Elective E-Waste: Decision Trees Downstream

Citizen's Arrest, Citizen's Arrest!
Let's say that your company is an E-Steward Certified company.  Your staff tests computer monitors and Pentium computers, they are all fully functional, and meet the tests adocated by Basel Action Network, VPIRG and Electronics Takeback Campaign.   Let's say that you go beyond that, and you insist they are sold to an ISO14001, ISO9000 buyer who checks and verifies every purchase.  Let's say that your buyer even takes back (from their own country) one junk CRT for every computer they resell, so the whole trade is scrap-neutral.  They provide reconciliation of every shipment, allowing you to make steady improvments to your Quality Control.

We can say that the company is in an OECD country, like Mexico.  Let's say that it's owned by a women's cooperative, creating jobs for Mexicans in Mexico, reuse markets in a country without HDTV (where USA rabbit ear CRT TVs work).   Or if you prefer, let's say it's a Manufacturer Takeback operation, the factory in Indonesia or China which originally assembled the monitors as a contract manufacturer for Gateway, HP, Dell, etc.


Four of these were tested working
Before you open the champagne corks, let me ask you about elective upgrades.  The factory receives your shipment, which is prepared exactly to Basel Action Network and Electronics Takeback Initiative "E-Stewardship" Standards.

Then the factory electively upgrades the units.   They remove the (working) circuit board, which works in 8 countries, and is good for 5 more years.   They recycle it and replace it with a more modern tuner board which is good for 15 years and accepts signals in 60 countries.  The company provides warranty, and believes in retooling all the equipment before it is resold.  They replace 512k RAM with 1G RAM sticks, and replace batteries that are 80% charged with new batteries that work better in 220v nations.

That means the elective upgrade, despite being "tested working" will be recycled in the country you shipped to... the same as the repaired parts our capacitor hero takes.  In fact, it's the same person, buying the tested working Pledge Steward products, and doing the same thing Watchdogs objected to under R2 and WR3A.

Gee, did Jim not tell you about this long discussion we had in 2006 and 2007, when we painstakingly tried to get the factory accepted into the Pledge?  I have all his emails.  He didn't have an answer to elective upgrades, except to say that they sound like a trans-boundary movement of waste, no matter how environmentally sound the recycling of the upgraded parts.  He said it would be "preferable" for the USA company to upgrade the part, creating jobs in the USA.  Well Jim, where are these jobs?  All I hear is a big crunchy sound at all the E-Steward companies.  All I see in response to our offers to buy product is "no intact  unit".

There have been a lot of disputes over the definition of "tested working" and "fully functional".  Both of those terms mean, the item is er... not e-waste?  or is it the "good 20% of e-waste"? or ewaste is perhaps a non-functional term....

The layman's idea is that the "tested working" or "fully functional" is good, and that the non-functional piece is bad.  Yet functionality has little to do with market value, even when scrap metal value is accounted for.   The EVO HTC sale I made on ebay (broken screen, sold for $265) was a case in point.

Factories overseas buy completely tested-working computer monitors and computers and ELECTIVELY upgrade parts, which results in the exact same "generation" of residue.

By shipping the computer in a "tested working" state, the watchdogs would have us presume that therefore there is no need to monitor for discarded or recycled parts.  However, 512k RAM is commonly replaced with one gig ram, 20G hard drives are replaced with 60G hard drives.  And completely working computer monitors are often electively upgraded in the exact same process which Vermont would make illegal under the "VPIRG-friendly" standards.

 BAN and PIRG have an opportunity here to respond.  I'll post whatever response they want, and I never block comments (except for spam which is solely intended for cross links).  Organizations like Greenpeace, PIRG and NRDC have a wide variety of environmental standards to speak for, and uphold. Hitching themselves to a half-thought-out standard, baked up by a 3 person office in Seattle, may be something they should think twice about.


Amy said...

I think that there's some interesting concepts here and it's a good idea. I'm wondering how cost efficient this would be(I suppose it would depend on how big of a market there is for the upgraded equipment and whether it pays for the added costs). Recycling electronics responsibly is already more expensive than recycling them irresponsibly.

I do like the idea a lot.

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

Thanks Amy. We have traded approximately 300,000 units since WR3A was formed. There is certainly a huge demand, especially for affordable display devices. Unfortunately, the E-Stewards are not selling to these factories, and it creates an economy where the factories have to buy worse stuff from less legitimate sellers. There is film and slide show of some of the refurbishing factories here. http://picasaweb.google.com/ingenthron/ContractCRTManufacturersAlbum?feat=directlink