Greenpeace called on dirty electronics companies to clean up their act last week, starting with toxic tech giant, Hewlett-Packard. 15 Greenpeace activists delivered a truckload of electronic waste to the company's European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. They piled the waste up at the entrance of the building and unfurled a banner that read "Hi-tech, Highly toxic".

"Electronics companies like Hewlett-Packard are generating a new, fast growing hazardous waste stream that's causing problems of global proportions. As much as 4,000 tonnes of toxic e-waste is discarded every hour -- that's equivalent to 1,000 elephants (2). Unless they start making clean machines and take their products back when they're discarded, the planet's going to become a toxic trash bin," said Greenpeace China campaigner, Kevin May, talking from the action site in Geneva.

Because our mobile phones, computers and other electronic products are made using toxic ingredients, workers at production sites are at risk of exposure and the products cannot be recycled safely when they are discarded. Many are routinely, and often illegally, being shipped from Europe, Japan and the US to Asia because it is cheaper and easier to dump the problem on countries that have poor environmental standards than to tackle it at home. (3)

Greenpeace is conducting ongoing investigations into scrap yards in India and China, where it has found people taking the e-waste apart by hand and being exposed to a nasty cocktail of dangerous chemicals.

"The conditions in these yards are horrific. In Guiyu, southeast China, I found acid baths leaching into streams. They were so acidic they could dissolve a penny in just hours. Many of the chemicals used in electronics are dangerous and can damage people even at very low levels of exposure," said Greenpeace International scientist, Kevin Brigden.

Greenpeace has asked all the top mobile phone and computer companies worldwide to clean up their act. Companies such as Samsung, Sony and Sony Ericsson have already taken a first step by eliminating brominated flame retardants and PVC plastic from some of their products. Sony Ericsson has committed to removing them from all their products by the end of 2005. Nokia has committed to do the same by the end of 2006 but Hewlett Packard, Apple, Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, IBM, LG, Motorola, Panasonic, and Toshiba have, to date, made no such commitment.

These dirty companies were shamed at the opening of a technology expo in Beijing this morning when Greenpeace unveiled a 2.7 metre high statue shaped as a wave, built using the companies' e-waste, collected from the yards in Giuyu.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.