Dell promises greener computers but users want more

Feature Story - 2006-06-27
Dell has become the latest company to promise to remove the worst toxic chemicals from it products, closely following the move of its rival HP. Both companies have been pressured by us to make their products greener and help tackle the growing mountain of toxic e-waste.

Dell computer waste (e-waste) in a Chinese scrap yard. Dell and other progressive companies have made moves to start tackling the e-waste problem. Will others follow?

Dell made the announcement with a pledge to phase out the use of two key groups of chemicals known to be hazardous to the environment: all types of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and the plastic polyvinyl chlorine (PVC), by 2009. This latest success follows just months after our success in pressuring its big rival Hewlett Packard (HP) to change its policy in March 2006.

Easy as Dell

HP, LGE, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Sony Ericsson have already made commitments to eliminate the use of some hazardous chemicals in the near future. However, a number of other companies including Acer, Apple, Fujitsu-Siemens, IBM, Lenovo, Panasonic, Siemens and Toshiba have so far failed to commit. Motorola recently broke its promise to clean up.

But despite these small steps in the right direction by some companies it is clear that electronics users expect more. A survey conducted by Ipsos-MORI for us reveals that most people across nine countries say they would pay extra for a more environmentally friendly computer and that companies should be held responsible for dealing with their hazardous waste from PCs.

The nine country survey, carried out earlier this year, found that from half to three-quarters of computer users say that they would be willing to pay extra for an environmentally friendly computer. The amounts ranged from US$59 in Germany, US$118 in UK, US$199 in China and a whopping US$229 in Mexico.

Toxic as hell

Every year, hundreds of thousands of old computers and mobile phones containing toxic chemicals are dumped in landfills or burned in smelters. Thousands more are exported, often illegally, from the Europe, US, Japan and other industrialised countries, to Asia. There, workers at scrap yards, some of whom are children, are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poisons. This is the dark side of a trend for cheaper, more disposable electronics.

By removing the toxic chemicals, companies make it cleaner and easier to recycle their products. Companies that take responsibility for the whole lifecycle of their products from cradle to grave ensure that their products last longer and cause less pollution. Our vision for the industry is one that produces cleaner, longer lasting, more sustainable products that don't contribute to the growing tide of toxic, short lived products currently being dumped in Asia.

The electronics is a fast moving, innovative industry that can respond quickly to users wishes and new trends. But this years hottest gadget shouldn't end up being next years e-waste being taken apart by a Chinese child. Some companies are making positive moves and our survey shows that users want a cleaner industry and are willing to pay extra for it.

Will the industry follow this trend?

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