Blog has Widget Fever

I added some cool new widgets to the blog, like view counts and re-tweet buttons and more pictures.

Then I accessed it. U G H.  S l o w !

These wigjies slow the page download intolerably.  This is what creates "e-waste"... media which uses up lots of central processor unit (CPU) chip space and RAM space without adding significantly to the user experience.  Our readers in Egypt, Ghana, South Africa etc. will be better off if I disable and remove some of these frills.

I didn't mean to create ewaste.  But the blogger widgets serve a lesson about Moore's law - capacity of the chip is just an opportunity, it's how the media uses up that capacity which obsoletes the product.

When I first met Paul Roszel, of Recycle.Net, I introduced myself and complimented him on how his site remained very accessible to people in low-bandwidth countries.   Compared to Alibaba, RecycleInMe,, and other sites I use, Recycle.Net is not the flashiest, but the lack of javascript is something appreciated by the same folks in Africa who buy working, repairable and "good enough" reuse products.  Craigslist follows the same philosophy, reader-friendly regardless of bandwidth or chip speed.

Where there is no Regulator: EPA Carbon Regulation Jan 2.

Hey Doc,

Let's talk about this.  I know how you must feel.  You didn't ask to do this surgery.  Heck, you begged out of it.  The judges said someone has to regulate carbon emissions, and it fell you to you.

The best thing you can do right now is to confront the mistakes of the past.  Go over the records of patients who died under your knife.

First, let's remember that you've had some successes before.  Like with the Clean Water Act of 1972...   When you regulated water pollution, it had a positive effect on the paper industry.  The chemicals they used to bleach virgin tree pulp white were now more expensive to use.  And the office paper that was already bleached white was more valuable.  Small recycling based tissue paper mills, like the Erving Mill in central Massachusetts suddenly had advantages over larger tissue mills that were bleaching tree fiber white.  They were closer to the source of recycled paper, and used less chlorine.

Yeah, it was kind of an accidental success.  You didn't plan on the Clean Water Act increasing office paper recycling.  But take credit, ok?   Lots of cool inventions come from accidental Freakonomics.

Now.  About copper...

TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Looking outside, getting ready to leave the folks here in rural Arkansas, heading back to Vermont, packing up.  Every year I have to deal with southern Ozark stereotypes of New England, and New England stereotypes of my (7 generation hillbilly) background.

In 1984, when I arrived in Ngaoundal, Cameroon, a village of 1200 people on a train and highway crossroads, it was after 10PM.  I've written in more detail about how there was no one expecting me, the new English teacher at CES Ngaoundal in Adamoua.  No housing, no post office, no bank.

I remember a rumor which circulated in the town.  People were concerned that I was teaching the kids "American English", and that they would not be prepared for the brevet exam, which was in British English.  I thought that was poppycock, though I did run across bizarre words like "lorry" and "flat" in the textbooks.  I was fluent in Fawlty Towers and Monty Python.

At one point, the mayor (sous-prefet) of the town called me in, with the principle, for a meeting to confront the rumors in town that I was preparing the kids in the wrong language.  I promised I was fluent in proper English and capable of teaching it, despite my USA passport, and my lack of certification.

Anyway... an unprecedented number of my CES 3e class passed with flying colors.  Several told me that they thought the English part of the test was "a breeze" ("Sir, I was surprised.  It was very easy").  This was admittedly a brilliant, hard working, sharp bunch of kids who get all the credit.  But I'd arrived as a pioneer post, no previous English teacher (a military doctor had given some classes a couple of days per week), so I can't help but feel it was the decade's crowning achievement.

Just thinking about how consensus that someone is not capable, is a problem, formed so quickly among French, Fulfulde, and Hausa speakers about my English speaking ability.

When I get home, I think I'll transfer some photos.

The Finite World - NYT Paul Krugman

Excellent editorial in the NYTimes by Paul Krugman, titled The Finite World.

He describes how copper and cotton are hitting record highs, and oil prices are peculating upwards, despite an under-heated USA economy.  Rapidly emerging economies - What I describe as Korea-zation - is having a dramatic effect on climate, mining, extraction, habitat loss, extinction and resource consumption.

Krugman writes:
[T]he big problem with those blaming the Fed for rising commodity prices is that they’re suffering from delusions of U.S. economic grandeur. For commodity prices are set globally, and what America does just isn’t that important a factor.
In particular, today, as in 2007-2008, the primary driving force behind rising commodity prices isn’t demand from the United States. It’s demand from China and other emerging economies. As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies.
And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.
The same demand for our recyclables is pressuring Brazil's rain forests, Congo's watersheds, and Papua New Guinea's coral reefs.

Secret "E-Waste" Formula

Let us explore the "dirty little secrets" of the used electronics, surplus electronics, e-scrap and "e-waste" disposal businesses. 

Let Z = bad "ewaste".  e.g.  burning a TV or monitor for copper retrieved from ashes, disposal of junk CRT glass, or aqua regia acid baths for printed circuit boards.

Let Y = Legitimate raw material recycling based on hand-disassembly (plastic, steel, copper) or equivalent high-tech shredding technology.
  • SCRAP, 
  • ABS, 
  • HIPS, 

Let X = Legitimate repair (or plug-and-play working) electronics.

  • REUSE, 
  • REPAIR, 

Now, let's test two polar opposite hypotheses.  First, test the assumption that USA and EU exports equal 80% Z waste, and only 20% (Y + X).  Investigate if this is economically viable, to ship loads which are 80% bad and illegal...  Second, compare that analysis to the contrary hypothesis that Z waste = 20%, i.e. simply represents "toxics along for the ride".  Even if the worst material (Z) is only 20%, that would not be an acceptable amount of pollution - but the data might support prospects of e-waste trade reform, rather than throwing the sustainability baby out with the bathwater.

Live Interviews: Innocent Techs of Color, Not E-waste Criminals

We have raw footage film of the individuals who work in the "Big Secret Factories".  Just join WR3A's Group on   (Viddler is a high-def Youtube service, and individual memberships are free).

Most of these shots were taken in 2008, with a grant from CEA. The main video was shown at the CES show in Las Vegas in January 2009 (between keynote addresses by Cisco and Intel CEOs). 

We ran out of budget to have these WR3A videos translated.  But since the international audience for this blog has grown significantly (225 reads per day, with India, EU, Indonesia, Ukraine, China, Russia, Turkey etc. the fastest-growing readerships), I thought I'd put the appeal.

   (Interview with Peru tech to the left).

Many clips from Indonesia and Malaysia remain untranslated.  These are face-to-face interviews with individual Techs of Color whose jobs have been called "illegal" by some "E-Waste" NGOs.  If Interpol cannot afford to fly and visit the disputed Annex IX reuse factories, they should at least view these videos and collect  more.  

