Universal Chicken E-Waste or EPA CRT Rule Egg E-Waste?

Swimming Pool? Drowning is dangerous!  Be prepared!
Is an "e-waste" device, such as a CRT computer monitor, hazardous to manage?  What is the safest way to handle a working computer monitor which you have replaced with a new flat screen?

What if you don't have time to read a long blog, and don't have time to edit it into a short one?  Time's up!  Choose your safety standard!

It all comes down  to who you trust, and in Vermont, you don't trust business.  Here is a short Q and A about exports... based on "fair trade recycling".   Another approach, in Vermont's draft regulations, will make reuse hardly worth the effort.

The CRT fails TCLP tests (designed to replicate landfill leaching).  So you should not landfill it.  Landfill  bans were first instituted in Massachusetts when I was recycling director in that state.   (They did not require legislation).  Vermont got around to banning disposal in January 2011.  Having caught up with the standard MA adapted 12 years ago, now Vermont is ready to classify "e-waste" (including used electronics which do not even fail TCLP) as "universal waste", though EPA has not classified them as such.  Not only that, but EPA wrote a long Rule explaining in detail why doing so would be a mistake, and would lead to worse environmental outcomes.

Definition of Solid Waste (DSW): Before a material can be classified as a hazardous waste, it must first be a solid waste as defined under RCRA. Resources, including an interactive tool, are available to help.
USA EPA has an interesting interactive tool on its hazardous waste page which helps define how an object (such as a CRT television) can fail TCLP tests, yet not necessarily be considered either a hazardous or universal waste.

A moon suit is more expensive than a swimsuit.  But "Which is the best standard" is not the same as "which is the most expensive standard".  Destroying reuse and printing meaningless universal waste labels do not make anyone safer.

Unquestionably, a state can require a "higher" standard than the federal government, and often should.  That's not the question.  The question is the result - do states that classify "ewaste" as a universal waste have cleaner environments than Massachusetts, or than Vermont did a year ago?  Having dispensed with the legal question whether Vermont ANR has no choice in the matter but to classify these as UWR, the next question is, will UWR have better environmental results?   The safest standard for a medieval battlefield is not the safest outfit to wear to the swim meet.  I have photos of municipal TV and computer collection areas in Maine, the "standard bearer" for universal waste rule... are Maine residents safer than Vermonters?

"Who is advocating for what" and "who do we trust?"   Also not the right questions.  In a state of cognitive dissonance, Vermont regulators have stated they trust my company, but that they don't want to allow a standard which another hypothetical company may abuse.
Sun block and swim trunks are not enough

Ok... so I don't want a sham recycler either.  How do we navigate this regulation, ethically, practically, and legally, in a way which leads to the best possible environmental results?  It is difficult to give advice from the operating table, as I see the surgeons placing the gas mask over my face... blinking, I reflect back to my hernia operation in 4th grade... my son had the same... surgery... candlewax?  Wha..?

Navigating the legal diagnosis:

First:  Do no harm.  If a used TV really is releasing toxic goo in the trailer, it needs to be sealed up and labeled.  We cannot have people exposed to hazards.  But TCLP does not say that anything is leaking... there is no poison gas... the lead in a TV is "vitrified" - melted and bound into the glass.  There is actually more lead in "leaded glass crystalware" - that is drinking glasses - than there is in CRT glass. 
Is the TCLP test the right test?  Why do OSHA and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration not use it when moving companies take your TV from the living room and put it into a truck?  Why don't hotels, with TVs in hundreds of rooms, need a "post closure plan" and a two million dollar pollution insurance policy?  There is another regulatory policy which is even stronger - FDA.  In what quantity, in what tolerance, is CRT glass safe to eat?   Is it reckless not to adapt that standard?

The test for the Department of Motor Vehicles (transportation of hazadous waste), and the test for OSHA, require that there be an actual risk of release under normal conditions.   For RCRA, what is governed to be disposable in which type of landfill, we use a TCLP test which grinds the object up and subjects it to acids to recreate leachate over decades - a proper test to protect ground water.   So the defining question is, what is the slime released by the video television in your house?  Besides bad programming and punditry, what is the hazard we must protect against?   Is the lead in a solid glass block, or in a gas, or in a snowshoe? 

