Greenpeace hits Samsung for delaying toxic phase-out

The environmental group says Samsung delayed communicating it would miss a deadline

International environmental group Greenpeace hit out at Samsung on Wednesday for reneging on a promise to remove harmful substances from its electronics products.

At issue is the presence of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) in Samsung gadgets. The toxic chemicals have the potential to damage the environment and harm human health and their elimination has been a major goal of Greenpeace in the electronics sector.

Samsung was one of the first companies to publically voice support for a phase-out, and in 2004 issued a joint-statement with Greenpeace saying it would work to rid them from its products. The pledge earned Samsung points in Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics and by 2006 the company was promising it would end use of BFRs by Jan. 1, 2010.

But that never happened.

In November 2009, less than two months before the self-imposed deadline, Samsung e-mailed Greenpeace to say that it wouldn't be able to deliver on the commitment, according to the group.

A delay wasn't unique to Samsung. Dell, Lenovo and LG Electronics had pledged to rid their products of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and BFRs by the end of 2009 but have delayed this until 2011 or beyond, according to Greenpeace.

What's different with Samsung is that the notification came less than two months before the self-imposed deadline.

"Most of the companies that committed to end of 2009 or 2010 timelines for eliminating these substances confessed to Greenpeace at least one year before the deadline that they would be unable to meet the timelines," said Iza Kruszewska, an electronics campaigner at the organization.

"Despite repeated opportunities for Samsung to come clean, including a face-to-face meeting in Korea in July 2009, Samsung continued to communicate to Greenpeace, and on Web site, that it would meet its timelines," she said. As of time of writing, Samsung's European Web site continues to show the 2010 goal.

The company now says it will remove BFRs from MP3 players and digital cameras by June 1 this year and from laptop computers by Jan. 1, 2011.

That late notification meant that Samsung avoided attracting a penalty point in the Greenpeace electronics guide until the last moment. It's got one now and Greenpeace threatened to remove another point if it doesn't speed up its progress in removing BFRs and PVC.

"Samsung is lagging far behind in the mobile phone and PCs product range, not offering a single model that is even partially free of PVC and BFRs," Greenpeace said in a statement. "If Samsung is serious about its green intentions, it needs to play catch up with competitors like Nokia and Sony Ericsson and Apple."

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