Exports Compared: E-Stewards and R2

What is the big difference between R2 (EPA's Responsible Recycler standard) and the BAN E-Steward Standard when it comes to export for reuse?  Here are some diagrams of how surplus computers, scrap computers, or "e-waste" is managed under the R2 and E-Steward programs (click links to see larger version)

Then for E-Stewards:

In either diagram, non-functional parts or pieces get turned into scrap steel, scrap copper, scrap plastic, etc.  BAN's concern is that a piece or part might contain a hazardous component - like the lead solder in a toaster or razor.   R2 requires the overseas end market to document that those non-functional parts (or surplus - sometimes a factory gets more pieces than they can sell, working or not) are properly recycled, and if they cannot be properly recycled overseas, they can be trans-shipped (e.g. to Japan or Korea from Indonesia).

As I have documented in our "California Compromise" proposal, I really don't mind at all whether the "E-Stewards" test all the product and send it overseas, so long as the fallout is properly documented to WR3A or R2 standards.  Even brand new televisions delivered to Wal-Mart have a certain percentage of "store returns", and creating a fair warranty program for exports is an important aspect to Fair Trade.   BAN likes how WR3A documents this "fallout" and reconciles loads to know just how many pieces declared working are really found to be working at the other end.

The important thing is to meet with the buyers overseas, and try to give them exactly what they want.  Treat them as you would your most important client or customer.   When you actually have an export relationship, you learn what is important to the client.  You learn when they would prefer one type of non-working monitor to another type of working monitor, and you find out that it makes sense.  Fair trade is fun.

My problem is when the USA recycler says "screw it" and destroys all the product, especially if they claim or tell regulators and clients that the Basel Convention says "no intact unit".  In isolating themselves from world demand, and investing in shredding equipment, the recycler begins to believe the myths about "primitive" foreigners.

If BAN stewards really are taking the time to test everything, then they should be able to provide even better material for my WR3A friends overseas.  That's fantastic, competition at it's best, and they are welcome to supply me right out of the market (and California's Pacific ports really could put me at a big disadvantage in the East Coast).  But big "e-waste" companies which shred everything are not helping anybody.  The 3 billion people earning $3,000 USD per year are getting online at ten times the rate of developed nations.  If you shred the only product they can afford, they will meet demand in a a worse way.

Most of the companies meeting either export for reuse standard quickly are the ones who manage very high end off-lease computers from big Fortune 500 corporations.  If the material you receive is off-lease, it's usually working to begin with, and removing the 30% which isn't working is not too difficult.

However, if you are doing what my company is doing, handling residential material, and looking for the 22% which is qualified for export, it's really discouraging to be called names and to have our export partners called names.   A bale of scrap ABS plastic looks the same in Ningbo China, whether the bale was made in Ghana or in Wisconsin.   When the supporting organizations have an angle - like creating obsolescence in hindsight, or gaining revenues they charge for their own certification programs - it will lead to cynicism and dubious outcomes.

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