The Lite Side

How Green Is My Apple? Environmental Silliness in Silicon Valley

Dan Knight , 2005.04.25

The SillyCon Valley Toxic Stuff Coalition (SCVTSC) has taken their message to Apple's core, and Steve Jobs has replied - pointing out numerous inaccuracies in the group's claims at last week's shareholders meeting.

SCVTSC is pushing Apple to recycle old hardware at no charge to the people who own it and are disposing of the equipment, claiming that Dell and HP already take back old stuff for free.

Not so, countered Jobs. "HP charges $40 and Dell charges $20 - we are right in the middle. Apple has a really strong environmental policy." Apple has been taking back computer hardware for four years at a disposal fee of $30 per system.

Jobs notes that Apple recycled over 1,500 tons of equipment last year, to which the SCVTSC countered by noting that HP recycled over 5,000 tons. The Lite Side responds that with all those old HP LaserJets, DeskJets, plotters, monitors, and calculators, HP probably has a far greater mass of obsolete equipment ready to be recycled than Apple.

Apple hasn't made a LaserWriter or ImageWriter printer in years, they've been out of the CRT monitor business for a while, and Macintosh computers often remain in use twice as long as Windows PCs.

Responding to SCVTSC's assertion that Apple uses prisoners or forced labor in their recycling program, Jobs said nothing doing. The SCVTSC claims to have proof.

What's wrong with prisoners doing recycling work? It is beneath them? Should only people who aren't incarcerated be allowed to recycle old computer hardware?

Then again, SCVTSC doesn't claim that Apple is using prison labor. What they claim is that some Apple equipment has been recycled by prisoners - according to their very trustworthy inside informants. Hey, just because a few Apple computers make it through such a system doesn't that mean Apple is sending the product there.

SCVTSC also rails against unscrupulous recyclers who ship product to India and China for recycling - as though Apple is somehow responsible for it. If people choose not to recycle their hardware through Apple, Apple has no control over it. Simple, no?

Splish Splash

The SillyCon Valley Toxic Stuff Coalition is more interested in PR than recycling. They call the iPod "a time-bomb for our health," claiming that the tiny bit of lead inside the iPod will somehow sneak out, climb into the iPod owner's mouth at night, and be ingested with dire consequences.

They also claim that consumers are so savvy that they'd never think to replace the dead battery in an old iPod. No, they believe we'll just toss them in the garbage and buy new ones.

Maybe that's the way SillyCon Valley environmentalists operate, but the rest of us would much prefer to buy a $20-40 battery than a $200-450 iPod.

SCVTSC is after one thing - their fifteen minutes of fame. They've selected Apple and the iPod not because of the great quantities of Apple hardware polluting the planet, but because the iPod is "the hippest thing around." It's just a ploy to get attention.

Well, they have, and their silliness is apparent to anyone who takes a moment to reflect on what they're doing.

As for picking on Apple, just think how much shrink wrap and annoying tape hasn't been used and made its way into the trash because millions of iPod owners are buying music online instead of buying CDs. And how many AA alkaline batteries people haven't had to buy and dispose of because the iPod has a rechargeable battery.

If these environmentalists were more concerned about the environment than their own PR, they'd be dealing with bigger issues like TVs, VCRs, microwaves, refrigerators, and other household objects that are a much greater source of lead and other pollutants than the small percentage of computers actually thrown away each year. (Way too many of those computers end up stored in a basement or warehouse, never discarded or recycled - let alone reused.)

Friends or Enemies?

If SCVTSC wants to make a difference, they need to learn how to work with companies rather than antagonize them. When the company that you're trying to change tells you that you're wrong, give them the opportunity to speak their piece. Get off your high horse and sit down with them - both sides may have more in common than you think.

Or just keep saying, "Not good enough!" until Apple stops paying any attention.

Apple has been environmentally friendly for a long time. At one point they switched from white boxes to brown cardboard. At another point, they used more cardboard and less foam packaging. If I recall correctly, they were also one of the first companies to use water (rather than harsh chemicals) to clean logic boards.

Those days seem long gone. I can't remember the last time Apple did something friendly to the environment.

No, wait. Just a minute. When iPod batteries started failing, Apple created a program to take back iPods with failed batteries and replace them with iPods with new batteries. One more time bomb kept out of the landfill.

I wish that Apple would be more outspoken in their environmental policies, but they are part of Apple's history.

That's the message both sides of this issue need to understand. Maybe they can start by getting Apple to agree to take in one old Apple computer system any time someone buys a new one....

<This article is available in a printer-friendly version.>

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