CRT Glass Resolution: An "Own Goal" In Slow-Mo

The path of least resistance is to trust our environmental regulators, trust the watchdogs, and assume that profit-driven industry is the villain, the fox in the henhouse.

The path of least resistance is to assume that people questioning environmental enforcement are "apologists" who care less about environmental pollution than the enforcement proponents.

Sometimes those assumptions are 100% right.  I'm not a carbon climate causality denier, and I'm proud of my 9 years of service as a Massachusetts recycling regulator.

But as a former regulator, I can attest regulators are not always right.  Regulatory agency lawyers tend to be more risk-averse than private sector attorneys, for example.  Regulators understandably want to hold themselves to "the highest environmental standard".  But when there is doubt and uncertainty - an engineering problem for example - the regulator can become obfuscated and defend his own reputation.  That is to say, when in doubt, the regulator has to act - in doubt.  And saying "yes" or "no" sometimes boils down to the regulator's own insecurities.

And these lead to unintended consequences.  #OwnGoal

Let me again state that what the agencies do, for the most part, is great.  I'm suggesting an environmental police chief should look at community concerns the way any police chief looks at protest.  You can stonewall and deny mistakes, claim 100% effectiveness in your policy.  Or you can learn from a mistake and adjust your policy.

At least, that's the story of CRT glass piles.

Over a decade ago, California panicked when legitimate overseas factories were purchasing selected grades of desktop CRT monitors... basically over racial profiling.  The SB20 spent hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy the monitors without ever actually visiting the factories that had been buying them.   The supply of "broken CRT glass" was therefore spiked by a regulator's racial insecurity.

The companies that invested in equipment to break apart those monitors obviously wanted to protect those investments, and began funding a campaign of "Pledge" and "Stewardship" to make generators feel guilty if they used another company that disagreed with California SB20.  That campaign consisted primarily of false statistics.  "80%" of the CRTs purchased by Asian factories - according to testimony in Congress and to CBS 60 Minutes - would wind up discarded in "rice paddies".  "Shaming" people who would trade with Asian buyers became commonplace.  This led to Asian factories (Samsung Corning CRT Glass plant in Klang, PT Imtech in Indonesia) to stop buying CRTs from the USA, and source them from places like South Korea and Japan.

The photos of suffering children continued.  Poverty porn became the driver of "American Electronics Recycling" (aka "Big Shred").  More CRTs in the USA got shredded, and the piles of CRT glass grew.

By Sophie abasa
There was another option - native leaded quartz, mined from places like the notorious "Broken Hill Mine" in Kabwe, Zambia - is used as a "fluxing agent" at huge primary copper smelters.  Instead of mining the lead (anglesite, tarbuttite) from the mountains, CRTs could be sized to leaded silica pieces and used in its place. After a lot of evidence was presented, EPA approved this use (as it had previously for lead smelters).  But again, the regulators' CYA required them to place conditions... Anglesite was classified as a raw material and could be stored in a pile for decades (so long as it is birmed and monitored).  But if the leaded silica comes from an "urban mine", it must be labelled waste and had to be consumed in one year, and regulators and certification bodies would come and verify that happened.

In response, the copper smelting industry stopped responding to the offer.

So now CRT glass recycling is so expensive that California and Illinois are putting it into landfills.  Smelters mine it from the earth, and we are sticking it back in the earth at the other end.  It's a "linear economy", not a circular one.

My point is not to say the corporate risk taking is always "correct".  If I don't know what the environmental outcome of a corporate request is going to be, like most people, I will defer to the regulator.  I'm not saying the private investor is more likely to be correct.  I'm saying no one is 100% correct, and the way people "err" when they aren't certain tends to be CYA.

But in this particular case, the "watchdogs" of the environment scored an "own goal" or Autogol.

I've invested 10 years now into trying to open the smelters to using recycled content fluxing agent. All they ask is that it be called the same thing as the mined material - leaded silica for fluxing agent. If it's the same thing, they will take it.  But I can't do this forever, I'm tired of being attacked and impugned and my integrity questioned by the watchdogs, and y'all can take your CRT glass and choke on it.  But don't think the next generation of environmentalists won't know what happened.  The students I meet with see the racial profiling, they see the "fear of the other", they see that the net environmental effects were less use of manufactured devices, more mining, and more carbon.

We sent our last shipment of CRT cullet last month.  The floor at Retroworks de Mexico is clean, the books are closed.  We stopped shipping from Vermont in 2013, and now the Chicas Bravas will need to find other work.  Perhaps at the Nacozari mine... they can dig for raw lead out of the sides of the virgin mountainsides.

The End of Retroworks de Mexico

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