30 Scary E-Scrap Films Leaked

As posted last week in the blog "Chestnuts", I've always been critical of "toxics along for the ride", and have never advocated exports based on price alone.   WR3A has four tests to qualify exporters under our purchase orders, to show accountability for CRT glass, Printed Wiring Boards, Employee Capacity, and Sea Containers as ratios of electronic scrap being managed.

Recently this blog has been very defensive of operations which do a good job of hand disassembly or repair, but are portrayed as primitive primarily because of the nationality of the techs.  Part of my defense has been to show film and photos of "big secret factories" which refurbish used American "e-waste" in clean processes that add value account for reuse.

YESTERDAY our blog was leaked 30 clips of "e-waste" film which I find scary.  It doesn't look right.  It doesn't show the end use, and I don't want to commit the same sin of assuming badness based on nationality, but it gives me pause. It is purportedly sent by a Hong Kong company "Glorybase", and shows sea containerloads being emptied which clearly contain electronic scrap or "ewaste" of several mixed sources.
  • - Printer scrap (pallets)
  • - LCD scrap (screens only, in boxes)
  • - Printed wiring board (super-sacks)
  • - Surplus breakage
  • - Cords, cables, lenses
  • - Demanufactured computer power supplies (TCNU7000414)
  • - No residential (TV, VCR) visible, only commercial and demanufactured scrap
  • - No CRT monitors
(Italics do not make this a clean load, but they do demonstrate that loads like this do not, cannot, represent 80% of all USA e-waste.  This is an economically shippable load, but it does not appear to be fairly traded).

The person who sent me the links to the e-waste footage asked if I wanted to ship to them. No.

The 30 films are taken with a mobile cell phone camera (telltale vertical shots).  In one shot, a shadow of the camera holder appears to show a man holding the camera to his ear as he walks to a live unload of a scrap containerload.   The videos were uploaded very recently, and may still be in the process of loading (newest one was hours old, with 3 views).

What do we make of this footage?  As a professional e-waste recycler, I noticed European plugs, a fairly new forklift, and cement block walls, and a retaining wall.  There are about 4 employees visible.  The loads are managed outdoors, not under cover.  Nothing is being broken down or sorted on the site, these pallet loads will be transferred to someplace like Nanhai or Foshan.  If typical of loads I've visited, the Hong Kong recycler will consolidate a whole load of laser printers for one buyer, of power supplies for another, and add value by importing, by cannonballing, and shipping more uniform loads to specialists in country.  There is one strange closeup of a small hydraulic leak from the forklift mast... the only conclusion I can draw from that is that this person was gunning for bad impressions... similar leaks are all over parking lots all over the world.

The videos are clearly missing any end-markets or shots of any processing, either reuse or dismantling or burning.  It is dangerous to jump to conclusions based simply on the images of electronic scrap and the Asian ethnicity of the laborers.  I would describe the yard as typical of scrap yards I have seen in southern Hong Kong, which are staging for delivery to Guangdong scrap yards and refurbishing facilities.  There are no CRT devices anywhere in the film, which I estimate to show between 10 and 50 containerloads in the largest yard shot, though only capacity visible to unload a couple of containers per day.

The power supplies are particularly controversial and tough to call .as an export (scrap metal, reuse, or focus material ewaste).  We tried domestic shredders for power supplies and left unimpressed by the accountability of the boards, but the power supplies remain controversial - they clearly require a USA recycler to have demanufactured the PCs, not to have shipped intact units.  But if all the components - boards and cable and power supplies and drives - are then exported, then the only process in the USA is labor.  The shipments in this group of films include sacks of printed wiring boards, which would disqualify this operation from both R2 and E-Stewards certification.  Even if you shipped a legal uniform load to these people, you'd feel like you were drinking a virgin colada with a blindfold on (in an alcohol serving titty bar, saying  "Honey, honest... listen... I wasn't looking, it was non-alcoholic...")  Wrong place to be.

I pondered what to do with these videos.  They are, in the end, a very good contribution to the dialogue and study of e-waste recycling.  I did not have a video camera when visiting yards like this one in 2002.  They give a window into the world of mixed sea container loads of scrap.  If data emerges, we can look at the videos ans ask what is missing, unexplained, or enlightened by the data.  We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about electronic scrap, reuse, and "e-waste'.  But although this is an excellent contribution, I'm wary of the conclusions that could be drawn.  If all this material were run through a shredder, and showed up as chunks, I'm not sure what that would prove or accomplish.

What is disappointing is that, though our appetite for controversy is whetted, we are left with a half-baked story.  Rather, the footage raises new questions.  How much of these go to a refurbishing factory (laser printers, perhaps)?  How much goes to a place like Guiyu?  And how much goes to a large indoor scrap disassembly and sorting yard, like those profiled by Adam Minter in ShanghaiScrap?

The super sacks of printed circuit boards - how can those economically be shippable to the primitive operations we have seen film from, by BAN, in China?  My theory is that the harvested chips somehow make up for the loss in value from primitive processing (European and Japanese high end smelters are very competitive for this kind of scrap).  Having gone to the trouble to demanufacture, how did this recycler wind up shipping to Hong Kong?  Perhaps the load came from Viet Nam, and the labor in demanufacturing was covered overseas?  Perhaps for that matter the load originated in emerging markets.  We just don't know.  But we know more than we would without this kind of film, and we should be grateful.

We are left with our preconceptions to imagine the fate of this material.  The reuse and recycling Lady, or the burning and acid bath Tiger, are left dangling for the viewer to imagine what they will.  I don't even know if the poster, "Eric" of the Youtube label MultiEscrap is really a representative of Glorybase, or if Glorybase is a real company.  What I can do is contrast this with our WR3A purchase orders, and demonstrate that just because two buyers are Asian does not make them similar business partners.  Until the e-waste field stops needing to be reminded of that, we have a long way to go.

Thanks, "Eric", for sharing the videos.   No, I can't ship you any material.  I presume you want this out publicly.  You are out of NY, right?  Give me a call and we can discuss the next steps.  I don't think you are authorized to use Kung Fu Panda as your screenshot, by the way, and it raises questions about your other claimed affiliation (Glorybase).  If you are in China and want to work with me to document the good, the bad, and the ugly in e-waste, I'm game.

What a great world we live in, online, free, debating and sharing views.  I'm glad in the end that China is getting online, that they have cell phones with cameras, and that the truth is not controlled by the private cartel of NGOs, governments, and corporations.

Happy 4th of July everybody.


1 comment:

Cable Manufacturer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.