How Is End-of-Life E-Waste Tonnage Reincarnated in Neighboring States?
In 2009, I wrote a blog about e-waste "Ghost Tonnage" in state mandated CRT and e-Waste Recycling Programs. A trade publication spotted it and asked to re-run it. I declined, as the causes and effects were a little confused at that point. This was not a simple case of Kramer driving New York deposit bottles to Michigan.
Unfortunately, "fraud" is not particularly rare in recycling businesses. Yesterday's post about the conviction of the Colorado "Executive" company is not the largest. The Sacramento Bee had a front page story about Arizona recyclers turning TVs into California for "redemption",using CA addresses "freed up" by exporting monitors for reuse against SB20 terms. A new report by Lauren Roman of Transparent Planet (my company is one of ten sponsors) scratches the surface of ewaste funding conspiracy theories, about stockpiled CRT glass, and market capacity for the glass. (I only had 48 hours to comment but Lauren has promised it's a "living document". I will make a separate blog to crib the report... it's good in a glasnosty way to start the discussion, but bears the fingerprints of agendas, and some of the people NOT interviewed in the report will need a chance to respond to "stockpiling" accusations).
A recycler who declares an abandoned car ("A-Waste") to be "covered electronics" in a state program (it may have a radio and electronics, after all) certainly gets a lot of pounds in a short time, and can sell those tons to an OEM rather cheaply. And a recycler who turns a ton of TVs for reimbursement by two different OEM sponsors has doubled not just his profits, but his entire revenue. Clearly, anyone getting paid twice for the same recycling, or claiming auto scrap as a "covered device", plays mumblety peg with mug shot photographers.
The OEM may appear complicit in accepting cheap tons to meet a state stewardship mandate. Because the volumes are so high, recyclers are forced to partner with consolidators, takebacks, and haulers - no recycler can get 10 million pounds directly from consumers and residents. My company cleaned up abandoned TVs from the sides of roads in Rhode Island, "green up" days in Vermont, and abandoned lots in Massachusetts... can we know for sure?
California is a state run program. But in the Stewardship Programs discussed in Lauren's report (she omits Massachusetts because the law came from executive branch order rather than legislation, even though MA has stockpiled glass) the state has created the obligation for the OEM to pick up a specific number of devices from homeowners in the state - a numbe derived via... some kind of state employee number crunching... the ouija board tells OEMs how many TVs and computers they need to fetch, or pay fines for.
So the manufacturer in faraway Asia is given a specific number of pounds of electronics they must "get recycled" in Minnesota. A number that is not even in metrics. And if they don't pick up that number, they pay a fine. Which recycler do we expect them to choose - one who is cheap and has "lots" of pounds, or one who is expensive and struggles to avoid the fine?