American companies such as HP, Dell, and IBM Corp. scored better than many foreign brands, including Sony, Daewoo, and Fujitsu, according to a report published Wednesday by the San Jose-based Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
But none of the manufacturers reported recycling rates greater than 2 percent--a rate coalition executive director Ted Smith called "pathetic."
"Nobody is getting what any school child would recognize as a C grade," Smith said. "Even the best companies are recycling only a very small percentage of computers--that's the bottom line. They all have a long way to go."
The study, published online with the Computer TakeBack Campaign, accuses more than a dozen American, Japanese, and Korean computer makers of failing to reduce "E-waste," including lead, polyvinyl chloride, and other hazardous materials used in computer manufacturing. Billions of pounds of toxins--including dangerous cathode ray tubes and mercury--sit in garages and basements, or in landfills in developing countries.
HP, Dell, and Japanese electronics giant NEC Corp. got the best scores, followed by IBM, Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp., and Apple Computer Inc. The worst performers included Acer Inc., Canon Inc., and Samsung Electronics Co.
SVTC researchers praised Dell, which fared poorly in last year's report. After becoming the target of angry environmentalists and labor groups, the nation's largest computer maker launched a recycling campaign and stopped using prison workers who earned 20 cents to $1.26 per hour to recycle hardware.
"We got a little bit of a wake-up call," Dell spokesman Bryant Hilton said. "Our company is growing up, and it was time to become a leader in these issues."
Smith hinted that IBM could replace Dell as its target this year.
According to the report, Big Blue is "shirking its responsibility for recycling two decades of legacy electronic waste." IBM is increasingly relying on lucrative consulting contracts with corporate clients instead of computer hardware sales.
Several states are considering legislation that would put the onus of recycling on manufacturers. IBM spokesman Clint Roswell said the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology giant has lobbied state politicians for laws that spread the burden of recycling among consumers, companies, and local governments.
"The only thing that makes sense is to put the charge of product takeback on everyone," Roswell said. "We need to deal with products from every manufacturer, not just the major players but the raft of minor players."