The Future of Electronics Recycling

Maybe the future of "ewaste" recycling will be a lot like textile recycling.

From MIT's Technology Review, article by KRISTINA GRIFANTINI

Display devices will no longer be rigid, but pliable.  Stretch them and fold them.

See excerpt below...

Stiff Upper Lips in Vermont

Vermont:  1927, 1998, 2007, 2008, 2011.     Road washaways are becoming more and more "normal".  The special things they did with heavy stone after 2008 made me think we were learning our lesson and could meet the force of water with better engineering. [Photos from ]

Times like this, I think about my dear friends who embrace the "zero waste" recycling slogan.  It's ok, like "never say die" is ok, in the right context.  Or, "Act of God", in the right place and the right time, Michelle Bachmann.

It is a challenge to "engineer" a message or a slogan which will survive any tempest of context.   As a crusader of sorts myself, I need to be able to find humor and set priorities straight.  Music and children, enjoying good food with friends.  But keeping in mind our role as raindrops, each of us, with one person's impacts.  Our individual consumption matters, in a flood of carbon, deforestation, extinction, and locust-ization of the human population.

Floods bring lots of business for waste disposal companies, but are not much good for reuse or recycling. Waste is everywhere.  When a natural catastrophe hits, maybe its time to set down our pens, go outside and clean up.  It's too easy to find yourself talking about it instead of doing it.

1-2-3: Crushingly Simple China E-Waste

Now, in Today's China Daily

A news story, a video, and a photo provide something you all need to know, right here and now, about E-Waste and China for the remainder of the decade.  


News Story:  China buys more PCs than the USA, and generates as much or more "e-waste" as the USA does.  Whether the USA is exporting 20% or 80% to China, and in what form, is immaterial to China's environment.


Video:  The best recycling of electronics is done by hand, not by shredder.  Working parts (chips and heat sinks), higher grade metals (like rare earth magnets and electric grade copper wire), and grades of plastic can be managed by hand in nations which have low wage labor and high unemployment.  Here it is in China...

Here is the "future" of E-Waste Recycling. 
Huaxing Environmental.    


China has factories using CRT glass cullet to make new CRTs.  They have the factories which reuse CRTs on assembly lines to make brand new, affordable, refurbished displays for Africa etc.





IS MANUFACTURER TAKE-BACK ILLEGAL?  BAN friends say "takeback" is the solution.  But that is explicitly what BAN is attacking in Indonesia, factory takeback.

E is for "epic fail".   E-WASTE INSANITY.  An NGO calling for amendment, change to a law, based on the fact that the law is against the law.

Take me outside and shoot me now.  The video about Green Godzilla wiping out Japan is happening in China and Malaysia and Indonesia today... but the green monster is an NGO.  Environmentalists, once again, we have met the enemy, and he is us.  Right here, right now.

[ BULLS**T ALERT:  Purported photos of "BIGGEST E-WASTE LANDFILL" in Ghana.  Count how many piece of electronics are in this landfill.  Compare this to the video above, #2.  Get back to me Monday]

E-Waste Company, Standard, Process: What is "Certified"?

Here's a little philosophical question I raised as a stakeholder during the development of R2 (Responsible Recycler) certification standard development...

What if one client wants Ewaste recycled by R2 rules, and another one doesn't?  Can a restaurant serve both kosher and non-kosher foods?  Can a businessman own both a kosher and non-kosher restaurant?

Option 1:  One Company, One Standard, One Process.   You decide you will ONLY offer R2 certified services.   Everyone gets the same price, whether they think it's worth it or not.  This is a good strategy in a big urban market, especially if you are specialized in one product, such as laptops (fewer processes to certify in the first place).  We predicted that the first companies to get either E-Steward or R2 Certification would be from the "no hair on the meat" end of the business - no TVs, no residential, nothing costly.  See last year's post (still regularly visited), "Certify Specialization?  Or Support Recyclers who Work Hard?"
"We sell only kosher foods."

When "E" Is for "EPIC FAIL"

Having made a career out of recycling, and having started my career as a protester, loudmouth, and activist, I approach my 50th birthday with three children, an international pedigree, and "schooling".  As in "environmentalists got schooled"...


Thirty Percent Online, Gasoline

Fareed Zarkaria's GPS website and TV program - Taking his world quiz, yesterday, I saw that one of the questions was what percentage of the people in the world have internet access?  Answer was 30%.

Unanswered questions... when 100 people sharing a single computer,  does each count as having access?  What about people with slow dial-up bandwidth who cannot even download photos?  What about people who have access but cannot read or write the languages the internet is written in?   What about people who live in nations that censor the internet, or which have intermittent electricity and blinky bandwidth?

