Greener cellphones: Does new iPhone rate?

Will Apple's cheaper iPhone 3G also cost less for the environment and our health? Quick answer: Kinda maybe. It's a slight eco-improvement, due to greener packaging made of potatoes instead of Styrofoam. But although it's promised to do so by the end of 2008, there's no indication that the company has removed the toxic phthalates found in Greenpeace tests of the original iPhone last fall. Phthalates were found in the PVC vinyl wiring of both iPhone and iPod Nano earphones; the phones' circuit boards also contained hazardous brominated fire retardants (BFRs) that, Greenpeace said, release cancer-causing dioxins when burned (one reason that recycling of cell phones is so crucial).

Apple has cleaned up in other ways, having removed bromine from iPods and PVC internal cables and BFRs from new iMacs and the MacBook Air (which is also free of mercury and arsenic), according to Greenpeace's new, June 25th edition of its tech company green ratings.

Overall, the good news is that the potato/ tapioca starch-based foam packaging being adopted by several cell phone companies represents a 90 % reduction in carbon footprint over plastic.  But as a sector, they have a dismal record when it comes to reliable takeback and recycling programs, leading Greenpeace to downgrade most of their scores. In the new report, no cell phone company got a score higher than 5 out of 10, based on criteria including elimination of hazardous substances, takeback and recycling programs, and reduction of greenhouse emissions through energy saving in operations and products. Apple's overall green score:  4.1 out of 10. Sony Ericsson and Sony were top-rated at just over 5, followed by Nokia at just under 5.

Although we're tickled by the idea of a Mr. (or Ms.) Potato iPhone, we'll hold off on any cell phone purchases until the end of 2008, by when Apple will hopefully have delivered on its phthalate- and BFR-free pledge. And we'll check Greenpeace's latest ratings before holiday gift (and wish list) time.  For more details and all company ratings, see Greenpeace's greener electronics guide.



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