Dear Friends and Clients,
As you know, it has been a few years since I left as VP of Electronicycle (name changed to ERI in 2007) in Gardner, Massachusetts, to start my own collection and processing company, Good Point Recycling, in Vermont. But I have always offered the guarantee that we will use ERI in Gardner as our vendor. When I was asked why ERI was not a "Pledge Signer", it was sometimes difficult for me to explain the position of the company president - and many other companies - that a "Pledge" was a "promise not to lie" and that an enforceable civil contract was a better tool. Good Point Recycling has to date always used CRT glass processors which were under enforceable civil contracts with state government or state association.
Once Basel Action Network actually offered to inspect and vet and certify, rather than just collect "Pledges" (including some notorious operators in the past), ERI has become the first company in the United States to pass their certification. (See article)
Since I started here, we have delivered over half of our material, or about 7,000 tons, to ERI, since we could not process the lead and barium CRT glass ourselves at the costs they offered. We obtain the same annual report on their downstream end markets that they delivered to Massachusetts state government, ensuring you obsolete and regulated material is handled responsibly. We have also audited CRTP and more recently RMG of NH and EcoInternational of NY, and approved them, primarily using the "CRT Glass Test" developed by American Retroworks and promoted by BAN in 2004. Since we manage plastics and CPUs and hard drives in-house, our external audit process is simplified.
Since ERI's CRT recycling is by far our greatest expense outside of Vermont payroll, costing us well over $5,000 per week, we were relieved that the BAN audit verified what I have vouched for. For the manufacturer takeback program we use in Malaysia (an ISO14001, former CRT monitor manufacturer who no longer buys new CRTs, only ones we inspect for reuse quality), we also performed an audit last October. The BAN audit of our primary CRT destruction market and the ISO audit of our primary CRT reuse market are nice bookends to the processing, testing, repair, and demanufacture of the rest of the material into plastic and metals and repair/refurbish product. Our continuous goal is to monitor the 78% of the material we process domestically and to audit the percentage that we sell on the export market.
Also a note of caution, however... the rates at ERI have nearly doubled during the past 12 months as CRT glass markets have constricted and moved (primarily to Mexico, almost all CRT glass in the NE now goes to Mexico by rail, and we have opened our own facility in Mexico to take some advantage of that). So far we have not passed those along, and we are actively searching for more economic means to serve your environmental interests.
We have also begun posting film and photos of our own processes, our end products, and our overseas markets (the 22%) online. As one of the most active members of the "Fair Trade Exports" organization, WR3A.org, we got a grant to film even more of those processes, and we are currently working on another short film explaining our efforts to be accountable.
The biggest single threat to our environmental efforts are costs. The math is fairly simple: If we are taking in material at 15 cents at our door, and delivering it to ERI at 14 cents, and paying 6 cents to transport it, we have to be adding value somewhere. This is a tightrope for us. Thankfully, most of our clients are exceptionally fair at leaving the good material like laptops and CPUs in the mixed ewaste we collect, and you pay our bills almost without exception. If we get a whole load of cherry-picked electronics, without CPUs or good monitors, that is a complete loss even at 20 cents per pound, and that continues to be our biggest concern.
We now have a bill accrued at Electronicycle which is over 90 days payable, and over $30,000. With about $1M per year in gross receipts, this isn't a fire alarm yet, but we have had to take steps to bring this bill down, including attrition and layoffs, and we have not given many raises or bonuses since Earth Day 2008. We are redoubling our reuse and repair efforts, adding more materials (like film plastic, books, and lamp recycling), and winning more contracts in Arizona. I personally went off of payroll completely, which is a luxury afforded by my better half.
The economics are pretty well known at this point. Goodwill Industries (a great organization I have partnered with off and on during the past 15 years) is now collecting CPUs and monitors only under a grant from Dell. We are trying to win that contract, but the price is below 10 cents per pound... which is completely doable since there are no TVs in the load. Two very good and reputable companies have held one day events in Chittenden County already this year, both charging far more per pound than we charge but working with sponsors whose business we competed for but didn't win.
All of this is fair in love and war and competion, as long as the bills get paid. Whatever happens at Good Point Recycling this year, it has been a great decade working with you. We hope to keep working with you as time goes on. As long as we all pay our bills, audit our markets, and make sound choices about reuse and repair, recycling will continue to improve and those participating in your recycling programs will have confidence in your efforts.
I've been writing about S.77. Most of my friends in the industry say it's going to go very badly for us (manufacturers can buy credit for 3 years, and processors can only hold credit for tonnages for 6 months, so it is mathematically simple for a handful of OEMs to choose which recyclers are going to stay in business).
There are 3 reasons offered for Ewaste product stewardship, and one reason it will pass. It is not the claims of higher diversion in Minnesota Vs. Vermont, those numbers are easily explained. Minnesota proponents are measuring the quality of a lawnmower by the weight of the grass it cut... Prior to 2008, Good Point collected 14,000 tons, so of course our 2008 tonnage per capita was less than a state that just got started collecting. Someone told me the Small Dog (free) collection event proves people won't pay the price of a haircut to recycle their TV, that they are somehow different than tires, white goods, and other bulky items collected for a fee. I say if I held a competing one-day event down the street, and paid participants $20 each for their computer, the Small Dog lot would be empty. That doesn't prove that people won't recycle for free, people just respond to the best deal.
The second reason offered for Product Stewardship legislation is philosophical. If the manufacturers have responsibility, it closes the loop. Sounds nice but it's hogwash. Display manufacturers all outsource everything. There are factories in Malaysia and Indonesia and China which assemble monitors on behalf of many different companies, they put one company name on the monitor in the AM shift and another in the afternoon. The assembly was all outsourced in the 1990s. The disassembly will also be completely outsourced. As a matter of fact, our export markets for good monitors are the ONLY kind of actual manufacturer takeback program there is (companies who used to assemble on behalf of X now buy back the monitors and refurbish them for sale under the assemblers own name). The assembler is no longer contracted out or subservient, and within a few years... Voila! Acer! Lenovo! So the irony is that the Manufacturers most likely to support takeback legislation are more likely doing it to keep the material from going back to the same factories, they are insisting on 100% destruction. I've been told in no uncertain terms that if Good Point Recycling doesn't shut down our reuse operations, we will not be a recycler for certain manufacturers, even if our fees are lower when we repair and reuse.
The third reason? Money. Advanced Recycling Fee looks like a tax and the computer retailers won't support it. But the districts need cash. So we understand, our business model is going to get sold back to the OEMs in return for fees we were charging. That's fair enough I suppose.
When I don't know what to do for sure, when in doubt, tell the truth. That frequently got me beat up as a kid. I got really good at being beat up. No one could get beat up like I could.