Oliver Typewriter NO.9, Eminem Xmas

In the Ozarks, with my family for the holidays, I look around and find many obsolete items which have memories associated with them.  In view, an Oliver Typewriter No. 9, manufactured in Chicago.

My great Grandfather, William Freeland, owned the Taney County Republican when I was a child.  He took over the paper after serving a couple of decades in the Indian service, was friends with Robert Niehardt (Black Elk Speaks).

As a boy, I remember he would be in his office, typing editorials.  Sometimes his daughters, Maude Freeland (a journalist / photographer) and Frieda Freeland Ingenthron (an English teacher) guest-wrote the editorials, and when he passed away, the two daughters, their mother Minnie, and my father would write editorials in the office room of the house, tap tapping on several typewriters they owned, including the Oliver typewriter.

Pareto Principle in Recycling - Eighty Percent ≠ 80%?

cold statistics
In his interview with NPR Radio's "Fresh Air",  Jim reinforced BAN's view of the world.  First, that 80% of USA's "e-waste" is exported to very crude ends.  Second, that 80% of USA recyclers export there.   The Law of the Vital Few makes it sound reasonable that just 20% of people, the e-Stewards, are good actors making 80% of the difference.

The abundance of used electronics heralds a shortage of pencils.

On an agreeable day, I can say BAN is correct.   Here's why:  Good Point Recycling domestically scraps 78% of the used electronics we accept for recycling.   That means that roughly 80% is not even worthy of repair (we domestically reuse about 2-4%).  The 22% we export should be about right.  We may disagree on the definition of testing (we follow instructions from our overseas buyers, frequently eliminating units of the same metals value as they accept, and we get a reconciliation report back to see how well we did).  But that just means sitting down and defining "tested"... we agree on 80% of the non-exported waste product.  Emphasizing agreement with BAN is common in my industry, because BAN makes a terrifying enemy, and disagreeing with them puts you on the same side as bad actors.

Hmmm.. Under this agreement, however, 80% did not wind up exported.   There are too many other companies, larger than Good Point Recycling (6 M lbs per year), which are exporting even less equipment.  Many, like ERI and URT and SIMS and Creative and Intercon, export far less than 22% (i.e. not enough, creating shortages)... and all of California, and the whole Dell-Goodwill Program (not many people realize the no-reuse-at-Goodwill Industries deal).  Twenty percent of the recyclers handle about 80 percent of the volume, and few of those are wholesale exporting 100%, as we hear Jim tell on Fresh Air..

[Update 2012 - UN Squashes BAN % Claim #eWaste Hoax, 85% of exports reused]

NPR Fresh Air Interviews Jim Puckett of BAN

Like the Futurama Episode, I expect the Fresh Air with Terry Gross will be a crystalline description of Guiyu in 1999, the last time the scrap yards there were undeniably fed primarily from imports.

Fair Trade and WR3A, its messenger, have failed to gain any sort of elevation in comparison to the "e-waste" alarm stories circulated from the other northern coast.   BAN has tremendous power.  Congratulations on the coverage on one of my favorite NPR programs.  Our Fair Trade Recycling coverage last year, on NPR's Marketplace, has been one-upped.

I feel personally that Basel Action Network has washed their hands of responsibility for the over-reactive rules now issued in China, Egypt, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, etc... countries where "4 year old rules" predominate, or (in the case of Kenya) no personal computers at all may be imported, working or not.  The shortages impact the middle class of those countries - those with electricity, like university students - but does not impact the hyper-rich in resource curse countries.

If there is an import law which not even E-Stewards can meet, and a demand which can never afford better than "good enough" product, then BAN and WR3A could reach an agreement about where the pendulum has swung too far.

Recommended holiday viewing:  Robots.

Guest Post Dude (robin on break)


What Robin is saying here is that environmentalists have, for a long time, been totally freaked out by the destruction of coral reefs, rain forest habitat, extinction and stuff.

Not even me, man
Then the ones who got all serious about protecting against that stuff started trying out businesses which preserve the rain forests and oceans and stuff.  Like fair trade coffee farms, sustainable fisheries, and recycling.  The recycling thing, that was huge, because it turned all of us into, like, this big urban forest, this urban mine, and we could reduce the consumption of natural resources and energy, like.   I mean, compared to building incinerators which then had to be fed more and more junk, that bunch of guy dudes and girl dudes doing the recycling thing in the 80s and 90s, man, that was totally respectful.

Then when recycling got mainstream (boring to activists), these guys started looking at toxics.  Like, if we are the source of raw materials like fiber and copper and aluminum and steel, from our mining houses, then let's also look at our toxics, man.  Totally awesome.  We got these budgets based on diverting toxics from these landfills and incinerators, and we made even more jobs.

Cadmium Phosphors in Outcast CRTs? Really?

    Hey Ya!  

   One of the most oft-repeated claims about cast-out "e-Waste" is that the CRTs are full of cadmium phosphors.

Some time ago, I was researching MSDS sheets for our recycling facility's Environmental Health and Safety manual, and to answer questions for one of our monthy plantwide safety meetings.  

Here is some interesting correspondence from an expert in Cadmium phosphors, retired professor Robert Dodds of University California San Diego.

"I don’t know why they would be worried about the Cadmium in the phosphor because I doubt there are any TVs that are 40 years old that haven’t been scrapped by now. At most, there might be a total of 4 to 5 grams of green phosphor on the tube. The tubes are also easy to tell because the they don’t have the carbon matrix around the phosphor and the phosphor is in a “dot matrix” rather than the “block matrix”. Besides that the Cadmium is present in a low energy crystalline structure, hexagonal sulfide, that can only be released by strong acid which would also result in the generation of hydrogen sulfide which is a much greater health problem than cadmium."

"E-Waste" Cell Phone (HTC Evo) Final SALE!

Six Two hours to go, the "e-waste" HTC Evo phone has been bid up to $137.50   $167.50


Remember, depending on who wins this bid, I could be arrested by Interpol for violating the MPPI (a working paper drafted by some people who go to Basel Secretariat meetings.  Evidently the working paper trumps the actual text of the Basel Convention, which allows export for repair and refurbishment).

I have not removed all the non-working parts that I expect will be replaced - which in the case of this cell phone, means removing a screen which still works for 80% of the screen, allowing the buyer to confirm other functions before undergoing the repair.

Another Study: OECD Prices of "Triple Play" Broadband Access

Here's another big topic:  Triple Play broadband services.  Those are data pipes which provide residential consumers with (A) Internet + (B) Landline + (C) Television (and movies).

