WR3A World Tour (May 2005): A Tale of Three Recyclers
It was the best of recycling. It was the worst of recycling. WR3A visits The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in South Asia.
In the spring of 2005, WR3A Acting President Robin Ingenthron and Acting Vice President Lin King accepted an invitation to tour factories in Asia where certain computer monitors are being rebuilt to make less expensive TVs. The WR3A has accepted a purchase order for 1,800,000 computer monitors per year (see story) and by touring the facilities, hoped to learn which tubes can be reused and which ones cannot.
WR3A invited Craig Lorch, president of Total Reclaim, a USA company with a "zero export" policy, to form his own opinion of whether the WR3A purchase order was viable. We visited 2 factories in southern China, as well as a dynamic reuse and repair marketplace in Guangzhou. Later, Ingenthron flew to Singapore and Malaysia to visit other prospective WR3A members and meet with other markets.
WR3A saw incontrovertible evidence that some USA computer monitor CRT tubes can be repaired and reused, like an engine block in a rebuilt car, and that other tubes clearly cannot be, and should not be sent to these reuse markets. This is an established technology, still in place in the USA (www.videodisplay.com) but much more prevalent in southeast Asia.
In Malaysia, WR3A visited a TV tube rebuilding factory which had mistakenly imported hundreds of bad, screen burned, "junk" tubes, which lay on a loading dock with no solution in site. WR3A saw used Pentium class computers (imported from the USA) unloaded at street level from sea containers, and carried by elevator into luxurious, air conditioned shopping malls which rival new computer stores in the USA. We also saw smaller shops on Singapore streets filled with so much obsolete junk that one shopkeeper literally had to climb in a narrow crawlspace, on top of the cargo, along the ceiling, in order to find parts to sell on his doorstep. (One entire street in Guangzhou catered almost entirely in TV repair equipment - not repaired TVs, but shop after shop selling equipment for TV repairpeople!)
While reuse and repair have declined in the USA, they are alive and well in most other parts of the world. There is a variety of size and technology among Asian used electronics dealers. Just as American recycling companies are not equal, Asian recyclers are not equal. WR3A hopes to find the common ground to ensure that the reuse, repair and recycling hierarchy thrives, and does not become an excuse to dump "Toxics Along for the Ride".
After meetings with factory representatives, recycling depot owners, internet cafe entrepreneurs, EPA officials, government appliance researchers, investment bankers, etc. etc., it became clear that there is a very strong, very professional, and very legitimate reuse, repair and recycling marketplace in Asia, but that they were specialized, not able to take "everything".
But there are important technical standards which American Recyclers must address if they are to tell their recycling clients that they are really recycling. WR3A's policy of policing the contents of each containerload seems the most realistic way to avoid shipping toxic headaches to other people's neighborhoods. Join us and help us to set up the standards for a "win win" environmental economy.