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Game Consoles: No Consolation

Feature story - 20 May, 2008
Nintendo’s Wii. Sony’s PlayStation 3. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Elite. They promise a whole new generation of high-definition gaming, but when it comes to the crunch, it’s the same old story. As our search for greener electronics continues, it was time for the game consoles to go to our labs for scientific analysis – and all of them tested positive for various hazardous chemicals.

The three games console controllers - Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii - before the dismantling process begins.

Our analysis, published in our new report,“Playing Dirty”, detected the use of hazardous chemicals and materials such aspolyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, beryllium and bromine indicative of brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

But the tests also showed that each manufacturer had avoided or reduced uses of individual hazardous substances in certain materials within their consoles. For example, the Nintendo Wii managed quite well without using beryllium in its electrical contacts, and use of PVC and phthalates was limited. The PlayStation 3, meanwhile, included “bromine-free” circuit boards and the Xbox 360 used fewer brominated materialsin its housing materials.

As we’ve seen previously – with laptops andwith mobile phones – if manufacturers only looked at each other’s products, they’d quickly see ways of replacing their own dirty components with toxic-free materials. A greener, cleaner game console is possible. There’s no excuse forplaying dirty.

Know what you’re playing with...

The game consoles all contained high levels of bromine - used in circuit boards and plastic casings. Brominated flame retardants do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They can also interfere with thyroid and oestrogen hormone systems and exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems.

Components of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 also contained high levels of phthalates, one of which – DEHP – is known to interfere with sexual development in mammals: including humans and, especially, males.

The game consoles market is one of the fastest growing in consumer electronics – over 60 million game consoles have been sold, and the sector saw a 14 percent growth over the last year. Ironically, despite being used for playing games, game consoles are not classified as toys. If they were, existing EU legislation concerning the use of hazardous chemicals in toys and childcare articles would mean that these game consoles simply couldn’t be sold at all in the EU market!

The toxic menace doesn’t stop there. Game consoles also contribute towards the fastest growing type of waste – ewaste. Once they’ve reached the end of useful life, game consoles are often dumped and end up in unsafe and dirty recycling yards in developing countries, where toxic contents harm both the environment and the health of workers.

The technology is already available for manufacturers to design out harmful toxics and produce cleaner game consoles now. It’s time that not only Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft but all electronics manufacturers start toplay fair.

Help your favourite games console manufacturer get ahead of the game! You can write to Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft (or even all three!) and let them know what you expect of them in making their products cleaner and greener.


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