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by Elizabeth Hueter, student writer

 

Since the introduction of the iPod and iTunes five years ago, Apple has seen a dramatic increase in college-aged technology buyers. Apple prides itself on its sleek, innovative, hip designs. However, when it comes to environmental impact, Apple products are far from hip.

Apple products like the iMacs, iBooks, iPods and the newly introduced iPhones all contain hazardous chemicals that competitors such as Dell, Nokia, Sony and Compaq, have agreed to remove from their products. According to Greenpeace, dangerous chemicals like toxic flame-retardants, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) inside Apple computers end up in the fingertips of children in developing countries like China and India who dismantle the computers for parts. Not only do these chemicals pose health threats to anyone exposed to them, but the environmental impact of these toxins is extraordinary.

A basic rule of environmental protection is the producer is responsible for the products’ disposal when it is no longer wanted. Companies such as Dell and Hewlett Packard adhere to this Individual Producer Responsibility. Apple does have recycling programs in countries where it is mandatory, as in the United States. However, many of their products end up in the e-waste yards of Asia.
In December 2006, Greenpeace ranked Apple last in a report studying the overall environmental policy of major technology companies.

“ Today you can’t recycle most of these products because you’re recycling toxic waste,” said Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxic Campaign. “We’re looking at it from a complete life cycle approach, from where we make these to where they end up. Twenty to 50 million tons of e-waste a year end up in China; that [e-waste] is endangering to migrant families trying to remove a very small percentage of the materials for recycling.”

In July 2006 Apple earned a silver medal from the EPA’s U.S. Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) and uses this to support its claims to be environmentally sound. However, the criteria the EPA uses is very different compared to Greenpeace’s criteria.

The EPA criteria only apply to certain products and only statewide programs, while Greenpeace evaluates the company more critically on the whole. Scott Case, marketing director at EPEAT said in a Jan. 12 article on IT Week’s Green Business News, “My initial reaction was that comparing the two systems was like comparing apples and oranges, but on closer inspection it is more like comparing apples and cows.”

Still, Apple uses the EPEAT silver medal to dispute Greenpeace’s campaign. Apple positions itself as the leader for innovative and revolutionary products in all aspects except environmental impact. Apple continues to do only as much as it needs to satisfy environment laws, according to Barbara Kyle at the Computer Take Back Campaign, a group instrumental in the first push for Apple to establish a recycling program, in a Jan. 30 article from AlterNet’s EnviroHealth.

Many students do not know where their products go when they throw them away or have knowledge of recycling programs available.

“ I was completely unaware of the environmental impact of Apple,” said Glennel Warren, Hawai‘i Pacific University student and Mac owner. “If I knew about the recycling programs, I would use them, but if my iPod broke before I knew about recycling, I would probably just throw it in the trash.”

So the next time your iPod breaks, or you upgrade to a new computer, think about where your computer is going and the impact it will have on the environment.

For more information visit www.greenmyapple.org.

 

 

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