Steve Jobs was an innovative technological genius, but he should also be remembered for his environmental efforts. He was the mind behind Pixar and other technology companies, but he is best known for his work at Apple. Jobs’ environmentalism went well beyond being a vegetarian, he improved Apple’s environmental image by withdrawing from the US Chamber of Commerce because of the organization’s climate change denial. Apple is also a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its products. Here is a summary of what Apple has done to remove toxic chemicals.
The lead contained in cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays are a big part of major toxic chemical commonly used in electronics. A typical CRT contains approximately 3 pounds (1.36 kg) of lead. In mid-2006, Apple became the first company in the computer industry to completely eliminate CRTs. Apple’s first CRT-based iMac contained 484 grams of lead, the third-generation LCD-based iMac contains less than 1 gram of lead.
Apple completely eliminated the use of CRTs in mid-2006. While Dell, Gateway, Hewlett Packard and Lenovo still ship CRT displays today.
Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, Decabromodiphenyl Ether
The European Union is generally ahead of the U.S. in restricting toxic substances in electronic products. Their latest restrictions, known as RoHS, went into effect in July 2006. All Apple products worldwide comply with RoHS. Apple’s manufacturing policies have 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.
Some other electronics companies can only claim their products are RoHS compliant because of certain little-known exemptions granted by the EU. Despite the tough restrictions of RoHS, these exemptions let companies ship electronics that still contain high concentrations of two hazardous substances — hexavalent chromium, the carcinogen against which Erin Brockovich famously campaigned, and the brominated flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE), which is also feared to have adverse health effects. Apple phased out these and many other chemicals several years ago through design innovations and the use of higher quality metals and plastics.
Apple products met both the spirit and letter of the RoHS restrictions on cadmium, hexavalent chromium and brominated flame retardants years before RoHS went into effect.
Some well known electronics companies, still rely on RoHS exemptions and use these toxic chemicals in their products today.
Arsenic & Mercury
Arsenic and mercury are industry standard materials used in liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Arsenic is added during the manufacturing of the high performance glass used in LCDs to prevent the formation of defects, and the fluorescent lamps used to illuminate LCDs contain minute amounts of mercury. Apple introduced their first displays using arsenic-free glass in 2007. A small number of high performance integrated circuits (ICs) will continue to contain a minute amount of arsenic as an element of the semiconductor substrate.
To eliminate mercury in their displays, Apple transited from fluorescent lamps to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the displays. Fortunately, all iPod displays already use LEDs for illumination, and therefore contain no mercury. The first Macs with LED backlight technology came online in 2007.
Apple completely eliminated the use of arsenic in all of their displays by the end of 2008.
Polyvinyl Chloride Brominated flame retardants
Some companies have made promises to phase out other toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic primarily used in the construction industry but also found in computer parts and cables, and brominated flame retardants, or BFRs, which reduce the risk of fire. Apple began phasing out PVC almost 15 years ago and began restricting BFRs in 2001. They have developed alternative materials that can replace these chemicals without compromising the safety or quality of their products.
In summary, Apple eliminated the use of PVC and BFRs in its products in 2008. Apple removed PVC from all their packaging more than a decade ago. Apple’s plastic enclosure parts have been bromine-free since 2002.
© 2011, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.