Philips - Sense and Simplicity, or simply nonsense?

Feature story - 10 June, 2008
“Sense and Simplicity” became the slogan of the Dutch electronics giant, Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV – better known as Philips – in 2004. But when it comes to taking responsibility for the electronic waste (e-waste) generated by their products, we don’t think they’ve been showing much of either. So, this morning we paid them a visit – at their head offices in Denmark, India Russia and the Netherlands, demanding they adopt a sensible policy and simply stop dumping e-waste.

Greenpeace returns Philips' electronic waste to the company's headquarters in Amsterdam.

Greenpeace activists delivered 500 Philips television sets and 100 pieces of Philips electronic equipment to the company's headquarters in Amsterdam. The e-waste was obtained from an e-waste trader; this very same e-waste would most probably have ended up on a scrapyard in countries like China, India or in Africa.

Without responsible recycling and voluntary take-back systems, when electronic equipment reaches the end of its useful life, most of it ends up in household waste or is exported - often illegally - to the developing world to deal with. When this discarded e-waste is dumped in Africa, or broken up in the informal recycling yards of Asia, it exposes people and the environment to the cocktail of toxic chemicals still being used to make electronic products.

Unlike other major electronics companies, Philips has no take-back policies for its end-of-life products unless forced to do so by legislation. Unsurprisingly, Philips has been lobbying hard against legislation that makes companies directly responsible for the costs of recycling and safe disposal of their own products. And, on top of all that, Philips has even publicly stated that it is the customer who should pay. The Dutch public beg to differ: an opinion poll carried out in the Netherlands revealed that 94 percent of the public believe that electronics producers should take responsibility for collecting their own electronic waste.

Other companies, such as Sony, Samsung and Nokia, have introduced take-back schemes, even in those countries where they're not required to do so by law. And, as a bonus, voluntary take-back systems encourage producers to phase out the use of toxic substances in their products at the design stage - recycling becomes safer and the costs to companies for recycling end-of-life products is reduced.

This is the sense and simplicity we'd like to see Philips demonstrate! Philips needs a full, global programme of take-back schemes in all countries where its products are sold. Especially in Russia, India, Argentina and Thailand ­- countries that are currently discussing national e-waste legislation - so now is an ideal time for Philips to take a lead in supporting the principles of individual producer responsibility.

Back in Amsterdam, following our actions, Philips' CEO Gerard Kleisterlee agreed to talk to our campaigners. We told him that if Philips continues to refuse to live up to its responsibilities, the result will be a huge amount of hazardous e-waste spreading around the globe, and not just on their office door steps. He promised he'd get back to us by the 15 of July and tell us what Philips intends to do.

We'll be waiting. And it would be good, in the meantime, if Philips remembers its old slogan: "Let's Make Things Better!"

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