Greenpeace charged that Apple's use of BFRs and PVC in the iPhone "suggests that Apple is not making early progress toward its 2008 commitment to phase-out all uses of these materials, even in entirely new product lines."
Apple did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, but in a statement given to Macworld said the iPhone complies with the RoHS and reiterated its plans to eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs by the end of 2008.
The iPhone did get a clean bill of health from Greenpeace in several areas: no cadmium (a carcinogen) or mercury (a toxin known to cause nerve and organ damage) was detected, and lead and chromium (toxic if ingested or inhaled) were detected in a small proportion of samples and at relatively low concentrations. Additionally, there was no evidence for the presence of chromium VI (a carcinogen that can also cause permanent eye injury with continued exposure) in a range of other metal-plated components tested.
David Santillo, an environmental chemist and a senior scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories (based at the University of Exeter in England), says that Greenpeace purchased an iPhone when the product debuted. "We knew it would be popular but we had no idea [of] the number of sales it would reach," he says. "We were more interested in Apple's claim that it was reinventing the phone." Although Greenpeace authored its own report, the organization contracted the actual materials analysis out to a lab (Santillo declined to say which one). Greenpeace has commissioned environmental impact testing of Apple products in the past, including the MacBook.
Despite Apple's claims to be an environmental leader, Greenpeace has found that competitors such as Nokia and Motorola are going green faster. In fact, Greenpeace ranks Nokia as the top electronics provider, environmentally speaking, noting that it has already eliminated PVC from new models of mobile phones. Greenpeace's one issue with Nokia is its "poor reporting on the amounts of discarded mobiles that it recycles as a percentage of past sales." Motorola likewise states on its Web site that its handsets are PVC-free.
Toxins in PVC are found in much larger quantities in the pipes, window frames and siding that people use in their homes, but the iPhone is a more personal piece of equipment that is kept much closer to the user's body and has not generally been identified as a health hazard, says Timothy Gutowski, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to alerting consumers to the iPhone's environmental shortfalls, the Greenpeace report should remind people of the "huge chemical and energy footprint" in all of the electronics they purchase and use, he adds.
Santillo warns that unless companies live up to promises to clean up their products, "we're never going to move forward."