European Study Proves Hand De-assembly Superior to Shredding

Thanks to our Fair Trade Recycling Intern Adelaide, who is in Middlebury, Vermont, working on her Masters in Waste Management from France.  Adelaide cites ten separate studies in her morning blog to make the point that taking a circuit board apart by hand - separating copper coils from aluminum heat sinks, steel from plastic -  is environmentally superior to shredding in a lifecycle analysis.

Figure 1. Environmental assessment of treatment of electronic waste, Gmünder (2007).

All Fair Trade Recycling wants to do is to make these hand-disassembly jobs (like our women in Mexico, below) de-criminalized.  Give them the proper tools and protection, stop open burning and other "ten worst practices".  There are no mercury switches, there is no "witches brew", hand disassembly is simply an alternative job to gang warefare in Mexico, pirate boating in Somalia, cocaine growing in Peru, sex work in Kenya, etc.

I've usually written about the Geeks of Color.  But the scrappers, too, have been denigrated and defamed in the American and European media.  There are bad practices by hand, and good ones.  Racial profiling is just not a very effective way of deciding, and the "safe" approach of shredding items before export is not a winning strategy for the environment.

Our company practices disassembly here in the USA.   But I'm opening hand disassembly factories in other countries.  They will recycle their own waste from inside their countries.  But if they can do that well, why not let them also take rich people stuff that can still be reused, which puts an even higher environmental outcome... one which is "off the chart".   Survival is the highest form of "end of life" when you're not dead yet.

Our Chicas Bravas in Mexico take a few extra steps and de-manufacture not just the PC, but the components like CDRom drives and floppy disk drives, hard drives, getting things like rare earth magnets and little gold things.  American companies which export intact power supplies, drives, and other "components" may ship them to a similar fate.  But they are all too afraid of the onus against export to visit and find out whether it looks like this or looks like a child sitting on a pile of circuits.

Most American recyclers don't know what this is on the left.  But they "recycle" them by the millions.  Reuse can get very small.

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