Write the Rule: How to make sure a laptop is ok to export

If we can just write down the lyrics to this Jayme Gutierrez song, and similar songs for 11,587 other used electronics products, we can crack the case on how to ensure that people paying $265 for a broken HTC Evo aren't burning it for copper value, in primitive conditions.

"E-Waste" Compliance Primer: Quiz Brought to you by Amazing People

Legal or Illegal: Go to Quiz (below video)
Warning:  Different Regulators answer differently
International commerce law, International environmental law, national commerce law, foreign national commerce law, national environmental law, foreign environmental law, civil law.

Your mission:  to provide affordable electronics collection, asset management, and recycling service (aka "e-waste" management).

Your gauntlet:  to perform your mission legally, satisfying all clients (collectors and buyers) and employees in all jurisdictions, state, federal, various foreign national, and international.  Warning, the rules change every time you cross a border, but your civil law agreements -what you are to do by contract - extends across those borders.

If you collect an object from the jurisdiction of person A and sell it to person B, it may be labelled a "waste" in jurisdiction A, when waste is not allowed by the jurisdiction where person B resides... though the object is considered a commodity there.  You must obey these rules, but still deliver the Object to the person best able to reuse it.

To Our Recycling Friends In Egypt

Although the business we had together has been taken away by a stupid Basel-Influenced policy (actually Ban Amendment, the Basel Convention allows import for repair), which declared  repair to be waste, we are still close with our friends in Egypt.  As I watch the news of protests in the street there, I feel a mix of emotions... happiness, fear, sadness, worry, hope, and tremendous pride.

The CRT monitor repair shop I toured there was not shiny.   It was not particularly well lit.   But it created jobs for 22 young Egyptians under the age of 30, who tested and repaired and refurbished computers for sale in the technology malls.   Some of their computers they sold were to hospitals and medical students.  Some, no doubt, are in use posting news on Twitter and Facebook.

The techs in these photos taught me a lot about computer repair SLIDE SHOW  On the visit with my family, I brought two non-working laptops, which my own techs said had bad capacitors.  I sat with my colleague in his shop as he sent the laptops to the backroom.  An hour later, the tech returned with both laptops repaired;  one I used on the trip, and I gave the other to my host.  I was not Henry Higgins, I was Eliza Dolittle.

Egypt is one of the largest 3B3K markets (part of the 3 billion people who earn about $3,000 per year).  It has tremendous capacity to become a nation of tinkerers, like Japan, and to become the strongest and most developed democracy in Africa.  I experienced a lot of laughter in Cairo.

What Happens to Reuse Exports "Eventually"?

Test in VT, Refurbish in Asia, Sell w/ warranty in Egypt
We were recently asked this question, again, by an environmentalist.  She expressed doubt or concern whether the completely refurbished computers we help to provide were really an answer to "the e-waste problem".  Eventually, she said, the computers would go obsolete.  What happens when they become e-waste some day in the future?

I think we've answered the same question about a half dozen times.   For the record, before I repeat my answer (in GREEN below), here are the four questions I asked back but did not get a response to yet, but may.. eventually.

(To imagine the conversation a little better, first watch the John Cleese and Manuel duet, from BBC's Fawlty Towers, at bottom)
  1. What happens if I shred this computer?  Will the African get a new one eventually?
  2. What eventually happens when a brand new computer is donated to the poor country?  Should new computers be banned too?
  3. What happens if people in the poor countries cannot get online?  Will they sooner have a recycling infrastructure ten years from now?
  4. Would the USA live by the standard that you cannot sell technology (think of plasma TVs) until there is a recycling system in place for them?  Doesn't supply always precede the recycling investment?
Now, here is OUR ANSWER.  In the countries we sell working and reuseable CRTs to, we pay our partners to properly recycle any accidental breakage.  And the partners now take back an old junker for every piece they resell for reuse.  It's a "Monitors for Clunkers" program, and it resulted in a proper end market where none would have existed had Fair Trade Recycling been stopped.

