration. Time for total disassembly of each of the products was under 20 minutes in all cases; for the removal of batteries the time required was between 30 seconds and two minutes."
The rulings are significant as growing numbers of public sector and corporate customers adhere to green IT procurement criteria that mean they will only buy EPEAT-registered products.
However, Greenpeace IT analyst Casey Harrell responded angrily to the news, accusing EPEAT of approving difficult to recycle products that will lead to "less recycling and more e-waste".
"Apple wanted to change the EPEAT standards when it knew its MacBook Pro with Retina Display would likely not qualify for the registry in July of this year – now EPEAT has reinterpreted its rules to include the MacBook Pro and ultrabooks. Is it a coincidence?" he asked.
"It's unclear why EPEAT caved in, but the impact is that EPEAT has confused consumers and businesses who want to buy green electronics that can be repaired and will last a long time, and sets a dangerous trend for the burgeoning market of ultrabooks."
He added that EPEAT's argument that the new products meet their criteria fails to take account of the way in which the vast majority of consumers are unwilling to remove components from their gadgets.
"Consumers will not risk violating their product warranty to change a battery using instructions they don't have with tools they don't own, and are sure to conclude that the entire process is too complicated and instead buy a new product," he said. "The result will be electronics with a shorter lifespan and more e-waste.
"Electronics need to be designed so that people can upgrade and repair them as easily as possible. If companies can't make products that can be easily fixed, they shouldn't be sold."
This article first appeared on BusinessGreen and is reprinted with permission.
Image of used computer parts by Sharon Day available via Shutterstock.