[GRRN] Electronics Giant Tracks Environmental Organisations

From: Stephanie C. Davis (ScD18@WasteReductionRemedies.com)
Date: Thu Sep 28 2000 - 18:22:33 EDT

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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
    environmental groups.

    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
    foreign manufacturers.

    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
    policy.'' (END/IPS/EN/EF/dk/da/00)


           [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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