Singapore and Texas: Refurbishing Giants

Singapore engineer
A few months ago I posted a tribute to Singapore's NEA (National Environmental Agency) and its positions on "repair and overhaul" industries... It ended with  Rolls Royce and a multi-million dollar facility to repair junk aircraft.

Well, now Boeing is copying Rolls Royce, and Texas is knocking off Singapore.  Boeing has just announced a new plant in San Antonio, which will employ 450 people, to do what Singapore is doing... repair and refurbish retired jetliners.

How did Singapore "leapfrog" its poverty?  In the 1990s, when I was recycling director at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, I was looking everywhere for evidence of my hunch that refurbishing would reduce our electronics recycling costs, and I found some articles from Singapore's NEA.  They said, quite crisply:
  • Singapore doesn't have a lot of raw materials for virgin production
  • Jobs which utilize intellect and engineering skills create more wealth than mining jobs
  • Repair and overhaul (refurbishing) is environmentally sustainable

Africa: Mining Vs. Geekdom

Sunday morning.   I am in the living room, with my wife and kids.  We have a large screen LCD hooked up to the laptop, where we were surfing "google earth" for places we've all lived... my wife's apartment in Rosny-sous-Bois, my old home on Frances Drive in Columbia, Missouri.  The home in Milton MA, where the twins lived when they were born.  High School in Arkansas.  Junior High, Fresno.

In cruising over to Ngaoundal, Cameroon, where I was professeur d'anglais, the satellite imagery is pretty fuzzy.  But it looks like they have been digging more at the Mount Ngaoundal site, where everyone spoke about finding "bauxite" in the 1980s.  I remember my hikes up the mountain were "controversial", as some at the military camp were afraid I'd be "stealing the bauxite".  Bauxite of coarse is the heavy rock which needs extremely high levels of electricity to polarize the aluminum to make it extractable.  A single scrap aluminum can is worth 50 times its weight in bauxite rock.

Today, the Cameroonian dictator is promoting mining as the solution to Cameroonian development.

Back in the 1980s, my mind was already fixed on a life purpose... to reduce mining, promote recycling, conservation and reuse, and to figure out a way to do it with sustainable world development.   The poverty in Africa represented both a vulnerability and an opportunity.  Mining is the most toxic activity on the planet, and it was headed for the poorest in the forest.  Fortunately, recycling is the economy of the poor.

Pause for Editing

I have about 9 unfinished blogs, too good to delete, but in need of editing.  So I'll simply repost a link to Adam Minter's blogs this week, which he did as a fill-in for James Fallows at the Atlantic.

Adam's post today, about scrap value of motors, was his 7th of seven.   The photos were taken in Foshan, the same scrap market area I visited near Guangzhou in 2002 - A century ago.   People in the scrap business there could smell a piece of lab equipment with a 16 ounce nickel cylinder from 60 meters away.  The shelves Adam shows in his last post, of "motor samples" labelled with exact metals content, is echoed in the plastic markets of Ningbo, and the cell phone markets of Guanghzhou...  People in poor circumstances with hard work and active mind.   If I imagine myself born in Africa or Asia or Latin America, I'm doing the same thing.

In Guangzhou, I was struck by a city block of shops, a two story mall, of shop after shop after shop selling television repair equipment.  I don't mean "TV repair shops".  I mean shops which sold Sencore equipment.  The repair equipment that TV repairpeople need.  A city block of shops specializing in equipment needed only by TV repair shops.

Tweedle Dumb "E-Waste" Policy

Export Market One accepts tested working product 4 years old, which it sells for $105.  The factory sells the computers directly, but also takes back the computers when they are finished for de-manufactuing, generating circuit boards, plastic, power supplies, and CRT glass.

Export Market Number Two accepts identical tested working product 4 years old.  But before they resell the PCs, they remove the circuit board and replace it with a board that makes the computer work as both a TV as well as a computer, and causing the PC to work longer before it needs to be taken back and demanufactured.  They also electively upgrade all of the memory, video cards, etc.

??? Mais c'est bete ca !
Both factories generate and recycle the exact same circuit boards, plastic, and power supplies, and recycle them properly.  The main difference is that Export Market Two is much larger than Market One, and produces the PCs at $65 each, selling them in third party countries and creating more jobs.

Basel Action Networks's position is that Export Market One is superior and legal, and that Export Market Two is polluting and illegal.  The circuit boards, power supplies, etc. are identical, the end markets are identical.  WR3A encourages and assists both Export Markets.  Neither market releases pollution.

These are the people who have declared themselves Stewards for the developing world?:  People who don't know how to fix stuff, writing rules for those who do.  Lewis Carroll would be proud.

Ethiopia "E-Waste": Good Video, Comment Hubris

I'm grateful today for comments from Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network, who rightly applauds the program toured by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in Ethiopia.  Here is a link to his comment.  A video was produced with the help of Cascades Asset's Niels Peters-Michaud.

I can applaud everything Jim says about the Ethiopia project.   The rub comes when Jim implies that our own "fair trade recycling" partners are somehow polluting, or taking "untested" product.    (What "untested"? I respond, do you think we are randomly selecting the 23% for export and randomly recycling the 77%... and randomly arriving at 90% reuse?  What exactly does he think we are doing which is worse than IBLF's program in Ethiopia?)  BAN clearly implies that they know better how to test for our factory purchase orders... but refused to put the time into the California Compromise which would have tested that assumption.

Good Point Recycling - 2010 Report

To our Clients, Investors, and Crew:

Good Point Recycling needs to be bragged about, from time to time.  I'm extremely proud of what our company has accomplished, and our role in moving the recycling industry forward.  This month is our tenth anniversary.

Good Point Recycling managed over 5 million pounds of used electronics last year, including material we bought from out of state recyclers (for inspection prior to re-export) and material we disassembled, with local labor, into screws, metals, parts and plastics.   Since we opened, we have managed 20 million pounds of scrap.  We have grown steadily - more than 25% of that material was managed in 2010!

Good Point Recycling has brought in $6,000,000 to Addison County, Vermont.  Almost all of this came from outside of Addison County, creating local jobs.  The 24% of material which we exported for reuse brought in enough money to cover our entire payroll.   The 76% we did NOT export speaks for itself.

How did our company build itself from scrap?