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Jobs reveals greener Apple, future plans

updated 02:05 pm EDT, Wed May 2, 2007

Jobs reveals greener Apple

Apple chief Steve Jobs today published an open letter discussing the company's current and future environmental concerns in response to rising pressures from environmental groups as well as shareholders. "Apple has been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products, and for not aggressively or properly recycling its old products," Jobs wrote. "Upon investigating Apple's current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas." The executive covers the removal of numerous toxic chemicals in Apple products, as well as a revamped recycling program for iPods moving forward. Jobs goes on to outline the company's recycling plan for its Mac systems, and projects recycling rates by weight in years to come. [updated]

Jobs notes that Apple holds a long-standing policy of secrecy around its business operations, but admits that the company has failed to communicate its progress environmentally.

"Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well," Jobs said. "Our stakeholders deserve and expect more from us, and they're right to do so. They want us to be a leader in this area, just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today we're changing our policy."

Toxic substances: Lead

Apple's Chief points to lead shipped in many cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors, and reminds readers that Apple completely eliminated its use of CRTs in mid-2006 -- effectively reducing the company's usage of lead by pounds per unit.

"The effect has been stunning -- our first CRT-based iMac contained 484 grams of lead; our current third-generation LCD-based iMac contains less than 1 gram of lead."

Jobs says Dell, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, and Lenovo still ship CRT displays -- which typically include around three pounds of lead -- today.

Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, and Decabromodiphenyl Ether

The executive points to Apple's early compliance with the European Union's RoHS restrictions which went into effect in July 2006.

"Our manufacturing policies had already restricted or banned most of the chemicals covered by RoHS, and Apple began introducing fully RoHS-compliant products a year before the European deadline."

Apple's chief also points out that some well-known electronics companies can only claim their products are RoHS compliant due to certain little-known exemptions granted by the EU, allowing them to ship electronics that still contain high concentrations of two hazardous substances known as hexavalent chromium and the brominated flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE).

"Apple phased out these and many other chemicals several years ago through design innovations and the use of higher quality metals and plastics."

Arsenic and Mercury

Offering a brief description of the hazardous substances found in liquid crystal displays (LCDs), Jobs reveals that Apple is on track to introduce its first displays using arsenic-free glass in 2007. The CEO also announced plans to introduce the first Macs with LED backlight technology in 2007, negating the need to include trace amounts of Mercury in the fluorescent lamps used in most LCDs today.

Jobs also reminds readers that iPod displays already utilize LED backlighting, but warns that Apple's full transition of its displays will depend at least partially on the LCD industry's ability to quickly transition to LED backlighting for larger displays.

"Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays by the end of 2008," and aims to "reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury by transitioning to LED backlighting for all displays when technically and economically feasible."


Some companies have promised to phase out other toxic chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic used in computer parts as well as cables, and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), which reduce the risk of fire.

"Apple began phasing out PVC twelve years ago and began restricting BFRs in 2001. For the past several years, we have been developing alternative materials that can replace these chemicals without compromising the safety or quality of our products," Jobs wrote. "Today, we've successfully eliminated the largest applications of PVC and BFRs in our products, and we're close to eliminating these chemicals altogether."

Apple's boss provides an example to readers, noting that more than 3 million iPods have already shipped with a BFR-free laminate on their logic boards.

By comparison, Dell and Lenovo have publicly stated that they plan to eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in their products in 2009. Hewlett Packard has yet to publicly state when the company will eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in its products, but promised to publish a plan by the end of 2007 that will contain a future timeline for the elimination of those chemicals.

"Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in its products by the end of 2008," Jobs said. "In 2007 HP stated that they will remove PVC from all their packaging. Apple did this 12 years ago. Last year, Dell began the process of phasing out large quantities of brominated flame retardants in large plastic enclosure parts. Apple's plastic enclosure parts have been bromine-free since 2002."

Apple's recycling efforts

Apple has chosen to measure the success of its recycling programs by comparing the total weight of products sold seven years prior to the total weight of recycled products currently. Today Apple operates recycling programs in countries where more than 82 percent of all Macs and iPods are sold, but by the end of 2007 that figure will rise to 93 percent, according to Jobs.

"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," Jobs wrote. "We expect this percentage to grow to 13 percent in 2007, and to 20 percent in 2008. By 2010, we forecast recycling 19 million pounds of e-waste per year -- nearly 30 percent of the product weight we sold seven years earlier."

No overseas disposal for Apple

The executive promises that all of Apple's e-waste collected in North America is processed in the U.S., and nothing is shipped overseas for disposal.

"We carefully review 'environmental fate' submissions from each vendor, so we know how raw materials are handled at the end of the recycling process. We hold our recycling vendors to the highest environmental standards in the industry," Jobs said, adding that the company requires annual compliance audits and reviews the performance of its downstream vendors.

"They must comply with all applicable health and safety laws, and we do not allow the use of prison labor at any stage of the recycling process."

Jobs uses the iMac as a world-class example of material efficiency, which has shed 60 percent of its weight since its debut in 1998. The iMac also uses aircraft-grade aluminum, stainless steel, and high-grade plastics that Jobs says are in high demand from recyclers who recover and sell those raw materials in other products.

