Apple is all about innovation, but when it came to environmental issues, the iPod and computer maker had been a backwater -- until last month. That's when Steve Jobs declared "a greener Apple" and said the company was eliminating toxic materials from its products and boosting recycling efforts.
After hearing the news, the activist group Greenpeace mothballed its Green My Apple Web site, which had chided the computer maker about its shortcomings. In addition, company shareholders withdrew two resolutions: one requesting boost "take back" goals for recycling old computers and a second asking Apple to eliminate toxic materials from its products.
But there are holes in Apple's plans, some environmentalists say. Consumers can recycle their old Macs only if they buy a new Apple from an Apple store (including the online store) in the U.S., not if they buy an Apple overseas or through a reseller. Also, buyers have only 30 days to return their old computers for recycling. Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, calls Apple's computer recycling program "very user-unfriendly."
There is also concern over where Apple's computers are recycled. In "a greener Apple," Jobs says, "all the e-waste we collect in North America is processed in the U.S., and nothing is shipped overseas for disposal."
Some groups worry this statement leaves room for a U.S. recycler to strip down a computer here and send the parts overseas for recycling.
Instead of being recycled, however, computer parts are often improperly disposed in developing countries, according to the Computer TakeBack Campaign and the Basel Action Network, a group named for the United Nations' Basel Convention to ban the export of hazardous waste to developing countries.
The Gore connectionAccording to these groups, many recycling companies in the developing world don't actually recycle e-waste, and toxic materials from circuit boards, keyboards and cathode-ray-tubedisplays end up leaching into soil and water, as well as harming individuals who work with them.
Jim Puckett, the founder of the Basel Action Network, was aware of Apple's export policy and raised concerns with the language through former Vice President Al Gore's office. Gore sits on Apple's board. Puckett says the final language of the policy as described in Jobs' "greener Apple" declaration wasn't changed.
"Apple's statement was craftily designed to obfuscate and 'greenwash' what they were doing," Puckett says. "They made a statement that sounds really good to the general audience that doesn't know the issues."
Gore's role at Apple is just one reason it is surprising to see Apple behind the eco-curve. Gore, whose documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Academy Award this year, has been on the company's board since March 2003.