Ethical electricals
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Date: November 2002

Good Shopping Guide

The Good Shopping Guide. Ethical Marketing Group

'Levels of waste of electrical equipment are increasing at six times that of other domestic and industrial waste'

The newly published Good Shopping Guide is the world’s first comprehensive ethical reference guide to clearly list the behaviour of the companies behind everyday consumer brands.

You can read the surefish review of the Good Shopping Guide elsewhere on the site.

You can also find out what the Good shopping Guide says about perfumes and aftershaves.

And here’s what it says about toys.

And here’s the lowdown on Beer, Lager and Cider.

To buy your copy of the book from Christian Aid simply call: 020 7523 2229

Here’s what the Good Shopping Guide says about…

Computers, TV and video

Computers may be revolutionising our lives in all kinds of unexpected ways but they have not turned the world into a cleaner or less stressful place.

In fact, they have created huge environmental pollution problems. As they become obsolete so quickly, millions are abandoned or junked every week, but the problems start with the manufacturing process. Since the 1980s, the rush to sell the latest computers in high volumes has tempted manufactures to cut corners both with the materials they use and with working conditions in components factories, which are located all over the world.

We guide you through the key points to be aware of when considering buying a new ‘whole system’ computer. We also encourage you to consider upgrading your existing machine, or alternatively to buy a reconditioned machine, rather than buying a new one.

Fast turn around
Computers become obsolete far quicker than any other kind of electrical equipment. Levels of waste of electrical equipment are increasing at six times that of other domestic and industrial waste, and information technology equipment makes up 39 per cent of the total, compared to televisions and audio equipment with just 8 per cent.

Studies in the US suggest that we have not even begun to deal with the serious problem of computer disposal. It is estimated that over three-quarters of all computers are stockpiled in attics, cellars and office storage cupboards. They are toxic time bombs, containing not only materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium but also some very nasty compounds like brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Landfill sites and incinerators cannot be expected to dispose of such materials safely.

The EU’s directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment has gone some way to making producers of electronic equipment responsible for disposal, with a view to reducing local councils’ recycling costs. It is hoped that the directive will also persuade the manufacturers to use materials that are easier to re-use and recycle.

Making a mess
Computers are made up of modular parts, each of which contains many different components, often produced by different manufacturers around the world.

Previously, much of the highly skilled work, such as silicon chip manufacture, was undertaken in the US. Semiconductor production uses more toxic gases than any other industry, which dangers for the workforce. Because of protest in the US, the computer manufacturers have been moving their most dangerous and heavily polluting stages of production to Latin America, where wages and environmental standards are lower.

IBM has made some investments in environmental design and was the first to make a computer using 100 per cent recycled plastic in all its major parts. IBM and Hewlett Packard were among the first major companies to ban the use of BFRs (see TV & Video) in computer casing, although they continued to rely on suppliers of components that still contained such compounds.

Upgrading and reconditioning
The most obvious sign of age in a computer is the speed of its main processor, the price of which increases the further up the scale you go. A positive step for the future would be for manufacturers to sell processor upgrades similar to that of software.

It is possible to buy a second-hand branded, out-of-the-box computer, which has been fully reconditioned with a new keyboard, mouse and software, direct from the factory and still under warranty. Second-user PCs can be bought on the internet or by mail order.

Good Shopping Guide ratings

Top rating:
• Cyrix/C3
• Dell
• Evesham
• Time
• Tiny
• Viglen

Middle rating:
• Acer
• Apple
• Intel
• Sun

Bottom rating:
• Compaq
• Fujitsu
• Hewlett-Packard
• Packard Bell
• Siemens
• Sony
• Toshiba

TV and Video
If too much TV rots the brain, then we’re probably all done for, but at least we can try to watch only what we really like – it’s amazing how much electricity that could save, and it would prevent the box from wearing out so fast.

Don't dump that set
We dump around 2.5 million TV sets every year in the UK. Landfilled or incinerated sets are a loss of resources and a potential pollution hazard – plastics and cathode ray tubes can contain toxic substances. If we’re getting a new set, we should look for a higher quality and more durable model that can be upgraded in future. If we want to get rid of an old one, we should take it to a second hand or charity shop. If the old one is broken and no one will take it, it’s best to take it to the civic amenity site where it can be used for scrap or recycled.

Energy Efficiency
According to one scientific estimate, producing the energy necessary to power our TV viewing creates 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and 10,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide per year. Manufacturers seem to have picked up on this and, as a rule, newer TVs and video recorders are more energy-efficient than earlier ones.

Even in standby mode, we waste about £12 million in electricity consumption a year, Friends of the Earth has estimated. A Which? study in 1998 found that Sony, Ferguson, Matsui, Samsung and Sharp came out best, using under 5 watts in standby mode – compared with more than 10 watts used by Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Toshiba and Sanyo models.

A TV set requires a surprisingly large amount of raw materials. Making the glass screen needs sand and electricity, while the glass for the cathode ray tube contains lead oxide and is coated in graphite to absorb X-rays – these impurities make the tube the hardest component to recycle and this is partly why liquid crystal display (LCDs) are a less environmentally damaging alternative to conventional screens.

The making of circuit boards uses chemicals, water and energy and generates more hazardous waste than any other part of the TV, especially airborne particulate pollution and chemical waste. TVs and video casings often use brominated flame retardants (BFRs), the making of which can have nasty effects on animal and human health. Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for BFRs to be outlawed – there is more information on the FoE website (

Damage to viewers
TVs and videos emit non-ionising radiation over a range of frequencies. Although currently no proven adverse health links exist, the issue stimulates contentious debate and it is best to be cautious, by sitting at least six feet away from the screen and, after use, by switching off devices fully, especially in bedrooms.

60-second green guide
• Buy second hand TVs and videos where possible
• Switch off when you’re not watching instead of leaving the TV on standby
• Don’t sit too near a TV
• Favour smaller sets and/or check out LCD screens
• If the TV or video breaks, see if it can be repaired, or make sure it is recycled

Top rating:
• Akai
• Bang & Olufsen
• Casio
• Grunding
• LG
• Sanyo

Middle rating:
• Bush
• Ferguson
• Goodmans
• Hinari
• Matsui
• Philips
• Samsung
• Sharp
• Thomson

Bottom rating:
• Aiwa
• Beko
• Hitachi
• Mitsubishi
• Panasonic
• Sony
• Toshiba

To see how the Good Shopping Guide reached these conclusions, you’ll have to buy the book, which is available from Christian Aid by calling 020 7523 2229