Irregardless, it's an important statistic because, as I've mentioned many times, the rate of growth in developing nations (the 3B3K nations, those earning about $3K per capita in GDP) is ten times the rate of growth as OECD nations.  They are not achieving this rate of access with brand new $600 PCs and monitors (20% of annual income).
[Note:  I should have said "have not been achieving"... in the past decade.   Adam Minter just sent a link to this article - that per IDC, after a decade as the destination for old PCs - China now surpasses the USA in purchases of NEW PCs.  New PC sales to Chinese buyers surpassed 18.5 million in 2Q 2011]
Roughly 50% of the cost of an internet machine (PC, tablet, latpop, etc.) is the display device.  The 30% rate of internet access worldwide was built in large part on exports of used computers and, especially, used display devices.  There is indeed an environmental justice issue here.   But it is not the environmental justice issue being embraced by the anti-export watchdogs.

Digital Divide Bridge Song: Feelin' Guilty


Slow down, you upgrade too fast
You got to make electronics last
Replacing monitors and cell phones
Payin for new, and making E-Waste

Hello Facebook
Whatcha knowin?
I come to watch your followers growin'
Africans, Latinos, and Asians tweet
Happy to network
Reusing "E-waste"

I got no PCs to give
No monitors to export
It's illegal and frowned on and not in good sport
Pay the shredders to chop up the displays that work
No donations, shredding E-waste!

Your revolution, put it on ice
Repair and refurbish it's not very nice
Stewards say you'll burn every PC you buy
You're barefoot and pregnant,
We say reuse is "e-waste".

- Robin Ingenthron's apologies to Paul Simon

Free Market vs. "Free" Market

Whoa, Minas dude, you totally golded her
Paul Polak, author of Out of Poverty
"While it certainly is true that powerlessness, poor health, poor education and absent transport infrastructure are important root causes of poverty, there can be no question that the most direct and cost-effective first step out of poverty is to find ways to help poor people increase their income."
The "non-profit" or 501-c(3) status in the USA IRS definition of charity was an attempt to establish clear certification that an organization is doing good works and is not "profiting" from those good works.  The charity status has certain "third rails" - you cannot issue or sell stock, you cannot be both a charity and a political organization (respect limitations on advocating for specific legislation or candidates), you must file a 990 form and disclose your sources of income, etc.

An obscure IRS tax code for avoiding taxes on income has become, to many decision-makers, a shortcut to definition of good works (karma yoga).   It's used as a "certification" for good... (e.g., for helping poor people earn income.)

Churches are 501 (c)3, as are federal and state charted credit unions, veterans organizations, cemetary companies, and ditch and telecommunications infrastructure management companies.  You file for the status, and in return you get to pass along tax-benefits to anyone who donates to you, a Midas touch of tax breaks.  They pass income to USA donors, via the IRS.

No Such Thing as Bad Press?

It's easier for the public to forgive some one out of a thousand than it is to recognize someone out of a ten million.  We all want someone to heal and recover, we all want to believe people can heal and recover.

Therefore, if your goal is fame, you are smart to FIRST get recognized, SECOND be accepted.

Bad behavior (drug abuse, public sex) will generate bad press, which is an easy form of recognition.  That is the process of going from one in ten million to one in a thousand.

The second step is to demonstrate you are reformed.  Now that you are recognized, with time you can be forgiven and embraced as a success.

Recycling Rookie On Trial
This is not just about Paris Hilton or Hollywood.  This is not just about childhood behavior in classrooms.   This is about recyclers in India.   When I succeed in helping them to get the e-waste and other recycling tools they need to reform their recycling practices, I'll be a very successful agent.   The ideal person to "reform" is someone like Jackie Robinson - someone with whom there was nothing "controversial" in the darn first place.  WINNING.

The bad behavior being recognized today is quite often, "recycling while black", or while brown, or while Chinese.   People are pointing fingers at recyclers today who do business with a geek of color, and people are denying doing business with recyclers overseas like modern day Judas.

If environmental health is to follow the examples of sports, engineering, and human health, it is going to get over racial and religious and "OECD" labels and recognize people for their talent.  If in the meantime, being black or brown can generate a recycler some "bad press", maybe that's why we remember Jacky Robinson more than we remember any of his white teammates.  Whether its called "reform" or "eventual acceptance", Watchdogs are at least making the presence of Geeks of Color obvious.

They turned the cameras on the recyclers.  My job is to give them names and give them tools and generate profits together through fair trade.  As the sheen begins to fade from "no export" recyclers, we are the ones, who like Jacky, will be WINNING.

