Computer Report Card Shows US Companies Lag on Environmental Issues
Atlanta, Georgia - In a nationally coordinated action, groups across the United States have released the 3rd Annual Computer Report Card and to launch the Computer TakeBack Campaign. The Computer Report Card reveals that U.S. brands are continuing to lag further behind their overseas competitors in clean production, health-related issues and producing environmentally superior products.
"Discarded electronics is one of the fastest growing and most toxic waste streams - threatening human health and the environment," said Bill Sheehan, Executive Director of the Athens-based GrassRoots Recycling Network (GRRN).
In response to this growing environmental threat, dozens of organizations across the country have formed the Computer TakeBack Campaign to promote producer responsibility and clean production in the personal computer and consumer electronics industry. The Campaign provides a forum for consumers and local governments to voice their concern for an appropriate, effective solution to the electronics waste issue.
GrassRoots Recycling Network and Atlanta-based Waste Not Georgia (WNG) are promoting consumer action in Georgia through the TakeBack Campaign for one - toxics. A Georgia ground water report dated December 6, 2000 listed 129 confirmed releases of contaminates from lined and unlined landfills. The State Hazardous Site Inventory had been notified of 99 of these releases into ground water and 46 were actually listed on the inventory.
"Many of these contaminants consist of heavy metals and other highly toxic materials found in computer equipment. The accelerating increase in the landfilling of electronics equipment, coupled with Georgia's lack of a plan to recover these products, will perpetuate this major problem of aquifer contamination far into the future," said Bob Woodall, executive director of WNG.
The concern is also shared by Rep. Terry Coleman (D-Eastman) who introduced HB-2 last year in the Georgia General Assembly. This bill would create a Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Council to formulate a plan to deal with the growing number of computer and electronics related components that are predominately landfilled or incinerated today.
"Many companies in countries throughout Europe and Asia are implementing extended producer responsibility programs in response to government regulations," said David Wood of the Grassroots Recycling Network and Organizing Director of the Computer TakeBack Campaign. "Having producers assume responsibility for their products requires them to internalize costs they now pass on to taxpayers and local governments.
"Producer take back requirements also create a powerful incentive to reduce such costs by designing products that are cleaner and safer, more durable and reusable, and easier to disassemble and recycle," Mr. Wood said.
The campaign's report card reveals several troubling double standards in the global production of computers: between countries, among companies, and even within companies doing business in different areas of the world. Over the past year, several environmental and health initiatives with important impacts on the high-tech sector have come forth in Japan. In stark contrast, there have been no major initiatives in the U.S.
The Computer Report Card results indicate that brand-owners meet higher standards outside of the U.S. Yet these same companies do not transfer these practices back home:
• Since 1989, IBM has offered product take-back programs in certain European countries free of charge where required by law. By contrast, IBM announced a U.S. take-back effort earlier this year, but charge $29.99 per unit - a clear disincentive for consumer participation.
• Apple Computer of Germany provides a take-back program where customers can return electronic appliances at no charge due to legislative requirements, but offer no such program to US consumers.
• In a similar case, Sony Electronics and other partners unveiled a limited 5-year program in October 2000 to collect and recycle electronics from residential customers in certain parts of the U.S. On the other hand, the same company has a fullscale take-back program for computer monitors in Germany.
• Finally, the European Parliament recently voted to phase out the use of some of the most hazardous substances in the electronics industry, as has Japan.
As a result, some Japanese companies offer lead free products or products without toxic brominated flame-retardants. US companies are lagging well behind.
"Companies in Europe and Asia are detoxifying their products and taking them back," said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project.
"The campaign urges U.S. companies to plug into 'extended producer responsibility'."
In particular, a widening chasm exists among practices of companies in Japan and those in the US. Seven out of the top ten ranked companies in this year's Computer Report Card are based in Japan. On the overall scores, with a few exceptions, most US companies scored lower in the pack.
One of the key issues is the critical need to implement responsible electronic recycling and management programs— and to have brand-owners accept that responsibility. Currently, most "obsolete" electronic products are not recycled, and the expense of collecting, managing and disposing of discarded electronics is usually borne by taxpayer-funded government programs, primarily at the local level.
Report Card Recommendations
• For Computer Brand-owners: Follow the lead of global competitors. Accept full life cycle responsibility for your products. Include clear and concise disclosures about the toxics in the products and how consumers can access take-back programs.
• For Governments: Learn from the counterparts in Europe and Japan and pass laws to establish take back programs and Extended Producer Responsibility, and phase out the most toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals. Use institutional buying power to promote environmentally preferable purchasing.
• For Consumers: Make use of purchasing power. It is one of the strongest tools for initiating change in corporate behavior. Buy a new computer only if really needed and when purchasing, buy the most environmentally sound option.