A new report by Greenpeace has found that while Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony have improved their manufacturing processes, all three current-gen game consoles still contain various hazardous chemicals.
The report, entitled "Playing Dirty," showed that each of the Big Three console companies had cut back on certain toxic materials but continued to employ others in their manufacturing processes. Nintendo's Wii, for instance, now uses beryllium-free electrical contacts, but has a high level of bromine in its main internal housing. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 both show high levels of bromines and phthalates in some components, but reduced bromine levels in others, particularly in the Xbox 360.
"The game consoles all contained high levels of bromine - used in circuit boards and plastic casings," the report said. "Brominated flame retardants do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They can also interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormone systems and exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioral problems. Components of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 also contained high levels of phthalates, one of which - DEHP - is known to interfere with sexual development in mammals: including humans and, especially, males."
Along with the inherently toxic nature of some materials in the consoles, Greenpeace claimed the consoles are also a significant contributor to "e-waste" at the end of their lifespans, when they are typically dumped into landfills and become harmful to both the environment and workers. The group suggested toxicity levels could be significantly reduced across all consoles if manufacturers would simply adopt each other's methods for reducing their use.
"If manufacturers only looked at each other's products, they'd quickly see ways of replacing their own dirty components with toxic-free materials," the report said. "A greener, cleaner game console is possible."
Game consoles have become a popular target for Greenpeace recently. In November, the environmental watchdog included console manufacturers in its quarterly Guide to Greener Electronics, which resulted in Nintendo becoming the first company in the history of the report to score an absolute zero. Microsoft fared little better, with a score of 2.7 (out of ten). Sony scored respectably well at 7.3, but the guide examined entire product lines, and did not specifically mention the PlayStation consoles. A Clash of the Consoles campaign followed in December, which featured Mario, Master Chief and Kratos competing for the prize of a greener game console.
The full "Playing Dirty" is available for download here. (PDF format)