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Computer makers ranked by recycling, toxics

Hewlett-Packard and Dell got the highest scores in an annual ranking of computer makers’ environmental programs, but no company reported a recycling rate greater than than two percent.
Computer parts are sorted for crushing at Hewlett-Packard's recycling operation in Roseville, Calif.Bob Galbraith / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. got the highest scores in an annual ranking of computer makers’ environmental programs.

American companies such as HP, Dell and IBM Corp. scored better than many foreign brands, including Sony, Daewoo and Fujitsu, according to a report published Wednesday by the San Jose-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

But none of the manufacturers reported recycling rates greater than 2 percent — a rate coalition executive director Ted Smith called “pathetic.”

“Nobody is getting what any school child would recognize as a C grade,” Smith said. “Even the best companies are recycling only a very small percentage of computers — that’s the bottom line. They all have a long way to go.”

Toxins in storage, landfills
The study, published with the Computer TakeBack Campaign, accuses more than a dozen American, Japanese and Korean computer makers of failing to reduce “e-waste,” including lead, polyvinyl chloride and other hazardous materials used in computer manufacturing. Billions of pounds of toxins — including dangerous cathode ray tubes and mercury — sit in garages and basements, or in landfills in developing countries.

HP, Dell and Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp. got the best scores, followed by IBM, Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. The worst performers included Acer Inc., Canon Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

SVTC researchers praised Dell, which fared poorly in last year’s report. After becoming the target of angry environmentalists and labor groups, the nation’s largest computer maker launched a recycling campaign and stopped using prison workers who earned 20 cents to $1.26 per hour to recycle hardware.

“We got a little bit of a wake-up call,” Dell spokesman Bryant Hilton said. “Our company is growing up, and it was time to become a leader in these issues.”

IBM new target?
Smith hinted that IBM could replace Dell as its target this year.

According to the report, Big Blue is “shirking its responsibility for recycling two decades of legacy electronic waste.” IBM is increasingly relying on lucrative consulting contracts with corporate clients instead of computer hardware sales.

Several states are considering legislation that would put the onus of recycling on manufacturers. IBM spokesman Clint Roswell said the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant has lobbied state politicians for laws that spread the burden of recycling among consumers, companies and local governments.

“The only thing that makes sense is to put the charge of product takeback on everyone,” Roswell said. “We need to deal with products from every manufacturer, not just the major players but the raft of minor players.”

The companies were graded from 0 to 100 points in five categories: takeback policies, labeling of toxics, recycling information given to consumers, whether hazardous materials were exported for recycling, and overall environmental health and safety.

HP scored 54, Dell 52 and NEC 49. Among lower performers, IBM scored 47 and Apple 37.

The full report is online at