Greenpeace praises firms over chemicals

Greenpeace has applauded five global product manufacturers - Puma, Nokia, Adidas, Unilever and Chicco - for agreeing to phase out hazardous substances from own-brand products. As part of its campaign to persuade companies to commit to comprehensive "substitution" policies, it is urging consumers to email electronics manufacturers

Greenpeace is urging some 40 major manufacturers to commit themselves to timetables for the phase-out of some 20 hazardous substances. The list includes all synthetic musks, phthalates, alkylphenols and brominated flame retardants, as well as organotin compounds and PVC - a polymer that is often used in combination with some of the other substances.

The initiative is part of its campaign to have the substitution principle - whereby hazardous substances must be replaced by less hazardous ones where alternatives exist - placed at the heart of the forthcoming REACH regime on the regulation of chemicals.

Last summer, the pressure group applauded Samsung Electronics for announcing that it would establish timetables to phase out PVC, organotins and all brominated flame retardants by the end of 2005 (ENDS Report 354, p 35).

Somewhat confusingly, Greenpeace is rating manufacturers and products using two parallel systems.

First, manufacturers are allocated a "red", "amber" or "green" rating, according to their chemicals policies. Red indicates that they have yet to commit themselves to a timetable for phasing out all of the substances in all of their own-brand products worldwide. Amber means such a commitment has been given, while green is awarded when phase-out is completed.

The group is still meeting with many of the companies and does not plan to publish a report on their rankings until next year. However, it was happy to supply ENDS with the current rankings (see table). The system conceals the fact that some red companies have been more proactive than others. Companies such as Philips, which plans to eliminate the flame retardant TBBA from printed circuit boards by 2006, and Sony, which plans to remove all brominated flame retardants from its televisions but has yet to set a deadline, could well receive "amber" rankings shortly.

Second, the "chemical home" section of its website allots red, amber or green status to a number of consumer products, such as mobile phones, trainers and perfumes, according to the manufacturer.

In the Netherlands, where much of Greenpeace's campaign has been carried out, consumers can take part in a "cyberaction" campaign by using a standard form on the website. Consumers can fill in details of the product model they own and send an email to the manufacturer asking it to remove the hazardous substances that Greenpeace claims it contains.

Greenpeace activists also blockaded the main entrance of Hewlett Packard's offices in Amsterdam with a thousand old HP computers in protest at the company's refusal to stop using TBBA in its computers.

Five companies were singled out for praise by Greenpeace in November for agreeing to phase out substances in some products:

  • Puma: All of the substances listed by Greenpeace will be phased out from its sport shoes and perfumes immediately. Some substances were supposedly phased out last year but Greenpeace recently found high levels of phthalates and organotins in a sports shoe. The company has an amber rating until it has eliminated the source of this "contamination".

  • Adidas: Like Puma, Adidas supposedly bans substances such as PVC and alkylphenols in its sports shoes, but Greenpeace tests found phthalates, alkylphenols and organotins in one of its shoes. Its perfume and body care products can still contain phthalates and synthetic musks.

  • Nokia: The world's largest producer of mobile phones will eliminate all brominated flame retardants from printed circuit boards in new models by the end of 2006. Other products will follow "as soon as possible". New models will be PVC-free by the end of 2005.

  • Unilever: New personal care products, such as Organics and Timotei shampoos, as well as household cleaners and detergents sold in Europe do not contain most phthalates or synthetic musks, but the company has yet to phase out these substances worldwide. Almost all phthalates will be banned, although one of its Dove body lotion lines still contains the phthalate DEP. There are no plans to remove phthalates and musks from its perfumes.

  • Chicco: The toy and baby product manufacturer will phase out remaining uses of PVC in rigid parts, accessories and packaging components within the next three years. The company announced the phase-out of soft PVC in products for children under three in 1998 (ENDS Report 286, pp 25-26).