EPA drafts new "Reuse Sale" Rules for CRTs

(Late additions in red)

When does "closing a loophole" crossover into "prosecuting the innocent"?  What are the legitimate reuse applications for CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors, and when do concerns over their high disposal cost make it an EPA, rather than Department of Commerce, issue?

These are the questions that EPA's Newly Proposed CRT Export Rules are meant to resolve.

When the EPA CRT Rule was first issued in 2006, after a couple of years of investigation, it rightly allowed for the "determination" of waste to be made by the recycler, followed by EXPORT based on that determination.

At that time, despite false and fabricated claims that 80% of the CRTs exported wound up in primitive recycling operations like Guiyu, the commerce was mostly driven by three factors:

  1. Original CRT Manufacturing Plants (same as warranty repair) were buying back CRT monitors with key functions
  2. These refurbishing factories were selling the SKD CRTs to 3B3K nations - the 3 billion people who are neither richest or poorest, but who were gaining internet access at 10 times the rate of growth of OECD nations.
  3. The only places the factories could get decent, newer CRTs (at the time) were the wealthy countries, which were rapidly turning them over to replace with flat screens.

The ubiquitous photo of the Chinese woman hammering the yoke off with a hammer raised peoples concerns, but in the end EPA allowed export for reuse on two conditions:

A)  One time notification
B)  Maintenance of 3 years of records showing actual reuse.

The problem in implementation was B.  I have kept meticulous records, and can't get anyone at EPA or Region I to show any interest in them.   They aren't getting them from any of my competitors, either.  This is how "reuse" becomes a loophole.

The EPA is now trying to close this loophole by creating an EPA-to-foreignEPA dialogue tracking the CRT to make sure that their sale is recorded and tracked.  They also want the same reports to be generated by everyone in the transaction - buyer, broker, and seller.   Excuse my lack of enthusiasm... but is the solution to never having reviewed the 3 years of records really to demand more records from more people?

The other issue is that EPA appears to be leaving out Department of Commerce and US Trade Offices out of the discussion.   Those entities know that when the Communist Party owns a factory making brand new CRTs, that they have a bias or incentive to ban USA Commerce.   Working CRTs which are sold for refurbishment are USA products, governed by Commerce.  The USA shouldn't set a precedent simply allowing a foreign nation to label our goods as a "waste" if they are not being discarded or speculatively accumulated.

See past post "Red Scare: Competent Authority Decision Trees" 

If China bans import of a computer which could be used to display a photo of the Dalai Lama, does violating that ban really trigger USA EPA enforcement?  These are "color orange" laws... a foreign nation can ban the color orange, but the USA should not draft a law which incorporates that into USA law by simple reference (making it illegal to export orange goods to a country banning the color orange).   There needs to be a clear environmental case against reuse.   Otherwise, another nation may use environmental laws to subterfuge WTO free trade agreements.  

China is already being investigated by WTO for doing this with rare earth metals.  If USA EPA makes it illegal to violate China's "environmental law" on trade in the commodity, then it doesn't matter if China loses the WTO case - you have now violated USA LAW by buying the "environmentally regulated" rare earth metals, which the USA made illegal based on the foreign nation's "competent authority" rule.  Reuse of CRTs is not an environmental crime, and second-hand goods are not "waste"... the Department of Commerce knows the distinction, and needs to be involved in this.  

But is CRT reuse still an important market?   That is a bigger "question mark" today than it was ten years ago.  The biggest difference is that foreign markets can now shrug the USA suppliers off... there are more displays in more places, new and used, than ever before.  If the USA wants to cut off its own nose, off with it, say the long-insulted CRT refurbishing factories.

Ten years ago, the people who were accusing the "big secret factories" of primitive pollution were fabricating stories about pollution from elective upgrades, and even downright lying about it.    But today, we have to admit that some of the factors above have changed.

