CRT Recycling Primer: Update

E-Waste Made Simple!
Taking a break on the "Term Paper" project which explains the "good enough" markets among the world's urban poor, I found some broken links on this 2010 post "CRT Recycling Primer".

I updated a broken link and added a few lines, and it occurred to me that this was kind of a gem in the light of recent buzz about CRT glass recycling stockpiles and glutted markets.

The ugly, the bad, and the Good Enough Market connect between bans on the West Coast, sellers markets on the East Coast, piles of CRT glass, and a surge in internet by young people in emerging markets, as profiled by EMarketer (covering research by Google and Booz)

O! What a tangled web we weive when first we practice to deceive!  It all started with a bogus, raunchy, cynical, made up statistic by Basel Action Network which said that 80-90% of CRTs exported were burned in primitive and polluting conditions.   Not only has BAN stopped distributing the stat, they have refused to ever say where it came up with it in the first place.  Combined with pictures of poster children, this stat sucked in CBS Scott Pelley, Terry Gross, Frontline, and entire "E-Steward" enterprises.

The outcome?  Shortages of monitors, dictator crackdowns on internet hardware, worse supply chains, high taxes, and a big stockpile of CRT glass cullet (and higher prices to recycle it).   Now California companies are asking for permission to landfill it, which means not only were California taxpayers asked to take the monitors taken from Egyptians, the CRT glass was not even recycled.

1.  California subsidizes companies to break CRT monitors.  This created a sellers market for working CRT exports on the East Coast, and created a simple "big shred" system of companies in California who live off the breaking subsidy (planned obsolescence in hindsight).

2.  The "sellers market" created by the West Coast for useful CRTs on the East Coast created worse quality exports (as markets were forced to accept older and more scratched monitors), and created a buyers market for CRT cullet (broken CRT glass) markets, which stopped paying for cullet and started charging recycling prices.   The prices charged for CRT cullet are particularly high when the panel (barium) and funnel (leaded) glass are shredded together (raising the melting point to barium).

3.  The CA Big Shred companies tried to move to the East Coast but found it nearly impossible to compete in price with "mob" recyclers who were taking advantage of things like, say, the growth of internet in the mideast and Africa, where an affordable "good enough" market was hungry for CRTs (heavy and difficult to steal, cheap, last long time, easy to repair).

4.  Dictators (like Mubarak) tried to label displays "e-waste" to control the internet, and seized those with a "manufactured on" date more than 3 years old.   Here is a photo I took of a "manufactured on" date the day before Christmas at the store less than a month ago.  AUGUST 2011, still at retail in the USA December 24, 2012.

5.  Some working monitors were seized in Egypt at the ports (about $85K in losses to my friends at Medi-Com, who sold to Egypt's largest cities).   When the UNEP visited Cairo to view the "e-waste" import problem there, they saw some bad things, but MOSTLY they saw seized working monitors, a pile created because Mubarak wouldn't let the importers sell them in stores.   I was lambasted by a college student "anonymous academic" style who referred to this UNEP report to defend BAN.   The report clearly describes a pile of all the monitors people like Hamdy had seized at customs.

6.  I took our "seized" monitors in 2008 and re-directed them to a factory in SE Asia, which completely rebuilt them under warranty, creating a new "manufactured date".   My repair-pro buyer extended the warranty in Egypt and took back any "ewaste" from his sales.   Another competitor of mine (from Asia) did the same.  (Enlarge the Vermont-origin CRT below to see the new "manufactured on" date and the warranty offered by our partner in Cairo).

7.  The "Big Shred" California companies couldn't compete with exporters in price via hand-disassembly (the main value of hand-disassembly is stay-of-execution for reuse-worthy items... machines tend to miss the P4 headed down the belt), so they defamed the factories we shipped to in Asia as "primitive wire burning" villages and paid BAN money to defame our shipments as "hazardous waste".   So they bought out the best exporter (the one with the highest removal of bad CRT glass), stopped their sales, and paid BAN money... BAN then denounced the remaining two exporters in 2008 and 2010.

8.  The Big Shred California companies created mountains of CRT cullet from the monitors they couldn't reuse.  As prices went up - especially from the Mexico Border Fiasco of 2010 - they stockpiled their glass.  But the "Buyers Market" was even bigger when Mexico's border reopened, and the price to move the CRT cullet was shocking.

Make no mistake - the piles of CRT glass everyone is complaining about being "speculatively accumulated" is the same as the CRT glass diverted from reuse in Asia and Egypt as recently as 2010.   A few companies try to get around it still (see's "outing" of a St. Louis company which was trying to cut out the middle man and change the date codes on Egypt-bound monitors three months ago.  The company was indicted for fraud because of the date codes, but BAN cynically runs it as an e-waste dumping story).

German Language Bauerfeind has the only coverage close to getting to the real story.  The Green Revolution isn't happening on IPhones in nations earning $3,000 per capita per year - but THOSE are the countries with the fastest internet growth.

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