This paper by Technology Policy Institute's Scott Wallsten and James L. Riso compares spending and price trends in OECD nations... where homes may be large enough and discretionary spending loose enough for people to own very large display devices, as well as hand held, laptop, and desktop in the same house... without having to prioritize.

It is a very different market from what I've described as "3B3K", the three billion people who live in countries earning average incomes of $3,000 per year.   Those nations are gaining internet access at 10x the rate of growth of OECD nations - but they are not getting triple-play access.  They choose whether to own hand-held OR big screen OR desktop, etc..  These consumers need technology which is "good enough" to accomplish what they need.  Many rely on internet cafes, or access at work.

101 What's the Truth about "E-waste"?

Foxconn in China
Where do computers and cell phones get made?

Most are made or assembled in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan.

Where are used computers sold?

The biggest used PC buyers are contract manufacturers, usually subcontractors to Foxconn, Wistron, Proview, BenQ etc. Those factories are in turn contract manufacturers for companies like Dell, Sony, HP.  The names on the computer don't tell you where they are made.  (Lenovo is a Chinese factory which was making all the IBM laptops... IBM and Lenovo finally cut a deal a few years ago to transfer ownership, and credit, to Lenovo).

Why are there so many junk computers in places like Guiyu, China?

There are four reasons.  First, China is rapidly growing.  There are about 400,000 employees just at one factory (Foxconn in Shenzhen), which isn't far from either Hong Kong or Guiyu (two extremes in living standards in a very large nation).  Foxconn employees alone generate enough "e-waste" to keep Guiyu busy, without any imports.  And Hong Kong is a city of 7 million, which could be producing 30 million pounds of "ewaste" a year without importing anything.

Cell Phone E-Waste Update

Less than 48 hours after posting my HTC Evo E-scrap phone (the broken LCD which is still 80% readable), the  ebay bids are up to $130.   That's just $69 less than the new HTC EVO 4G I can get at Sprint, if I upgrade one of the company's older phones.  The replacement LCD, if I do the IFIXIT repair myself, is about $65.  Plus I need tools, shipping, etc.  The ebay method seems to be proving the efficiencies of free-flowing commerce.

But will pollution result?   I have allowed international bidders to place ebay bids on this auction, which was listed for 5 days.  By the end of the week, we may know whether I am to be arrested by Interpol for violating the MPPI Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative.  You might recall it, BAN has publicly stated the white paper MPPI diagram (which calls for non-working parts, like the LCD, to be removed prior to export) not only applies to cell phones, but the text of the Guidance Document actually trumps the Basel Convention Annex IX explicit description of CRTs.

First HP, Now Sims

"Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity

To seize everything you ever wanted-One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip..."

Just being right won't make me rich like Eminem.  But all you people who stopped exporting to be "All USA" should look at your leaders.  This is SIMS people!   Two days ago it was HP.  It's over.  You believed HP and SIMS were all USA, anti-export.  Smart people listen to their critics.

This is not a criticism of SIMS.   I think they are smart.  Smarter than me, perhaps, because they invest in the foreign opportunity market without talking about it.  Like HP.  It takes a home mortgage for me to open the Retroworks de Mexico plant, I can only defend via blog the Techs of Color in India, such as Intarvo and Rajeev Gupta and now SIMS.  I wish I was more successful in raising investments for these people.  All my time is tied up resisting friendly fire from BAN, SVTC, ETBC, and NRDC.

You get one shot.

Music restarts if you click "read more"...

Imagine Animal Farm at Basel Debate

Is it possible to imagine that an engineer with several patents, who operates a CRT manufacturing factory for the past 2 decades, whose purchase orders range in the hundreds of thousands of units, whose factory buys 5,000 CRT units per day, who oversaw the design of the CRT monitor the American is recycling, and who designed the converter boxes for the HDTV transition...

Is it possible to imagine that this engineer has ISO14001, ISO9000, a downstream CRT glass-to-glass market....

The "E-Waste" word, Mis-legally Used

It's a terrible word.  I've been admonished for using it.  I should always use "quotations".  Some tell me I should pretend it's not there, as if people never search or research the term.

Here's a suggestion.  "E-waste is to electronics as Litter is to newspaper."   Litter is bad.  But banning newspaper is overkill.

Waste Management, Recycle America, & Asset Recovery Group
Some of us have tried definining "E-WASTE" to mean, specifically, the electronics which really did actually get thrown in a landfill.  "ewaste residue" is redundant.  You don't call a sick person a cadaver... and you shouldn't call something which will be recycled or repaired a "waste".  A bale of newspaper is not called "litter".  Banning used computers to people who cannot afford new ones is like the communists accusing newspaperboys of being litterbugs.

ISRI and others struggled with the words "waste paper" in the late 80's and early 90's, saying it left an opening for waste regulators to over-reguate commodities.  I agreed... but I also noted that the people who most re-used the "waste paper" words were the people in the scrap paper business.  Why?

Good: Rain Forest and Recycling

Let's return to the 1990s focus on rain forests.   

They are most threatened by major extraction.   Mining exposes the forests to bushmeat hunting and toxic effluent.  Timber and pulp mills replant, but may replace native diversity with homogenous crop trees.  Hamburger demand causes deforestation.

Rain forest depletion is a major contributor to global warming .  Plants eat carbon and release oxygen.

If you can't Join Me? HP's Beats Me to African E-waste

Electronic waste gives investors chance to make cash from trash

Kudos to HP? (Story below)  I was concerned this would be an anti-reuse operation.  To some extent it may be, I'm sure they are not making "white box" machines for the export market.  But let's look into this.  If they have beaten me to the punch, or stolen my game plan, I'm a happier dude.

If they are collecting it all to prevent reuse and white-box manufacturing (which the Taiwanese are already bringing into Africa), then it's a compromise measure.  But one thing is for sure, the article sees Africans for what they can do, not for what they cannot do, and recognizes that e-waste recycling is a business they can create value in and make money from.

Hopefully they will accept junk from WR3A partners in Africa, and sell replacement parts to us.  READ ARTICLE BELOW

A Computer for Schools technician dismantles a central processing unit to enable easy disposal of the various parts. Components that cannot be recycled locally are shipped to the country of origin for disposal. Photo/FILE

A Computer for Schools technician dismantles a central processing unit to enable easy disposal of the various parts. Components that cannot be recycled locally are shipped to the country of origin for disposal. Photo/FILE 
By RAWLINGS OTINI   Posted Friday, December 10 2010 at 00:00

The growing volume of e-waste in the region is creating new opportunities for local entrepreneurs and multinationals, who hope to tap into the $14 billion global market.

As the government ups pressure on technology firms and other large-scale importers to manage their electronic waste more efficiently, industrialists are hoping the environmental threat can translate to increased job opportunities and income generating activities.

