EWaste Hero: Silicon Sam

How do you know if it's exported for repair or for scrap?

Circuit board repairs, capacitor replacements, chip replacement, solder bypass -- these are all electronics repair techniques WR3A has filmed in Egypt, Peru, Senegal, Indonesia, Malaysia and China.  But people often ask me how we can really know whether a piece of electronics is really repairable before it is exported? 

Here's to Samuel M. Goldwasser, 
a.k.a. "Silicon Sam".  

Troubleshooting and Repair of Consumer Electronic Equipment 

Including: Test Equipment, Supplies, Parts, Incredibly Handy Widgets(tm),

Sources of Information, and Where to Find Broken Stuff
Version 2.45 (08-Mar-09)

Copyright © 1994-2009
Samuel M. Goldwasser

Sam "wrote the book" on electronics repair between 1994 and "as we speak".  Or rather, the website.  His FAQ on repair of electronics became a bible for my early research on requests from overseas buyers.
  • Want to fix a VCR?
  • Want to fix a turntable?
  • Want to fix a monochrome computer monitor?
  • Want to fix a color TV?
The Silicon Sam website is simply and efficiently written.  Moreover, the "usenet" group and google groups pages offer real-time advice, feedback, and guidance on repair jobs in action.  In the original FAQ, Goldwasser-man used web pages to "nest" answers for follow up (so if you needed more information on the flyback you and click-to-follow, or digress).  In the 1990s, USA electronics repairmen looking to check their work or troubleshoot a component began driving up the page rankings for Silicon Sam's FAQ, which was uploaded onto a server at Drexel University.  The site is regularly accessed  by repairpeople worldwide - In India, Thailand, South Africa, and Brazil, repairpeople are logging onto RepairFAQ every hour.

When it comes to exports, the Silicon Sam site is one side of the "rosetta stone" of ethical exports.   The other side is to look at the scrap value of the item (metal and plastic).  You ask for the price offered by the buyer, and then look up the troubleshooting guidelines via Silicon Sam.

A repairable unit should be worth MORE than scrap.  And a non-repairable unit should not be accepted at the same price (if at all) as the repairable unit.

The problem is that American exporters are shipping without even screening the material on "silicon sam's" website.   "As Is" sales do definitely include a lot of repairable equipment, but they might also include "toxics along for the ride".  A really good buyer will tell you to screen for the exact same problems as you find on the Silicon Sam RepairFAQ... if the tube is imploded (the phosphors disturbed on the inside of the CRT), it's not repairable, and you should not insist the buyer take it.

Why not just destroy all of it, just to make sure none is exported as E-waste?  I think that a med school student's key to online success at the University of Cairo is worth paying people to screen the equipment by Silicon Sam guidelines.  If a buyer will PAY $5 for one 1999 Samtron 17" monitor, but refuses (or charges a recycling fee) for the exact same Samtron 17" monitor because of a "troubleshooting" inspection, that's a repairman who knows his stuff.  If they reject the imploded tube, then the screened one was not sold for the raw materials, was it?

And it was NOT a waste.

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