68 Photos - Sep 9, 2008
Photo: Toxic Trash.  Digital Debris.  Junk computer monitors from wealthy nations, found dumped on the ground in poor countries.  Greenpeace, BAN, SVTC and other groups were outraged, and called for a ban on exports.  Major newspapers spread the statistic that "80%" of USA electronics exports are 'pure junk'Photo: As a former US Peace Corps Volunteer (Cameroon, Africa 1984-86), and as former recycling director of MA DEP (the first state to implement a CRT waste ban), I was concerned. What exactly is going on? These slides are the result of some of the trips our trade association made to explore the causes and effects of junk electronics.Photo: This photo, from the BAN website (shown in small because they do not give us permission to use it) offers one explanation.  The copper on the back of the TVs and computers are shown harvested.  It's true, there is about $2 worth of copper on an old TV or monitor.  And it's also true that poor people think that's good money.  And it's also true that the leaded glass CRT - banned from disposal in the USA - is likely to wind up as a boat anchor or worse.Photo: But mathematically, if an average of 900 computer monitors fit onto a sea container, that's only $1800 in copper at $2 each.  The cost of overseas shipping and inland trucking is likely to run thousands higher, especially to Africa. How can exporters pay $2, 3 or $5 per monitor, if 80% of them are only worth $2 in copper?Photo: http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=ddbnmvc7_77fr7xp6cc This is the best explanation of how the junk got over there in the first place... as Toxics Along for the Ride (TAR). You can't afford to import junk stuff unless it is commingled with decent stuff. When the photographers show up though, there is no 'decent stuff' on the ground.Photo: One of the places good computer monitors go.  Colin Davis of WR3A.org went overseas to this factory, to show how the "solution" and the "problem" are intertwinedPhoto: The facility is visited by the country's EPA 4 times per year, and undergoes regular ISO trainingPhoto: Our monitors were received and individually tracked in a large, permitted, ISO14001 facilityPhoto: Each monitor is inspected inside and out and sent to a department based on 8 point grading system.Photo: Technicians, many from former CRT manufacturing facilities, grade each monitor on an 8 point scalePhoto: This photo was taken by National Geographic.Video: (FILM) Environmentalist groups are calling for "manufacturer takeback" to solve the problem. And where is the demand coming from today? Here is a Manufacturer which takes back 5000 computer monitors per day, in three shifts.Photo: These employees used to buy NEW Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) from factories in China (the largest virgin CRT factories in the world are owned by the Chinese Communist Party)Video: The factory buys used monitors from WR3A members.  But we cannot supply them enough monitors!  So they also buy from small suppliers in Southern China, Viet Nam, etc.Photo: The factory pays $10 per monitor for 5,000 monitors per day.  Some of that goes to pay shipping.  So how can a village like Guiyu in China afford to ship in and reship out?Photo: The answer?  The "informal sector" village imports about 8,000 to 10,000 monitors per day... and screens out the 3000 or so which are not acceptable to the factory.  The good ones arrive here at the factory - one from a WR3A supplier (who recycled the bad half of the monitors in the USA), one from a village.  And so on.Photo: Some factories buy just the CRT, which can be stripped bare prior to export.  We have found that most factories, like this factory, prefer the plastic housing to stay on the CRT to reduce glass damage.Photo: About 8-10% of the monitors that arrive here are not acceptable. The factory cuts off suppliers who cannot keep 'fallout' below 15%. WR3A members remove 50% or more of the CRTs (most TVs, and 1/3 of monitors) before shipping. They pay USA staff to screen out bad monitors, and pay USA recyclering fees to manage bad CRT glass.  (Incidentally, this photo shows a CRT type VT does not export)Video: Here's what blew me away on my first trip... My pristine, tested working monitor, which the factory paid $10 for ($4 to me, $6 in shipping)... HEY!  What the heck...!!!??Photo: The factory is replacing virgin CRT tubes, which they bought for $40-80 from the Chinese CRT factory, with 5 year old monitor tubes from the USA.Photo: Five thousand per day, saving the cost of a new CRT, is about $200,000 PER DAY.  This manufacturer stopped buying new CRTs altogether more than five years ago.Photo: The USA monitor CRTs are SVGA, with a higher dot-resolution than a normal TV tube.  They are typically good for another 10-15 years.  And really, how many more new CRTs (lasting 20-25 years) do we want to see mined, smelted, and made?Photo: Since the USA monitor CRT is digital, they can put a new Taiwanese tuner board onto it which will translate ANY analog or digital TV signal in the world.  The monitor CRTs are more expensive and higher quality than a traditional TV cathode ray tube.Photo: Once you see this, you really want to applaud the ingenuity.  These are sustainable jobs, saving thousands of dollars.  They are also more affordable (some can take either a TV signal or a computer signal, so a family in India or Africa does not have to choose between a TV or a computer).Photo: The factory is huge, employing over 1000 people at full capacity.Photo: These jobs may have been lost if the factory tried to rely on virgin CRT supply.Photo: The following film shows how the guys take the used CRT and fix it into a new tuner board housing. They test the signal, just as they would a new CRT. It's the same factory, same job, reused CRT.Video: Watch how quickly the used CRT monitor can be made into a new TV.  