Meltwater in Accra Ghana

A slightly different image of Ghana Techs of Color.

I needed them as inspiration to teach me how to use "jumpbreak" in the blogspot posts (showing posts as summary

Illegal 4G Smart Phones E-Waste Export Crisis!

I did it!   I broke down and upgraded to the nowest, wowest, HTC EVO 4g slim smart android google phone!  I was the coolest Dad at the Vermont High School for about 11 days.

Gently abused (the phone, not the kids)
I did it!   I broke the smart phone.  Threw it in the coat pocket, along with my car keys.  It still works but the top 20% of the screen is cracked and unreadable.  That's the newest email message, the most recent missed call, the selected phone number.  ("I'm not just the e-scrap company owner, I'm also a client")

I did it...  I looked up how to repair my cell phone on, the next 4G generation "Silicon Sam", which is infusing a ton of energy into supporting the "right to repair".  Here it is, IFIXIT article on how to do this very LCD repair.  Impressed, much.

But it would be so much easier for me to buy another phone and send this one (for $100 cash in my pocket) to a repair team I know overseas (not this one, but you get the point).  I know the repair team has all the tools in the IFIXIT how-to diagram.  I know they will be able to wipe the info and resell the phone, creating jobs for eager techs and selling affordable phones to eager geeks.  From Vermont to China to Cairo... North America to Asia to Africa.  A white guy sends the phone to a yellow guy who refurbishes and resells it to a black guy.  I've now listed the phone on ebay for $130.  High bidder for a similar item was from Hong Kong...!

Women Should be (an environmental) Priority

My theory is that limits on women's rights lead to the worst environmental harms, including mining harms and worst e-waste recycling practices.

In nations where women do not inherit land, jewelry demand is very high, per capita... if you love your daughter, it's the normal wealth you can give her.  Unfortunately, Gold mining is the worst environmental activity invented.   Gold mining releases more mercury into the environment than mercury mining!

O Prison "e-waste" Recycling Truce: Where Art Thou?

Let's End the Feud with Prison Industries over "E-Waste" Recycling.

I've made this proposal before.  But I recently read another company's blog about "e-waste recycling", and noticed they had several posts dedicated to bashing Unicor, the Federal Prison Industries program which makes electronics recycling cheap by using USA prison labor to take apart computer scrap.  That is "kinda now, kinda wow, kinda 2003."

There are two arguments against Unicor's prison recycling program.

The first issue is that the workers are somehow poisoned and endangered.  This is false.  False false false.  I don't even want to get into this, except to say that if private USA recyclers want to start a bidding war with the federal government's prison system about who can make a safer facility, they are shortsighted to be kind.  The Unicor facilities I have visited have waxed floors which may well have been cleaned with toothbrushes and tweezers.   These places are stone cold ISO rule-abiding recycling joints, and the only toxics problems they've had were from early years, when e-waste recycling was new.  Comparing a modern private facility to a decade-old Unicor operation just isn't a fair comparison, and it's stupid to make it.  It's typical of an immature industry to promote false rumors about competitors.

Malthus e-waste Commentary: Certainty Trade Offs

I believe that certainty is best achieved with enforceable civil law contracts, purchase orders, and audits.  The post below was clipped out of a previous post, as someone thought it was about a paper it had nothing to do with and which I hadn't even read yet.

This is about what might be sacrificed if you increase certainty by decreasing trade with poor nations.

There is more uncertainty about the outcome of exporting mixed loads.  A single Mercedes Benz or Harley Davidson hidden under piles of junk TVs can go a long way to paying for a load.  But using materials to hide other materials from customs is not a problem unique to recycling - it exists in food aid, malaria medicine, school books, and corn shipments.  The Egyptian market was virtually shut down in 2008 by discovery of an operation in Toronto area which was putting generic viagra into used computer monitors.

There are 3 tragedies in the continued simplification, and denigration, of the refurbishing complex...

California Compromise Sopranos "e-Waste" Episode

Ok, I blew the California Compromise.  
Here is the dialogue I was middleman to.  What should I say?

In fairness, Jim Puckett of BAN was the most engaged of anyone in the discussions, and put the most time into making it work.  But it's hard to convince the partners overseas that the men who created the stereotype about their technical abilities can be trusted to change message.  At this point, I think, too much money has been invested in the fake story, which is that all, not some, Asians use primitive practices.

California:  Exports are bad.  We require breaking stuff.

Export Market:  We used to buy the good stuff from you guys.  Now we buy from Sopranos. Let's talk.

Basel Action Network - Power and Responsibility

UPDATE:  Phone conversation with Jim Puckett says not to give up on this yet.  Overseas factories remain skeptical, but if the monitors show up, I think they will buy them.  If BAN can provide them from E-Stewards, in quantity, WR3A is willing to give first refusal (first priority) to these.  We shall see..

The Pledge of True Stewardship RIP post could be read by some as as return to pot-shots and pissing matches with  After a promising set of agreements over the "California Compromise" - where BAN and WR3A agreed to support an export-for-reuse regime in California which would meet BAN's narrow interpretation of Basel Convention Annex IX - some may wonder why take the risk of a setback?

Source of Narcissus flowers...How we see ourselves
In all fairness, Jim Puckett at did make a legitimate effort to get the California Compromise off of the ground, and did more to move it forward than the Californians who would benefit from it.  But given the amount of criticism which has been heaped upon legitimate electronics refurbishers, it would take more than encouraging emails to change the distrustful dynamic between the Pacific coasts.  Below is the blow-by-blow explaining why I'm giving up.  Willing to carry water if someone calls me... but I'm signing my own contracts now, California can do what it wants. 

Blind Kids Singing

I was humbled on Slashdot for using analogies which some folks didn't get.  And I also saw people drawing conclusions about the RIP story which questioned environmentalism altogether, certainly not my point.

Some folks do see the beauty I see in Techs of Color, people in poor countries with nothing but their knowledge creating value from what someone else threw away.  Perhaps it comes down to a taste for bittersweet.  I like the video embedded below, from the Sibonile School for the Blind in Africa.

