Mac fans in our office (and there are more than a few) were getting excited yesterday - we were expecting an announcement from MacWorld 2009 in San Francisco, confirming that Apple would as promised be removing all toxic PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from its entire new product range.
Confidence was high that this was going to happen because we've had the word from the man himself - Apple CEO Steve Jobs - from as far back as May 2007 that toxic PVC and BFRs in Mac computers would be history by the end of 2008. His enthusiam for the subject, of course, initially stemmed from the success of our Green my Apple campaign, which generated huge support and discussion from Mac addicts worldwide.
In October last year he reiterated this promise:
"Last year we announced the unprecedented goal of eliminating polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from Apple products by the end of 2008. I’m proud to report that all of Apple's new product designs are on track to meet our 2008 year-end goal." Steve Jobs, October 2008
However, the only new product Apple has announced so far at this year's Macworld was a new MacBook Pro with reduced amounts of PVC and BFRs. Which is good, but not what Apple had promised for 2009 and no substantial further progress than the MacBooks announced in October.
Let's just take a minute to remember why this matters. Toxic chemicals in electronics are a cause of serious environmental pollution, putting workers at risk of exposure during both the production and disposal processes. Greenpeace investigations into the e-waste yards of India, Ghana and China over the past few years have uncovered numerous examples of poorly protected workers being exposed to toxic pollution. Removing PVC and BFRs would make Apple computers safer and easier to recycle, as well as allowing much higher recycling rates to be achieved.
It's five years since we started asking all the leading electronics companies to make these changes, yet none have so far complied. We've been producing a regularly updated green electronics guide to make it easy to see who's doing what. During that time other manufacturers, notably Nokia and Sony Ericsson, have removed PVC and BFRs from their mobile phones, but Apple was the first computer manufacturer to commit to a phase out of these toxic chemicals. They are definitely getting closer to achieving this goal; the MacBook is almost there, and once Apple removes these chemicals completely there will be no excuse for other companies not to remove them too.
Of course, glitches have a habit of occurring in the best laid plans, but let's hope Steve has made a resolution to sort this out and will be back soon to make the announcement himself.