Missed call: the iPhone's hazardous chemicals

When will promises of a greener Apple bear fruit?

Feature story - October 15, 2007
Recent scientific tests have revealed that Apple's iPhone contains hazardous chemicals. The tests have uncovered two types of hazardous substances,which have already been eliminated by other mobile phone makers.

In May, after thousands of you had participated in our Green my Apple campaign,Steve Jobs the boss of Apple claimed: "Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors" on environmental issues.

We watched closely when the iPhone was launched in June for any mention of the green features of the phone from Apple. There was none.

So we bought a new iPhone in June and sent it our research laboratories in the UK. Analysis revealed that the iPhone contains toxic brominated compounds (indicating the prescence of brominated flame retardants (BFRs)) and hazardous PVC. The findings are detailed in the report, "Missed call: the iPhone's hazardous chemicals"

There have been thousands of media articles about the iPhone. Few of them have discussed the phone's environmental credentials. Check out our video of the disassembly of the iPhone and what the tests revealed:

An independent scientific laboratory tested 18 internal and external components of the iPhone and confirmed the presence of brominated compounds in half the samples, including in the phone's antenna, in which they made up 10 percent of the total weight of the flexible circuit board. A mixture of toxic phthalates was found to make up 1.5 percent of the plastic (PVC) coating of the headphone cables.

"Steve Jobs has missed the call on making the iPhone his first step towards greening Apple's products," said Zeina Alhajj, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "It seems that Apple is far from leading the way for a green electronics industry as competitors, like Nokia, already sell mobile phones free of PVC".

Dr. David Santillo, Senior Scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, commented, "Two of the phthalate plasticisers found at high levels in the headphone cable are classified in Europe as 'toxic to reproduction, category 2' because of their long-recognized ability to interfere with sexual development in mammals. While they are not prohibited in mobile phones, these phthalates are banned from use in all toys or childcare articles sold in Europe. Apple should eliminate the use of these chemicals from its products range."

Here's a slideshow of how the iPhone was disassembled for testing:

The disassembling also revealed the iPhone's battery was, unusually, glued and soldered in to the handset. This hinders battery replacement and makes separation for recycling, or appropriate disposal, more difficult, and therefore adds to the burden of electronic waste.

Behind the competition

Nokia is totally PVC free, Motorola and Sony Ericsson have already products on the market with BFR free components. Apple's competitors have also identified extra toxic chemicals they intend to remove in the future - beyond current minimum legal requirements.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson have a global take-back policy for their phones and accept responsibility for reuse and recycling of phones they manufacture. That saves resources and helps prevent old phones from adding to the mountain of e-waste that has been dumped in Asia.

Apple does not have a global free take-back policy so the eventual fate of the between four and 10 million iPhones expected to be sold in its first year is uncertain.

With next month's European launch of the iPhone, Apple should sell a version which is at least as green as the offerings from Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola.

Only then can loyal fans of Steve Jobs believe that his promises of a greener Apple will bear any fruit. Right now Steve appears to have any green product news 'on hold'.

The full report, "Missed call: the iPhone's hazardous chemicals"

Compare Apple's environmental policy and practice to other companies.

iPhone Phthalates Violate California Law

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