"E-Waste" Is Never Reused

In 100 percent of cases, we do know this.  "E-waste cannot ever be reused for its intended purpose." 

How am I so sure?  Because if it is reused, then it was not "e-waste" to begin with!  Waste is by definition discarded, disposed material.  The problem is to ensure real reuse, so that junk isn't sent as "toxics along for the ride".  WR3A's approach is to warranty our exports.

This requires ongoing dialogue with the buyer, not for one party to perform tests and then ship blindly. We don't say "we met someone's definition of working, now it's your problem".  In fact, the highest warranty claims on WR3A monitors were for working items that the buyer couldn't digest because we shipped more than they were prepared to handle, and they had to rent additional warehouse space until we cut off suppliers.  The suppliers we cut off?  No mystery, the ones with the worst reconciliation reports.  The free market is like "Survivor", the buyers keep the relationships that consistently deliver the highest quality.

The decision tree WR3A uses is a demand-centered diagram It does allow repair in non-OECD countries, but produces fewer discards.  It refuses tested working product which is in excess of capacity, or which has no more market.   It recognizes the incidental breakage and parts replacements, like those BAN's decision tree cannot stop (hemisphere, voltage, elective upgrades), but requires documentation of proper recycling of those incidentals.  In so doing, we are creating a recycling infrastructure in the developing nations, which are the largest source of discarded "e-waste" in their own countries.

Importers do not pay 10 dollars for a piece of equipment which has only 1 dollar worth of copper or plastic scrap, no matter how cheap the shipping.  So we start with the assumption that net payment for uniform products is a commodity, and then deduce what unintended, unwanted junk might be "toxics along for the ride". If the product is commingled, you are less sure.

Here is a decision tree, as it is written in a fair trade negotiation with Techs of Color.


We recognize that flows of tested working equipment may be waste, and do not consider the "working" or "functional" test to be a reason to avoid any of the questions below.  Our decision tree is based on the final outcomes, and employs factors like demand, skill, and demonstrated capability of the buyer, not just the tests and opinions of the generator.

1) Is the importer capable of recycling electronics created by incidental breakage or eventual end-of-life?
If yes, continue

2)  Are the recycling processes for the end- of -life parts and takebacks legal and safe?
If yes, continue, if no establish returns program for trans-shipping (we consider the incidental breakage and takeback to have been generated in the importing country, the same as import of brand new equipment for assembly may be damaged or faulty and is considered generated at the assembly plant, not an illegal shipment of waste).

3) Does the exporter agree to cover the costs of reconciling necessary post-reconciliation?
If yes, continue
4) Does the importer maintain inventory and purchase orders forecasting demand and reuse potential for imported electronics?
If yes, continue

5) Does the importer notify the exporter to stop shipments which are in surplus / out of demand?
If yes, continue, if NO, go back to #2.

6) Does the competent Commerce Department* of the importing country consider the imports to be commodities, not waste? 

If yes, continue*

* Note, whether or not your goods are new or used, fully functional or for repair, another nation may classify them otherwise.  Once the goods are in a country that labels them waste or discards, EPA is the competent authority, unless you are ready to file an appeal with WTO (which does handle these issues - countries have tried to use waste laws for protectionist reasons in several other commodities, and WTO has heard cases about the control of steel and copper scrap, for example).

While the "commodity" is still in the USA, so long as you keep the goods dry (treat them like commodities) EPA cannot easily enter your home or business to seize goods.  And this is also true in many other nations.  Unless the nation considers the goods to be waste, trade treaties under WTO govern the material.

However, some nations (like China) classify all "second-hand" products as "waste" (regardless of whether they pass the Basle flow diagram).  Nigeria has protectionist laws to protect shoe manufacturing factories, and considers used shoes imports "illegal".  Even in the USA, if imported working electronic goods are considered black market (e.g., violating intellectual property laws), etc., the Customs Department may insist those working goods be destroyed, creating waste.  There have been some countries which create a separate category for CRTs refurbished for re-export;  even China allowed certain contract manufacturers to continue used CRT refurbishing within special "trade zones", like Maquila Dora areas of Mexico (where Mexico Customs does not consider the product to be "imported", but requires it to leave Mexico.

