Greenpeace blasts Apple over toxic materials in iPhone

If rivals can make handsets sans hazardous chemicals, Apple should too, says environmental group

Greenpeace International, which has clashed with Apple over toxic chemicals in its products and post-sales electronics recycling, has slammed the company's iPhone, saying it includes hazardous materials that other mobile phone makers have eliminated.

An analysis done on a disassembled iPhone by an independent lab in the UK found toxic brominated compounds and hazardous PVC (polyvinyl chloride) in multiple components of the handsets. Bromine, a chemical used in fire-retardant compounds, was present in more than half the 18 samples taken, Greenpeace claimed, while toxic phthalates made up 1.5 percent of the ear bud cables PVC coating.

In no instances, however, did any of the tested iPhone components -- which included the four circuit boards, the battery casing and the internal case -- appear to violate European Union regulations, Greenpeace acknowledged.

Even so, the discovery of bromine and PVC raised the group's ire, in part because other mobile phone makers have eliminated the chemical and the hard-to-recycle plastic. Nokia's handsets, for example, are PVC-free, said Greenpeace, while Motorola and Sony Ericsson have bromine-free models on the market.

"Apple is far from leading the way for a green electronics industry as competitors, like Nokia, already sell mobile phones free of PVC," said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace toxics campaigner, in a statement Monday. Greenpeace called on Apple to sell a revamped iPhone that would be at least as green as competitors' handsets.

The group also knocked Apple for not offering a global take-back recycling policy to match those of Nokia and Sony Ericsson, and asked what would happen to the several million iPhones that Apple plans to sell in its first year. Apple, however, accepts any cell phone, the iPhone included, in its free recycling program, which prints out a pre-paid mailing label or sends a pre-paid mailer to customers who fill out an online form.

In its most recent "green" ranking of major consumer electronics and computer companies, Nokia and Sony Ericsson topped the list last month at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, with corresponding scores of 8.0 and 7.7 out of a possible 10. Motorola, with, 6.7, took ninth. Apple, meanwhile, held 12th with a score of 5.3. Only one company, Panasonic, scored lower.

Greenpeace has not been shy about criticizing Apple. Last year, it singled out the company with a "Green My Apple" public relations campaign meant to pressure Apple to make changes. This spring, it put Apple as dead last among the 14 companies it tracked. A month later, Apple CEO Steve Jobs fired back with an open letter defending the company and promising future progress. Among the latter: Apple pledged to eliminate PVC and bromine-based flame retardants in its products by the end of 2008.

Back in May, Jobs said: "In many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas."

Based on the iPhone, Greenpeace disagreed. "Steve Jobs has missed the call on making the iPhone his first step towards greening Apple's products," Alhajj said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The lab analysis of the iPhone can be found on the Greenpeace Web site.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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