Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace is using Macworld Expo in San Francisco to draw attention to Apple's use of toxic chemicals in its products. The organisation also hopes that Apple will expand its recycling efforts globally. The group has also established a website, Greenmyapple.org, to call attention to what it perceives as Apple's shortcomings.

At a press conference on Monday, Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind explained that Apple ranks at the bottom of 14 international mobile phone and computer companies, according to Greenpeace's own Guide to Greener Electronics. The group has also protested outside the Moscone Center, where the Expo is held, throughout the week.

Greenpeace gives Apple an F

The Guide ranks companies on a score of 1 to 10 based on the company's commitment to eliminate hazardous substances in their products and their position on recycling products once they become obsolete. Apple scored 2.7 out of 10, lagging behind Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sony, Lenovo, Acer, HP, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Dell and Nokia. While Nokia and computer maker Dell came top of the list, neither shone, scoring just 7.

"Nobody is getting an A in this class," Hind said. "We just don't think that Apple should be getting an F."

Apple took issue with Greenpeace's claims.

"We disagree with Greenpeace's rating and the criteria it chose," an Apple spokesperson said. "Apple has a strong environmental track record and has lead the industry in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, as well as many BFRs [brominated flame retardants]. We have also completely eliminated CRT monitors, which contain lead, from our product line. Apple desktops, notebooks and displays each score best in class in the new EPA ranking system EPEAT, which uses international standards set by IEEE."

Apple has posted a web page with information on its efforts to protect natural resources, and how that factors into its product design, manufacturing, energy efficiency and recycling efforts.

Apple and other computer makers are required by laws in the US and Europe to offer consumer recycling programs for their equipment, but these laws do not exist worldwide. Greenpeace believes that Apple should voluntarily implement a worldwide recycling programme so that users anywhere can return iPods and Macs that have broken or become obsolete.

"The good news is that all of these companies agree that things should change," said Hind. "But 13 of the 14 top companies have a better score."

Hazardous materials

Greenpeace is also concerned over Apple's use of toxic compounds in the manufacture of its equipment, including PVC (polyvinyl chloride), a form of plastic commonly found in computer cables and housings. Also at issue is Apple's use of BFRs.

"We recently tested major brands of computers to find BFRs and PVC," said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Martin Hojsik. "Tests found that the MacBook Pro scored highest for brominated flame retardant."

Greenpeace believes that toxic chemicals including BFRs, PVC, lead and other materials can't be recycled safely, especially when much of the work is being done by low-wage workers operating in unsafe condition in China and third-world countries, according to Greenpeace China toxics campaigner Yihua Yue. She illustrated the point using photographs of Chinese children standing before piles of electronic waste, holding Apple-branded products such as keyboards.

A more receptive audience

So far, Apple is the only company to merit a dedicated website from Greenpeace to encourage improving its electronic waste disposal and use of hazardous chemicals. When asked why, Hind explained that Greenpeace believes users of Macintosh computers and iPods may be more receptive to the group's message of environmental conservation.

So far, said Hind, it appears to be working – he said that the Greenmyapple.com website has attracted more visitors than any other Greenpeace website – more than half a million users since it was launched.

"If Apple does not become a leader in this area, the industry will not become as green as quickly. They're conspicuously absent," he said.

Symbolically greening the Apple store

Greenpeace began the week with a protest outside of Apple's downtown San Francisco store, located on Stockton Street. The company projected a large green-filtered floodlight on the illuminated Apple logo outside the building, and projected a video recording highlighting toxic technology issues on an adjacent building as well.

While the Greenpeace spokespeople agreed that legislation such as the European Union's RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) guidelines and other legislative efforts can help, it doesn't want to wait for the world's governments to pass legislation compelling companies to comply.

"What we want to emphasize in this campaign is that this is purely a corporate responsibility," said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Zeni Alhajj.