Secret "E-Waste" Formula

Let us explore the "dirty little secrets" of the used electronics, surplus electronics, e-scrap and "e-waste" disposal businesses. 

Let Z = bad "ewaste".  e.g.  burning a TV or monitor for copper retrieved from ashes, disposal of junk CRT glass, or aqua regia acid baths for printed circuit boards.

Let Y = Legitimate raw material recycling based on hand-disassembly (plastic, steel, copper) or equivalent high-tech shredding technology.
  • SCRAP, 
  • ABS, 
  • HIPS, 

Let X = Legitimate repair (or plug-and-play working) electronics.

  • REUSE, 
  • REPAIR, 

Now, let's test two polar opposite hypotheses.  First, test the assumption that USA and EU exports equal 80% Z waste, and only 20% (Y + X).  Investigate if this is economically viable, to ship loads which are 80% bad and illegal...  Second, compare that analysis to the contrary hypothesis that Z waste = 20%, i.e. simply represents "toxics along for the ride".  Even if the worst material (Z) is only 20%, that would not be an acceptable amount of pollution - but the data might support prospects of e-waste trade reform, rather than throwing the sustainability baby out with the bathwater.

My estimate has been Z = 30-40%, and that good actors achieve 10% without elaborate or expensive management systems, and that "tested working" does not significantly reduce Z .  It is not hard to remove the junk in the USA, but it is expensive to recycle the junk that is separated.  I'm worried that if it's too difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, that recyclers of conscience will give up on supplying the export markets.

Going beyond a certain point of testing, chasing diminishing returns (like a single bad capacitor), can raise the costs of legitimate goods sold, and result in more shredding.  Shredding increases overseas buyer's reliance on suppliers with lower standards... a vicious cycle.   Fair Trade Recycling standards require that a replaced part, like a capacitor, be measured, recycling costs reimbursed, and recorded in reconciliation reports... but does not consider the capacitor to make the entire refurbishing business "illegal" under the Basel Convention. Nor does UNCTAD, nor ISRI, nor EPA...  But if it's a simple matter to remove the capacitor in the USA, or to perform the repairs here, or if the amount of Z waste exported is staggering, then BAN, ETBC, SVTC and Greenpeace may be right after all.
Assign a value to X 
Assign a value to Y 
Assign a value to Z
(A * X) + (B * Y) + (C * Z)) = AX + BY + CZ 
The formula must result in an amount which covers
Payment to Recycler + Shipping + Customs + Labor/Distribution + Interest/Profit 
You should be able to set up a spreadsheet (I have) which finds the optimum values for ( AX + BY ) : CZ

This is easier to do with a uniform load (e.g. all 17" monitors), it is very difficult with a mixed load (which may  have a military technology, drugs, cash, Mercedes, etc. commingled in the scrap).

In January I will provide actual data using 300,000 computer monitor shipments.  The result will be:
a) I've helped the world at an efficient cost
b) I've shipped enough CZ to make it unacceptable, but progress worthy of reform
c) I have polluted so much that it's been a mistake to deal with me.
Then, we should invite an E-Steward who is shipping tested working devices and test whether the ratio of CZ to (AX + BY) is improved.
  • My theory is that where the ratio is improved, that the recycler will be engaged in a very narrow asset management / off lease field, e.g. taking 3 year old P4s out of off-lease environments (avoiding taking in Z to begin with, e.g. avoiding television recycling bids).
  • The theory is that the shredders will have sent as much TAR in small pieces, commingled with shredded steel etc., as I have achieved by maintaining an (X + Y): Z ratio of 85-95% (varies by shipment, not a solely function of quality of product but of changes in demand).
E-Scrap 2010 Theorists

Is this an overly academic response to a massive ecological disaster?  Let's ask the academics.

Ten years ago, in 2001, the end point overseas was extremely poor, and a high percentage of the Z observed came from imports.   Today, the rapidly emerging nations generate their own Z.  Also, emerging nation factories purchasing X and Y (reuse and recycling) have reduced the risk of Z when offered fair trade incentives (you may obtain X at a preferred rate if you document ISO14001 and audited end markets of Z).

What's the "dirty little secret"?

The layman's suspicious question is "how could tested working possibly produce worse results than export for repair?"  The professional question is, having visited the buyers and auditing their markets, what kind of tests do they need?  Tested working e-Steward standards will certainly eliminate SOME items the buyer doesn't want, but also eliminate some that the buyer does want, and fails to eliminate working items the buyer doesn't want.  Not accepting the tests requested by buyers, when the buyers are professionals with manufacturing and warranty return expertise, is based on _________________...

Prediction:  Well-intentioned WDKWTATAAMIUATGA*  people may feel that they are being portrayed negatively.  It is not a negative that you don't have the right data.

"...Mommy dear, See here, See here, we have lost our permits"
When a good reuse factory (like X, above) which invested $ in Fair Trade reforms is attacked, both in the press and with defamatory letters to its national regulators, it gets my gander up. I have an emotional response, as if you were accusing me of clubbing kittens.

I'm looking forward to critics using the secret "e-waste" formulas above to expose whatever it is that my industry is doing wrong, and through honest dialectic and rational argument, find ways to correct problems and improve outcomes.  Perfect should make allies with the good.

* "who don't know what they are talking about and make it up as they go along "

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