Fair Trade "E-waste" Recycling = USA JOBS!

This weekend in Tucson, Arizona, our women partners, Las Chicas Bravas, are holding a TV and computer recycling "event". The ladies will supervise the unloading of TVs from cars to bring back into Mexico, to be repaired and resold if possible, in a "Cash for Clunkers" program sponsored by EPA and Mexico's EPA (SEMARAT). The ones that are not worth reusing will be torn down into copper, plastic, steel, aluminum and lead silica for proper recycling.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of the night, take these broken wings and learn to fly..."

The Mexico facility is in an OECD country, and we are going to certify the factory to R2 standards. Always expecting criticism, I was not surprised to hear the argument that exporting electronics for legitimate repair and reuse is "exporting jobs" from the USA. Jim Puckett made the point to me at the EScrap show in Orlando, and now I heard it at NERC, so let's look at the facts.

At Good Point Recycling, our export-for-reuse program increases jobs, and the quality of jobs, in Middlebury. Inspecting each monitor to see if it can be reused, and testing it for functional parts, creates a better and higher paid job than leaving it with the rest to be torn apart.

I do admit that if anyone in the USA is actually reassembling and refurbishing monitors and repairing them in the USA, that would create more jobs than Good Point is creating. But no one is doing that! (Video Display Corp. of Tucker GA and Lexington KY used to, now they only do it for specialized CRTs, not ordinary computer monitors).

Instead, the "recycling jobs for America" argument is being made on behalf of "crush-shred-recycle" operations, big black boxes which grind the monitors up into plastic, silica and lead. Fair Trade Recycling works arm-in-arm and supports this practice, because we can only export for reuse 22.5% of the product. By exporting it, we lower our margins by 50%, which allows us to get more product for domestic recycling. Good Point Recycling also uses manual disassembly of the CRT monitors, either at our own warehouse or at ERI in Garnder (a BAN supporting "eSteward" which, unfortunately, will not allow us to export their monitors for reuse - but they are a good place to send our bad 78%).

Big crushing machines don't employ many Americans to begin with, but my point is that reuse creates jobs side-by-side with domestic processing. We hire staff to screen and inspect each monitor, create inventory, market, re-price, and test for non-functional CRTs. Taking 22% out of the stack of bad monitors and TVs employs 80% more people per ton than leaving the 22% in with the others to be smashed apart. (Warning, this video is noisy)

In Vermont, the money we bring in by properly selling the good monitors also helps us pay people more than we could with a "no intact unit" export policy. It also goes towards lower fees for our clients, which brings in more material -- probably exceeding the 22% we divert to reuse. The lower the costs, the more we bring in of ALL e-waste... the folks who take stuff apart get more stuff to take apart, and the employees who test for repair specifications get more stuff to sort, inspect, test, record and ship.

Reuse and repair is a win-win scenario when it comes to jobs. It creates more and better jobs in both the USA and in the overseas "BSFs" (Big Secret Factories). Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and south China got their economies started with refurbishment and re-manufacturing, and we sell a lot more American cars and trucks to those countries than we would have by keeping them "barefoot and pregnant".

Again, if Video Display Corp or a USA TV repair factory wants to criticize us for "exporting American jobs", I will listen. But when I hear it from companies who don't repair the CRTs, I got to say it's a pretty lame argument, and I'm quite sure we create more and better jobs sorting and screening electronics for refurbishment than we would create lumping it all into a big demanufacturing machine.

The companies which specialize in tearing down the 78% bad need to partner up with the companies that reuse and repair surplus electronics. Our common enemies are hire just enough illegals to fill sea containers of unscreened junk and TAR. Three down, four to go. You guys know who you are.

Creating jobs for Mexicans in Mexico is good. Reuse is good. Let's drop our buckets where they are and lift them as we climb.

aquĆ­ viene el sol ! Here is a link to a cool recycling stop-motion film made in Peru. Not good enough quality to embed though. So here instead is Here Comes the Sun played in Spain.

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