Jobs Pledges to Grow a Greener Apple

CUPERTINO, California, May 3, 2007 Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs defended his company's environmental record and future plans Wednesday in response to criticism from environmental organizations. Environmentalists gave Jobs' statement mixed reviews.

A week before Apple's annual general meeting, where shareholders will vote on two resolutions urging the company to green up, Jobs said he was "surprised to learn" that the company "is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" when it comes to removing toxic chemicals from new products, and recycling old products.
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Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs said Apple is growing greener. (Photo courtesy J.D. Lasica)
One of the most abundant toxics is the lead contained in cathode-ray tube, CRT, displays. "A typical CRT contains approximately three pounds (1.36 kg) of lead," Jobs said. "In mid-2006, Apple became the first company in the computer industry to completely eliminate CRTs."

Apple products "met both the spirit and letter" of Europe's Restrictions on Hazardous Substances, RoHS, law on cadmium, hexavalent chromium and brominated flame retardants years before RoHS went into effect in July 2006, said Jobs.

Jobs' comments marked the first time that an Apple executive has publicly committed the company to specific timelines for phasing out certain toxic chemicals.

Arsenic and mercury are industry standard materials used in liquid crystal displays. "Apple is on track to introduce our first displays using arsenic-free glass in 2007," said Jobs. Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays by the end of 2008.

To eliminate mercury, Jobs said Apple must transition from fluorescent lamps to light-emitting diodes, LEDs, to illuminate the displays. He said all iPods use LED displays and contain no mercury.

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Apple flat panel monitor. The company no longer makes CRT monitors. (Photo courtesy Apple)
Apple's ability to eliminate fluorescent lamps in larger displays depends on the industry's rate of transition to LEDs, he said.

Jobs said Apple is ahead of competitors on the phaseout of other toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride, found in computer parts and cables, and brominated flame retardants, which reduce the risk of fire.

Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of these two toxics in its products by the end of 2008, he said.

Apple started recycling in 1994 and today operates recycling programs in countries where more than 82 percent of all Macs and iPods are sold. By the end of this year, that figure will increase to 93 percent, Jobs said.

Apple recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste in 2006, which is equal to 9.5 percent of the weight of all products Apple sold seven years earlier, a measure that has become the industry standard. "By 2010," he said, "we forecast recycling 19 million pounds of e-waste per year, nearly 30 percent of the product weight we sold seven years earlier."

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This year's hot iPod is next year's e-waste. (Photo credit unknown)
All of Apple's more than 150 U.S. retail stores take back unwanted iPods for environmentally friendly disposal free of charge, and this summer the program expands to all Apple stores worldwide.

All the e-waste Apple collects in North America is processed in the United States, and Jobs said "nothing is shipped overseas for disposal."

Environmental groups gave Apple mixed reviews for Wednesday's statement, especially questioning the company's policy on e-waste.

"Apple's statement says they aren't exporting e-waste for disposal, said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network, a nonprofit watchdog of global toxic trade. "Well, nobody is exporting electronic waste for disposal."

"To save a buck," said Puckett, "massive quantities of e-waste is sent to China, India, or Africa for 'recycling' or 're-use' where it ends up being recycled in horrific primitive operations that include riverbank acid stripping, wire-burning, and circuit board cooking, or simply dumped and burned."

"Apple's statement seems deliberately designed as feel-good 'greenwash,' and makes us really wonder if they even know where their electronic waste goes, or understand that they may well be in perpetuating a violation of international environmental trade law, he said.

Robin Schneider, vice chair of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, and executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said, "Steve Jobs has made some significant commitments regarding phasing out toxic materials in Apple products, which we applaud."

"We are also glad to see that Apple is finally stating public goals and measurements regarding their takeback program," said Schneider, but he pointed out that the only expansion of the takeback program in Jobs' announcement was for iPod recycling.

Environmentalists would like to see Apple take all of its products back for recycling.