Good Point Ideas Blog: More about SKD (reusing monitors as TVs) Market
This was a good paper on the reuse market for used computer monitors.
This is a difficult business to be in. There is no financial incentive to 'clean up' the load before shipping to an SKD factory (semi knock down, see wikipedia), so the free market allows a lot of crap to get sent overseas to these markets. The good stuff flies away, off to store shelves to live on as a useful product, the bad stuff accumulates. Someone who only visits the country once every few years might see the accumulation of 10%, 20%, 30% crap on the ground (depending on how hard the used goods supplier is working to remove bad stuff) and think it represents 80% of the exports to that country. They don't see the good stuff, it's not on the ground.
But like a bullethole, you know there was a bullet. You know because the economics of shipping junk across the world and dropping loads of 80% junk on the ground could not pay the freight.
More and more USA companies are giving into the temptation to buy shredders to just grind all the computers up, recovering the metals.
It's being sold as "best practices". Sure, we will leave Africa barefoot and pregnant (they cannot afford new computers), we will tell the Pacific Rim to mine more lead from the Papua New Guinea rain forests to make new CRTs, we'll charge USA generators extra fees to grind up good stuff.
Then we will call ourselves "true recyclers" and give ourselves awards.
Look at the pile on the ground at the end of the video.
"No export of whole units" is a bad policy. It won't stop demand in lesser developed countries for working used equipment (NAICS 92). It divides the market into pure exporters and pure shredders.
And now they are trying to legislate it. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I am alarmed. I don't like junk on the ground in Africa, and we export fewer than 1% of the TVs we take in, making it almost not worth it. We have stopped exporting anything lower than Pentium 4. It would be tempting to replace staff who wipe the hard drives and remove unrepairable equipment, replace them with a big shredding machine.
That's what recyclers do who don't like having employees. Creating jobs is a bitch. Let's tell the Egyptians to go buy new stuff and pass a law to keep a Vermont company from sorting the good from the bad. Let's call them names and imply they are bad people. And leave piles of lead dust all over the ground.
I guess I see myself almost being driven to defend the bad exporters. I almost think the pendulum has wobbled so far to the left that "Planned Obsolescence" or Obsolescence in Hindsight is going to win at all costs.
Of course I know the bad exporters are the ones who left the big bulletholes all over this market, which discredited exporting and reuse. Who cause really fine people (like many at BAN.org and Greenpeace.org) to react and promote policies out of sheer frustration.
BAN knows perfectly well that the Basel Convention Annex IX explicitly and succinctly allows exports of electronics for refurbishment and repair. EXPLICITLY states this!!!!~!! But they are so frustrated by the piles of messes, the accumulated scrap that was not good, that they see it as a loophole.
One told me he hopes the poor will "leapfrog" the USA and get newer and better computers than we got. Hey fellow Peace Corps volunteers, hear that? (No bread on the shelves? LET THEM EAT CAKE.)
I think the only hope is to set up proper recycling overseas for the leftovers. Trying to police the exports to limit "Toxics Along for the Ride" may be too difficult, and our Fair Trade model is woefully underfunded and undersupported. What Africa and Asia are going to do is LEAPFROG the USA's woeful repair and recycling practices. They are going to do with smart people what the shredders can never do - separate out a 1 gig stick of RAM worth $10 from a 32meg stick of RAM worth metal.
Pete Seeger, we need a new "John Henry" song for the repair and reuse people, running ahead of the shredding machine. "John Henry was a RAM sorting Man"... But John Henry will probably be named Essam or Hamdy or Souley or Antonio.