Tale of Two Regulatory Regimes:

It was the best of environmental standards, it was the worst of environmental standards.   How do the regulations govern collection and movement?  First question, what is the "exit" for consideration under one standard, and what is the test for inclusion in the other standard?  Should we presume the upgraded computer monitor is a commodity and set strict rules to maintain its commodity standard (easy to "exit" into hazardous waste if you fail to follow the commodity rules), or Define as Waste and set rules for exit back to commodity - presume it "end of life" and set conditions for it to rise from the dead again?

Which came first, the Commodity or the Waste?

1.  Existing EPA CRT Rule:  Exits

A CRT ceases to be considered a commodity (loses non-waste status) and becomes a waste if any of the following occur:

1.  Speculative Accumulation
2.  Lack of proof of reuse (if exported)
3.  Reckless handling (outdoor storage, transport inviting damage, roll-off)
4.  Not keeping intact
5.  Shipping without proof of purchase order, 3 year records of reuse

Note:  EPA CRT Rule actually allows the broken glass and non-repairable CRT to be considered a commodity.  MA did not, that may be a stricter compromise, making non-intact follow Waste.

2.  Existing UWR:  Exits

A CRT ceases to be considered a waste and becomes a commodity if any of the following occur:

1.  Positive revenue (we purchase the out of state CRTs from other recyclers, important for out of state volume).  This is not actually an accepted "exit" in draft Vermont procedures.. new model monitors we purchase in NY will have to be labeled "waste".
2.  Proof of reuse (records demonstrate it was not a waste and continued use as a display unit).  This is not accepted as an exit in draft VT regulations, either.
3.  Proof of purchase order for similar items... No exit.
4.  Sale for positive revenue ... Not accepted exit...

The only "exit" from Universal "waste" in Vermont draft regulations requires Sencore imaging equipment... even plugging in the monitor is not enough.   The regulators actually suggested that we ship working equipment with hazardous "waste" labels attached to it... an absolute certain way to get sea container companies like Evergreen to refuse to ship the load.  They mean well, they are trying to learn as they go, but the draft regulations will mean a return to destruction of reuse value - exactly what I warned about when giving testimony on S.77

NOTE:  Incidentally, "Tested Working" is a false positive for a commodity.    A working 1991 Apple Macintosh will not be reused, and many devices that fail the prescribed Sencore equipment diagnostic will be reused.  If we send three monitors, one Fully Functional Trinitron, and two Dell XYZs, one Dell XYZ is Tested Working and the other Dell XYZ with a damaged cord (CRT inspected to be good but "color" untestable because of damaged video cable pins), the exact same thing will happen to each Dell (refurbishment), and the "fully functional" Trinitron will be scrap.  A fourth Dell XYZ, which does not pass our repairability diagnostic, will be refused under the purchase order - even though it has exactly the same amount of copper scrap... proof enough that this purchase order is not a "reuse excuse".

Presumed Guilty.  What causes a regulatory agency, or an environmental group (such as VPIRG), to advocate for one standard over the other?   There is a lack of data, and a lot of false data, about "e-waste" exports.  E-waste traveling in scrap metal, e-waste traveling as "toxics along for the ride", and even a tiny half-inch non-toxic capacitor being replaced with a new one, all have been tarred with the same broad brush.  The press accepted the data, which we asked for and asked for, and we finally found the original source of the "80%" figure, and he said it included the non-toxic and working material as well as "focus material" and other concerns.

The pictures of "ewaste", like the pictures of Willie Horton, struck a chord with agents of conscience.  Lacking any data, they presume that the stricter of the two standards above will lead to less bad things.

A suit of armor at a swim meet.   A loaded gun in a closet.  A 35 MPH sign on a freeway.   A "war on drugs"" over marijuana.  All of these are "strict standards".  Do they make us safer?

Not Either Or:   This is not an "either or" proposition, EPA's commodity rule could apply, and the items that "exit" the commodity status can still be covered under UWR. 

What I would recommend is actual factual data on which system (Fed CRT Rule or UWR in NE states) leads to higher pollution release to the environment.   I've already noted that the states using UWR have virtually zero reuse, compared to 22% in VT.  My hypothesis - the less reuse, the more release of dust and toxics.

