Eliminating a chemical from a product is not easy. A replacement substance — ideally, one that’s safer — has to be found that can perform the same function as well or better. Reformulation may be necessary because the replacement may interact differently with the rest of the product.
Fortunately, the number of tools to help companies do this is also growing. GreenScreen gives companies such as HP a way to identify hazardous chemicals and safer alternatives. Similar databases in Europe, such as the Substitution Support Portal, also help companies search for and evaluate alternatives to hazardous chemicals, as well as provide guidance on the process of chemical substitution.
What’s new is global collaboration, stronger focus on purchasing, collaboration among electronics companies really starting to dig into their supply chains.
While HP is working to get PVC out of its power cables, it has taken on a number of other challenges as well, including eliminating halogenated substances. Apple, meanwhile, has eliminated its use of lead, reduced its use of brominated flame retardants and eliminated PVC from its power cords — although it won’t say what it uses instead, according to Smith, so independent observers cannot say whether the substitute is safer. It also has stopped using some solvents that are dangerous to workers during manufacturing, according to Joel Tickner, director of the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council, a project based at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
"There’s been a lot of writing about toxicity in the electronics supply chain. I think what’s new is global collaboration, stronger focus on purchasing, collaboration among electronics companies really starting to dig into their supply chains," Tickner said. "That’s what Apple and HP are doing."