RIP: The Pledge of True Stewardship 2002-2010

[Middlebury, Vermont  12/2/2010]  The Pledge of True Environmental Stewardship, conceived in Seattle Washington in 2002, was laid to rest today.  The Pledge was designed to create a list of good, green companies which "promised" to do the right thing with "e-waste". After fighting a fierce battle with skeptics and true believers, too many good companies refused to sign, and too many eager companies signed (good or not).  The Pledge wasted away.
In 2002, the Pledge was released by Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition as a vehicle to shame electronics recyclers into abandoning bad exports.  It is recognized as the primary force stopping all kinds of exports from some companies, bad or not.   Other companies did whatever they wanted after signing the Pledge, and it eventually became meaningless.  Death was pronounced when the largest Pledge company admitted to being the largest exporter... to the same export avenue BAN accused in 2010.  
Certification services are being offered to the survivors.  The (estranged) family members are R2, E-Stewards, and people  you trust to do the right thing with your used electronics.  Enforceable civil contracts have accepted all outstanding liabilities.
For more information, visit 
"Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo"

Mutual Admiration Society - DiaBlogs

Well gosh, I was as close as I come to "speechless" when a friend forwarded me Adam Minter's post in "ShanghaiScrap" yesterday.  I  posted a link to Shanghai Scrap after reading it last winter.

His post yesterday was titled, "The best scrap blogger in the world", and it directed... Here!

Truth about "E-Waste" Globalization

1)  What do developed countries do better than emerging economies?

They have a population which cares immediately about the environment, and which reacts politically when the environment is harmed or their health is endangered.  This creates a stronger regulatory environment.  A point I have made in past academic blogs is that regulatory enforcement is proportionate to property values, which is the actual key to "environmental justice" (low income populations generate low property values, which demand less civil law focus, which is an indicator of other law focus).

2)  What do emerging nations do better than developed countries?

The lifecycle of most devices is much longer, because it is worth it to maintain and repair and reuse an item when its value represents a high percentage of your income.   This is also true of parts (chips, capacitors, RAM sticks) and also recyclables, which are typically sorted and graded into higher [reuse] value categories.  This spreads the carbon and other pollution impacts over a greater usage and benefit, and should be recognized as a positive environmental contribution by Geeks of Color.

3)  What are the practical limits of reuse exports?

For direct reuse, there is a point where the value of the item is worth the repair labor, but the user at that level does not have electricity... there are diminishing (bummer) returns.  Eventually black and white, 40 year old TVs may still be fully functioning ---  but dudes the used 10 year old color TVs will be so cheap that there won't be a market for the black and white even.   People who are in need of food, medicines, and tools will not spend any portion of their income on a device which they cannot aspire to use. 

4)  What are the practical limits of e-scrap recycling exports?

The practical limits of recycling copper, aluminum, and other value items is limited only by the unemployment level.  Compared to mining the same amount of "hard rock" metal, it's practically, like, limitless.  Because it's not limited by electricity, fuel, etc... A human scavenger is competing with a huge frickin' machine.

Proper dismantling and recycling jobs could be open to the poorest people, if they were paid well and trained - at least, the idea should not be dismissed.  The point is that the recycling value added is not bound by the same "electricity" and other practical limits of reuse.  If you export a copper bearing item, even working, to a region without electricity in homes, they may well cash out the raw material value by recycling it.  Functionality does not bring value to a community without electricity. 

The issue with export-for-recycling is to compensate the factories to allow for transport of difficult-to-manage materials (CRTs and other "focus materials) to a place where they will get recycled. This is why I chose a place in Mexico close to a mine and smelter, and our reuse factory is close to a CRT glass furnace.  It's not that hand disassembly is bad, or that shipping CRT glass to an African lead mine is impossible, it's just that those costs need to be covered. We have demonstrated that in many cases, they can be covered by the value of the repairable items, but only if the ratio of repairable/working is at around 70%.  Below that, the materials can still be managed well, but may need to be paid for if the trade is to be "fair".

5)  Who is most likely to be a good trading partner to an African entrepreneur?

Certainly not someone who refuses to trade with the African entrepreneur, or who calls for it to be illegal for anyone at all to trade with him/her.  That person is worse than worthless.

6) What does Adam Smith have to do with this?

Adam Smith demonstrated that if there are two tribes, and one makes arrowheads twice as well as the other, and the same one makes arrow shanks THREE times as well as the other, that more wealth is created if the faster tribe stops making arrowheads and only makes shafts.  Even though the slower trip is half as fast at making the arrowheads, more wealth is created if the first society does what it does BEST and leaves the poorer tribe to do what the first tribe does second best.

This is pretty mathematically sound.  If you watch History channel, you can also see how the copper mines of Eritrea demonstrated this 3000 years ago.

Emerging nations repair, reuse, and recycle well.   Allowing them to build on that is not abusing them unless you underpay them and fail to give them financial incentives to do as much as should be done.  Shutting down a factory in Indonesia because it replaces capacitors, making a computer look and work like new, without mining or remelting or refining, because the factory PROPERLY recycles the removed capacitor, and you have defined proper recycling as a "form of disposal".... ugghhh.  

A serious crime was committed last February, when someone at a "no export" e-waste company told BAN that the Indonesian factory was importing hazardous E-Waste, and BAN informed the Indonesian government that the containers contained "waste" and "hazardous waste".

A serious crime was committed when BAN and NRDC and ETB publicly led people to believe the factory was primitive and backwards and polluting.   But this week something new came to light.  The exact same export container shipper to the SKD factory, Gordon Chui, is the same one that ERI exported 6.9M pounds of 'breakage' to.

Yes, it's the same guy.  And if I defended  him in February as someone who was being wrongly accused of dumping purely because of his ethnicity, I don't see how I can now accuse Fresno of doing something wrong by exporting through the same guy.

What I can object to is the way they abandoned him, just like they abandoned the glass pile in Yuma.  If it was my container that was held up to my face, I would not say "I've seen the light".  I would say that my export partner is a good man.  "Touche Pas a Mon Pote."

The most avid followers of this messed up, perfect is the enemy of the good, anti-export philosophy are people who have never even been out of the USA and who think laptops and tablets are being made in Silicon Valley, and who have never even heard of "Shenzhen".  I am not saying that all recycling overseas is clean and wonderful.  I'm just saying it is not that complicated, and given a few simple fair trade incentives, we can build R2 recycling factories with friends in other countries which we can be proud of.  I dream that my grandchildren will have more loyalty to their dot-com address than to their passports, and that national boundaries will mean little because the standard of living will be no more different crossing from USA to Mexico than it is crossing from Switzerland to Austria.

A Day in the Life: Honest Used Computer Exports

We get hundreds and hundreds of these requests through WR3A.   I just wanted to share a sample correspondence, received in the past 10 minutes.

Dear Mr. Ingenthron,

I am interested in importing used computers to from the US to East Africa. Does  your organization provide services related to linking potential buyers to legitimate exporters? If so, what can I do to benefit from this service?

Thank you and regards,


The Know-Nothing Recycling Movement?

"The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1840s and 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and controlled by the pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Membership was limited to Protestant males of British lineage over the age of twenty-one. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and entirely Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery." -wikipedia

I wrote a long post yesterday (Sac Bee Finds Guys).  It took awhile to land on the theme of exactly what intrigued/bugged me about the Sacramento Bee article.

