updated 6/3/2005 7:19:59 PM ET 2005-06-03T23:19:59

Apple Computer Inc. launched a recycling program Friday for its popular iPod, encouraging owners to bring their digital music players to Apple retail stores for free, environmentally friendly disposal.

The company has been under siege from environmentalists, who say the company hasn't done enough to promote recycling of its products, which often end up in landfills in the United States and in developing countries.

People who bring their iPods to one of about 100 stores nationwide will also receive a 10 percent discount toward the purchase of a new iPod. The discount is only good the day people drop off their older iPod, iPod mini or iPod photo.

Apple representatives declined comment Friday afternoon but referred to a news release, which emphasized that any hazardous material would not be shipped overseas for processing.

Apple has become the darling of the technology sector for its iconic digital music player, one of the hottest gadgets of the new millennium. But scorching iPod sales have also made it the target of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, which in January spearheaded a yearlong campaign to protest Apple's recycling efforts.

The aggressive environmental group, which last year badgered Dell Inc. until it significantly bolstered its recycling initiatives, held protests at Apple's Cupertino headquarters and at retail stores nationwide, and it's championed a letter-writing and e-mail campaign against the maker of Macintosh computers.

Apple doesn't charge consumers to recycle outdated electronics in Japan, Europe, Taiwan and South Korea, but environmentalists say the company is a significant contributor to the growing problem of electronic waste in the United States. IPods cost as little as $99 but contain lead and other toxins.

U.S. consumers retire or replace roughly 133,000 personal computers per day, according to research firm Gartner Inc. Roughly 400 million gizmos will be thrown out by 2010.

Apple's newest initiative only affects its smallest devices. The limited scope of the program prompted Gopal Dayaneni, sustainable technology program director at the San Jose-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, to call the move "a nice baby step" to solving the problem of electronic waste.

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