Bad Exports to China - look for screws

Why we do NOT export intact PCs and printed circuit boards

Most of my posts to date have been written in frustration that states laws are acting as tools of planned obsolescence for display units. The CRT monitors are in demand at the factories which made them, the displays work just fine, last longer, and are less prone to theft, etc.  Calling them "ewaste" has unintended consequences.

We don't want to go so far in defending exports of working displays that we forget about another e-waste problem that falls under Toxics Along for the Ride.  In any tour of any USA computer recycling company, look for the screws.  If they are shipping intact PCs to China, rather than taking the Pentium 2s etc. apart, then they save on labor and export the circuit board headache to a country which has hazardous treatment of printed circuit boards.

Printed Circuit Boards ("PCBs" - but not Polychlorinated biphenyls... that is another haz waste issue) may not be toxic in and of themselves, but the crude process of aqua regia recycling is quite hazardous.   Aqua regia is soaking gold plated material - like chips and boards - in a fuming nitro-hydrochloric acid bath.  It literally means "royal water" because the acid can dissolve "noble metals" like gold and platinum.

This is at heart a women's rights issue.  You see, women do not inherit land in India and China.  But families still love their daughters.  So, if you love your girl, but you don't give her the farm, you give her gold.  As Chinese weath increases, China's demand for gold is soaring.

China and India consume more gold than the USA and EU.  The high demand for gold per capita means that stewing printed circuit boards in a pot of poison is economically attractive.

The Chinese circuit board reclaimers do get credit for salvaging higher value chips, which they reuse, off of the boards.  But otherwise the labor savings from demanufacturing would not make up for the value lost in aqua regia - it does not capture tantalum, iridium, rhodium and other noble metals in the circuit boards, and it is not in fact very efficient at getting out the gold.... a lot of the gold gets thrown out.

The bottom line is that Good Point Recycling does not export intact obsloete PCs and carefully stewards all gold bearing scrap (especially circuit boards) because we want to recycle every bit of the metal (a process that sends the boards to a place like Colt Refining in NH, which we almost always use because of our trucking routes - but could also be Abington Metals or Metech or Gannon & Scott or Xstrata or Sippi).  The refined material gets sent to a high end refiner in Europe such as Beliden or Umicore or Deutsch Affinerie.   We demanufacture the PCs, and once that labor is invested, proper high tech management of the circuit boards pays for itself.  We also recover the hard drives that way, and have recently started removing the small circuit boards from the hard drives both as a data security measure and to better recycle the gold etc. from those boards.

The demanufacturing process can be done in Africa, and we'd like to work with Africans to properly recycle their circuit boards.  However, the incredible need for cash will tend to cause people in poor countries to turn to aqua regia for the quick buck, because getting a shippable quantity of circuit boards for Europe - even if it is lucrative - takes too long.   Someone may use aqua regia to get $100 worth of gold out of $200 worth of circuit boards because the really need $100 right away, and cannot wait for a sea container load to accumulate.

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