10 Worst Practices in Used Electronics Recycling ("e-waste")

I have spent a lot of time trying to defend the practice of recycling when the "Harms" and risks of electronics recycing were being exaggerated.    That could open me up to suspicion of being an apologist for bad acts.

The official  Ten Worst "E-waste recycling" Practices have been codified by the knowledgeable insider who thought of writing this first.  There may be some that haven't even occurred to me (mixing CRT glass cullet into infant formula?), but for today, as of 6:13PM EST, here are the Ten Worst "EWaste" Practices.

10.   Predatory Pricing:   Big recyclers using "free events" which are not offered nation-wide, but are targeted specifically at the markets of their competitors.    If it sounds too good to be true...

9.  Speculative Accumulation:   Collecting used electronics, cashing out the "good" stuff, and letting the pile of hard-to-manage "e-waste" accumulate.

8.  Cherry Picking:   Companies which enter the market just to collect laptops, cell phones, and higher end computers, but don't accept TVs and hard-to-manage items.  They make it harder for full service recyclers to earn a living.

7.  Fraud:   Cheating on weights, double-counting, bringing non-program tonnage into a program (like CA SB20).  Warranty Fraud is the taking the serial numbers off of obsolete electronics and selling the serial numbers to unscrupulous warranty repair shops.   

6.  Downcycling:  Destroying working equipment and "no intact unit" policies take the energy, carbon, and value out of electronics, making recycling more expensive and taking digital access away from the less affluent, used equipment buyers.

5. Circuit Board Burning:   This is not only toxic and polluting, but it isn't even very efficient recycling.  These primitive recycling methods lose the rhodium, palladium, tantalum and other rare earth metals, and also a lot of the gold gets thrown away.  Although even primitive recyclers are capable of sending the boards to professional refiners, earning money, they are driven to burn the boards for faster turnaround of cash flow.

4.  Identity theft:   taking private information from a hard drive, or selling the hard drive unwiped to someone who will do the same.   Not that this happens as much as people fear (as compared to the danger of giving your credit card to a waiter on drugs)... but a good recycler makes sure it cannot happen.

3.  Dumping:   Telling people you are going to recycle something, then abandoning, exporting, or landfilling it.

2.  Toxics Along for the Ride:  Using legitimate export (for reuse, clean scrap) to dilute and dump expensive-to-recycle items.  The most notorious TAR is usually unscreened CRT screens - mixing in non-repairable junk ones with the ones the overseas internet market demands.

1.  Hypocrisy and Bad-mouthing:  Electronics recyclers accusing each other of dumping, exporting, lying, cheating, etc... at least when they don't know it to be a fact.  Just as negative campaigning reduces voters, negative twitter reduces recycling participation.  "Planned Obsolescence" campaigns which masquerade concern over poor importers, bans on "dumping" products in order to protect manufacturing jobs for the same product, accusing people who haven't paid you for your endorsement of polluting...   I don't know if these are the worst crimes, but it's number one on my list of noise pollution.

A new study was just released, which I read about via PhysOrg.com, which measured the actual airborne chemical harm of circuit board frying (the way rudimentary recycling operations in China).   Low-capital, informal Chinese recycling operations heat up the circuit boards to get working chips and parts, and then may submerge the circuit board scrap into Aqua Regia acids.   They get chips and gold bearing pieces off of the circuit board, but at significant risk to the workers, and as this study identifies, at significant environmental cost.  Readers will recall that the Printed Circuit Board Test is one of the primary auditing techniques of WR3A, and how exporting obsolete PCs (Pentium II and below, and Pentium 3s which are incomplete and untested) is one of the hallmarks of sham recycling practices.

We want to balance the defense of overseas recyclers ability to do the right thing with circuit boards, but not to lead clients to assume that the proper technique is being applied.  

1 comment:

Standard dishwashers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.