"Few of our competitors do the same."

The head of Apple continues by detailing an expanded form of the Cupertino-based company's current iPod recycling program on a global level which will go into effect this summer, offering a 10 percent discount on a new iPod when customers bring in an old model for proper disposal. Apple is further expanding the program by providing free shipping from anywhere in the U.S. with no requirement for product purchases.

"In a few months, we think we'll have 'best of breed' iPod recycling programs in the U.S., and we plan to continue to expand our free iPod recycling programs globally in the future."

Jobs predicts that by 2010 Apple could be recycling significantly more than either Dell or HP as a percentage of past sales weight.

Moving forward

Looking to the future, Apple's boss promised more openness regarding the company's environmental policies, and assured readers that updates will be provided of Apple's efforts as well as its accomplishments at least once per year, quite likely around this same time.

"Today is the first time we have openly discussed our plans to become a greener Apple," said Jobs" "It will not be the last."

The executive closed by expressing his happiness with the new plan.

"I hope you are as delighted as I was when I first learned how far along Apple actually is in removing toxic chemicals from its products and recycling its older products. We apologize for leaving you in the dark for this long," Jobs wrote. "Apple is already a leader in innovation and engineering, and we are applying these same talents to become an environmental leader. Based on our tangible actions and results over time, hopefully our customers, employees, shareholders and professional colleagues will all feel proud of our ongoing efforts to become a greener Apple."

by MacNN Staff




  1. bobolicious

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Peripheral benefits...

    ...should be considered, including life cycle costing (I can still network a Mac Plus) and of course such lifestyle changing opportunities created by the excellence of iChat to enable more video conferencing & reduce the need for commuting & particularly air travel - one of the most horrendously inefficient uses of energy & as a result causes of pollution...

  1. Jeronimo2000

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn..."

    You would think a CEO wouldn't have to "investigate" to know what practices his company currently employs...

    Ah, whatever, Steve-o still rulez. :)

  1. van rijn

    Joined: Dec 1969


    bout time


  1. bsnoel

    Joined: Dec 1969


    GreenPeace Debunked Again

    I'm glad to see Apple is able to debunk Greenpeace's misguided attempt to distort reality for their own purposes. Nice try Greenpeace, but it looks a lot like you may be wearing green egg on your face again.

    Greenpeace States: Right now, poison Apples full of chemicals (like toxic flame retardants, and polyvinyl chloride) are being sold worldwide. When they're tossed, they usually end up at the fingertips of children in China, India and other developing-world countries.

    Apple States: The executive promises that all of Apple's e-waste collected in North America is processed in the U.S., and nothing is shipped overseas for disposal.

  1. wiffle-bat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    hard push ... small move

    But some movement is better than none. Even if Greenpeace exaggerated Apple's environmental misdeeds and Jobs is now doing the opposite, it's still nice to see Apple being more open about its policies and making a commitment to improve them.

  1. bhuot

    Joined: Dec 1969


    how about Dell and HP

    Where is the pressure on Dell or HP? Why do they always pick on Apple, the most progressive of the computer companies? How about all those CRT monitors Dell ships to save a few buck and contain large amounts of lead?

  1. wiffle-bat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: greenpeace debunked

    Let's read a little more closely.

    First of all, Apple sells products worldwide so even if all the Apple products sold in North America end up being recycled or disposed of here (which is a big assumption to make), that still makes it possible that Apple products sold elsewhere are being disposed of (or "recycled") in China and India.

    Secondly, Jobs says that "all of Apple's e-waste collected in North America is processed in the U.S." This only refers to the waste Apple collects -- what about all the computers, iPods, etc. that are tossed by their users? Jobs can't assure us that that waste isn't being shipped overseas.

    And in any case, just because Greenpeace may have exaggerated its claims, does not mean that they are wrong in what they are attempting to do. Who wouldn't want to see Apple (and all computer manufacturers) be more environmentally responsible?

  1. bmn

    Joined: Dec 1969


    sick of it

    i'm sick and tired of hearing about all this enviro-c***.

    we have terrorist in the world who want to kill us, but we're obsessed with making sure our grass is green.

    at least after the terrorists kill us our corpses will have nice, lush grass to decompose into. fools.

  1. petsounds

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: wiffle-bat

    Why would Jobs assure us that Apple products that are tossed by their customers, instead of being recycled by Apple, are not going overseas? That's ridiculous. Apple can't control what you do with the products you buy. I do think that their recycling program for Macs could be better (incentivizing customers), and he was a bit vague on this point, but what are you asking for is not logical.

  1. ZinkDifferent

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Greenpeace - insert foot

    It's nice to see how everything Greenpeace has claimed about Apple has now turned out to be lies, exagerations, and fabrications - not that it's any surprise.

    The stuff they claimed Apple was doing, had been phased out years ago (in some cases, 12 years ago), and the waste they claimed Apple ships overseas, doesn't get shipped overseas.

    As to claims "what about all the computers, iPods, etc. that are tossed by their users? Jobs can't assure us that that waste isn't being shipped overseas" by wiffle-bat - what kind of a dumb-a** argument is that? What about stuff that no one knows about, and no one tracks, huh? Yeah, that must clearly be bad - dumb!

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