Press Sinks Ship Recycling

There are two ways to get metal.

Bangladeshi Workers Risk Lives Recycling Ships... thanks to Adam Minter for the nod.

One is to get it out of the ground.  Here is an example:  The OK Tedi Copper Mine on the island of Borneo.  Metal is found in many places, but it's impossible to gouge and dump cyanide tailings anywhere close to a populated area.  The USA has vast federal lands, remote from cities, so we can still mine red and hard rock metals (gold, copper, silver, etc.).  They generate 45% of all toxics generated by all USA industry... but it's not close to property values.   It's the same economic logic discussed in "environmental justice" blogs last weekend.

Australia has a lot of remote places, and is in the metal mining business, as is Canada and Mexico.  But when you try to do it in a place like Europe, there are risks of toxic spill disasters, like this one in Eastern Europe in 2010, or recently, in Liuzhou, China.  A city of 3.2 million, its drinking water system nuked by a cadmium spill into the Longjiang River, released by the Guangxi metal mining industry.

The press does occasionally cover these polluting practices, but only when an "abnormal" disaster strikes.  Bloomberg reports in 2010, China's Shenzhen Zhongjin Shuts Zinc, Lead Smelter After Toxic Leak Found.  Or here is another zinc smelting spill, of cadmium from metal mining, of the Yangtze River.
 In January 2012, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: Chinese emergency personnel are erecting barrages and pouring hundreds of tonnes of chloride into a river in southern China in a desperate effort to prevent a toxic spill from contaminating the supplies of a major city. The flow of cadmium - discharged into the Liu River earlier this month - has continued despite three previous containment operations, and now threatens the 3.2 million residents of Liuzhou city in Guangxi province. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, January 30, 2012]
I've previously reported stories from the Danube, and from Guangzhou's massive zinc-lead smelter spill in 2006.  And don't forget about the conflict metal mining... today, this blog is sadly the top of the google ranking if you are looking for news about it.  I find that tragic.  I'm a nobody.  But the Guardian writes about stopping ship recycling, without asking, anywhere in the article, where the metal will be replaced from as the shipping industry increasingly sinks the ships rather than risk the wrath of environmentalists.

There are two ways to get metal.

Mining is a toxic mess, however, even when it's normal day-to-day operations.  The horrific spills make the newspapers, but you have to dig deeply in to blogs to find the human toxic cost of normal everyday operations.  Children poisoned by toxics in Africa?   Hard rock mining, Nigera.  Most toxic place on earth?  Hard Rock Mining, Zambia.

Now, compare coverage of these millions of people affected by avalanches of toxic sludge, burying cars, poisoning entire cities, to the coverage of normal recycling operations.

There are two ways to get metal.

In the news, recycling is bad.

Bangladeshi Workers Risk Lives Recycling Ships... It's recycling!  There's the word Toxic!  Thousands of Bangladeshi's will now be happily unemployed.  Perhaps they will get a job in the Bangladeshi mining sector, which is surely less toxic than recycling.  Perhaps, like the jobs on the island of Borneo in the same seas, the unemployed Bangladeshis can open their own OK Tedi Copper mine.  Or they can join the pirates robbing ships in the straights.  Or nurture the same sex worker trade that their neighbors in Thailand have enjoyed the profits from.

A single kid at a landfill in Ghana burns a computer monitor.   Did the computer monitor come from imports, or was it generated in the city of Accra?  85% of imports are reused, 80% of the waste is domestically generated. Nevertheless, the story merits a national law banning trade of computer monitors.

There are two ways to get metal.  And only two ways.   

According to, it is simple math.  The USA has stopped sending its retired warships for recycling.  We sink them to the bottom of the ocean.
Today, Environmental Groups have restricted the scrapping/re-cycling of old warships to the point that they are too expensive to scrap out (re-cycle). They are cheaper to just sink. Consequently, decommissioned ships are sunk for target practice, as well as to test out some new ordnance.

Read more:
Maybe this will speed the prospects of ocean floor mining, as the Indonesians have successfully economized with the coral island tin mining to make our non-toxic ROHS solder, which will keep our landfills pristinely safe from lead solder (which came primarily from recycled auto batteries).

When will Guangxi next show up in the environmental news?

Will it be coverage of the massive hard rock mining, lead smelting, virgin metal toxic refining?  Probably not.

You see, Guangxi also has one of the last remaining computer monitor refurbishing plants.  Those computer monitors that you may see being sold to Viet Nam.  There is no factory in Viet Nam.  But Kunming and Guangxi are overland from the Viet Nam border.   And they can't economically buy the computer monitors from Hong Kong any longer... even though the city of Hong Kong (and the metropolis of Shenzhen-Guangzhou) is a major generator of CRT monitors, it's too difficult to prove they weren't imported.

So they buy them via Viet Nam and bring them by truck.

And that is where the headline will be.

People repairing computer CRTs for reuse in China.  In the vastly polluted, smelting melting toxic pot of Guangxi, where smokestacks belch poison and rivers blacken from the pursuit of virgin metals.

The story will be the discovery of an illegal repair and refurbishing factory, which Basel Action Network will claim discarded a half in capacitor for every CRT that was reborn.

And that is the first time the Press will report on toxics in Guangxi.  Just as the press fails to report on the zinc smelter spills in Guangdong but reports on the tiny scrap town of Guiyu.  Just as the press fails to report on the toxic mining deaths in Nigeria and Zambia, but focuses ad nauseum on the discarded computer monitor in Ghana.

We will do with our electronics what we do with our ships.

We will stop recycling them.

We will dump them safely.

And we will pay children in Nigeria, Guangxi, Congo, Borneo and Bangladesh to re-mine the metals for our new ships and gadgets, using the most energy-intensive, carbon belching, and toxic invention of mankind - virgin metal mining.

Because my friend environmentalists are being idiots and steering the press to the dishwasher as the source of wasted food.  Let's arrest the dishwashers of our society for all the food that's wasted.  It's called an "end of pipe" solution, and after 40 years of environmental regulations, its all we can manage to do.

Goodbye gorillas.  So Long, Orangutans. Your property values were even lower than the houses of the ship recyclers in Bangladesh.   We'd rather create 20 times the toxics and carbon use mining your rain forests than to risk the recycling of a ship we're discarding to the bottom of the ocean.

The dirtiest recycling, of ships or computers, is better for the environment than the cleanest mining.  But mined ore has no fingerprints on it, it's not "second hand".  So there is no criminal liability.  Ships are covered with fingerprints, which we will keep sinking to the bottom of the ocean, to be mined in the upcoming ocean floor coral mining debacle, coming to a southeast sea far from you.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

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