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Apple's EPEAT withdrawal raises recycling, disassembly concerns

Agam Shah | July 11, 2012
Apple's decision to withdraw products from the EPEAT standard it helped implement has raised concerns among industry observers and environmentalists, who said the design of the company's new products, including the Retina display, make laptops difficult to disassemble and recycle.

Apple's decision to withdraw products from the EPEAT standard it helped implement has raised concerns among industry observers and environmentalists, who said the design of the company's new products, including the Retina display, make laptops difficult to disassemble and recycle.

Apple has removed all of its Mac products from the EPEAT registry, including products that were previously EPEAT Gold, a rating given to the most environmentally friendly computers. Some observers said that Apple's unwillingness to work with industry partners to define environmental friendly standards is being shown through new products like the MacBook Pro, a highly integrated laptop that is considered difficult to disassemble and recycle.

However, some argued that the EPEAT process is drawn out and frustrating so Apple decided to cut its losses by disengaging from the certification system. The U.S. government and some other organizations require EPEAT certification for the computers they purchase, but those sales are minor for Apple, so the decision to withdraw from EPEAT is not likely to affect the company's sales in any significant way.

The EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) rating allows computers to be measured based on their environmental impact. EPEAT takes into account the toxic elements, material selection, product longevity, energy efficiency through the Energy Star rating, the ability to deconstruct and recycle and the computer makers' performance on environmental impact. Apple in the past has held EPEAT in high regard, using the rating to call its laptops "the world's greenest family of notebooks."

Apple told EPEAT that it is going in a different direction on products, which is why the company doesn't want to be a part of the standard any longer, said Sarah O'Brien, a spokeswoman for EPEAT. It is unclear why Apple left, but it could be because of design or structural reasons, she said, adding that EPEAT is a voluntary system and companies can join or leave at any time.

Apple is open to the idea of coming back, O'Brien said. "We hope Apple will come back at some time," O'Brien said. "Apple is an immensely powerful, immensely smart group."

EPEAT has 49 members worldwide, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo.

Apple has made it difficult for recyclers to disassemble its latest MacBook Pro with Retina display, which was announced in June. In a teardown, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens called the laptop the "least repairable" to date. IFixit said that the LCD, which is attached, and the battery, which is glued to the case, made the laptop hard to disassemble and recycle.

 

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