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Greenpeace admits iPhone 'compliant' with Euro chemicals rules

And... er... Apple's own targets

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Greenpeace has laid into Apple's iPhone, alleging the device isn't eco-friendly enough - only to admit that the product not only meets the terms of Apple's own pledges on the use of certain hazardous chemicals but doesn't fall foul of European Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) legislation either.

The NGO bases its claims on the analysis of a single US-sourced iPhone of which, it confessed, "we were able to analyse only a small selection of the different components and materials". It tested a "selection" of 18 internal and external materials and components in a University of Exeter lab. Only two of those 18 elements were chosen for "more specific and detailed chemical analysis".

"All components tested appear to be compliant with the requirements of the EU RoHS directive," Greenpeace's 12-page write-up says. No cadmium was found. No mercury was found. The lead and chromium detected were present only "in a small proportion of samples and at relatively low concentrations". There was "no evidence... of the most toxic and regulated form of chromium".

Apple launches the iPhone in Europe, here in the UK, on 9 November, and the handsets that go on sale must, under European law, meet RoHS standards. However, Greenpeace was quick to point out that its testing wasn't sufficient to say whether the product that's sold in the US - in other words, one not subject to RoHS restrictions - would pass muster in Europe.

Apple has claimed that all its products, wherever in the world they're sold, meet RoHS requirements. The company last night re-iterated its pledge to eliminate the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) in its products by the end of 2008.

Greenpeace said that the iPhone does indeed contain such compounds, though the handset's release came more than 18 months ahead of Apple's elimination deadline. Most of the BFRs found - ten per cent by weight - reside in the handset's motherboard, while the PVCs greatest concentration - 1.5 per cent by weight - was found in the headphone cable's plastic coating.

The organisation also found four phthalate compounds in the headphone cables, none of which are among those permitted for use in Europe in the toys and childcare products. Phthalates are believed to interfere with sexual development in mammals. They are not, Greenpeace had to admit, actually banned for use in mobile phones.

It's worth noting that RoHS doesn't limit the incorporation of phthalates, but then - contrary to what some Windows Mobile fans might claim - the iPhone isn't a toy.

"Whether the iPhone model due for release in Europe in November 2007 will also rely on brominated internal components and PVC headphones remains to be seen," Greenpeace admitted.

In short, while Greenpeace's point that Apple really should have shown some materials leadership with the iPhone is a valid one to make, why get stroppy when Apple has not exceeded the limits it has set itself or those imposed upon it by Europe's RoHS regulations? What about all the other phone makers out there?

We'd guess it's because Apple is an easy target, and Greenpeace knows iPhone related commentary gains press coverage. Perhaps that's why it's chosen to lay into the Apple handset rather than others. Greenpeace's write-up doesn't once compare and contrast the iPhone's use of hazardous substances with that of any other mobile phone from any other vendor.

That would have been useful: a document that, rather than whining about one vendor not moving as quickly on this issue as Greenpeace and others would like, shows consumers which handsets on the market contain the least quantities of hazardous chemicals.

In complaining so vociferously about one vendor, Greenpeace risks letting many others off the hook.

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