In the mid-1980s, the supposedly clean industries of Silicon Valley revealed a dirtier side. In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered toxic contamination at 89 manufacturing sites in the Valley and proposed adding 19 of them to its Superfund clean-up list. More recently, as an ever-growing number of old computers (300 million by 2004) pile up in waste dumps, a waste disposal problem has become apparent: The machines that give us our daily e-mail fix are packed with such environmental toxins as lead, cadmium and flame retardants.
Hewlett Packard has won praise from environmentalists for acknowledging the industry’s pollution problem early on. The world’s number five software maker — which merged with Compaq Computer in May 2002 — has operations in 160 countries. In many of these places, HP’s Planet Partners Program takes back products from all manufacturers, evaluating them for possible reuse and donation. Non-reusable equipment is then recycled in a process that emphasizes maximum material recovery and minimizes pollution. According to its Web site, HP plans to expand the program worldwide.