EPA Says: Commodity or Waste? E-waste Regulator Checklist

Last February (2010) we posted a "State E-waste Regulator Compliance Primer checklist format" - for compliance with EPA "commodity exemption" conditions.  I expected some comments and feedback, but did not get much, and the checklist has not had as many visitors as other posts.   Since many state regulators are in a new position of regulating electronic scrap, electronics reuse, and electronics waste, I thought I should republish it, and ask again for comment.

Standards for Vegetarian Menu: Brought to you by Jimmy Dean Sausage

Jimmy Dean (1928-2010), the Texas sausage millionaire and former country crooner, passed away recently.   If you liked his songs (like Big Bad John, below), why not try his breakfast sausages?  That was the standard he started his own business by (and he made good on it).   What if we found among his notes the following standards for vegetarian and organic sausages?

(Disclaimer:  This is Parody.  Jimmy Dean the pork sausage magnate did not actually draft standards for tofu production.  My point is that the standards for reuse of used computers, as written in E-Stewards and Pledge of Environmental Stewardship, bear the mysterious mark of scrap shredding companies with "no intact unit" standards and anti-gray-market, planned obsolescence in hindsight OEMs.)

How to Prepare Safe Tofu - by Jimmy Dean

Elective Upgrade as an E-Waste Generator

It is impossible for WEEE or E-Stewards or R2 to design a system which prevents generation of scrap from elective upgrades  Examples of elective upgrades are replacement of RAM with faster RAM, replacement of 110 volt power supplies with 220v (rather than adding an adapter), upgrade of CRT monitors into monitor-tv combination.  "Fully functional" can produce the exact same fallout as "repair and overhaul".

This German report (page 18) envisions  a need to prevent exports where
"d) the appearance is generally worn or damaged, thus reducing the marketability of the item(s)"
This appears to assume that exporters from the USA or EU primarily trade directly with retail and reusemarkets.  EPA's 2008 Report on used CRT exports documented that this is a relatively small portion of the export market;  "white box" market re-manufacturers constitute the lion's share of exports.  And if you send the factory below two computer monitors, one a fully functional Dell D1226H 19"inch UltraScan with a pristine casing (per instructions in the German report), and a second no-power Dell 19C02-MON-WMSV049S  with scuffed, scratched, cracked, ugly plastic casing, the result will be:


Both were assembled by contract manufacturer AOC, but the second (non functional) is a type the factory needs.   If an E-Steward sends the second one "tested working" and pristine, however, it will be torn down exactly as if it had damaged plastic.   This is because the factory voluntarily, electively upgrades all the products it buys to like-new condition.


NYTimes: Japan Was Just a Warm-up

Hammer-Man, a gift from Aaron Cho Kum
NYTimes has an article today comparing US-Japan relations in the 1980s to US-China.   As an International Relations major at Carleton College ('84), I remember studying under Roy Grow, who was new to the department.  His specialty was China, and in our courses he was making the case that the Japan stuff was just a precursor to what was going to happen in China.

We studied Japan post-WWII history and the rise from repair to knock-offs to good-enough products to well engineered electronics and cars.  Norm Vig, Hartley Clark, Michael Zuckert, and other Carleton Poli-Sci professors discussed how things between the USA and Japan had gotten to this competitive point, on the heels of Japanese tinkerers who worked on Radios.

We studied Alexis de Tocqueville, my favorite international relations philosopher.  I try to observe world development as he studied Democracy in America (as a "Political Thinker"  - Man, what a great job title!). 

Observing how Japan became an economic rival, and China's path, there are other past observations to remember.  Singapore tinkerers worked on aircraft engines and electronics.   Taiwan tinkerers worked on printed circuit boards.   China worked on display devices, which most Americans fail to appreciate are the biggest cost component of a computer for most people in the world.  I hadn't yet heard of the "resource-curse", but could see it, and Japan was a model for its opposite, "the blessing of repair and reuse".

Payola Scandal Behind E-Waste Standards?