Collecting actual data on which standard (say, MA vs. ME in Region I) is resulting in better environmental outcome, less pollution.  To operate in VT under the Commodity Exemption, ANR could require record keeping and data under EPA CRT Rule, getting reports on each and every pound of CRT glass and printed circuit board.

Have you stopped beating your wife?   It is difficult for non-technical staff to give up the assumption that stricter regulation necessarily means less pollution.  Some tend to assume it so strongly that merely advocating for a less expensive system (which also generates less pollution and waste) is grounds for suspicion.   We can demonstrate that "universal waste rule is a stricter standard with safer outcomes" is not a valid assumption.

Considering every display device which changes ownership to be "discard" or "disposal" puts Ebay, Salvation Army, TV repair shops, retailer, warranty repair (e.g. of IBM product) under the ANR jurisdiction, which realistically means diluting actual enforcement.   It is reasonable to argue that vigorous enforcement on the junk (78%) will achieve better results than rigor applied to reuse, warranty repair, etc.

Why not just try the new UWR and diagnostic standards?   Starting with diagnostics written for technicians by laypersons... We tried the "bald CRT" shipments in 2006-7 (boards removed per E-Steward) and pulse test (per E-Steward) and the fallout (net recycled vs. reused) was HIGHER as a percentage of material shipped than the method we use now.   This is because the cathode ray gun is very fragile and if damaged results in a non-reuse CRT, and CRTs weigh much more than the boards being removed, and also because about half the time the factory does not even replace the board (it is an elective upgrade).   So if you remove all boards, you divert the boards (which are then re-exported anyway, as the USA has no secondary smelters for copper), but the tube failure went up almost 20% due to fragile conditions, and the 20% of CRT glass damage weighed more than the 100% of removed circuit boards.  Certain Korean manufactured boards are not even replaced at the contract manufacturer (we may move to exporting only working and SSG model monitors, when the new Vermont rules take effect).

More lead pb in crystalware than in a CRT
You'd be grouchy too.   In Vermont, business is presumed guilty.  Even a fair trade business set up by a former regulator and former Peace Corps volunteer, who invested $1.3M to create the best case, reuse and non-toxic, jobs here in Vermont, even though he isn't making any money himself, but putting all that he makes into higher standards, better staff, and proper management of bad stuff in poorer nations.  In Vermont, it's a business, and an 'e-waste' business does not even require that the Natural Resources Committee or the general counsel of ANR even visit the site in Middlebury.   The ANR staff can do a walk through, but never need to see the data alleging pollution by BAN (which we have uncovered for them and discredited), they need not even look at the film of the factories we trade with.   They can go by their gut in Vermont.

Good people, smart people, who have not used logic, form standards based on their gut reactions to ten year old photos of boys on a 500 lb. stack of scrap.  There is no other state that gives these good people such enormous power to execute prisoners based on their assumptions and gut instincts.

I am still under the surgery, still under anesthesia.  Offending the regulator, insulting the surgeon.  I'm not that bright, but I have tried so darn hard to do good things, and it's looking like I'll have nothing to show for it.  I like the friends we have made overseas in this business.   But they are all coming to the same conclusion - buying used equipment from the USA leads to false accusations of pollution, hysterical depictions of their abilities, and insulting characterizations of their workplaces.   They can find what we sell elsewhere.

I've been trying to write this blog for weeks.   I just don't have time to edit it down, or make it more diplomatic.   I think it's too late anyway.  This is all coming down to pictures of kids on scrap, sound bites, and the ginormous budgets of planned obsolescence.  I will have to manage the operations here in Vermont (pictured here) by the new rules, or move the operations that don't fit those rules to another place.  By the time I fix it, the Egyptians may be computing by cell phone.  Wait... they already are?

Yep, I'm a grouchy old fart.  A friend suggested that if I did a better job of "smile and wave", getting along and going along, that these regulations might never have been drafted.   But maybe I'm quite not as stupid as I appear.   There is a glut of LCDs projected in 2012.  We voluntarily dropped our shipments to reuse factories by almost 50% in 2010, and plan to drop again by half in 2011.

-- [ blog-end] - - _ -_

It appears no one got the joke about slime coming out of the TV when I published this, about the slime coming out of your video. It was a tongue in cheek reference to this song.   As I near 50, I find myself feeling more and more like Zappa and Silverstein, playing for an audience who gets it, not caring about those who don't.

No comments: