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For years, Dell Computer Corp. was known as one of the tech industry’s environmental slackers; in 2003, green groups gave it an “F” on a “clean computer” report card. Today, Dell has a program to recycle almost all of its PCs, has purged new products of six toxic substances, and is working to remove other hazardous materials.

But Dell didn’t get religion on its own: Its conversion was prompted by a tough new set of European Union regulations that is transforming American business in a way no U.S. law has in recent years. Last summer, the Europeans began enforcing new restrictions on lead, mercury, and four other hazardous substances, flat-out banning violators from selling to Britain and the Continent. Palm had to stop shipping its Treo 650 (a move that sent its share price plunging), and Apple admitted that it had “withdrawn a few products from sale in Europe,” though it wouldn’t say which ones. In all, 75 percent of U.S. tech companies have eliminated the banned substances from their products. “It has just caused an enormous amount of teeth-gnashing and a lot of reactive scrambling,” says Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, a consulting firm.

The electronics regulations are just the beginning. By the end of 2006, the EU aims to pass a broader toxics law that radically revises how companies must evaluate potential dangers: Rather than being presumed safe until proved dangerous, chemicals will have to be shown to be harmless (though exactly how has yet to be determined). Dell broke ranks recently with industry skeptics and the Bush administration to support the law, joining European manufacturers such as Nokia in a pledge to phase out dozens of potentially harmful substances. Other companies, including Apple and Motorola, have resisted making such commitments. “The irony is everyone thinks Apple is hip and cutting-edge,” says Alexandra McPherson, project director for the nonprofit advocacy group Clean Production Action. “This really showed they’re still behind in understanding the global marketplace.”

Back home, federal inaction has spawned a confusing, and sometimes contradictory, hodgepodge of state, local, and corporate toxics programs. For example, last year California launched a computer-monitor recycling program funded through a tax on new computers; in Washington state and Maine, manufacturers are responsible for recycling their products. Dell now has a nationwide policy of taking back all its used computers, just as it is required to do in Europe; Apple, by contrast, only accepts old machines in trade for new ones. “What the industry needs,” says consultant Kirschner, “is something that’s national and works.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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