Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How green is my iPad? Analyzing the iPad's environmental report (Part 3- materials)

Today on the third part of our analysis of the iPad's environmental report, we look into the materials.

Apple announced earlier today that it
sold 3 million iPads in just 80 days, which means that a) It's fashionable and it's 'in' like Richard Doherty, analyst at Envisioneering Group explained to the LA Times and b) looking into the environmental impact of the materials is becoming even more important as the demand for iPads is growing so fast.

In the environmental report Apple explains how reducing the iPad's footprint starts with reducing the material footprint:

Apple’s ultra compact product and packaging designs lead the industry in material efficiency. Reducing the material footprint of a product helps maximize shipping efficiency. It also helps reduce energy consumed during production and material waste generated at the end of the product’s life. iPad is made of recyclable materials,such as aluminum and glass.

The material use for iPad (Wi-Fi + 3G model) is as followed:
Glass, 155g
Battery, 155g

Display, 155g

Aluminum, 125g

Circuit boards, 45g

Plastics, 55g

Other, 40g

What this information does not include is reference to the source of the materials.
The life cycle analysis of Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris (see How Green Is My iPad?) is completing some of the missing pieces:

One e-reader requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals. That includes trace amounts of exotic metals like columbite-tantalite, often mined in war-torn regions of Africa. But it’s mostly sand and gravel to build landfills; they hold all the waste from manufacturing wafer boards for the integrated circuits. An e-reader also requires 79 gallons of water to produce its batteries and printed wiring boards, and in refining metals like the gold used in trace quantities in the circuits.

Apple is referring to the chemistry of the battery, which is built in, mentioning that it's free of lead, cadmium and mercury. These materials are restricted by European Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances. Apple mentions on the report that it "has long taken a leadership role in restricting harmful substances from its products and packaging. As part of this strategy, all Apple products comply with the RoHS Directive.

Apple explains on the report that it is not just complying with the Directive when it comes to the iPad, but actually goes even further by incorporating the following more aggressive restrictions, such as:

• Mercury-free LED backlit display
• Arsenic-free display glass
• Free of BFRs and PVC

Greenpeace think that Apple is doing OK when it comes to 'Precautionary Principle and Support for Revision of RoHS Directive', as they explained in its latest edition of the
Guide to Greener Electronics, giving Apple a score of Partially Good (2+):

Apple refers to its ‘precautionary approach’ to substances. Its progress in eliminating hazardous
substances seems to be guided by three important elements of this principle: preventive action, voluntary elimination and proactive search for safer substitutes. More information. Evidence of lobbying on RoHS 2.0. To score full marks, Apple needs to provide a public position on its support for immediate restrictions in RoHS 2.0 on at least PVC, BFRs and CFRs (within 3-5 years), as well as an nd-of-life focused methodology for adding future substance restrictions. It also needs to clarify its stance regarding the position of the trade federation TechAmerica on further restrictions of hazardous substances.

Apple is emphasizing the substances elimated from the iPad, such as arsenic (none in the display glass), BFRs and mercury (none in the LED backlit display), and Steve Jobs even mentioned it in his presentation on the iPad's launch event, but Greenpeace is less impressed.

In it electronics report, Greenpeace gives Apple a 'Partially Bad' (1+) score in chemicals management and explains why:

Apple provides examples of substances that it has eliminated, e.g. arsenic in LCDs and mercury
by moving to LEDs. It plans to have all products free of elemental bromine and chlorine – not just PVC and BFRs but there is even less information about Apple’s communications with its suppliers on its updated pages than before the website was updated. C2 evaluates disclosure of information flow in the supply chain. Apple refers to its Regulated Substances Specification which details a broad range of substances that are restricted or banned, yet still fails to disclose its Substance Specification 069-0135.

And how is it comparing to other e-readers? Well, it's hard to tell. Amazon doesn't disclose any information about the Kindle materials -
Casey Harrell, an international campaign coordinator for Greenpeace told the New York Times that “in terms of the Kindle or other similar e-book gadgets, I don’t know what chemicals are in or out."

On the same article we learn from Valerie Motis, a Sony spokeswoman, that "the company’s e-reader products are free of toxic materials, including polyvinyl chloride, or PVC."

So I believe that the iPad is doing fairly well in terms of materials, but as we learn from Greenpeace report and the LCA of Goleman & Norris it has some more way to go before we can say it is doing really well.

Parts on the analysis published so far:

Part 1 - the iPad's Carbon footprint

Part 2 - Recycling

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting Sustainable Reading!