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Electronics Giant Tracks Environmental Organisations
By Danielle Knight
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 (IPS) - One of the world's largest electronics
manufacturer is tracking the detailed activities of environmental
organisations seeking to regulate high-tech industries.
A leaked document written by Sony Corporation, obtained by IPS,
outlines a presentation made in July to fellow electronics
companies at a conference in Brussels illustrating the various
activities of environmental groups. It names specific US activists
who seek to regulate waste caused by the electronics industry.
The presentation describes the various campaigns of Greenpeace,
Friends of the Earth, the European Environment Bureau, the Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition, and the Northern Alliance for
Sustainability. It then suggests that a counter-strategy by the
industry would be discussed at the meeting.
Ted Smith, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, an advocacy group based in California's high-tech hub,
told IPS he was startled to discover that the Japanese-based
company was discussing his group's activities.
''It seems that industry has spent an inordinate amount of time
fighting the tide instead of doing what they need to do to clean
up the industry,'' he says.
Mark Small, vice president of environment and health and safety
issues with Sony in the United States, acknowledged that Sony was
tracking environmental groups.
''We are obviously concerned about our image and we want to make
sure that if Greenpeace is pushing something we want to be on top
of it,'' says Small, who is based in San Diego, California.
He admits that the presentation was not put together in the ''most
tasteful'' way but explains that it was not meant for public
Electronics industries, including 54-year-old Sony, have been
fighting efforts by environmentalists and the European Union which
would legally force manufacturers to be responsible for their
products and the environmental or health damage they could cause.
In Europe these efforts have culminated in what is known as the
European Commission Directive on Waste from Electrical and
Electronic Equipment (or WEEE). The premise of the regulation is
that the producer of all electronic products and electrical
equipment must be financially responsible for managing their
products throughout their lifecycle, including when the product is
no longer useful and thrown away.
''The public should not have to pay extra taxes for waste
management costs of hazardous materials that producers choose to
use in electrical and electronic equipment,'' says Smith.
The directive also includes a phase-out by 2008 on mercury, lead,
cadmium and other toxic chemicals commonly used in electronics.
Environmentalists in Europe began pushing the legislation as it
became an increasing burden for local governments to deal with the
amount of electronic waste generated by the booming expansion of
the computer industry.
In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more
than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic, including
toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids,
plastics and plastic additives.
Apart from the well-known substances like mercury and lead, the
health impacts of many of these chemicals and the mixtures and
material combinations in the products often are not known, warn
The production of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, disk
drives and monitors involve particularly hazardous chemicals, and
workers involved in chip manufacturing are now beginning to come
forward and reporting cancer clusters, according to the Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition.
The organisation notes that by 2004, there will be an estimated
315 million obsolete computers in the United States. Since fewer
than 10 percent of the high-tech machines are now recycled, most
of them will be destined for landfills or incinerators, says
Small with Sony opposes regulations on the high-tech industry and
argues companies are already undertaking voluntary efforts to
better design products so that they can be more easily recycled.
He says Sony is working with the state of Minnesota and some
cities to develop recycling and ''take-back'' programmes for used
electronic equipment, including stereos and television sets.
While a recent three pilot-study in Minnesota proved that
collecting and recycling old televisions and computers was not
currently cost effective, Small says Sony is willing to meet these
costs as it works on manufacturing products to be more easily
Part of the problem, he says, is not the new products, but older
stereo equipment or televisions which contain parts that were
never labelled in anticipation of being recycled.
''If we get this working in the United States we will show Europe
and Japan that this is a working model that makes economic sense
and will be more effective than regulation,'' says Small.
But activists campaigning for tighter controls on the toxics used
in the industry say such voluntary efforts do not address the
phase-out of toxic chemicals or if companies will accept
responsibility for their products.
''The rest seems to be window dressing,'' says Smith, with Silicon
Valley Toxics Coalition.
The electronics industry and the US Trade Representative have been
actively campaigning against Europe's effort to adopt health and
environmental safety laws regulating the industry.
Since the European legislation surfaced several years ago, the
American Electronic Association (AEA) - with 3,000 member
companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, and Intel - and the
US Trade Representative launched a major offensive against the
WEEE directive. They charge that the legislation violates the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) because it imposes requirements on
Environmentalists and three US lawmakers have written to Vice
President Al Gore, urging the presidential hopeful to intervene
and put an immediate stop to the USTR's lobbying.
''We must level environmental standards up, not down,'' says a
letter signed by more than 100 pressure groups. ''Trade
Associations must not be allowed to dictate environmental health
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
All rights reserved
-- Stephanie C. Davis - BFA, MPA Experienced Professional of Healthcare & Non-Residential Waste Programs
Waste Reduction Remedies sm A Multi-Waste Stream, Multi-Material Waste Management Company
1497 Hopkins Street #2D Berkeley CA 94702-1201 Telephone: 510/527-8864 Pacific Time Fax: call first E-mail: ScD18@WasteReductionRemedies.com
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