Tech giants still using hazardous chemicals in phones, tablets and PCs, Greenpeace claims

Major new report released just as the firms launch new handsets

Technology giants including Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are among the firms still using hazardous chemicals that are contributing to a “growing environmental crisis”, a major new report has found.

While there has been some progress in recent years, the latest Greenpeace Green Gadgets report shows that leading consumer electronics companies are continuing to use toxic chemicals in smartphones, televisions, tablets, computer and cables.

The report comes on the eve of Europe’s biggest consumer technology show opening in Germany on Friday. Major technology firms are set to descend on Berlin or the IFA Technology Show to launch hundreds of new smartphones, tablets and computers.

Sales of electronic gadgets are set to reach 2.5 billion this year. But the Greenpeace report on the progress of 16 leading technology found that up to 50 per cent of smartphones use hazardous substances including Polyvinylchloride (PVC) and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and that electronics companies are failing to address their growing energy footprint.

PVC and BFRs are common in many devices and are often released during the recycling of so-called e-waste. This process often involves more toxic chemicals, the burning of components and generally takes place as a “backyard” activity in the developing world, far from where these devices were sold and used.

Greenpeace highlighted Samsung, the world’s largest biggest electronics company, for criticism. It said the firm is failing to meet previously stated elimination goals for its products beyond its phone range and had joined other firms in backtracking on commitments.

Apple was praised for reducing its impact and becoming the only company to totally eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs from its entire product range.

However Greenpeace attacked Microsoft for dropping a previous “phase-out commitment” and Amazon for “failing to provide any information to the public”.

“Apple has shown us a glimpse of a greener future, leading the sector on toxic-free products and starting to address the huge environmental footprint of electronics manufacturing,” said Greenpeace UK’s head of IT, Andrew Hatton.

“But the industry still has a long road ahead of it before they’re giving customers the level of efficiency and sustainability they are asking for.”

He added: “The innovative electronics industry is perfectly placed to reimagine their manufacturing and marketing processes. They’re designing our future, and we need that future to be a lot cleaner and greener than where we are now.”

Spokespeople for Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Amazon and Microsoft did not respond for requests for comment.

Toxic technology

Greenpeace is campaigning for the elimination of two particularly toxic chemicals, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BRFs), used in smartphones, televisions, tablets and computers. They have long been linked to long-term health and environmental damage.

Several BFRs are known to have toxic properties and are able to bioaccumulate, or build up, in animals and humans. They are most dangerous during manufacture and when they are disposed of by incineration, smelting and open burning.

During disposal they can release bromine as hydrogen bromide and brominated dioxins. Long-term exposure has been linked to kidney and brain damage.

PVC, on the other hand, presents a risk to human health and the environment throughout its lifecycle from manufacture to disposal.

During manufacture, it requires the use of hazardous raw materials, including a vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) which is explosive, highly toxic and carcinogenic.

When PVC does eventually get disposed of as a waste product, it is often burned, releasing chlorine and toxic additives. In turn, exposure to these can lead to chronic beryllium disease (CBD), an incurable and debilitating lung disease.

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