   "We don't know how they dispose of it, 
       but we don't agree with it."       

Sacramento Bee Finds Guys: How SB20 Defrauds Reuse

Warmer, Warmer, Waarrmmmmer... Cold!

On Sunday, Sacramento Bee reporter Tom Knudson released another big story about "E-Waste" exports in California.  He is the reporter who travelled to visit Retroworks de Mexico last February, and did a good couple of stories about SB20.   Yesterday's article is titled "California recyclers find market for toxic trash" (follow link).  (2012- McClatchy has dropped links to the story, but follow ups found here).

Knudson nearly scores a home run.  However, there remain some bases to touch, or dots to connect.  The article continues to leverage value from the myth that recyclers overseas are nasty and brutish (I admit they are short).  I know Tom struggled with how to describe a fair trade operation.  Today I'll try to weave the arms and shoulders of the multi-colored dreamcoat together...

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong... How E-Waste Photos steer WEEE Policy

How does a great wall of "ewaste" photos obscure factual data on the trade in second-hand goods and secondary scrap commodities?  Data collection is more important than a competition to photograph the "largest TV sculpture".  

European "E-Waste" Recycling is heralded by some Product Stewardship advocates as the model for the USA.   The EU is certainly taking a very tough stand on exports of used computers.  Is the EU's Maginot Line against export trade the best response to unfair trade practices?

Are the European restrictions against sale of used electronics to emerging nations based on art or science?   Most photos of export loads don't answer the basic question, "Is the container 80% full or empty of affordable electronics?"  Queue the song, "Black Swan" by Thom Yorke.

Maybe I just didn't realize how traumatized the Europeans are by Cathode Ray Tube televisions.  These days, they are X-raying sea containers in Rotterdam, the Scottish EPA is arresting people at Salvation Army donation centers, and they are planning larger enforcements against anyone who sells a computer monitor to be used in an African Internet Cafe.

Based on photographic evidence, one might assume the CRTs are needed at home in Europe - to complete a "Great Wall of E-waste", which will completely encircle the European Union.

This Great "E-waste" Wall seems to symbolize a trade barrier to the export of second-hand electronic equipment, or export of copper or plastic scrap.

Could Europe be using arts market development to become self-sufficient in demand for used electronics?  On the other side of the wall, will Africans "leapfrog" their way into laptops and flat screens?

Ok.. I'm making fun of the Europeans here.  The point is not about this ill-conceived use of "e-waste" debris as objet d'art (located in Vilnius, Lithuania, where my first fair trade partnership started in 2003).  My point is that using photos to describe an entire culture is fraught with problems.

Global Trade and Recycling

There are those who think that global trade in recycling is a waste disposal campaign that exploits countries with poor labor and environmental standards.  There are those who think that free and fair trade generally leads to better outcomes than government efforts to intervene between market supply and demand forces.

The latter argument is usually bolstered if the government restriction begins with half a recipe for success.   Regulating the secondary market and ignoring the primary market is a textbook case of sloppy regulation.

The global production of metals and petroleum and timber is the elephant in the room which no one (else) is talking about.   Mining residue and waste is considered domestic generation by Basle Convention;  recycling residue and waste is considered a trans-boundary movement.  This was an unfair playing field to begin with, but now advocates are trying to gut Annex IX, B1110, to add even repair and refurbishing to the list of "waste" processes.

The right to repair demands constant vigilance, even if virgin manufacturing is benign, or environmental impacts are equal.   But virgin ore mining and refining is far more polluting, toxic, and resource consuming than recycling.  Mining and forestry provide necessary products for modern society.  But if we ever have the choice to buy recycled instead of buying extracted, we'll reduce our impact on toxins and extinctions.

Transition from Color to Black and White TV 1960s

Palm tree scandal in NYC
Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The same blimps, the same schtick, on the same living room CRT.   It seems like the opposite of change.  I remember watching Mighty Mouse, from Terrytoons, on our black and white TV when I was a kid.

The Story of Stuff cites Moore's law, which says that processor speeds can double every 18 months, a prediction which has held true for silicon processors and transistors..  Moore's law is a contributing factor, necessary but not sufficient, to explain the rapid obsolescence of cell phones and pentium and AMD chips.

Today's price:  $4
Moore's law has nothing at all to do with video display terminals.  Yet countries are lumping together cell phones and televisions and computer monitors in "4 years since date of manufacture" laws.  Razors, toasters, cameras and coffee makers are being sucked into a "Stuff" hammermill subsidized by policies, best explained by History of Stuff.  If it's "electric" it's "e-waste" or "WEEE".

Exports Compared: E-Stewards and R2

What is the big difference between R2 (EPA's Responsible Recycler standard) and the BAN E-Steward Standard when it comes to export for reuse?  Here are some diagrams of how surplus computers, scrap computers, or "e-waste" is managed under the R2 and E-Steward programs (click links to see larger version)

WR3A presentation to NERC 2009 on fair trade recycling exports

This method of displaying the Powerpoint presentation isn't the best, because the photos are layered.  When you click in powerpoint, the photos overlap one at a time, but in PDF they are glued on top of each other.

Still, this was a presentation I want to share, and until I can upload it to the website, I'll share it this way.

WR3A NERC Cert 2009 Photos Robin Ingenthron

Pssst! TSA... Distort the Image Dudes!

People are getting all panicky about the new TSA x-rays.  I don't want to even copy and paste an actual example, I could get the blog dinged for adult content.

But TSA could do the same job if they purposefully distorted the images.  You know, like stretching a comic copied onto silly putty.  The fact that someone is carrying a weapon would still show up, and you could have a rule that if a foreign object appears that the image would be restored to "normal", or even "normal" just for some radius around the object.

There is no reason to show the actual morphology of the actual person's body.  It would be really easy to stretch out the images and then people wouldn't feel as self-conscious, and TSA wouldn't have to make a big point about deleting the images.

Aww.  A few hours after I posted this, the Washington Post reported that a "scientist" had the same idea.

But dudes... My idea continues. The images should totally be played to the soundtrack of Roxy Music's "Manifesto".  Like, the TSA guy will be sitting in Washington watching the photos, and it will look like this below, but on his TSA screen, and he'll be like, "Wow, that's totally interesting, and I'm neither bored nor turned on... just groovin."

Scrap Metal or "E-Waste" Recycling? Electric Razor

I'm not too happy with yesterday's post.  I got back late on Sunday with the truck, following the collection event in Kingston Rhode Island, and went looking for something in the "draft" folder which was close to finished work.  The CRT Demand Forecast wasn't that bad, but I'm a bit tired of writing about display devices and CRTs, and many people have gotten the point by now.

