Chinese will pay most for green PCs

Living in the dumping ground for electronic waste has given Chinese consumers an insight into why environmentally clean technology is worth paying more for
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor on

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace International claimed this week that Chinese consumers are prepared to pay up to $200 (£108) for environmentally friendly PCs — more than any other country surveyed.

The group commissioned Ipsos-Mori to look into whether consumers around the world were prepared to pay more for greener technologies and, if so, how much. Chinese consumers came out on top, claiming to be prepared to pay up around $200 (£108) compared to just $118 (£64) in Britain.

The results may appear surprising, as the average Chinese consumer earns significantly less than their UK counterpart. However, Greenpeace claims the result can be explained by the fact only relatively wealthy urban Chinese consumers were surveyed, and also because China has become a dumping ground for foreign waste IT, which has made locals more sensitive to the issue.

"Chinese consumers have seen the impact of waste IT in their own backyard and so it’s not surprising that they are prepared to pay something for greener technology," Greenpeace campaigner Zeina al-Hajj told ZDNet UK.

In August last year, Greenpeace released the results of a study claiming workers in China employed in the recycling of mostly western electronic devices were being exposed to potentially hazardous toxic substances, due to the careless manufacturing practices of technology makers.

The authors of Recycling of Electrical Wastes in China & India: Workplace & Environmental Contamination claimed to have detected high levels of toxic metals in the environment around Guiyu Town in southern China.

Although green campaigners are keen to see an end to exports of e-waste to China, an outright ban has been hard to enforce as the trade is orchestrated by organised criminal gangs. Also, breaking down waste tech is often the only work available in some areas, so removing a vital source of income, no matter how hazardous to health, is not a simple matter.

According to Greenpeace’s al-Hajj, there has also been an increase in locally produced e-waste as China becomes an increasing user of modern technology.

Environmental campaigners are pushing for technology manufacturers to move beyond simply talking in terms of more recycling to creating greener products to begin with.

Greenpeace’s drive for cleaner technology will no doubt receive a boost from incoming EU legislation called the ROHS Directive. It will restrict the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, and comes into force from 1 July.

The directive will ban the sale of new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame.

Greenpeace claimed a small victory recently when the world’s largest PC maker, Dell, announced plans to phase out the use of two key groups of hazardous chemicals from its equipment. By 2009, all types of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and plastic polyvinyl chlorine (PVC) will be banned from Dell machines.

"Dell’s decision to remove these harmful chemicals reflects a move within the electronics industry in the right direction to become cleaner and it is clearly the direction that consumers want. Consumers not only want greener PCs but they are willing to pay extra for them," said Al-Hajj.

Large amounts of electrical waste and electronic goods are shipped, often illegally, to poor or developing countries to be recycled by local inhabitants who are usually ill-equipped to handle hazardous waste and ignorant of the potential effects of such activity on health, according to Greenpeace.

Despite the announcement of the successful implementation of ROHS, the UK has repeatedly failed to implement the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. It was meant to be enforced under UK law last year but has been consistently delayed.

WEEE aims to reduce the impact of waste technology by forcing manufacturers to pay for collection and recycling schemes.

Companies that Greenpeace claims have made efforts to make their products more green include HP, LGE, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Sony Ericsson. Companies the environmental group claims need to clean up their act include Acer, Apple, IBM, Lenovo, Panasonic, Toshiba and Siemens.

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