updated 5/2/2007 7:52:47 PM ET 2007-05-02T23:52:47

Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs fired back at environmentalists Wednesday, saying the maker of the ubiquitous iPod is an industry leader in removing toxic chemicals from its products and promoting recycling.

Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays by the end of 2008, and the company will eventually stop using mercury and will transition to LED backlighting whenever possible, Jobs wrote in a five-page memo published on the company’s Web site.

Apple will also change its communications strategy and be more proactive in promoting its environmental goals in 2008 and beyond, Jobs said.

“It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future,” Jobs wrote. “Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener.”

The memo comes as activists target the Cupertino-based company for lackluster recycling initiatives. Environmentalists have picketed Apple headquarters and company conferences, wearing placards and chanting, “From iPod to iWaste.”

Although many environmentalists said they were happy Jobs had finally responded to their outcry, critics said the company’s “Greener Apple” initiative fell short.

In particular, advocates want Apple to stop shipping old electronics to developing countries for recycling, said Barbara Kyle, coordinator for the Computer TakeBack Campaign.

A large share of electronic waste in the U.S. is exported overseas to dismantling shops where poor workers are exposed to hazardous fumes and chemicals while trying to extract valuable metals and components, activists say.

In response to Jobs’ memo, the environmental group Greenpeace said it will boost Apple’s score in its June “Guide to Greener Electronics,” probably to 5 out of 10, up from 2.7 currently.

“Apple’s new commitment to environmental transparency and the phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range are genuine steps forward,” Greenpeace spokesman Steve Smith said in a statement. “We look forward to Apple going further to green their existing products.”

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