Six Green Lies That Tech Companies Tell

A lot of tech manufacturers tout their wares as "green" these days. After all, saving the one planet we have is in everyone's interests. But if you're truly trying to go green with your electronics, you need to separate the actual green practices with the truth-challenged "greenwashed" claims.

The truth is that consumer electronics are tough to make eco-friendly, and while some real steps forward are being made by many manufacturers, there are a few little green lies that get told too often.

1. "We use natural components"

Phones like Samsung's Reclaim are said to be green because part of their casing is made from a biodegradable plastic; others promote their use of a natural fiber, like bamboo. It's better for the planet in theory but typically useless in practice; consumer electronics tend to have fused parts, so breaking that "green" component out of the rest of the gadget when it's finished its useful life likely won't happen. You'd be better off buying a fully plastic phone and taking it to a proper e-waste handler who will recycle it in the United States, like Greencitizen.

2. "We use fewer toxins"

Samsung has a new line of LCD displays that use less mercury, which is great. But when you see this claim thrown around, ask where the electronics were made, and find out what your own state's rules are on these toxins. Chances are the manufacturer is just hyping a green improvement they're now legally required to implement. It's still good for the planet, but it's green-at-gunpoint.

3. "Our packaging is greener"

Yakking up "less packaging and soy-based inks!" is so 1999. And companies do this not necessarily to be green, but to save themselves money. Fuji's new EnviroMAX battery is a poster child for this claim: a new disposable battery that says it uses few heavy metals (i.e. the same metals that make greener rechargeable batteries rechargeable), comes in post-consumer-content recycled packaging (i.e. like everything in your house today) and is "landfill friendly." Note to Fuji: everything this side of nuclear waste is "landfill friendly" in a modern landfill. How about suggesting clients return their drained EnviroMAX batteries to a proper recycler?

4. "We believe in sustainability"

Like swine flu, sustainability is everywhere, and it's catching. But it's a virulent claim that's almost impossible to verify, because a single standard of "sustainability" doesn't exist. It can mean a lot of things — from true supply-chain analysis of every inch of a product's lifecycle, to the manufacturer's head office making double-sided photocopies. To see through this one, you can research company websites to verify claims, or check out Greenpeace's rankings of manufacturers.

5. "No toxic substances inside"

Electronics are tough to make without some toxins, like heavy metals and off-gassing plastics, so beware of claims that say they have none. A few years ago, Apple and Dell claimed their computers used "mercury-free LED lights" — except the LED lights never used mercury in the first place. It's quite likely their LED lights were also arsenic-free. And plutonium-free. And Kryptonite-free. Some of these claims may be true, but you're more likely to see a "less toxins" claim be closer to the truth, and like we said above, that may be because The Man wants it that way.

6. "Made with recycled materials"

This can be a bait-and-switch. Motorola's Renew is made in part from recycled plastic. But it's not plastic from old Motorola phones, it's from used water bottles. While keeping water bottles out of a landfill somewhere is noble, it hides the unpleasant truth that plastics in consumer electronics tend to be contaminated with the heavy metals inside those same electronics, making them harder to recycle and re-use.

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