Recycling Accountability in the Communication Age

Our slogan at Good Point Recycling has been, "we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we do."  Early on, I saw that many recyclers began fudging and pledging and equivocating, not because what they were doing was wrong, but because negative marketing was becoming such a part of our business.

One of my truck drivers delivered a load to another recycler (our normal recycler, Electronicycle in Gardner, was too far out of the way of the return load).  The CEO of the other recycling company was friendly, gracious, and professional.  But the impression my driver came back with was how this end market could not stop calling Dick Peloquin "China Dick" and trying to convince my driver that everyone knows that Electronicycle was just exporting everything.

I was dumbfounded that someone in my business would use the "scare the client" technique on someone else in the business.  I had been VP at Electronicycle a few years earlier and knew the CRT glass test and other results of Electronicycle.  Anyway, the point is that knee-jerk negative marketing is rife.

That makes it extremely difficult in a world commodity market to trade goods transparently.  China needs copper, China will get copper.  If you throw the stuff in the landfill, Chinese investors are going to set up a landfill mining company and get it later.   To get copper out of the richest ore mountains, we will process and dump 98% of the mountain to get the copper out.  If we throw away all the electronics, the landfill will hit 2% copper and we will dig it up again.  US Geological Survey has some fascinating papers on copper demand projections, but it all boils down to the added value to copper vs. other metals (gold is more valuable, but the value added to gold after mining is much less)  The entire communications industry relies on copper, and this is the communication age.  (The previous age was the "Information Age", I just coined the Communication Age to reflect how putting info on the web was part 1, social networking makes communication part 2).

Information provides Ahhh. 
Communication provides Ah-hah.

In the Communication Age, who you are and what you do is going to get relayed between third parties, and if a group is raising fears and concerns about your industry, your best insurance is to keep records of what is happening to your recycling stream.   We were the first in the industry to pay for reports on actual reuse rates of CRT monitors we exported.  Other firms may test all the units (or claim they tested all the units), but if they do not get reverse communication from the buyer, they cannot be fully accountable.  The best example of that is the percentage of R4 Sony Trinitron tubes which, "tested working", wind up at factories that cannot use them... it's like putting a Mazda motor in a Chevy, they just don't fit.

Fear of being accused of exporting made my company more accountable for the monitors we sold overseas.  We provided financial incentives to the refurbishing factory.

- We don't want you to pay us $7 per monitor.  We want you to pay us $5 per monitor.
- If we send you a monitor you cannot reuse, we want you to charge us $5 per monitor.

In return, we want you to do the following:

- Renew your ISO14001 and ISO9000 (which you had obtained when you were contract manufacturing the computer monitors for OEMs in the 1990s)
- Document your import permits
- RECYCLE, glass to glass, any monitors you cannot reuse (even if they are "working") and provide your glass recycling records on a regular basis.
- Provide documentation of legal recycling of any other fallout, residue, or ewaste from your factory.
- Film the processes and upload them online

The Malaysian factory said "bring it on, cowboy" and upped the ante with 4 visits per year from their Malaysia EPA (Dept of Environment) office.   

What are the dividends of Fair Trade?  Ahhh.  Ah-hah!

Good Point Staff get a report on each and every sea container, showing exactly how many of which monitors passed, failed, or earned extra credit (we get a financial bonus for newer black, LCD, and SSG Korean monitors, in shortage).  The bad ones in the report cite the problem - incidental breakage in shipping, screen burn missed by the blacklights, trinitron tubes they can't use, 21" monitors in oversupply.   Our managers sit down with the monitor grading staff and look at the report, they can see the accountability of what they put in the container, and the quality goes up because we documented what we did.  We get a bigger blacklight.  Then we find out that a certain number of screen burned units are actually reusable, it's just a more limited market, like the 21".  Ahhh.  Ah-ha!

The Malaysian factory, having entered the recycling business on the fallout, begins to accept back bad CRT tubes from other factories and other clients.  They wind up recycling Malaysian CRTs for Malaysians.  Ahhh.  Ah-ha!

We earn a few hundred thousand dollars, which we can pass back to our clients as savings.  Ahhh.  Ah-ha!

The Malaysian factory gets investors and increases our purchase order to 100,000 CRT monitors per month.

We have records which demonstrate other things.   Now that the staff is attuned to which monitors are rejected at the factory, they bird-dog a client I'm accepting from which has all useless trinitron monitors, something we hadn't noticed, and we uncover the client has another local (man and van) operation cherry picking our monitors.

We follow the cherry picker.  He is bringing the best monitors from our loads to a "lowball" low price recycler who we all were criticizing and accusing of dumping TAR.  

Ahhh.  Ah-hah!!  Suddenly, I see how the guy gets away with the percentage of bad units he ships.... he is "diluting" his bad units by sending guys in vans to buy my good units!  It would have been so easy to call  him a bad guy.  We also find other ways he is sucking good units out of the stream to blend in with his bad units.  He does not pass the CRT Glass test, and still makes me mad as hell, but I've underestimated him.  Ahhh.  Ah-hah!!

We can also find out, comparing records on the monitors with MSDS sheets, which CRTs have cadmium (older TVs, pre 1970s military monitors) and which never had cadmium, and document that none of our shipments every contain a unit with cadmium.

I offer to provide the info above to Basel Action Network.  They say they want the data and the information, but they still consider the operation illegal.  I was incredulous... if we can document everything above, including the import permit, it is still illegal?

We were to be a pawn in their protest of Annex IX B1110, the repair and refurbishment of CRTs clause, made legal in the Basel Convention, which BAN disagrees with and is constructing "flow diagrams" for the sole purpose of gerrymandering against our refurbishing factory.  Ahhh.  Ah-hah!!

I told my kids, if you tell the truth, your brain pathways become more comfortable telling the truth, and it will become a good habit, like saying thank you, that will reward you throughout your lives.  Telling the truth about our exports has created major dividends for Good Point Recycling.  It's a more complicated story than "bad people ship junk to poor people".   But like Copernicus and Galileo, the truth will beat fear of telling the truth.

I am a recycler.   I am not a perfect recycler.  The perfect recycler would pay millions to get the last monitor, and I won't do that because spending a million for something usually winds up wasting carbon or doing something else stupid (mining tin from Indonesian coral reefs to replace recycled lead in solder, for example). When we go through our R2 audit, we will tag the operations we don't believe pass, and ask if there are ways we don't know about to economically meet the requirement.  Then we will offer clients the choice, they can pay one rate and live with the non-compliant R2 process, or pay X cents more and we will document full compliance on their e-waste material.

It will be interesting to document what percentage of material comes from clients with which opinion.  When we do, you know I'll share it.  I really love this job.  It is so incredibly interesting.  I love coming to work, it's like I live inside a documentary.


Glass Bottle Recycling said...
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Mobile Shredding said...

Great work, really good read i emailed this around the work office