Meat head expertise
Electronics recycling or "e-waste" companies which have little or no experience in export for reuse - companies without testing of CRTs and with "no intact unit" policies - have provided testimony on what proper testing requirements are for legal refurbishing factories.

Letting a company which shreds equipment write the rules for testing equipment is a bit like putting a butcher shop in charge of a vegetarian menu (or a beauty shop).

Further, there is evidence that these shredding companies have contributed large financial sums to the non-profit organizations which write the "E-Steward" rules, and have contributed to the political campaigns of executive branch officials... who in turn have appointed new "e-waste" enforcement regulators.  To date there is no such leverage by "planned obsolescence" upon R2 Responsible Recycler standards (holding breath).

If the legal, careful, fair trade companies are barred by law from selling working and refurbishable cores to legal companies overseas, it is an unintended and perverse consequence, at best. 

I believe that MOST of the people involved in legislation of e-waste export restrictions have good intentions.  Many good people (like Terry Gross of NPR Fresh Air, and Solly Granatstein of CBS) have been led to false conclusions by a photographic poster-child campaign.   But there are also commercial, for-profit interests.  Companies which promote "planned obsolescence in hindsight", who oppose white box manufacturing, and who oppose refilled ink cartridges and refurbished cameras, may be influencing the environmental movement to crack down on GOOD exporters, making fair trade efforts (like my company's) appear toxic, immoral, or illegal.

Elective E-Waste: Decision Trees Downstream

Citizen's Arrest, Citizen's Arrest!
Let's say that your company is an E-Steward Certified company.  Your staff tests computer monitors and Pentium computers, they are all fully functional, and meet the tests adocated by Basel Action Network, VPIRG and Electronics Takeback Campaign.   Let's say that you go beyond that, and you insist they are sold to an ISO14001, ISO9000 buyer who checks and verifies every purchase.  Let's say that your buyer even takes back (from their own country) one junk CRT for every computer they resell, so the whole trade is scrap-neutral.  They provide reconciliation of every shipment, allowing you to make steady improvments to your Quality Control.

We can say that the company is in an OECD country, like Mexico.  Let's say that it's owned by a women's cooperative, creating jobs for Mexicans in Mexico, reuse markets in a country without HDTV (where USA rabbit ear CRT TVs work).   Or if you prefer, let's say it's a Manufacturer Takeback operation, the factory in Indonesia or China which originally assembled the monitors as a contract manufacturer for Gateway, HP, Dell, etc.


My Pitch for R2 over E-Stewards

The R2 standards for "e-waste" recyclers require proper documentation of all the reuse and recycling streams.  If you export for repair or reuse, per Basel Annex IX, you must also keep records of what happened to every piece that wasn't reused, make sure it was properly recycled, and make sure the buyer is both audited and fairly compensated.  You need to have your records audited and keep them for three years.  Our first reaction to R2 Consensus was to hire an inspector and audit our reuse buyer, to make sure  all the incidental breakage, elective upgraded parts, etc. were recycled properly and that the reuse records were accurate.

E-Stewards began with an objection within R2 that proper recycling of e-waste (incidental breakage, above) overseas was a form of disposal, and that Basel Convention Annex IX requires "pre-repair" - identification and removal of the piece to be replaced.  No matter how well the recycling of the piece occurs overseas, they define "proper recycling" itself as "illegal disposal".

RIP #2: Reuse, Repair and Recycling

More powerful than you can possibly margarine?
In the blog, I've tried everything.  I've tried contrition, I've tried humor, I've tried data, I've tried logic, I've tried film, I've tried professionally edited video, I've tried slide shows, I've tried appeals, I've tried legal links to law, I've tried lots and lots of analogies.

The Death Star of Planned Obsolescence is too powerful.

Moving Reuse Jobs Out of State

Good Point Recycling has just reviewed the draft standards by the state of Vermont.  It makes the film below worth watching.  It's about "Planned Obsolescence".  Parts are in English.  Will post another.

 I spent the day making arrangements to move our reuse operations out of state.  Vermont will lose about 8 jobs and $330,000 per year.  We will keep the transport and demanufacturing, we just lose my favorite part, the reuse.

