An old Philips TV at a scrap yard in Ghana
A Greenpeace Europe update:
Last week we broke the shocking story about what actually happens to electronic waste in Europe; instead of being safely recycled in the UK or Europe where it is bought, much of it is instead being exported as 'second-hand goods' to places like Nigeria, China and India. Once there it's either sold for scrap, illegally dumped, or broken apart for recycling by some of the poorest people in the country, with no safety measures to protect them from the dangerous toxic chemicals like mercury, cadmium and lead which the e-waste contains.
Greenpeace supporters around the world were asked to help do something about this by targeting electronics giant Philips who, since 2007, have been taking a lead in actively opposing laws that would force electronics producers to accept financial responsibility for recycling their own products. Instead they've been insisting that their customers should bear the cost.
But earlier this week, following some protracted negotiations (aided by several actions and a whopping 47,000 emails from Greenpeace supporters around the world which flooded the inbox of CEO Gerard Kleisterlee), the company announced a dramatic u-turn in its e-waste recycling policy.
Effectively, Philips has now agreed to take responsibility for the cost of recycling its own products. These costs will no longer be paid directly by its customers through an additional fixed fee, but instead come closer to being part of the overall product price. This is a big step forward, and makes Philips a new green leader in the electronics sector.
Philips' new commitment to a financially sensible recycling policy, together with the simple step of taking back its obsolete products and recycling them properly everywhere, is likely to substantially improve its ranking in our next Guide to Greener Electronics. And the company surprised us by announcing another important move: it also agreed to make substantial cuts in its own greenhouse gas emissions and support a 30 per cent emissions reduction for industrial nations by 2020.
All of which is not only good news for consumers but also for the environment, because recycling costs are influenced by the amount of toxic chemicals present in products and how easy it is to recycle them. Producers like Philips now have the added incentive to develop cleaner, more recyclable products that will reduce recycling costs now that they are paying for the collection and recycling of their own products. Producer responsibility is crucial to the greener development of the electronics industry.
So a big thank you is in order to all of you who helped make this victory possible by writing to Mr Kleisterlee and demanding that Philips do the right thing. And rest assured that we'll be keeping up the pressure on other electronics companies to follow Philips' lead over the coming months.