PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) are toxic chemicals widely used in electronics. PVC, a type of plastic used to coat and insulate cables, contains carcinogenic and environmentally unfriendly substances and can leach toxics into landfill when disposed. BFRs, used to prevent circuit boards from igniting, are resistant to degradation and build up in animals and humans over time as it moves up the food chain. Humans can also be exposed to it through product usage. While the electronics industry is not the largest user of PVC, it is responsible for enormous amounts of PVC waste annually.
Lead, used in older CRT monitors, cadmium, used in laptop batteries and computer contacts, and mercury, used in lighting devices for flat screen displays, are also of particular concern. These chemicals can damage the brain and cause intellectual impairment, and can also harm kidneys, bones, and reproductive systems.
More than 50% of the mobile phone market is currently represented by brands that have completely eliminated the use of hazardous PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in these products. These include Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Apple. Apple however is the only company that has eliminated the use of PVC and BFRs in all PC components, including external cables. (Greenpeace Greener Gadgets report).
Currently, no TVs on the market are completely free from PVC and BFRs. Samsung, as one of the largest TV producers, has seriously compromised progress by dropping its previous commitment to eliminate these hazardous substances from its TV.
- Greenpeace – Guide to Greener Electronics 2012
- Greenpeace – Green Gadgets: Designing the Future (2014)
Key Standards and Certifications
The Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS, is an ordinance that restricts the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated biphenyl ethers in electronics.
Opportunities for Action
Purchase products that are free of toxic chemicals like PVC and BFRs, and avoid those that aren’t:
- Greenpeace’s Green Gadgets Guide assesses companies on whether they have moved towards eliminating toxic chemicals from their products. See chart below.
Contact the companies that still haven’t eliminated PVCs and BFRs from their products and encourage them to take action.
Take action in a Greenpeace Greener Electronics campaign:
- Dell can do better. Tell CEO Michael Dell to honor his commitments and phase out the use of toxic chemicals