updated 1/12/2005 11:42:01 AM ET 2005-01-12T16:42:01

Apple Computer Corp. has become the darling of the technology sector for its wildly popular digital music player. But scorching iPod sales have also made it the target of an aggressive environmental coalition, which is trashing Apple as rotten to the core.

Environmentalists with the Computer TakeBack Campaign are planning a yearlong campaign to protest Apple's lackluster recycling efforts. Despite drizzle on Tuesday at the annual Macworld Conference & Expo, activists passed out leaflets and erected a giant banner proclaiming, "from iPod to iWaste."

The advocacy group, which last year badgered Dell Inc. until it significantly bolstered its recycling initiatives, plans protests at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters throughout 2005, a letter-writing and e-mail campaign, and other attacks against the maker of Macintosh computers.

Environmentalists said they're targeting Apple because the hardware and software company makes it difficult to replace batteries in its digital music players, and it charges many consumers $30 to recycle their unused or broken computers and laptops.

"We know consumers won't pay 30 bucks to get rid of something they think is junk," said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based Texas Campaign for the Environment.

"Apple can do a lot better — they're lagging way behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard. "Now they need to take the next step and really 'think different,'" Schneider said, playing off Apple's advertising slogan.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said Tuesday the company would not comment on the environmental crusade. On Thursday, Apple promised to join eBay Inc. and Intel Corp., which launched an informational Web site to help motivate Americans to resell, donate or recycle used gadgets.

Apple doesn't charge consumers to recycle outdated electronics in Japan, Europe, Taiwan and South Korea, but environmentalists say the company is a significant contributor to the growing problem of "e-waste" in the United States.

U.S. consumers retire or replace roughly 133,000 personal computers per day, according to research firm Gartner Inc. According to a study commissioned by San Jose, Calif.-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, roughly half of all U.S. households have working but unused consumer electronics products. Roughly 400 million gizmos will be thrown out by 2010.

Protesters said the popularity of the iPod and iPod Mini — as well as more affordable gadgets such as the $99 iPod Shuffle, which debuted Tuesday — make Apple an obvious target for environmentalists' scorn.

Apple sold 4.5 million iPods in the fourth quarter and more than 10 million since their debut in 2001. During the 2004 holiday season, three of the top five consumer electronics sold on Amazon.com were Apple products.

The falling price and diminutive size of iPods — including the Shuffle, which weighs less than an ounce and is smaller than a pack of gum — promotes the notion that they're disposable, said Mamta Khanna, program manager for Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Environmental Health.

"People think you can just trash these things," Khanna said. "No one's thinking about where they end up."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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