This is a better paying job, a manufacturing job.  It's not the same as hitting copper off with a hammer.Photo: The working conditions are identical to the Manufacture of the original monitor.  Manufacturer Take Back is here and now (and so 1999)Video: They showed us a line that they no longer use (as the price of the used CRTs keeps falling).  They have the technical ability to rebuild inside the actual tube, and to polish out scratches.Photo: The factory even recaptures heat sinks, certain capacitors, and certain chips from the old monitor boards before recycling them.Photo: It seems trivial, but if you have been in an aluminum heat sink factory (as I have) or an electrode or capacitor factory, reusing the components from the boards is a lot more environmentally sustainable.Photo: This factory did not used to mind polishing the scratches.  Now they do it because it costs less to polish than to recycle the tube.  But they prefer no scratches.Photo: The "C Grade" monitors with scratches or light screen burn represent an additional processing cost.  WR3A members are urged to keep the C grade below 10% of a load.Photo: Some of the smaller factories don't have a CRT polisher, or have mothballed it. Many just to sell their C grade monitors to factories like this one and cut their losses.Photo: I like how they reuse fans from power supplies to stay cool.Photo: Each CRT gets a 2 hour 'burn in' test to assure quality before it is shipped.Photo: They did the same thing with new CRTs when they used them here.  Their quality control is much higher than the "plug and play" standard for "functional" monitors employed by some recyclers in the USA.Photo: The tested units are sent down the line for casing assembly.Photo: They put a new plastic housing on the CRT.  What we found incredible was where the housing came from...Photo: Action shot!  Guy works fast!Photo: They package the new monitorPhoto: They box them and brand them differently.  The factory had dozens of different brand (or off brand) names.Photo: More packagingPhoto: Some will be sold to India, some to the Mid-East, some to Africa.  They are much cheaper than new monitors, and the people who buy them can't afford to spend a year's salary on a computer and TV.Photo: The LCD wing, however, is getting bigger...Photo: How many more years will the "white box", generic, CRT monitor be around?  Like Cummins Engines, the rebuilding business is a lot less costly than mining-refining-melting-and-molding a new one.  Most CRTs sold in the world today may be reused.Photo: The company (which owned 14 of these factories worldwide at the time of this visit) is reinvesting most of the profits from CRT refurbishing to invest in LCDs.Photo: Ok, here are the OLD monitor housings...Photo: They send them down a line to have foil and paper removedPhoto: See?  Told you.Photo: Once clean, the housings are shredded and pelletizedPhoto: Once shredded, the plastic will be melted into pellets and dyed black.Photo: Abra Cadabra.  Monitor housing is now black plastic feedstock.Photo: The plastic pellets are either kept white or dyed black, and recycled into brand new monitor housings.Photo: Plastic molding area for new monitor housingsPhoto: Sucking up the recycled, dyed plastic pellets to be molded into new monitor housings.  Sorry Americans, these guys can recycle circles around us.Photo: Hide and seekPhoto: The upgraded boards cost less than a clock radio.Photo: These are the new boards, some models of which can change analog TV signal to digital (ie for a monitor CRT).  So they both make the monitor usable as a TV, AND they can work in any country on any analog signal.Photo: Some of the 'non-rebuildable" monitors may be repaired and resold for direct reuse.  This was a big issue in China (not allowed).  The factory in China eventually switched to all bald, stripped CRTs.  And then China reversed themselves and said that was not allowed either.  The company took the Chinese customs to Hong Kong court.Photo: Ready for a cafe in Bombay, or a hookah bar in Bagdad, or a hotel in Sudan.Photo: They keep the cathode ray guns from incidental breakage.  In the 1990s, before the fall in display prices, they would cut and rebuild entire CRTs.Photo: This CRT monitor was not mined, was not smelted, and won't be guzzling electricity ten years from now (we don't actually want CRTs lasting 20 years, I'd argue).  WR3A believes that the best approach is to trade with this company, and ask for better EH&S standards (like air quality) in return.  When the factory has to buy from smugglers and the mafia, they don't get many of those incentives.Photo: This is from a tour of two similar factories in southern China in 2005.  Lin King of UC Davis (Recycling Director) came to translate, and Craig of Total Reclaim (who had a zero export policy) was invited under the "nothing to hide" banner.  Unfortunately, the Chinese government (we interviewed EPA officials about these plants) cracked down on these plants, which they want to buy NEW CRTs from NEW CRT factories owned by the Communist Party.  They called shipping of functional CRTs 'dumping' in the "below cost", WTO sense of the word.  I still feel sick with doubt that WR3A may have "outed" these factories and caused them to be shut down.Photo: I have much clearer photos of Hong Kong, but somehow this is the right one to close with.   I will say I didn't know much about CRT recycling when I was Recycling Director at MA DEP.  The California SB20 and China EPA import bans show that environmentalists, perhaps well meaning, are capable of doing worse worse things to the environment than the free market.Photo: To say that monitors sent to Asia "may not" be recycled correctly is of course true.  To say that Asia can invent, design, mine, mold, engineer, and manufacture our monitors, but cannot properly repair or recycle them, is a little bit stupid.Photo: