Those Who Can't Fix, Protest 2: Live Response from Hong Kong

[__Postscript__]  In response to the eartlier morning's blog (below), I got the following contact by email today.
"My name is XX XX, from XXX HK Limited in Hong Kong. We learned about you from your company website. 
"We have friends who are working in the recycle business of electronic waste products in China in many years. Labour in China are using their bare hand to remove the useful component from electronic waste, and using the chemical liquid to filtering the useful material from waste without any protection. It is extremely bad for the labour and the environment. Therefore, we are looking for the technology that could help the recycle business in China to be more safe and more enviornmental. We hope the organisation as you, are able to introduce us any technology or company to improve it. We hope to make thing good. Hope you can give us the advise. Many thanks.

"We are looking forward for your reply. Thanks.
Best regards,

Dear XX,

The removal of useful components - e.g. chips and transisters and rare-earth magnets - is a very good thing.  You should not be ashamed, you should be proud.  Component recovery from circuit boards is a legitimate trade, and it is the reason Asian recyclers are able to compete with Japanese and European circuit board processors in the market.

However, the "chemical liquid to filtering the useful material" without any protection sounds like a problem we must fix.  In my experience, the use of chemicals to wash out gold is a) toxic and b) inefficient (much gold is wasted, as are other rare metals).  In fact, these processes are not very economical - your friends could probably make MORE money if they sold the same circuit boards to a high-tech refiner such as Dowa, Umicore, Deutsch Affinerie, or Boliden.   

Typically, the problem is that the informal recycler cannot wait for a shippable quantity.  Even if they know that a 40' sea containerload, sent to Belgium, is worth 2X more than the poison process, many small recyclers feel economic pressure to "cash out".   $100 today, plus toxics, is worth more than $200 without toxics in two months.  There are also security concerns to building up a shippable quantity - the nightmare for a small recycler is to have the boards stolen just days before a shippable quantity is arranged.

This is a cash flow problem which leads to dirty, informal practices, which create pollution.  The solution is cash and a secure storage.  If your friends sell the load to Dowa, Umicore, etc. they will avoid the pollution and actually earn MORE money, but they need help to "scale" the business. may be one solution - I'd be willing to help write a proposal to save circuit boards for a larger shipment, if you can guarantee the security.  Another is to approach the market (Dowa, Umicore).   In the USA, the Small Business Administration gives loans which help entrepreneurs, like your friend, do the right thing rather than take "short cuts" to ease "cash flow" problems.

Painted Mango Poison
The circuit boards, after the useful components are harvested for reuse markets, contain lead.  But they are inert, the lead will not leache or off-gas unless it it heated (burned).  In the case of aqua regia gold harvesting, it is the process (cyanide) which produces the poison, not the circuit board (if you boil a mango in cyanide, the process is still toxic, even if the mango is not a hazardous waste). 

This is the way that Fair Trade Recycling works.  We talk to the markets, and we arrange ways to fix the problem.  As I posted yesterday, "Those who cannot (or dare not) fix, protest".

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