Helping Out a Ghana Tech

Meltwater Academy, Ghana
Good Point Recycling has a tech working for us this month from Accra, Ghana.   His name is Mohammed Wahab, he has a USA green card, and we are paying him to prep computers and monitors suitable for export to Ghana.

Maybe he'll sell them to a student who will one day apply to Meltwater.

He says the containerload (a small 20' er) will cost around $4675 if he gets the PCs down to NY port (we'll deliver in our truck).  He's testing things as far as he needs, probably accepting 1/3 of the PCs out of the Tech Dept (those which have had hard drives wiped).

Finally! The Source of "80%" Figure Steps Forward

"I agree with BAN about the need to improve exports of e-waste.  My company removes 78% of the material we receive, and domestically recycles it, before we export anything"
 - Robin Ingenthron
From the very beginning, I've held the position that constructive argument brings us closer to the truth.  Having spent time in Asia, Africa, the Mid-East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, investigating markets for used electronics, electronic scrap, and with an eye peeled for "dumping", I haven't declared myself an "expert", but I've questioned where the figure 80% came from (as in, the percent of e-waste dumped overseas into primitive conditions).  Recently, I tried to bait responses in the November Blog "E-Waste Prediction:  e-Watch for the e-Words "up to".

In restricting our exports of used and scrap electronics, we want to be recognized for the extra work we do, which another "sham recycler" or "blind exporter" does not do.  Of course.  We are angered when we are underbid by people who assume everything will be reused if you send it to a country poor enough, and I've written about how the non-availability of electricity eliminates the poorest people from the reuse equation.   We are furious when someone mixes "toxics along for the ride" into legitimate shipments.

But I draw the line when people say that people overseas are not capable of properly recycling, and I am frustrated when overseas operations which have done everything possible to meet our standard are tossed out with the bathwater.   If we cannot distinguish between good and bad operations overseas, then we can only proceed based on stereotypes.

Short Factual Posts on Hazardous Waste and "E-Waste"

It's vital to get the hazardous and non-hazardous story out there.   Time for bullet points.

1.  The most environmental and toxic damage your television or computer will ever do was done before you took it out of the box.  The mining, extraction, and refining sites are where the carbon occurred, Superfund sites are, mercury was released, etc.

2.  The TV is in its most dangerous state in your living room, plugged into a high voltage wall socket, turned on, and broadcasting garbage which infects your head.  (I posted before this came on the news today).

3.  Handling TVs is very dangerous for employees.  They are heavy and you can hurt your back, or drop one on your foot.  If you drop it hard enough, the glass will break and sharp pieces can cut your hands.  But the most dangerous thing is the forklift behind you.  Toxic poison from a TV?  Never documented in the repair industry.

China E-Waste Policy: Past, Present, Near Future

Hoover halts TV sales pending "ewaste" recycling infrastructure?
Radio.  TV.  Telephone.  Computer.  Cell Phone.

China's modern history of communication devices includes a small chapter on "e-waste".   Here is an interesting link to a terrific website, TVHistory.TV, on the first 75 years of TV technology.  I hope to do a similar site with the history of "e-waste" policy.  It will include a day in the near future when China made ewaste imports legal...

Desperate for growth in the 1980s and 90s:   The Communist Party lost face as technical and economic development rocketed in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.  To catch up, they were willing to close one eye to pollution, toxins, etc.  Corner cutting occurred in all stages of production, from mining to quality to disposal... even capitalist investment by Taiwanese in Guangdong... Anything that made up the lost ground. And reuse and recycling, which had been a huge factor in the growth of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, etc., was welcome.

But what was to become the key to economic advancement across Asia was repair, refurbishment, knock-offs, and contract manufacturing:  Activities perhaps best described by Yuzo Takahashi in his treatise on Japanese economic development, "A Network of Tinkerers:  The Advent of the Radio and Television Industry in Japan".  Geeks of color, working in resource-poor nations, used their "yankee ingenuity" to add value to gadgets. When there's no gold to mine and no oil to pump, smart poor people produce value out of textbooks, schematics, and cerebral cortexes... fixing Stuff.

e-Waste Watchdogs: The Last Thing On My Mind

We disagreed about whether the glass was 80% good or 20% good.   I provided data to describe how in MY experience, the friends I was working with, was 80% good (with room we could improve on with better choice of supply).

Re-reading this post, it seems to repeat many of the points I made in "E-Waste Soccer and the Accidental Racists".  But that's another reason to cue the Doc Watson signing Tom Paxton's song.

I was hurt (but cannot say surprised) when four very specific friends of mine overseas were accused of being bad actors.  I was devastated to see loads of Pentium 4s diverted from hospitals and medical students in Egypt, and to see remanufacturing plants which had gotten ISO14001 and to put in CRT glass processing (for de minimus, accidental breakage, etc.) have their own nation's environmental agencies informed that they were importing "hazardous waste".

NRDC's quote to the Boston Globe, 11 months ago, has been rewritten (brackets now appearing within quotation marks).  But it wasn't enough.  We needed an olive branch.  We needed to BAN, ETBC, SVTC, Greenpeace or NRDC to say that someone might not be all bad.

“There is enough documented evidence indicating that monitors and other types of electronics shipped under the guise of resale or reuse winds up being disassembled in dangerous conditions,’’ said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is so much documentation consumers should assume that unless the material is going abroad [to be repaired under warranty] it will be disassembled.’’
Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based nonprofit, staked out CRT Recycling and took photographs of a container it says was being filled with computer monitors. Using container numbers and online shipping company databases, the group tracked the container and its ship to the port of Semarang, in Indonesia, in November. The group alerted the Indonesian government, which sent it back to the United States on Dec. 13, according to a letter from the Indonesian company slated to receive the material.

Sad Cost of Extraction (not recycling)

Biodiversity study sounds an extinction alert (for things with spines) (Christian Science Monitor)

Biodiversity researchers warn that 20 percent of vertebrate species are threatened with extinction, largely because of human damage to habitats. But conservation efforts, they say, are effective.

The silhouettes of guests are pictured at a dinner reception for the high-level ministerial segment of the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) in Nagoya, central Japan, on Oct. 27. Ministers from around the world began on Wednesday a final push for a UN deal to protect nature, urged by the World Bank to value the benefits of forests, oceans and rivers on economies and human welfare.

Good: Fair Trade Recycling

It's easier to teach someone in a poor country to recycle electronics properly than it is to teach someone in a rich country to repair and reuse electronics they already threw away.

Fair Trade Recycling.

Seeing people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.

Today's Blog Readers (24 hours, no self-views)

Today's Audience





All time
So far...  China Egypt, Ghana, France, South Africa, Brazil, Israel, Australia were in the top ten last week.
The pages read are most interesting, skip to bottom.  It's interesting to see which articles are 
repeatedly accessed or passed by link in different nations.  Certification is popular as a search term
in the USA, topics about metals more read in China, technical topics in Africa.
2011 Jan 5 14:00 – 2011 Jan 6 13:00
Pageviews by Countries

Multiple Choice Analogy: (Puts The Lotion On The Skin)

Please describe what the video below best represents:

A) OEMs giving more and more new "ewaste" products to consumers?
B) Environmental Watchdog NGOs placing demands on electronics reuse export markets?
3) State government "certification" requirements of "e-waste" recyclers?
D) Exporters selling "e-waste" to foreign recycling staff?
4) None of the above, just a sick and funny video
5) Other (please submit comment).
G) This is obviously a reference to me, and I am DEEPLY OFFENDED by it!!!

I just howled when I saw this.  Had to use it somewhere, but it was a little too wicked to stick to one entity.  Almost as funny as the Tropic Thunder videos, though they are more California-esque.  I originally thought of it when trying to come up with an analogy for "exhausted doctrine".

Patent exhaustion doctrine and personal property rights and Basel

"Quanta, Wistron."

