Big Secret Monitor Factories - Legitimate Reuse vs. "E-waste"

This morning, the New York Times discovered a big secret. Acer is bigger than Dell. To those of us who know that Acer was a contract manufacturer in Taiwan that MADE the computers for the companies they are now "overtaking", it's a funny story. "Say it ain't so!"

By popular demand, here is a slide show explaining the role of "Contract Manufacturing" and the expansion of the "White Box Market". If you want to weigh in on electronics scrap, recycling exports, digital divide, or "e-waste" dumping policy, you need to understand a few technical issues. One is the precedent set by Japanese export-for-refurbishment restrictions, which has been repackaged by to subsitute for actual UN and Basel Convention agreements and recycling standards.

Japan saw the Acer thing happening, and targeted exports to Taiwan and Korea (an OECD country) in a Sony v. Samsung, Mothra v. Godzilla battle against reverse-engineering (which Japan itself pioneered in the 1960s). Japan set up "recycling" of used electronics in a formal arrangement throughout the country which mandated used products be destroyed, and which prosecuted anyone other than a "registered manufacturer" who exported electronics "for reuse and repair" with prison sentences and major fines. Now the battle is between Taipai Taiwan and Round Rock Texas.


Dell vs. Tiger Direct,
Fuji vs. Jazz Camera,
Lexmark vs. SCC.

Gee, all we wanted was to get back at the scrap guys who bullied 60 Minutes cameramen in the movie "Chinese Thug verus Scott Pelley", produced by Solly Granatstein. How did we wind up through this rabbit hole? Why is Jim Puckett dressed up as the Queen of Hearts, yelling "Off with their heads?" Microsoft is the Cheshire Cat, convincing people to destroy billions of dollars worth of software to protect "privacy" (it is more than possible to erase personal data without erasing MS Office). Product Stewardship is the mad hatter, weighing in on policy without ever asking who made the Apple computers in the first place (there is no warehouse in Cupertino, people, Steve Jobs' garage is now in Penang Malaysia).

"Ewaste" dumped in Guiyu is bad, if it is in fact "waste". Recycling commodities is good. Repair and reuse is even better. But labelling stuff as waste should not be the job of The Waste Makers... i.e. people who invented "Planned Obsolescence".

In our chase of better recycling standards, environmental activists have passed through a Rabbit Hole, looking glass, what have you. It should not surprise us that the world outside is more complicated than the average PIRG intern learns before door-knocking in Milton MA. One pill makes us larger, and one pill makes us small.

As the vetters for the UN GAID told me in Middlebury, Vermont, this is an old story. The smartest kid in the poorest country school learns technology, he learns to refurbish and repair, he makes money and hires other people, and eventually he is creating wealth for the whole country and manufacturing his own... it is the story of Korea (which was poorer than Guiyu when these men were young), and it is the story in Guangdong (two of China's top billionaires are a former bicycle repairman and a former farm tractor repairman). It was called "Yankee Ingenuity" in Vermont one time. Small Dog Electronics made their first purchase of used Apple Equipment and are today selling new equipment.

Let me be clear, Good Point Recycling will do what clients want us to do. If an OEM is paying for every TV to be demanufactured, we charge them more, but that is not questioned... they actually see eye-to-eye with us and we understand they are following the path set before them by "graders" of e-waste policy. If a one-day event organizer tells us not to export anything as an intact unit, we make sure that's in the contract, and we charge accordingly. We have contracts we merely transport to a Pledge Signer, because that's what the client wants and will pay for. This blog is about reality as I see it. I recommend to clients that they allow us to export a bit (22.5% of 2008 tonnage), but won't export junk or Toxics Along for the Ride. We can track every item by client, by brand, by functionality, until the point it is demanufactured or recycled as raw material.

Frequently prospective clients insist that CRT glass go for glass-to-glass recycling and stay in the USA. Well, that's impossible. There are no CRT furnaces in the USA, or in North America or any OECD country. I am always most amazed by the number of USA Electronics Recyclers willing to do ANYTHING for a buck, whether it's export junk or accept those clients and tell them yes, they'll recycle the CRT glass at a USA furnace. Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum. I cannot wait to see the results of BAN finally auditing their E-Stewards beginning this year. Through the looking glass, onward and upward.

No comments: