Photo via Greenpeace
Greenpeace is calling out Samsung for backing off of a promise the company made to phase out toxic materials from its line-up. And to get their attention, they stuck giant stickers on the headquarters building in Brussels, stating "Samsung = broken promises". Samsung could have figured this was coming - it's part of Greenpeace's MO to hang giant signs or mark up places of prominence in order to make a point. But will this do anything to make the company move forward on eliminating PVC and BFRs from their devices? Greenpeace states, "In June 2004, Samsung was the first electronics company to publicly commit to eliminate PVC and BFRs from new models of all its products. In 2006 Samsung committed to phasing our BFRs from its products by the start of 2010. In 2007 it committed to a deadline of end 2010 for the phase out of PVC. Both moves saw the company gain points and position in our influential Guide to Greener Electronics."
Yet, here we are at the end of Q1 in 2010 and Samsung still uses PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in all its products, except in a few models of mobile phone, MP3 players and some components.
"Samsung's promises are proving to be as thin as its TVs, as it loses face and ground to competitors like Apple, HP, Nokia and Sony Ericsson who have long delivered products free of these hazardous substances, proving that this can be done," said Greenpeace Electronics campaigner Iza Kruszewska.
Yes, it can be done, and it should be done. We do applaud Greenpeace for pointing this out and pushing companies to eliminate toxic materials from their products. Yet, is this too microscopic of a view? On top of toxic materials, there's the massive issues of eliminating e-waste, design for cradle-to-cradle, using recycled metals in manufacturing, and other elements of electronics that can make them far more sustainable than they currently are. Elimination of PVC and BFR is just one, rather small, component of a big problem. There are other promises Samsung and other companies can and should make, and we hope that Greenpeace latches on to them as well, rather than just focusing on this one issue.
However, this isn't to wave away the importance of eliminating toxic materials. As Greenpeace states, "During production, use and disposal, PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics, and can form dioxin, a known carcinogen, when burnt during sub-standard recycling practices. BFRs which are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to bio-accumulate (build up in animals and humans), can be released from products during use and can also form dioxins when burnt during the type of basic recycling practices commonly used in Asia and Africa."
The toxics are intricately linked to the problem of e-waste, and it's no small matter to get companies to eliminate them entirely. Thankfully, many are, including Apple, Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
If you don't feel like scaling walls of corporate headquarters, you can sign a petition from Greenpeace pushing Samsung to renew - and act on - their promise.
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