This article is from the In-Depth Report Steve Jobs: A Technology Visionary Leaves Huge Legacy
60-Second Earth

How Toxic Is Your iPod?

What is the environmental impact of the Apple products you throw away?


[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

There's a big question behind this podcast: how environmentally friendly is an iPod? The answer: this Apple is more brown than green. But it's getting greener.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has not only revealed new environmentally friendly MacBooks, he has unveiled new iPods that are the most toxin-free ever. They’ve eliminated the poison arsenic and the brain-damaging mercury—and sheathed it in a recycleable aluminum skin.

Why do we care? When you trash last year's model—or any old technology for that matter, remember the Walkman?—it often ends up in a landfill or, even worse, exported to countries like China or India. There laborers are paid a pittance to smash, crack, melt and cook the materials out of old electronics. The result is local children with lead in the blood and adults poisoned by toxic fumes.

By the way, some federal prisoners in the U.S. enjoy the same conditions when employed by the government as e-cyclers.

And it’s not just the materials, we need to think about the energy used. We burn a lot of coal to run the computers that hold your music. That leads to air pollution, climate change and other problems tucked neatly away behind an electronic screen.

But it could be worse. Apple has introduced a program to take back old electronics and recycle them responsibly. So if you do buy the new, greener nano, make sure you return your old iPod to the store.

—David Biello

60-Second Earth is a weekly podcast from Scientific American. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes


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