This long footnote on legality is not specific to either R2 or E-Stewards or federal CRT Rule.  R2 insists that the exports be legal in the country of import, even if the legality is not based on environmental reasons.  If a dictator seizes working equipment to keep citizens off of the internet, and they are discarded, then they will have been discarded and be waste.  (As a stakeholder at R2, I protested non-environmental laws being incorporated into R2, but lost the vote.)

If another nation considers working CRTs to be waste, it's a grey area for USA EPA... since they were shipped legally for reuse, but you cannot have the 3 years of record keeping demonstrating they were indeed reused without creating problems for your buyer. You creat a problem for yourself if the goods are seized and destroyed.  The safest thing is to make sure BOTH that they will be reused AND that the country of import is not calling second-hand-goods "waste".  When our USA customs seizes and destroys black market goods, they become waste, and your exports may suffer a similar fate.  This is why WR3A does not export CRTs, working or not, to China, even though we have qualified excellent CRT factories working there.

(Where were we?  Ahem ..If yes, continue)

7)  Does the importer agree to pay more for the commodities than the net value of scrap minus transportation costs?

If yes, continue. 

If no, the load should be witnessed by a third party to make sure that the goods are not being brought in for cherry picking of copper and possible discard of toxics along for the ride.  I would not disqualify all buyers based on this, as they sometimes simply want to compete with competitors who have lowered their prices.  But it should demand more scrutiny if you are exporting for less-than-or-equal-to scrap (e.g. copper) value.

8)  Does the CRT contain cadmium (review MSDS records)?
Because Basel considers glass recycling to require hazardous phosphors be removed, and CRTs might be damaged in handling, WR3A has created a database to exclude any CRTs that contain cadmium phosphors, working or not, from export out of OECD.

If no, GO AHEAD 

If all of these questions allow the export, you still aren't clear with WR3A.   We require a written purchase order which lists individual items which the importer does and doesn't want.  If the CRT importer wants equipment we know to be non-functional, we visit and site audit to determine they have the capacity to repair, reuse and properly recycle the equipment.

WR3A financially incentivizes importers who take extra steps, e.g. getting ISO14001, ISO9000, insurance, or who take back ("cash for clunkers" style) junk electronics in their own country... but we would not consider those legal requirements.

I started my company by plugging in and proving each monitor worked.  Then I made a site visit, and discovered that one common type of monitor I had been shipping, while fully functional, was not in demand in the country I'd shipped to.

Sitting in an Asian buyer's car, as he drove me to the airport, he said,
"I won't lie to you.  We will throw those away.  I don't care what happens to them, I don't want them.  Don't send them to us, and we won't throw them away.  There are people who will tell you they reuse those, but they don't.  I don't lie, I don't play games."

That was a year before WR3A held its first meeting.  I wanted to establish an association which was more transparent and open, which encouraged fair trade between buyers and sellers.  The solution was not for me to pay people to test monitors, but to find out how the reuse market decides what to buy and send only that.  And we came up with the idea to get reports back on every shipment, and to pay the full cost of recycling anything that we missed.

This method of export reconciliation has not been warmly received by BAN.  But it cannot be said that we are exporting 80% illegal waste.  We have the entire records of reuse of every shipment, and we have blind loads shipped as "tested working" from several suppliers.  We have "CRT glass test" results on the delivery of CRT cullet, etc.  The question has been, do we just declare our exports are "tested working"?  Or do we give credit to the skills of Techs of Color?

The decision tree .for used battery exports doesn't work well for laptops and CRT monitors."Working" does not mean "non-waste" and "non-working" does not mean "waste"... given the choice between the price offered on two different laptops, and the declaration that one is working and one is not, the price predicts the waste.  We need geeks to describe the flow of material from the point of view of nations who repair.

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