Greenpeace confirms hazardous materials in game consoles

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

San Francisco (CA) – Greenpeace today released detailed numbers on the concentration of hazardous materials used to manufacture the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii game consoles. The good news is that the findings reflect previous hazmat results from notebook tests, but the report indicates that each manufacturer has a lot of room to reduce the concentration of materials such as lead, chromium, bromine or cadmium in its products.    

There are reasons why Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony do not advertise their game consoles as being especially environmentally friendly. One may be that customers simply don’t care enough who has the greenest product on the market and won’t base their buying decision on that judgment. But another one may be that these consoles aren’t especially what you would consider green in a time when you have oil and chemical companies running TV commercials telling us how much they do to improve our environment.

According to the Greenpeace analysis “Playing Dirty”, all three consoles carry hazardous chemicals and materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, beryllium and bromine indicative of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). The concentrations vary by product and there is no single company you can point your finger at. Greenpeace even dished out some praise and noted that each manufacturer avoided or reduced uses of individual hazardous substances in certain materials within their consoles.

For example, the Nintendo Wii managed quite well without using beryllium in its electrical contacts, and use of PVC and phthalates was limited. The PlayStation 3, meanwhile, included “bromine-free” circuit boards and the Xbox 360 used fewer brominated materials in its housing materials.

However, on a more detailed level, there are high concentrations of hazardous materials in certain parts of each product. Greenpeace found raised levels of bromine in the Xbox 360 housing of the transformer block, in the cooling fan, in the cooling housing, in the motherboard, in the handheld controller, in the hard drive and DVD drive – with up 8.4% of the material weight in case of the fan housing. Sony showed high bromine levels in the PS3 housing, the cooling fan, the fan housing (13.8% of material weight), the mother board, the power transformer and hard drive. The Nintendo Wii’s housing revealed a 12.5% share of bromine, as well as elevated concentrations in the cooling fan, fan housing, motherboard, handheld controller, DVD drive and the resin plate inside the transformer case.     

Chromium was detected in all three consoles as well (Xbox 360 controller, PS3 cooling fan, Wii controller, fan housing and DVD drive). Lead surfaced in the Xbox 360 cooling fan, housing and the controller, as well as the PS3s cooling fan and housing and the Wii’s housing, cooling fan, fan housing, DVD drive and motherboard.
 
Interestingly, Greenpeace pointed out that there appear to be striking similarities in the materials being used for notebook and game console production. In both cases, the use of brominated materials was found to be widespread, particularly in PWBs. According to the organization, however, Sony apparently uses a greater proportion of either PVC or bromine in its PS3 when compared to its Vaio TX laptops. Similarly, the highest phthalate level found in a PVC material from the console (22.1%) was far higher that in similar materials tested from the Sony laptops (7.3%).

Even the increased levels of hazardous materials are still within general guidelines and appear to comply with the EU RoHS directive, Greenpeace said.