Toxics Coalition Ranks Top PC Makers

Toxics Coalition Ranks Top PC Makers

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition sees some bright spots but a long journey ahead for electronics companies on environmental and public health concerns. Since the release last year of its fourth annual report card on electronics pollution, a few companies have begun making steps to take back their obsolete products, and phasing out toxins ahead of the scheduled required by the European Union. However, the new report card documents that the computer companies’ recycling programs are recovering only a small percent of their electronic waste.

“If a thousand mile journey begins with the first step, then the journey toward environmental sustainability begins with manufacturers taking responsibility for the environmental performance of their products, from the design stage to recycling and disposal,” said Ted Smith of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “This year’s Computer Report Card notes the importance of beginnings and getting off to a right start in anything that one undertakes. This year the Computer Takeback Campaign (CTBC) witnessed positive signs of manufacturers beginning to incorporate principles of extended producer responsibility (EPR) into their environmental programs.”

“One of the bright spots is a Statement of Principles developed by the Computer TakeBack Campaign regarding electronics waste and producer responsibility. Dell, Inc. and HP – the two market leaders in computer and peripherals – have given their support for these high level principles. The Computer TakeBack Campaign believes these principles will help set an important new direction for public policy,” said Sheila Davis, Program Director of the Clean Computer Campaign, a project of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and principle author of the report.

Hewlett Packard and Dell emerged this year as industry leaders, in part because of their support for the ideals set forth in the "Statement of Principles on Producer Responsibility for Electronic Waste." The Principles – drawn up by the CTBC and refined in conjunction with HP and Dell– support the goals of producer responsibility in the US wherein brand-name manufacturers/ producers work with consumers, state and local government to properly collect and manage electronic products, at the end of their useful lives, in an environmentally responsible fashion.

HP and Dell's support for the Principles represents a significant break from many other companies in the electronics industry, which are backing a more narrow solution that leaves taxpayers bearing a significant share of e-waste recycling costs. The CTBC believes that HP and Dell’s support for take back principles distinguishes their brands and can create positive market dynamics that will improve product design and minimize their product's life-cycle impact on the environment. The Principles frame a crucial distinction between the type of advance disposal fee adopted by California, which CTBC, Dell and HP do not advocate, and a system wherein manufacturers internalize costs associated with collection and recycling of discarded products.

HP, the highest scoring company this year, is awarded the ‘Going the Extra Mile Award’ for their active support of state legislative efforts in Maine and Minnesota that require brand owners and producers of computers and consumer electronics to bear financial responsibility for the collection and safe recycling of their products. The Maine producer takeback bill has become law, while legislative deliberations continue in Minnesota.

“The award for ‘Most Improved Performance’ goes to Dell Inc.,” said Robin Schneider, Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, a key leader in the Computer TakeBack Campaign. Dell had a failing score on last year’s Computer Report Card and was targeted by the Computer TakeBack Campaign for being a market share leader but environmental laggard. Dell sprinted to second place this year by eliminating the use of prison labor, initiating a recycling program for its US consumers and for its public support of producer takeback policies. In particular, Dell will take back a printer of any make for free, including pickup from one’s home, when a consumer buys a new Dell printer. That’s the kind of offer we want all the electronics companies to make for all their products. Dell says it will soon offer free recycling for a computer of any make for people who buy a Dell system,” added Schneider.

“To NEC goes the ‘Leader of the Pack Award’ for most rapidly phasing-out toxic chemicals banned by the European Union and higher than average use of recycled content glass and plastic in its new products, said David Wood of the GrassRoots Recycling Network, another key leader in the Computer TakeBack Campaign.

NEC was also the only company to publish its 2004 recycling goals on their website as well as goals for recycled contents, use of lead-free solder, global warming prevention and eco-labels for products. NEC claims to use lead-free solder in 50-100% of its products. HP and Dell, have only manage to phase out less than 2%.

However, the enormity of the environmental problems caused by electronics manufacturing and hazardous waste disposal still far overshadows the incremental steps taken by individual companies. More manufacturers must vigorously advocate for changes in US laws to make them at least as stringent as the goals adopted by the European Union. The new report also asserts that computer manufacturers must also provide significant resources to finance the development of a convenient and effective collection, disassembly, reuse and recycling infrastructure.

Producer takeback policies at the state level are key to raising the rate of electronics recycling above the 2 to 20% range, which companies are attaining now. Public policy creates a level playing field that sets goals and timetables and allows the companies to use their innovation to determine how they will meet those goals with systems that best suit their business models.

The Report Card ranks IBM, Apple, Toshiba, Philips, Sony and Lexmark in the “Following Close Behind” category. These companies responded to the survey but reported fewer measurable results. Behind them are Gateway, Panasonic and Sharp ranked as “At the Starting Gate.” A number of other electronics companies are labeled as “No Shows.”

This year’s CTBC report card finds that computer companies need to improve the following:
  • Manufacturers must exercise their political muscle and work with environmental and public health advocates to put producer takeback policies in place – only HP is doing this now, with modest support from Dell. IBM and several television companies – including Panasonic, Sony and Sharp -- are actively working against producer responsibility in the state legislative arenas.

  • Create a standard set of environmental measurements for recycling, reductions in the use of hazardous materials, supply chain management and auditing in order for the public to acknowledge and reward leading companies in the market place, while shining a bright light on those merely seeking to green their image

  • Provide information on the final destinations for their recycled materials, which only HP volunteered in response to questions about their domestic recycling operations

  • Develop and implement tracking systems and supply and disposal chain management for recycled materials to ensure transparency and accountability that is currently not available

  • End the common practice of global double standards and offer product takeback, worker protections, and environmentally superior products to all consumers, regardless of regulations or the lack of them in particular regions

  • Develop efficient tracking systems for occupational health and safety that differentiate between acute injuries (slips and falls), chronic injuries (ergonomic), acute illness (short-term exposure from a chemical accident), and chronic illness (due to long-term chemical exposure) and document incidents of cancer, reproductive problems, high rates of miscarriages and birth defects, which have been linked to industrial practices.
The Computer Report Card provides consumers, policy-makers, and activists with a tool to measure the environmental performance of companies that produce and market computer equipment. More than twenty-five manufacturers and brand owners were surveyed on four broad measures of environmental performance:
  • use of hazardous materials
  • take-back programs for used and obsolete equipment
  • worker health and safety
  • ease of access to information.
The Clean Computer Report Card’s recommendations include a variety of actions that individuals, organizations, and institutions can take to promote producer take back and clean design of computers and consumer electronic equipment, such as:
  • Advising individual and institutional consumers to use their purchasing power to send a message that only responsible companies deserve to earn their business

  • Encouraging their university, agency, mutual fund or pension plan to support shareholder resolutions to promote computer recycling if they invest in computer producers

  • Calling, writing, or e-mailing the manufacturer of their computer, printer, monitor, etc. and ask producers about the hazardous materials in their products and their takeback policies

  • Support legislative efforts to promote producer takeback legislation such as the law passed recently by the State of Maine.