The comic book is worth more reused (a collectible) than it is worth as pulp.  

Miles of Introspection: Blue in Green

This blog has certain months when posts get longer and spike in number. My wife, who is from France, takes our (bilingual) kids to the home country for more than a month every summer, which is more time than I can take off.  This year I couldn't afford to join them at all, too much going on with the new state e-waste contracts.  I have guests at the house from 3 other countries, but more time to myself.  I should spend the time editing, perhaps.  I miss the family, miles away, and I focus on work.  Writing about Green jobs, feeling blue.

Continuous Youtubes from Hong Kong

Multi weilds his smartphone camera
Early last month, I posted video links from the mysterious "MultiEscrap" video channel which started appearing on youtube in the early summer (shortly before the Intercon accusations erupted).

These have gotten almost no response in the recycling community, neither by Watchdogs nor industry.   But the shadowy Mr. MultiEscrap continues to post busily, the videos taken with his smart phone, somewhere in a scrap yard in Asia.

The most recent video, posted 3 days ago, looks pretty bad to me.  It is full of hard drives, many punched, but not ALL punched.  The punched ones are no good for reuse, the no-punch ones don't show they are for scrap.  It would NOT be good to have sent THIS sea container.

When my company pays as much as it does to certify as much activity as we do, it does not benefit us to defend someone who just loads it all in to a sea container for China.  Yet we must intellectually resist the temptation to say that because it goes to China, therefore it is bad.

CBS 60 Minutes: Closing the LOoP on Mining?

I've been pretty cross with Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes, after trying to get CBS News and its producer to cover both sides of the export of e-waste.

Tonight, as gold hits another record high, CBS has re-run a story which is something I eyewitnessed in Cameroon Africa in the 1980s (I was also in this part of East Congo). I got into recycling because of the multiple horrors of mining, particularly gold mining. And it's for this stupid yellow metal. Gold. I've spent thousands trying to free patents for gold recycling, have promoted Printed Circuit Board Test to ensure gold is properly recycled.

Here is CBS 60 Minutes, showing why.

Recycling is the only opposite to mining.

FLASHBACK: Indonesia - BAN Accusation 2010

From the files.  BAN uses photos of sea containers, and allows industry and press to assume THIS is the same as THAT.  Technically, BAN says, the correct interpretation of Basel Convention, Annex IX, B1110 would not allow the Indonesian factory on the right.

hammeronmonitor_pic.jpg  is the same as this PT M 050.jpg

But read the press release.  They are not being transparent about what they are objecting to.    They imply the 2002 Guiyu photo is what they stopped in Indonesia.  When I object, they ask for proof of the inside of the containers (which arrived back in the USA with seals still on them, NEVER inspected by Indonesians).
From Contract CRT Manufacturers Album

As in the disputed photos of the outside of sea containers in Chicago (Intercon Solutions), BAN photographed the outside of sea containers in Boston in 2010, and then LINK to photos they took of Guiyu China in 2001.

This is intellectually dishonest.  In the technical world, where people understand that Taiwanese engineers have contract manufacturing capacity in several Asian Tiger countries, the photos BAN uses may as well link to the Wrong, Wrong Lithuanian TV sculpture.

Intercon Solutions Slams BAN with First Documents

Immediately, when I read that BAN was "outing" Intercon Solutions of Chicago Heights for allegedly sending 3 sea containers of illegal "hazardous waste" to Hong Kong, China, I said... "Oh no, not again."

The Watchdog's New "E-Stewards" Clothes
Intercon Press Release at bottom

First, proper recycling is more affordable than ever.  Intercon is located in Illinois, a state with legislation that requires proper management of e-waste - and rewards it financially.   Moreover, with the exception of CRT glass, it has never been more profitable to disassemble and recycle circuit boards.  Umicore, one of the best end markets for dismantled circuit boards, is already having a record year, with shortages of rare earth metals and other proper recycling paying for themselves.  In short, there are few if any incentives for an established company to ship 80% of e-waste to Guiyu.

Second - BAN, I recalled, had "created" news 17 months previous, by alerting Indonesian officials that sea containers headed to a very respectable, ISO14001, refurbishing factory contained "hazardous waste".  Indonesia reacted as the USA would react to being told a container held anthrax - they shipped the container back to the USA, unopened.  BAN ran a press release announcing a great victory.

Parallel Markets: E-Waste Export Policy, USA H1 Visa Immigration Policy

Both the Green-Thompson Bill automatically limiting exports of used computers, and the USA's overly restricted H1 work visa program, get their power from ignorance.

