Proving Ourselves the Equal of E-Waste Fiction

How E-Stewards Testing (required for reuse in Vermont) is an unfair standard of comparison

In the next 60 days, my company will have to propose a standard to be allowed to reuse electronic equipment which we purchase from other states and bring into Vermont for double-inspection and resale overseas.  Those re-exports have brought millions of dollars into Addison County Vermont, and have created local jobs.  We were made the exclusive supplier for used computers by some overseas companies, and used that leverage to give incentives to get them to establish proper recycling infrastructure.  In a word, of the millions we brought into Middlebury, we are proud of the millions we rebated the overseas companies who became ISO14001 and ISO9000 certified, who established proper recycling methods for the "hazardous fraction" which they could not repair and resell (or chose to electively upgrade when working).

Vermont ANR promulgated E-Stewards "testing procedures" into law, because they "sounded" stricter than our procedures.  Here's my problem - we provided data on all our reuse, resale, and proper recycling.  The mythical standard we are being compared to provides no such data.  

Vermont ANR could have saved us a great deal of stress if they had put the Procedures as a condition of managing Vermont Covered Electronic Devices (requiring it under the RFP), or given us a year to propose alternatives.   Instead, Vermont ANR made the Procedures cover NY, MA, RI, NH etc., effective very shortly, regardless of our contracts out of state.  No competitor out of state will be bound by these procedures for the material we buy in MA, RI, NY, NH, etc.

In apparent fairness, ANR has allowed us to submit "alternative procedures" which are at least as effective as their Procedures.  However, ANR's standard bearer (VPIRG) provides absolutely no data for us to compare our process to.

In fact, the Procedures ANR adapted were proposed to a national multi-stakeholder group overseen by a professional mediator for USA EPA and were resoundingly voted down, after 2 years of deliberations, because of very specific and technical reasons.  The same procedures were suggested to EPA as part of the federal CRT Rule and rejected after analysis.  They were presented by a group of ISRI (Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries), but were rejected by other ISRI members who trade in reuse or were suspicious of the motives of the proponents.. the Procedures were embraced only by companies which manage off-lease equipment, and companies which shred all the equipment and don't care how strict reuse rules are.  

EPA, ISRI, and the stakeholders agreed that the benefits of reuse outweighed the concerns over parts being recycled in the country that made the parts (e.g. that a tiny 1/2 inch capacitor replacement on a circuit board is "polluting" when done by a warranty repair factory in Singapore).  The entire concern raised about factories which make the product taking back their product has been a bizarre turn.  Advocates of "watchdog" standards apparently believe that "Manufacturer Takeback" involves white people making monitors in Silicon Valley (all USA brands are made in Asia).

ANR's promulgated procedures were rejected by groups with more expertise and more time to investigate them.  They do not cover commercial non-covered devices in any other state or nation, this is a "Vermont Only" law.  We do manage items for people who require this standard for their own equipment, and if paid to do so, we will meet the Steward standard or trans-ship material to a recycler who does (we work closely with other E-Steward companies).

This process, for people to negotiate with us to peform the testing now required by Vermont ANR, would have certainly been offered for Vermont Covered Devices.   But VT now imposes this standard on public and private companies which send us their equipment, including some who participated in the R2, EPA and ISRI discussions and who believe our standard is better for the environment.  Vermont ANR pulled an all-nighter and now requires their standards be imposed on universities and municipalities and OEMs which have already vetted Good Point Recycling, and agreed with our R2 approach.

As an "Alternative", ANR now requires us to prove, in a short period, that our standards for reuse (which clearly eliminated 77% of material we manage) are "equivalent" to a standard which provides no data for comparison.   The standard we must match, in fact, contains layperson terms which generate laughter among computer technicians - both here in Vermont and worldwide.  Actual techs understand that extremely technical diagnostic will differ brand by brand and year by year on various equipment sold for reuse from NY, MA, RI etc.  

We have already been audited by several manufacturers and state contract administrators, who accepted that removal of the majority of an item from the reuse stream is the equivalent of proving that the ones sold were tested.  Here is an example for one specific type of monitor - we have this data, remember, because we actually follow federal law and document the actual reuse rates, not just claim it was "working" and not track it (are E-Stewards actually compliant with federal law if they cannot provide this data for comparison?  Hmmm.  Future blog).

1,000 1998 Dell Trintron DS6 Monitors
735 - Removed in USA for proper recycling
265 - Sold for reuse

Of the 265

1) Records on how many were accepted for resale
2) Records on how many were damaged in shipping
3) Records on how many Vermont staff failed to properly inspect or test
4) Records on how many still had not sold after 12 months and are liquidated as inventory
5) Recycling records (glass, boards, plastic) on all focus materials generated from 2-4
6) Recycling redords on takeback program in host country - items taken for recycling as trade-in, items returned under warranty (#1)

This process exists for dozens of brands and dozens of years, and has been audited.  However, ANR has provided a standard with ZERO data and has required us by law to show that our data is the equivalent of a process which collects no data.

After all the thorough tracking of all the elective upgrades (which would be performed under ANR's rule anyway - you can fully test and prove a circuit board is fully functional, and a Geek of Color in Egypt may still replace it with something new and better), we are now by law held to a simple test of "fully functional" or "tested working" when we sell to factories which manage millions of warranty repair electronics.  Actually, ANR inadvertently made it a crime to send equipment still under warranty back to the warranty repair factories.

All in all, the simplest thing would have been for ANR to take until 2012, and not subject our millions of dollars in out of state contracts to an arbitrary process which will be evaluated by people who have none of the technical expertise, nor any of the time, which was available to the R2 Stakeholders, EPA Washington staff, ISRI, etc.   In 30 days, they will provide better evaluation than all of these documented processes, while simultaneously bemoaning the pressure they are under and the time constraints of an extremely challenging new state legislative program.  They are going to be busy with Vermont Covered Electronic Devices this year, why they must also try to regulate laptops I buy from Dartmouth College to make sure I properly test them, when Dartmouth College has spent 7 years auditing our process, is just a mistake, but it's a mistake made by at least one person at ANR who is unwilling to admit the mistake, or to compromise.

This is where I stand, and I have a letter open in the next computer screen offering us hundreds of thousands of dollars cash to sell off the reuse contracts which have brought millions of dollars into Addison County.  


I've provided all 6 above, because I have jobs to protect, bank loans to fulfill, and hundreds of thousands in friends and family money invested.  None of these angles caused ANR to budge in giving themselves another year to evaluate the rules on out of state material already vetted by the contract managers of those out of state programs.   And if I protest the environmental agency, the mere fact I am "in dispute with" our state's environmental agency and VPIRG is probably the death knell for our EB-5 Investors, one of whom is planning to relocate to Vermont in order to make sure we pass muster before they invest.

What a price to pay rather than promulgate rules on NY, MA, NH, RI material in 2012.

What standard will replace us for the client lists we do not move out of state?  No intact unit, the same as other companies prove themselves "Stewards".  We smash working stuff and stop selling it to Geeks in Egypt.  We then put up a banner saying we are better, more environmental, than the people who sell computers to colored people overseas.  How does it go?  Oh, Yeah:  "OUR COMPANY REFUSES TO EXPORT NON-WORKING EQUIPMENT TO BE BURNED BY POOR PEOPLE OVERSEAS".  That sounds so good, except you meet that claim by destroying everything, even material the Geek from Ghana was willing to fly to Middlebury Vermont to test himself and buy.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain... how could he be showing us pictures of poor children unless his standard really did achieve higher environmental results?  We don't need his data, we don't need to look at numbers - he has pictures of poor children!

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