A study designed to explore Canadian awareness of e-waste issues points to HP as a leader, but environmental group Greenpeace has launched an international campaign lambasting the manufacturer for its product disposal practices.

Greenpeace

claims HP is shipping electronic products to Asia for low-cost disposal, and due to laxer environmental standards in developing countries the environment and the population are being put at risk.

As part of the campaign, Greenpeace dumped a truckload of e-waste at HP’s Swiss headquarters in Geneva and constructed a 2.7 metre sculpture of a wave made of e-waste, collected from Chinese scrap yards, outside a Beijing technology expo.

In a release, Greenpeace said it has singled out HP because unlike Samsung, Sony, Sony Ericsson and Nokia, HP has refused to take the first step of committing to eliminate toxic flame-retardants and PVC plastic from some of its products.

A spokesperson for HP Canada was unavailable by press time, but in a news release on April 21 marking Earth Day, HP Canada announced several environmental programs to encourage recycling, including an expansion of its “envelope-in-the-box” recycling program for its inkjet print cartridges.

“Environmental sustainability is a key element of HP’s global environmental citizenship, and it is imperative for long-term success,” said Ralph McMillen, HP Canada’s vice-president of environmental programs, said in the release. “Canadians already have sophisticated non-technology recycling habits, and we are thrilled that Canadians can now recycle electronic products just as effortlessly through these new HP programs.”

The Greenpeace campaign comes shortly after the release of a study conducted by Ipsos-Reid for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), a business-led NGO in Vancouver with the mandate of encouraging companies to operate in a socially responsible manner. CBSR members include HP Canada, Bell Canada and Microsoft Canada.

CBSR spokesperson Andrew Frank said the purpose of the study was to quantify the e-waste issue from a consumer perspective.

The study found that 81 per cent of Canadians were aware electronics contain hazardous materials that can become toxic if not disposed of properly, while 18 per cent were not.

It also found that 38 per cent of Canadians would be more likely to buy products from a manufacturer that properly disposed of its waste and pay a premium for it, 46 per cent would buy it if the cost weren’t higher, while 13 per cent responded it wouldn’t factor in their decision.

Frank added that 84 per cent did say they’d prefer products produced by companies with environmentally responsible disposal practices, representing a pretty broad endorsement.

“It is a pretty significant chunk of the market,” said Frank. “It doesn’t always mean the company has to spend more money, and it’s an instant branding advantage for that company.”

Frank said CBSR hopes the results of the study will put the issue of corporate social responsibility on the radar screens of electronics manufacturers, adding they need to start paying attention to the will of consumers.

“There are companies beginning to adopt socially responsible practices, like extended producer responsibility, which is a concept where a company is responsible for all stages of a product’s lifecycle,” said Frank. “We would like more electronics industry players to come to the table and start exploring how they can improve their performance in this area.”

The CBSR pointed to HP Canada, one of their founding members, as a leader in such practices.

Meanwhile, community groups on the ground are also trying to tackle the growing e-waste problem. The Electronic Recycling Association of Alberta (ERA), a non-profit organization that collects, distributes and recycles computer equipment, was formed four years ago in Calgary and recently expanded to Edmonton.

The group works with companies, government and the general public to collect surplus and outdated computer equipment. Equipment that can be refurbished is repaired and sold at low cost or donated to charity, with the proceeds supporting the environmentally friendly disposal of equipment that can’t be repaired.

“We’ve had a really good response, we’ve got a lot of big companies working with us,” said ERA managing director Bojan Paduh. “For these companies it’s not a big deal to make $5 or $10 per computer, they just want to see it go to a good use, that it’s being disposed of properly and someone is benefiting from it.”

The alternative is the waste ending up in the landfill. Paduh said they visited the Edmonton landfill last week, and were disappointed to find it littered with newer computers and monitors that could be used by charity and other groups. The ERA posted pictures of what it found on its web site to draw attention to the problem.

 “Hopefully it will turn some heads there and make them see what they’re doing,” said Paduh.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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