EPEAT keeps ultra-thin notebooks in green registry, despite concerns over recycling

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace worries that EPEAT's move to support the emerging systems category will encourage more electronic waste.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Late last week, EPEAT announced that it had verified the green product ratings for five ultra-thin notebooks from Apple, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba.

Its review of this category was launched as a result of the organization's recent tussle with Apple, which pulled its products out of the EPEAT registry in June right around the time of its latest MacBook launch -- concerning companies and government agencies that use the system to make technology purchasing decisions. Apple abruptly reconsidered days later after the move sparked all sorts of negative press, and after EPEAT agreed to consider adapting its ratings criteria for certain product categories.

The whole situation centers on design - in the bid to emphasize thin and light, many leading companies in the ultra-thin notebook category have created systems that are harder to disassemble, which could discourage people from repairing them or upgrading them over time. That matters because one set of criteria that EPEAT uses to rate a given product's green attributes is focused on the ease with which a particular piece of technology can be repaired or recycled.

Amid the scrutiny, EPEAT decided to verify its ratings for five systems in the ultra-thin notebook category, specifically focusing on the disassembly question. It contracted a test lab to to carry out the tests. 

Long story short, EPEAT has decided that all of the systems it considered meet its criteria for disassembly -- the lab found that it took less than 20 minutes to take apart each of the systems; it took anywhere between 30 seconds and two minutes to remove the batteries. All of these was done using tools that pretty much any business or individual could buy and figure out how to use, if so inclined.

"These times probably exceed what a skilled recycler would require. Given their findings, the lab recommended that all products be found in conformance with EPEAT requirements," says EPEAT in its blog post about the tests.

The organization's decision drew criticism from Greenpeace, which has been following the situation closely.

"EPEAT's announcement today to include computers with difficult-to-replace batteries in its green electronics registry will result in less recycling and more e-waste," said Greenpeace IT analyst Casey Harrell in a statement.

His perspective is likely influenced by recycling trends for mobile phones, which are notoriously low -- although those rates are rising as more manufacturers get involved in collecting, refurbishing and recycling them. The trend certainly is cause for concern, unless the notebook companies in question get more involved in similar collection and refurbishing initiatives.

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