Monday's post (Part I) discussed whether used computer and electronics exports are legal or illegal. An ordinary commodity transaction (purchase of a cathode ray tube for remanufacture) is a department of commerce issue, until it becomes associated with an environmental problem, whereby it may become a department of environment issue. This "association" is probably exacerbated by false data on the amount of "e-waste" contained in a typical shipment of used computers overseas (allegations that 75% of ewaste is exported, and that 80% of that is discarded as waste).
1.0 Legal - 1.1 International law, - 1.2 exporting country (USA) law, - 1.3 importing country law, and - 1.4 civil law - it reflects the purchase order/contract/agreement) (click to view Part I)
Aside from legality, here in Part II we look at whether the exports are good or bad. Is a "no intact unit" policy a good policy? If electronic recycling exports are legal, should they be? If the trade is illegal, is that a good or a bad thing? If time allows, in Part III we will review actual statistics. "85% of statistics are made up on the spot."
2.0 Whether Exports are Good depends on:
- 2.1 Results in affordable electronics, communication, information
- 2.2 Results in less (net) mining, energy and toxics
- 2.3 Results in good jobs and income, sustainable development
- 2.4 Doesn't poison or kill people
- 2.5 Reduces cost of "ewaste" recycling (resulting in more environmental dollars for other good)
2.1 The result of affordable electronics is obviously positive to someone who cannot afford a new one. It's a no-brainer. Obviously, if people in countries earning $3000 per person per year are gaining access to the internet at 10 times the growth rate of the USA, they are not doing it with $700 PCs from Best Buy. Even a $25 used CRT monitor is expensive for an Egyptian medical school student. If it lasts 10 times longer than an LCD, who is to say he shouldn't be able to buy one?
2.2 Recycling results in less mining and more sustainability. If a junk CRT is sent to a poor country with no CRT glass end market - and those end markets are very rare - then it isn't going to get recycled, and someone has to mine to replace it. But if the CRT glass really is recycled, the recycling process is certainly cleaner and more sustainable than mining lead and silica from the ground to make new CRTs. The same is true of copper, aluminum, and other metals, though probably not of complex circuitry (getting gold out of a circuit board using aqua regia acids is neither safe nor efficient).
2.3 Repairing a computer generates 100 times more jobs per ton than shredding one. In fact, more jobs are created in the exporting country as well, since you must hire people to remove the computer from the shredder and to compare it to the purchase order, clean and inspect it, etc.
2.4 If you poison or kill someone, that obviously erases the benefit of recycling. To accuse our fair trade program of that, without naming us or providing any evidence that it occurs, is cowardly. These countries are already generating more e-waste on their own, domestically, than they are importing, and creating a fair and well managed program for incidental breakage from an import factory creates and pays for the infrastructure these countries need.*
2.5 Reduces cost of "ewaste" recycling... this is something I guess we all agree that exporting does. Some people innately distrust cheap solutions, and the "get what you pay for" mantra rings deeply in the environmental community. I think the less expensive recycling is, the more people will do it.
If I haven't missed something, exporting can be a cheap method of reuse which creates more employment, improves the net environmental cost of materials production, creates affordable internet and more affordable recycling, and doesn't by any evidence poison or hurt anyone, and should be legal so long as its "fair trade" and you can prove no one is getting poisoned or exploited. Part II was easy.