Recycling Export Reform Group Reports on Asia Site Visits, New Memberships

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WR3A website profiles computer recycling markets in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia; university translator and export critic invited to verify markets. Visits with Chinese government officials demonstrate growing frustration with "Toxics Along for the Ride"

"On Sale: Pentium III, upgraded RAM and CD burner, 17" monitor, $40".

The Singapore-based computer trader showed one of his thousands of used computers, sold at a dozen of his distribution centers in Malaysia and Singapore. This retail store is in a multi-story, air-conditioned mall, with 2 banks of escalators, restaurants, and hundreds of salespeople. Although most of the shops in the "IT Mall" sell cutting-edge, new equipment, there are 6 other stores selling all refurbished computers. It is a very different picture than the "e-waste" dumps profiled by concerned environmentalists a couple of years ago.

Today the buyer was unloading a blue international sea container at the side door of this 40+ story mall and office building. His goal is to buy good and repairable computers, upgrade them, and supply the growing internet community in Malaysia (Singapore is already the second most wired country in the world according to the Economist magazine).

But there is a catch. He is upstream from the toxic ewaste dumps littering the Asian countryside.

“I won’t lie to you. We get a lot of the non-repairable screen burn monitors." The trader explained how his partner recycles the plastic and copper and throws the leaded glass away. He would prefer to get just the newer monitors. "But we have a business to run.” He named several American companies he will no longer buy from, because of the levels of junk in their containers.

This disturbing trend outlines the need for “Fair Trade” standards for used electronics, like those developed by the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association (WR3A). Robin Ingenthron and Lin King, officers of the Non-profit WR3A, visited several Asian refurbishing plants in May and June of 2005 to help define and promote the standard.

Ingenthron (Good Point Recycling of Vermont) and King (University of California, Davis) met with Asian WR3A members, who buy computer monitors for their stores and factories. The monitors need to be SVGA, without screen burn or glass damage, and many factories exclude certain computer monitors made from certain types of CRT tubes. As reported last winter, WR3A has received purchase orders for 1,800,000 computer monitors this year.

That seemed to Ingenthron and King like an awful lot of monitors, and the trip to China, Singapore and Malaysia was organized to ensure the demand was legitimate. King is an America-born native speaker of Chinese, and made certain there was no misunderstanding. Following the trip, he gave a slide presentation to California’s Resource Recovery Association, urging generators to support WR3A’s “fair trade” export standards.

One factory had 650 employees and ran major assembly lines on 3 floors of a warehouse, manufacturing TVs and monitors from CRTs purchased from USA and Japan recyclers. Fourteen other factories operate in China's Guangdong province alone.

A well-known critic of "e-waste" exports, Craig Lorch (Total Reclaim, Seattle) was invited to accompany King and Ingenthron on the trip, to lend an unbiased perspective. Lorch, whose company currently has a “no intact unit” export policy, was invited to see the factories “with no strings attached,” says Ingenthron. Total Reclaim was impressed enough to join WR3A following the visit.

WR3A’s “Fair Trade” standards ensure that the material being sold is appropriate to the end use and correctly labeled. WR3A will act as a mediator for disputed loads. Factories which rebuild TVs and monitors have offered to pay WR3A members more for the monitors based on the guarantee that the loads are clean and legal under terms of the Basel Convention.

According to Ingenthron, revenue from refurbishing just one out of 5 monitors will reduce the cost of recycling by 60%. “Legitimate recyclers can use refurbishing revenue to be more cost competitive. Destroying good CRTs is bad for the consumer, bad for overseas market, and bad for the environment,” he says. “Eliminating trans-boundary shipment of toxics along for the ride is a win-win scenario.”

Pictures and video are accessible at the website, http://www.wr3a.com

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