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Brit MPs to Apple CEO: Please stop ignoring our questions about repairability and the environment

iGiant needs to take accountability for society's throwaway culture, claims select committee

The UK's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) says Apple is still not answering questions relating to its record on the environmental sustainability and repairability of its iStuff.

The EAC – a sounder of Members of Parliament that sit on the select committee in the House of Commons – asked the American company to get involved in the Electronic Waste and Circular Economy inquiry, and Apple had been due to appear before MPs on 16 July but "cancelled is appearance at short notice".

Committee chairman the Right Honourable Sir Philip Dunne, an MP for Ludlow constituency in Shropshire, then penned a letter [PDF] to Apple boss Tim Apple Cooke early last month and requested a response by Friday last week, 4 September, but the EAC is "yet to receive a substantive reply", it said.

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The contents of the letter, revealed today, points out the anxiety related to the social and environmental footprint of the electronics industry, brought into focus by a United Nations report in July that showed 53.6 million tonnes of so-called e-waste was produced in 2019, up 21 per cent in five years.

Smaller gadgets are often the hardest to collect and recycle, and Apple is one of the largest manufacturers of such equipment worldwide, hence its invitation to partake in the inquiry, EAC said.

In his missive to Cook, Dunne asked 13 questions, including how Apple was tackling past and future carbon emissions; the auditing of third-party emissions in Apple's supply chain; whether the high price of fixing Apple kit was affecting repairability; what Apple was doing to improve repairability of products; whether Apple would support legislation for repairability standards; what it was doing to take back items being replaced; and a query around plastic packaging.

The timing of this release is very deliberate, coming as Apple prepares to broadcast a live event from California with a slew of new products from next-generation phones to watches, iPads and other gear.

"Apple has made more than two billion iPhones – a phone for every person in the whole of Africa and Europe," said Dunne in a statement. "Today, as Apple unveils its next generation of gadgets, my committee continues to wait for answers on what the company is doing to tackle its environmental footprint."

He added: "With the speed at which news devices are brought to market, tech companies drive consumers to buy new products rather than prolonging the life of their existing items. It can also be very difficult to repair electronics devices with many companies making it almost impossible – or if possible, very expensive – for consumers to have the ability to fix themselves.

"As a result, we're seeing a throwaway society for electronics, and tech companies must take responsibility for the environment impact this causes. A circular economy with repair and recycling at its heart is crucial if we are to tackle the climate emergency."

Armed with a report titled "Global E-waste Monitor 2020" written by the International Telecommunications Union, the UN said the total weight of electronics waste in 2019 equated to 7.3kg per person. This, it warned, is growing due to shorter life cycles and difficulties of repairing electronics items.

The growth of e-waste, said UN Under-Secretary-General David Malone, means there is a "sense of urgency in turning around this dangerous global pattern".

Apple's attitude towards repairs softened recently when it expanded the Independent Repair Provider programme to third-party technicians in Canada and Europe, a year after it was launched in the US.

For its part, Apple claimed previously that it loses money by repairing customers' gadgets, which rather flies in the face of Apple's reluctance to allow independent repair shops to do their thing.

In its 2020 Environmental Progress Report, Apple pledged to reduce 75 per cent of its carbon emissions by 2030 and develop "innovative carbon removal solutions for the remaining 25 percent of its comprehensive footprint". The highlights of that report can be found here.

The Register has asked Apple to comment. ®

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