  1. Original CRT Manufacturing Plants (same as warranty repair) are still buying back monitors... but they are mostly buying back LCD monitors.   In 2005, those factories were buying 50,000 CRTs per DAY.  Now it may be 50,000 per month.
  2. The 3B3K nations are still buying CRTs, because the are cheap, last longer, withstand heat, and are more difficult to steal.  But they also realize it's a buyers market, and they are not paying as much for them.  LCDs are 90% cheaper than they were a decade ago.  This softens demand.
  3. There are MANY upstream places that the refurbishing factories can now buy decent, newer CRTs.  Rapidly emerging markets which were not "wealthier countries" ten years ago now  have huge cities, office buildings, and are generating their own less-than-ten-year-old CRTs.   The USA, as a supplier, is a virtual has-been, no longer able to dictate terms to the refurbishing market.

Now there is still a place for CRT displays, and not all emerging markets are "rapidly" emerging.  For some, like Africa, trying to source their own CRTs from in country would be fruitless.  And there are efforts to move the SKD assembly factories to Africa and Latin America, so that they can buy used CRTs direct -- DIRECTLY FROM CHINA, that is.

Sometimes I'm a wee bit bitter about our losing the opportunities to create win-win and fair trade recycling programs when we were a crucial supplier to those markets.  But the fact is that the USA kind of blew it.  The factories don't need us.  When we try to dictate terms of recycling, we sound clueless and grouchy.

"Emerging Market Kids - Get off of my lawn!" 
So it doesn't matter as much as it once did if the EPA wants to close the refurbishing markets and follow e-Stewards.  In fact, the price of refurbishable CRTs is dangerously close to scrap price now, it's a buyers market, and speculative accumulation could result.  I'm open to making the changes EPA wants to make in 2012, even if they were a huge mistake in 2002, when SB20 took California CRTs off the market.

What concerns me is the precedent.  We still have yet, as a community of recyclers, to call the facist eco-Nazi segment of our movement out on their blatent, racist, ethno-phobic depictions of the Geeks of Color.   We need Department of Commerce, on both sides of the ocean, to make sure that reckless accusations aren't used as an excuse for restraint of trade.   We need to protect the internet in nations where dictators are scared of Twitter, Facebook, and Revolution 2.0.

And when EPA passes a rule, like 3 years of record keeping in the original CRT Rule, and never collects on it or enforces it, allowing EPA to simply make a stricter rule is not going to make the world better.  EPA has a way of enforcing only on the anecdotes brought to it.    In the case of my company, the risk is clear, that no good deed goes unpunished.  My partners overseas will now have EPA asking their nations EPA - and not their Commerce Department, whether "USE equals DISPOSAL".

Transferring a good may be a "loophole" when the good is really discarded.  But labelling every transboundary movement to be "disposal" because Nation A sells it to Nation B, is a wickedly slippery slope, which electronics manufacturers overseas will be glad to use to enforce "planned obsolescence" on Americans, keeping Americans from selling used working product to Africa.

This is a coup by Asian Tech Firms, just as SB20 was, and just as MAR licenses and HIPAA were a coup by USA software companies to ban resale of software.

I'm starting to worry I've taken on a fight with a force too big to fight.   I feel very small, I feel in an icy shadow of planned obsolescence.  But I will pick my battles.  If selling working CRTs to Egyptians who start revolutions is going to be made illegal, I have to figure out another way to get affordable display devices to them.

I'm still thinking of what my comments will be.  The chief one will be that EPA should send its requests through the USA Trade Office, so that working units labelled "waste" in a protectionism racket will be spotted by even more "competent" authorities.

ADDRESSES: Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA- 2011-
1014  by one of the following methods: 

www.regulations.gov: Follow the on-line instructions for submitting comments. 

Email: Comments may be sent by electronic mail (email) to RCRA-docket@epa.gov, Attention 
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA- 2011-1014.           

Fax: Fax comments to: 202-566-9744, Attention Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-RCRA-2011-1014


Anonymous said...

The current website for the CRT rules is here:


Anonymous said...