Display devices don't become obsolete, and whether a CRT can be sold for reuse depends entirely on how many poor people can have literacy and electricity.  CRTs are a declining share of a growing market.  So it depends which happens faster, growth of the market or price pressure from flat screens.

Done.  Ok, what about electric razors?

I shaved with a Braun which my mom got me for Christmas, probably more than ten years ago.  I've replaced the razor head twice, and really like that I'm able to find new heads online.  It's rechargeable, and though I leave it plugged in all the time (probably not good for the battery), it works for the 60 seconds I need it to shave when I travel with it for several days.  Today's question, when it does break or get replaced, what do I do with it?  In this society, probably the most likely cause of displacement of the razor is that I'll be gifted another new one, and if that keeps happening, I'll stop buying replacement razor heads.

In theory, if I simply decide not to replace the razor head, someone else who's in a more frugal country may do it themselves and be grateful.  But I chose razors today for a reason.   From what I remember, when I shared a house with Mbaku Christopher, the other English teacher (an Anglophone from S.. town south of Bamenda, before the ring-road), white people electric razors do not work very well for Africans.  He tried my electric for awhile, hoping it would help his razor-burn face, and told me it made it worse than ever.   Let's assume also that plenty of new razors are manufactured in Asia, and that the repair and reuse market is low.

I assume that the tiny circuit board and rechargeable battery would fail the "focus material" test for R2, requiring domestic handling, and fail the waste export test for Basel Convention.   I am pretty confident, however, that the amount of copper and hard rock mining metals in the razor would be very worthwhile to recycle, compared to getting the same amount of material from ore.

If the material is exported as "breakage", what is going to happen to it?

It may become a lottery ticket for a gentleman like this Egyptian (below, at the Goma flea market, Cairo).  I've seen these scavengers in Africa and in China, spending the day with a blanketful of electronic gadgets and trinkets.  My Egyptian friend and host Hamdy pointed out that a flea market guy was also selling European electrical wall switches, pulled out of some construction and demolition debris, and told me that the German mark was considered higher quality than the new 'made in China' electric outlets.  So, there's a chance that a guy will sell my electric razor off of his blanket full of "party favors".   But there is zero chance that I'll be able to audit that and report on the end market destination, so if sold "for reuse" I won't have the impeccable records I have for SKD factory CRT reuse.

If someone burns the razor on a pile of wire, like the kids at the landfill in Ghana, there wouldn't be a lot of evidence where the razor had been generated, but let's say we track this one and it's definitely mine.   Burning the plastic is nasty.   Let's assume though that the kid stands away from the fire - something the kids normally do unless and anti-export photographer is asking them to stand closer to it.   Burning the electrics razor on top of the other wire will put some lead solder into the ashes, resulting in pollution.  The lithium rechargable battery is worth more in scrap value than the copper these days, so unless the person burning it doesn't know the recycling business, it's not in the fire pile.   It's questionable whether the pollution is as bad as if you get a similar amount of copper out of a copper mine, and I'd still argue that the world is a better place than if you throw the razor away in a USA landfill and mine the same amount of copper from OK Tedi mine on Borneo, where the mining leads to extinction of Orangutans (adding strange meaning the the juxtaposed images in the Braun razor advertisement shown below).   But I'm in the minority there, most people feel revulsion and so we cannot be honest with clients and ship the razor as "breakage" if it's going to be burned.

So, what should happen?  Let's assume that the recycler got the razor, it didn't sell off the blanket, and the recycler knows not to burn batteries etc.  What could they do in a "fair trade" scenario?  Disassemble the razor by hand.

Clank!  A quick flick of the wrist, and the razor is thrown onto a cement floor or into a barrel.  The plastic flies off, leaving a steel piece, a tiny circuit board, the copper wire, and the battery.  Snap!  With some wire cutters, those different metals are quickly sorted into boxes.   The tiny circuit board can now go with the printed wiring board for proper recycling at a smelter, perhaps one in Japan or Belgium.  The steel can go into a steel box.  The copper wire can also be sold to a secondary smelter, or even  be cut by a woman with a razor who removes the insulation and sets aside bright and shiny electric grade copper, which can now skip ahead to the end of the refining line, saving massive carbon and pollution costs.  You all know, I think that manual disassembly, with proper financial incentives and technical assistance, is the best possible end use.  I love the ladies who create valuable metals without strip mines.

But alas, let's say we cannot get the razor to this Fair Trade Recycling operation.  Perhaps the host nation bans the import, like China.   Or the USA contract with the generator prohibits export of the unit.  Now what?
  • We could demanufacture it by hand in the USA.
  • We could bale it with the printed circuit boards and send it to an R2 destination.  Hopefully, someone examined whether it was a rechargable battery or a straight plug-in razor, like my older Braun.
  • We could run it through a Maser shredder, which turns and grinds and turns and grinds, spending more energy to get the copper fraction mechanically separated from the steel fraction.
  • We could throw it straight into a mine pit, and hope that the refining chain will get out the lithium and copper and iron the same way as when those materials are combined in ore.
  • Most likely to occur?  In Vermont, Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, and other places I'm familiar with, the razor will get thrown into a pile of scrap metal, headed for a steel shredder.  It will get recycled, a la Jimmy Hoffa, but whether the materials wind up in China or not, in tiny pieces, is an open question.  "I recycled it in the USA" sometimes means "I made it in small pieces in the USA".  See posts on scrap metal and ZORBA.
  • We can send the item back to Braun.  Braun will then make the decision, from among the same choices I've laid out above.  Except Braun probably won't allow reuse.  Just as Nissan shredded an entire sea ship full of cars when the ship listed to the side and the cars were damaged, Braun won't want the potential liability if they sell reused parts themselves, and Braun definitely won't want someone else making the decision on the gray market.  
So, how do we answer this question?  With all the twitter advice, all the Facebook ads for recycling, with all the Stewardship and  fanfare, how do OECD nations recycle electric razors, something people have been handing out as Christmas presents for decades?

Robin's CRT Demand Forecast

Forecast is cloudy.   But winter is coming.

As regular readers and members of WR3A know, I am the staunchest defender of the integrity of export markets for reuse items, and have tried to push back against the hysteria over Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) exports in particular.  The CRT is a beautiful thing.  It was built like a battleship.   A typical CRT lasts 25 years and is a very decent display device.  

It is more fashionable to have an LCD or plasma or LED, and it's space conscious, but there is none of the "functionality" trade-off to continued use of a CRT monitor, as compared to a Pentium II desktop.   The refresh rates on a good CRT are actually better than an LCD.   Some people, such as internet cafe operators in developing countries, prefer something that lasts longer, survives high heat waves, and is difficult to steal.  I prefer the big CRT television in my house because I can channel surf 5 times faster than I can on an LCD in a hotel room.

