Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Groups encourage gift-givers: “Go for greener gadgets!”

Two weeks before Christmas Day, malls and appliance stores are experiencing the shopping rush that comes with the advent of the Christmas season. Shoppers are flocking to these shops to take advantage of the numerous sales that offer the latest electronic devices and high-tech gadgets at heavily discounted prices. At this time last year, a quick check at Amazon.com showed that seven out of the top ten gifts are electronic gadgets—and the trend seems to be keeping up in 2010.

Before giving in and joining the mad dash for a shiny new MP3 player for yourself or the latest gaming console for your kids, take a couple of minutes to learn a little more about responsible gift-giving this Christmas season. Ban Toxics[1], the EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace Southeast Asia have joined forces to create the Greener Gadgets Gift Guide for consumers.

“E-waste is an urgent topic of concern, especially for countries such as the Philippines, where discarded electronics from countries such as Japan and South Korea are exported as secondhand goods,” explains Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics. “These e-wastes contain toxic substances which may be released through improper use and recycling. It’s our responsibility to make sure that we don’t add to the growing mountain amount of e-waste in the country by buying gadgets which may potentially harm both human health and the environment.”

E-waste contains a cocktail of toxic chemicals that are added to various parts of electronics. Phthalates, brominated flame retardants (BFR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are often added to gadgets’ plastic housing and electrical wiring. Aside from possibly damaging the liver, lungs and kidney, phthalates are also suspected to cause infertility in males. On the other hand, both BFR and PVC are cancer-causing substances. In addition, poisonous metals like mercury and lead, both of which damage the nervous system and cause developmental disorders, are found in some television and computer screens

Here are several Greener Gadgets Gift Guide tips to help guide you as you check off your gift list this Christmas:

1. Know your brands. Get to know which companies produce safe and environmentally sustainable electronic gadgets. Greenpeace recently updated their Guide to Greener Electronics, a guide that ranks the top electronics manufacturers according to their policies on toxics, recycling, and climate change. The guide is available at the Greenpeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/electronics/how-the-companies-line-up/.
2. Know what harmful toxic materials are commonly used in electronic gadgets. Avoid products that have these, or purchase the item with the least amount. A product marked “RoHS-compliant” means that it complies with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive – in other words, they do not contain mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated biphenyl ethers – common toxins found in electronic gadgets.
3. Buy energy-efficient electronic products. Look for the Energy Star or the energy efficiency ratio (EER) – the higher the number, the more efficient your electronic device. An air conditioner with an EER of 15 cools more efficiently and inexpensively than one with an EER of 11.
4. Look for brands with good warranty and take-back policies. Chances are, the better the warranty policy, the higher the product quality. For example, an inkjet printer with a one-year warranty is likely to be more durable and long-lasting than one with a three-month warranty. Also, getting a brand with a take-back policy helps ensure that your DVD player, laptop, or mobile phone will be recycled instead of dumped into landfills.
5. Go for quality, not quantity! Avoid buying very cheap items in bulk. Most of these items will wear out after a few months. Also, the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT has found that 6 out of 7 cheap toys from bargain centers contain toxic plastic. Cheap does not necessarily mean good. Buying a product with good quality item is a much better investment, and better for the environment, too.
6. Look for electronics with rechargeable rather than disposable batteries. Rechargeables may be more expensive initially, but can be recharged and used many times, eliminating the need to purchase and throw away disposable batteries constantly.
7. Think of alternatives to giving electronics to your loved ones. A personalized, handmade present can mean just as much, if not more, than a store-bought gadget. But if you absolutely must purchase an electronic gadget for a gift, make sure it’s worth your money by following tips 1-6.

This Christmas, keep these tips in a mental list as you do the last-minute rounds of shopping malls and gift shops. By doing your part, you are sending a message to manufacturers, reminding them of their responsibility to the consuming public. “Solutions ultimately rely not simply on consumers, but also on manufacturers,” asserts Ms. Beau Baconguis, Toxics Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Manufacturers have the responsibility to eliminate toxics in their products, and our government should create regulations to ensure that this behavior is adopted.”

Lastly, don’t forget that the meaning for the season lies beyond our endless shopping lists. “The spirit of Christmas is not about things that are new, but things that have meaning,” says Mr. Rei Panaligan, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition. "It’s the thought that counts – and in buying electronic gifts, a little thinking goes a long, long way in protecting our loved ones’ health, and preventing more toxic e-waste from piling up in our already ailing environment. “


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