  • People get an image of a colored person committing a crime, environmental or drug related.
  • People form policy around the color and ethnicity of the person committing said crime.
  • People restrict exchange of trade (E-waste goods or Immigration services) based on nationality.

Everything which intelligent people like Fareed Zakaria and Tom Friedman say about the USA banning Indian Ph.Ds from working and investing their intellect in the USA economy can be said about shredding computers which were going to be reused and repaired in Egypt.  Americans do not get more employment by excluding Asian inventors from joining our society and having families here in the USA.  

Americans do not get more income by eliminating exports of repairable computers and shredding them.  I can employ more people exporting repairable computers than I can shredding them.

Inspiration: Don't Leave Environmentalists in Charge

Singapore Welcome
Arjuna inspired me to embrace karma yoga - enlightenment through good deeds and work, rather than meditation pure and simple.

Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall inspired me to make protection of rain forests and coral reefs the good I could preserve, rather than produce on my own.

Lester Brown inspired me to scientifically and statistically weigh the impacts of mankinds consumption, and to reduce extraction (mining, refining, forestry, consumption).

Hesse's Siddhartha inspired me to enter business and reality, and to put my foot in every pool, building myself through leadership and exposure to trials.

My grandparents and great grandparents inspired me to work ethic, faith, and sacrifice, to making do and being more than your job defines you to be.

Plato and Socrates obviously inspired me.

My mother inspired me to be open to all of the above, and to expand my geographical horizons, and that if I spoke of being a monk in the Himalayas that was a completely normal thing for her.  My dad inspired me to become someone important.

My wife and children's inspirations are personal, if vital, to who I have become that I couldn't not have planned.

So, as I near 50, I find myself in an odd position of trying to steer the environmentalist juggernaut.  Having found that many people like me - millions - were also inspired by Cousteau, Goodall, and Brown, I find that we environmentalists have excercised our power of caring to leverage millions of dollars in taxes, and in regulatory power.

Watching the E-Waste Detectives: Comstockery

Here is a link to an article recently published in Scrap and Recycling International.  An Asia-based reporter, Adam Minter, visited one of our "Fair Trade Recycling" partners in Malaysia.   He reports on what he saw.  Hint, it wasn't "primitive".

"Recyclers are applying the Fair-Trade model to used electronics, demonstrating that exports for refurbishing and re-use can meet developing countries need for low-cost products -- And facilities the that do the work can meet Developed World standards."

Saturday night, I was reading this while watching History Channel, which had a documentary on sexual mores, flappers vs. puritans, and the war over sexual information in Hollywood.

I realized that using the power of shame and guilt to get people to stop doing what is natural is as old as the Scarlet Letter.  The shaming of people for trading with Geeks of Color is not that different from the war on sexuality, waged less than a century ago in the USA, or laws against interracial marriage much more recently.  Once again, it's being played out in bills submitted to USA Congress.  From wikipedia:
"Comstock's ideas of what might be "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" were quite broad. During his time of greatest power, even some anatomy textbooks were prohibited from being sent to medical students by the United States Postal Service. 
"Comstock aroused intense loathing from early civil liberties groups and intense support from church-based groups worried about public morals. He was a savvy political insider in New York City and was made a special agent of the United States Postal Service, with police powers up to and including the right to carry a weapon. With this power he zealously prosecuted those he suspected of either public distribution of pornography or commercial fraud."
My organization is trying to get people to export and trade with Geeks of Color with better information, documentation, record keeping and accountability (per the article), kind of like Margaret Sanger and many others were trying to educate Americans about sex.    Today, we accept that sex is something to be cautious about, but the Victorian ideas Comstock was enforcing died with his protege, J Edgar Hoover.

The analogies seem apt.   Jim Puckett = Anthony Comstock.  Robin Ingenthron = Margaret Sanger (the philosophical Hugh Hefner, a century ago).  Will Hays Asst. Joseph Green - the first Green Bill.

Export Ethics: Topical/Tropical Possibilities III

Every time I cut a long post up, it takes longer to re-write it, which isn't proper blogging as much as it's job security for Google staff.  This is the third segment  about how Environmental Stewards' callousness to collateral damage in the developing/emerging world harms people and the environment.   As the Watchdogs try to monetize their model, use it to produce income, they are at risk of losing any ethical advantage over the people they accuse.  Sadly, they have allowed themselves to be the primary tool in the war against reuse.

I used the controversy over the Intercon Solutions recycling certification to raise again what happened in February of 2010, when one of the largest and best display device refurbishing factories was at the wrong end of a containerload accused by of being "hazardous waste".  This is the third segment.

The Crime:  Recycling While Brown