Product Stewardship Policy Question: Which is worse, Mercury Recycling (required) or TV export for Repair (proposed to be prohibited)?
John Fialka's WSJ seminal reporting (2006) on the "mercury recycling" trade revealed that not all environmental laws result in environmental justice. There are some things that shouldn't be recycled. If recycling mercury from lamps and thermostats recovers mercury, and mercury has been eliminated as an ingredient in new products, here's what to expect:
A) mercury sales to primitive, toxic, conflict gold-mining operations in CongoDescription of where the mercury is sold, and how it is used:
B) billions of dollars of mercury recycling costs in the USA
The EU and USA responded by banning export of hg mercury as a commodity. The USA ban on exports begins in 2013. This is an export ban I really like, and Basel Secretariat should focus on this "recycling export" WAY more than it should focus on electively upgraded parts during used computer repair.While most of the gold is produced by major corporations, tens of thousands of people work independently in smaller, artisan operations, in some cases illegal. In Ghana, for instance, the galamseys are estimated to number 20,000 to 50,000. In neighboring francophone countries, such workers are called orpailleurs. In Brazil, such workers are called garimpeiros.The high risk of such ventures was seen in the collapse of an illegal mine at Dompoase, Ashanti Region, Ghana, on 12 November 2009, when 18 workers were killed, including 13 women. Many women work at such mines as porters. It was the worst mining disaster in Ghanaian history.In order to maximize gold extraction, mercury is often used to amalgamate with the metal. The gold is produced by boiling away the mercury from the amalgam, a hazardous process due to toxicity of mercury vapour. Mercury is effective in extracting very small gold particles, but should be reclaimed, instead, in an effective and safe process. (wikipedia 2010.12.09)
Alluvial mining is basically the ONLY market demand for the mercury. When it is banned... expect mercury recycling companies in the USA and Europe (like Veolia) to have a tough year.
As mercury becomes like radioactive waste, there will be stockpiles, and people looking for abandoned salt mines in Nevada. In this environment, is it any surprise that Veolia Environmental and EPSI went up for sale?
But the USA recycling RFPs and contracts typically require the mercury "to be recycled". In Vermont, even our closure plan has been tagged for review because we identified subtitle C hazmat landfill as a destination for sweepings and contaminated lamps... that closing because you are out of business doesn't exempt you from recycling vs. safe disposal... This would require Veolia to recycle even if they were abandoning recycling for ethical reasons.
This is how you outgrow recycling. You eliminate demand for the toxic, like mercury, so much that all the mercury mines shut down, and all the demand is met from a few static sources (e.g. hg captured as an effluent from gold mining). On the sliding scale from "smart phones" to "buggy whips", marketplace demand sends us positive instructions on what the best environmental outcome should be. As demand for product falls, responsible management must keep pace.
Is this the future of recycling CRTs and display devices? Perhaps. I'm open to the idea that the export of display devices will end some day. But as long as cathode ray tube glass furnaces are still running in India, China, and Malaysia, they should consume recycled cullet, not mined. Banning them from using recycled cullet is stupid environmentalism. I'm in favor of smart environmentalism. Studies in Peru and Ghana show that only 15% of "e-waste" exports are no poderse arreglar (beyond repair).
¿Puede reparar la televisión?Banning export for repair... it ignores the demand signals of the market. Fly and see the contract manufacturing jobs in Indonesia... like me, you may fall in love with this path of sustainable development. Compare the 15,000 electronic repair jobs in Ghana (statistic taken from BAN's own report) with the jobs of 20,000 alluvial gold miners, using mercury, in Ghana. Look closely at the "mercury recycling" jobs in Africa, and compare those to repair and reuse and internet cafes...
Listen, I lived in Africa. I visit our buyers. I love the Egyptian and Malaysian and Chinese technicians. We own a fair trade recycling operation in Mexico, we know what is repairable. Here's a latino technician telling about his job. This is NOT barefoot children at a landfill.Generally the galamseys can dig only to a limited depth, far shallower and smaller than commercial mining companies. Under current Ghana law, it is illegal for galamseys to dig on land granted to mining companies as concessions or licenses. Most galamseys find gold in free metallic dust form or they process oxide or sulphide gold ore using liquid mercury.The number of galamseys in Ghana is unknown, but it is believed to be from 20,000 to 50,000.They mostly operate in the southern part of the country where there are substantial reserves of gold deposits, usually within the environs of the larger mining companies. As a group, they are economically disadvantaged; galamsey settlements are usually poorer than neighboring agricultural villages. They have high rates of accidents and are exposed to mercury poisoning from their crude processing methods. Many women are among the workers, acting mostly as porters for the miners.In some cases, galamseys are the first to discover and work extensive gold deposits before mining companies find out and take over. Galamsey workings are an indicator of the presence of gold.In the francophone countries surrounding Ghana, similar local artisanal gold miners are called orpailleurs. (wikipedia 2010.12.09)
Right here, right now, it's a mistake to continue "recycling" mercury. It's a mistake to stop reusing TVs and monitors. These policies are both good examples of the difference between "environmentalism" as a science and "environmentalism" as a religious crusade. People say I'm going to get on the Ayatollah of E-Waste's naughty or "bad list" for being critical. At the risk of getting a potato in my stocking, I say that as a lifelong environmentalist, I'm their only friend, because history is going to record the science of what happens from our environmental laws - not our intentions or beliefs. No one remembers the Spanish Inquisition or Cotton Mather's witch trials for their best intentions.
[ postscript - - - __ _- _ -- so simple...] Basel Action Network focuses on bans of warranty returns, white box manufacture, and contract refurbishing rather than on elemental mercury exports. This "leader" has done so despite my pleas for more than five years. They are shooting bullets at the wrong people, and they are killing them. If their job is to attack people for exporting, look at the recycling of the mercury they require in their own E-Steward guidance documents. They are incompetent watchdogs biting mailmen. The emperor has no damn clothes. We need a new non-profit organization to stand up and take the ball away from the ayatollah of e-waste.