Since I've made my position so clear, many readers who have been exporting their CRTs are now calling me and saying "We agree!  Buy ours!"  The phones start to ring...

What you must also hear me say:  "It's a buyers' market."   

It absolutely AIN'T a seller's market.  Buyers dictate the terms.  If I have 5,000 CRTs this week, I  can find good homes for 5,000.  But if I get 10,000, the quality specification will change - I may still be able to ship only 6,000.  The other 4,000 will be voted off the island and recycled.  WR3A members are frustrated that the more supply we obtain, the pickier the buyers get... because it is the poor buyers in developing nations who get to dictate the terms of a buyer's market.

The price offered for reuse CRTs is crashing through the dang floor.  As Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta and Singapore and Shanghai upgrade to LCDs, they are flooding the reuse market with working CRTs.   There is still demand, but just like corn or wheat or milk, the supplier cannot dictate the price.

They also don't particularly like buying from the USA.  Shipping costs are high, and Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore are all upgrading displays and generating very nice CRTs for the secondary market.  When you add USA environmental groups which call them "primitive" and send letters to their governments alleging pollution, you can't be surprised by the "don't call us, we'll call you" tone of these manufacturer takeback programs.

Some American recyclers respond by leaving the market and shredding up the CRTs.  As the price of copper and lead go up, they say it doesn't make as much economic sense to export.  State legislation pays you to destroy them, and besides, the export market has already become the social-stigma-equivalent of dating a black man in Birmingham Alabama in 1959.  Those who sell overseas risk being are branded as "export-lovers" by our competitors, and those who shred are called "Stewards".   

This is all natural in the free market.  What I don't like is the moral speeches from those who choose to destroy rather than export for reuse.  And I don't like that the losers are the poorest internet users in the world.

How does an Ethical "E-waste" Exporter continue in fair trade in a crashing market?  

First, study the market.  Make sure that you are not just clinging to old sales models.   I've quoted Danny DeVito before (Other People's Money) about the best buggy-whip maker who made the last best buggy whip.   I've read since 2001;  the subscription pays for itself.

Second, be comfortable breaking even.   If you can just ship the monitors for free, the avoided disposal cost may be worth it.  Five years ago we were paid $7 apiece for white monitors... now it's a lot of work to sell them for $1.50   But it's still environmentally preferable if done in a fair trade manner.

At a certain point, the price of LCDs will fall to where their estimated life of 5 years is offset by their reduced shipping cost (more fit per transport container).  Some of the emerging markets, such as BRIC nations, will continue to enjoy increasing wealth per capita.  At a certain point, CRTs may still have demand, but relegated to a non-credit-worthy environment.  Just as farmers will turn to producing high-protein-muscle-building-whey when children as still hungry for milk, the refurbishing market may abandon the SKD (professional refurbishing factory) business.  

Every month that my company inspects computer monitors for working CRTs, we know there is a chance we won't get paid for a shipment.  That's still worth it to me.  I'd like to be the last guy in America to get the last working screen into an internet cafe in West Africa.  But WR3A will find it very hard to broker loads for other suppliers as we enter this stage.

At that point, the CRT monitors would become suitable only for direct-reuse, a market which is a) applauded by BAN, and b) notorious for its "informality", compared to the contract manufacturers which BAN and ETBC have vilified.

I digress.  But the point is:

  1. CRT demand is declining rapidly as a percent of the display device market.
  2. The display device market is increasing wildly, promoted through huge growth and over-production
  3. CRT demand in absolute numbers is steady, but supply (from displaced CRTs) is increasing.  
  4. It's a buyers market
  5. The buyers of CRTs are poor.
It kind of resembles automobile manufacturing.  Poor people in the 1970s still needed small cheap cars, but USA auto manufacturers didn't want to chase that market.  They decided to make big expensive cars for richer people, and left the manufacture of little cars to Asia.  The CRT is the little cheap car with a low margin, sold to people with bad credit.

What Good Point Recycling is doing is charging generators almost the same for the reuse items, and selling them cheaper than the other exporters, while getting pickier about quality (or in cases like Mexico, paying to properly recycle whatever swing in the market dictates for "reuse" CRTs that cannot be moved economically).

That's our niche, we have clients willing to pay us for their stuff that can still be reused.  The ones who want to get paid are good people, but let them by plane tickets and go sell their working stuff like we do.

I have personally bent over backwards to create WR3A and to establish easier ways for the good companies to sell their material.  What I run into in my marketplace is clients who have been told we are a bad operation, because we export.  The recyclers I applauded as Stewards five years ago are exporting almost nothing.  The investment has all been made overseas.  The overseas SKD and contract manufacturers have put in glass processing, established zero-import of cadmium phosphors in their POs, gotten ISO14001 and ISO9000, etc.

What should we do?

The CRT reuse market in the for-profit sector may be down to the final 18 months, and we are transitioning to charging everyone for everything.  Even notorious junk exporters are charging for CRTs now.    The market may pick back up again when some of the CRT molding machines close (Samsung Klang skipped retooling and is in its final death march for 2012), the smartest thing might be to charge for them and warehouse them like airplane parts.  But the price war in LCDs, and the coming of LEDs, is causing the market to bristle for, at best, a glut of recently-replaced CRTs (from people who respond to the LCD price war crash by upgrading), and at worst, a further slow in demand in the CRT reuse market. 

We are still paying for CRTs from WR3A members who have stayed with the organization from the beginning.  We are still exporting to the SKD factories which, as I have emphasized, are less "informal" than the largest and best E-Stewards, full of engineers and technicians who are the aspiration of their nations.  Those men and women are starting to outgrow CRTs, they are growing into larger companies.  This little episode in the early millenium when they were depicted as wire burning chimps will be over, and their willingness to refurbish CRTs will probably be limited to markets like United Nations sponsored school and internet programs.  

The United Nations and charities may find donated working CRTs to be a boon to the non-profit digital divide sector.  But they have been labeled "toxic waste" by so many people, that the easily-sued, trigger-happily sued donors may walk away from students who cannot leapfrog their way to an LCD.

ICT programs will help to develop new markets, which Cisco and Dell and HP and Lexmark will benefit from... if they aren't beaten to it by Wistron, Foxconn, BenQ and Proview.

For the history books, the story of CRT exports is going to look a lot like the story of yellow cheese vs. white cheese.  That's a reference to a Political Science course I took at Carleton College, about the Interstate Commerce clause and the attempts by Wisconsin and Minnesota to protect their cheese factories by regulating the color of the cheese.  I cannot even find any reference to it on google.  It was all the rage, cheese color protectionism, back in the day.