The Jeopardy question:   Which companies makes most Laptops,  Notebooks, and Tablets?

These Taiwanese companies make stuff as contract manufacturers, which Americans recognize by other brand names.  For Quanta (biggest competitor to Foxconn), the devices they manufacture include:
Acer, Alienware, Apple Inc., Cisco, Compaq, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Gericom, Casper, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG, Maxdata, MPC, Sharp Corporation, Siemens AG, Sony, Sun Microsystems, and Toshiba.
Also noteable for Quanta is the company's role as the "one laptop per child" manufacturer.  These are examples of the companies described in the Harvard Business Review article, "The Battle for China's Good Enough Market."   When a company excels at making a  product which is good enough for a person of modest means (3B3K), they become good at "scale", which will eventually lead to, well, Japan or South Korean economies.  What Honda, Toyota and Datsun did with autos which were "good enough" in the 1970s is happening today with electronics manufacturing.

But perhaps the most important contribution by the Taiwanese company is neither affordable manufacturing, sustainable takeback, nor even one-laptop per child.  In 2008, lawyers for Quanta stood up to massive opposition by monied interests and won a unanimous decision by the USA Supreme Court protecting property owners from "patent" rights, which some people want to extend to working and repairable product... a move I call "obsolescence in hindsight".  The court stood firm on the USA's definition of patent exhaustion doctrine, resisting efforts to extend patents to control personal property in other nations.

E-Waste Barnacles exceed 7,500 in December


Before bragging 7500/mo page reads, we need to recall an old journalism proverb which I first heard from my father (a Journalism professor) and later heard from Andrea Carneiro, then Mass DEP Public Relations guru.  They say about every story which appears in the newspaper:
  • Half the people who got the paper didn't even see the story {IT}.
  • Half the people who saw the story didn't read IT.
  • Half the people who read the story didn't finish IT.
  • Half the people who finished the story didn't understand IT.
  • Half the people who understood  the story didn't agree with IT.

This little proverb helps to explain why pros don't get too excited by headlines, and don't over-react when a critical story appears.

New York Times Sustainable Tech Column

Getting Over Our Two-Year Itch By DAVID POGUE Published: December 31, 2010

     This morning's New York Times article observes the 2-year lifecycle of the cell phone and documents suggestions collected via "twitter" to reduce the consumption cycle.     I can see two possibilities.  Either Radio Shack, Sprint, Gazelle and HP (named for their takeback programs) will create their own refurbishing factories, probably overseas, or entrepreneurs overseas (like WR3A member factories) will collect directly.


First Day of Vermont E-Waste Disposal Ban

Happy New Year.

As of today, it is illegal to dispose of "e-waste" in Vermont.  Of course, most of you haven't been disposing of it anyway.  Vermont already had one of the highest recycling rates per capita in the USA for "e-waste".  Some counties have already had waste bans for several years, and most people here prefer to recycle (or donate their computer for repair and reuse).

In 6 months, the state will take over much of the management of the electronics from the private sector.

To qualify as a vendor for the state program, we are doing the R2 paperwork for our reuse friends and partners overseas.  It's very expensive, but worthwhile.  We need to qualify these overseas companies in order to provide peace of mind to our clients, especially original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) whose programs we manage in Rhode Island, Maine, and New York.

Oddly, when it comes to our home state of Vermont, these R2 certifications of overseas reuse partners are not worth doing.  That's because, in the current draft of the Vermont "E-Waste" Program proposal document, it's like California - anything which is reused is dis-included from the collection fees.  That means that you are collecting material, in a truckload, not knowing what is reusable, and must then track back the weight of anything you sell for refurbishment.  Interestingly, the state law S.77 does not require this, it was created by ANR.  Since non-local reuse is allowed under S.77,  it's probably a big opening for independent plans.

So in other words, the state of Vermont requires us to certify R2 downstream markets if we reuse, but does not allow us to bill for that, only to bill for destruction.   If you did want to bid to be the official state operator, and you want to keep your reuse markets, say in Egypt and Indonesia, here is how it would work: