iFixit joins Greenpeace in bashing EPEAT’s recyclability standards

A guy who takes computers and gadgets apart for a living is calling shenanigans on ultrathin notebooks getting the coveted EPEAT Gold rating from the green electronics ratings group. iFixit founder and CEO Kyle Wiens in a blog post on Tuesday called the recent findings of an independent EPEAT test, which certified notebooks like Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina display with the highest possible rating for recyclability, “a clear case of greenwashing.” He added that the group’s environmental standards had been “watered down to an alarming degree.”

Wiens, whose job is to dissect gadgets and create easy-to-understand repair guides for users, is passionate about “sustainable technology” or the recyclability of products and their contribution to electronic waste, as I learned when talking to him for a story last month. His attitude is that when products are hard to repair or are not built to last more than two or three years, they are more easily tossed in the landfill, and contribute to e-waste. Hence his strongly worded opinion about EPEAT’s standards.

He’s suspicious of EPEAT’s investigation, which it outsourced to an independent lab, to reassess whether ultrathin laptops from Apple, Toshiba, Samsung and Lenovo, met the group’s standards for green electronics. The group’s rating is critical to large businesses’ and government agencies’ strict standards for purchasing green computers, so it wanted an outside opinion to back up its findings. It did find that the tools to take apart these notebooks are easy to buy, and that they can be taken apart in less than 30 minutes.

Wiens writes:

At best, the interpretation of the EPEAT Gold standard is laughably out of touch: it claims proprietary Pentalobe screwdrivers [which MacBooks require] are ‘commonly available tools’ and a USB thumb drive is an ‘upgrade.’ At worst, it may mean that recyclers a decade from now will be faced with a mountain of electronic waste they cannot affordably recycle without custom disassembly fixtures and secret manufacturer information.

Wiens isn’t the only high-profile voice to take issue with EPEAT’s recent findings. Greenpeace also voiced disapproval, saying in a press release on Friday, that the group’s decision “to include computers with difficult-to-replace batteries in its green electronics registry will result in less recycling and more e-waste.”

EPEAT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the criticism.

Apple touched off this brouhaha over EPEAT standards when the company suddenly opted out of the EPEAT rankings earlier this summer. After an outcry from businesses and environmental groups, Apple backed down and admitted that opting out of the certification process that so many companies rely on was “a mistake.”