COMPUTEX - Greenpeace plans protests at Computex

Greenpeace plans to protest the use of toxic chemicals in IT production at Computex in Taipei next week.

Greenpeace International, the environmental group, plans to protest the use of toxic chemicals in electronics products from mobile phones to PCs at the Computex IT show in Taipei next week.

"Greenpeace has been working on the pollution caused by toxic chemicals for quite some time, and one of the most outstanding sources of toxic pollution is from the IT industry," the group said Thursday, dubbing such pollution "e-waste."

The environmental group plans to stage events at the World Trade Center in Taipei starting from June 6, to pressure makers of IT products to stop using toxic chemicals in their products, and agree to take their gadgets back and recycle them when users are finished with them.

It wouldn't be the first time Greenpeace has protested at Computex, or other IT-related trade shows. The group was at Computex last year, and won media attention for its efforts. It's unlikely the activities will disrupt the show, but its message is being heard in more and more circles, particularly Europe.

Many producers of technology items ranging from semiconductors to circuit boards, which use a cocktail of chemicals during manufacturing, are working to develop more nature-friendly ways to operate in response to a regimen of environmental regulations passed in Europe that will take effect on July 1 of this year.

The RoHS regulations (Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations), ban from EU markets any new electronic or electrical equipment that contain more than certain set levels of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium and other materials.

In a report titled "Hi Tech: Highly Toxic," Greenpeace argues that a steep rise in the use of electronics devices globally has caused an explosion in electronic waste in landfills, much of it toxic and difficult to recycle safely.

"Every year, hundreds of thousands of old computers and mobile phones are dumped in landfills or burned in smelters. Thousands more are exported, often illegally, from the Europe, US, Japan and other industrialized countries, to Asia. There, workers at scrap yards, some of whom are children, are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poisons," it says.

Others have taken steps to combat the rising mountain of junkyard waste from the IT industry.

Taiwan, the host of Computex, has stepped up its efforts to recycle electronics products in recent years, including government buybacks of old computers and NT$6,000 (US$187) fines for improperly disposing of mobile phones or optical disks, including CDs and DVDs.

Companies have also become more serious about recycling. On Wednesday, Apple Computer announced a new computer recycling program in the U.S., in which it would e-mail a free shipping label to customers to send back unwanted Apple computers to the company for recycling. It also said customers could bring in any unwanted PC, regardless of the manufacturer, to Apple retail stores for recycling. All computers taken in as part of the program will be recycled in the U.S. and no hazardous materials will be shipped overseas, the company said.

The company says it has processed more than 21 million pounds of electronics globally since 1994, and continues to offer free iPod recycling in its U.S. retail stores, which includes a 10 percent discount on a new iPod.

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Dan Nystedt

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