Tuesday, June 12, 2007

About takeback

Note: working document expect revisions and sources over time and as comments warrant.

Why I think that electronics recycling in California is a on a stupid, dangerous path:

First let me get my biases and introductions out of the way, I am a big proponent of re-use as a primary path to environmental sustainability rather than re-cycle as re-cycle as currently understood is wasteful of energy and economic resources.

I am an EPA award winner. (enviromental champion in feb of 2006), a sustainability award winner (berkeley 2006) a vocational rehab award winner (alameda county 2006) a CNN hero,(may 2007) and a Maker (make faire 2007) I have recntly been profiled for voice of america but do not know when that will play (went out june 26th).

I move about 225000 lbs of electronics material a month, have given away over 16000 machines all over thje world. And have a staff of eighteen most of whom would be considered unemployable.

I submit that I have a right to be heard on this issue and that my opinions are based on real world data, not rarified wishfull thinking that seems to be the standard at CAW and Sacramento in general.


1) That a state subsidised system will promote design to fit within that system.

2) California (and the US in general ) has little or no electronics manufacturing
3) That most electronics manufacturing occurs in coal fired economies (examples. china,India)
4) That maritime shipping is among the most polluting methods of transport. (High sulphur
fuels and no emission controlls)
5) That almost all "recyclers" are actually grinders shipping semi-processed material out of
state if not out of country.
6) That any environmental studies out of the EPA for at least the last 6 years have not
considered the global warming aspects.
7) current legislation is anti-innovative and anti-jobs.
8) That current Californian legislation has profound funding issues and is non-viable in the long term.

These assumptions are based on observation.

basis for assumptions:

1) this is basic economics, with a set amount of income per pound/unit. The only method for increasing profit is to lower cost. In this environment that would be to design for destruction (design to grind) , As we have no subsidy to do anything else.

2) Who ? Where? and what fraction of the total problem do they produce?(note: fraction)

3) anyone want to debate this?

4) Again anyone?

5) some of them even brag about it. (example: electronics recyclers of America)

6) recent supreme court decisions bear this one out.

7) if #2 is correct then almost all jobs created are overseas. Computer repair becomes a thing of the past as computers become disposable bringing additional social and environmental costs in lost jobs and unnecessary destruction and production. As for innovation. We will have made it so that any new advance will have to be integrated with the whole unit, Rather than a single component. This will increase cost to innovate and restrict creativity.

8) lets do the math: a 17" cathode ray tube monitor weighs 40 lbs. The state charges $8 to cover recycling this monitor, the state pays $.48 per pound to destroy this monitor for a cost of: $19.20 per unit at a net cost of 11.20 to the state per unit. To add to the fun the state is paying for every unit made before the system was put in place and as such is looking at a much larger fiscal hole.

So lets walk through the world these assumptions predict:

A computer is made in China, packaged and shipped to California,
sold, used for 18 months to 3 years, shipped to grinder,ground,loaded into container,shipped back to china,refined, and the system repeats.

This is the best that can happen under current and pending legislation. producing pollution at every step of the process.

In addition the system is not working even this well. To my knowledge the horrific landfills that got the Basel action network fired up are still growing and we have succeeded in making new toxic nightmares in Africa,Pakistan,India and various points in eastern Europe. (for that matter I'd look at yuma arizona when it comes to lead in sensitive environments )

Proposed modifications to current and pending legislation.

Charge an environmental fee based on re-usability.

If the unit is easily and readily repairable/upgradeable charge $10. (example: a rigid compliance to the atx or itx standard) this would be the most environmentally/economically viable computer as after initial purchase one would have the option of replacing a component themselves or through a local repair shop rather than replacing the whole machine/ thereby reducing costs on an environmental and economic level as it would keep production down. in addition the jobs provided are local and fill local tax coffers. (bad paragraph: confusing and wordy come back and fix)

If the unit is proprietary but has limited open upgrade ability charge $20. Most major manufacturers build machines that are capable of using some aftermarket components but are restricted as to motherboards and power supplies and as such have limited upgrade options and as such short usable lifespans.

Design is totally locked down and is non-upgradeable. charge $30 (examples:most all in one machines esp apple.)

If we walk through this scenario it looks like this:

Computer is manufactured in china,shipped to California,sold and lives on a desktop until something goes wrong or obsolete, at this point it either goes into the system to be ground or the user replaces the failed component themselves (easier than you think) or takes it to a local repair facility. They then spend less than the cost of a new box on a personal and environmental level and get another 18 months to 3 years out of the machine. This process can be repeated indefinitely as systems fail or technology improves.

More later as I have to deal with the warehouse, feel free to comment and debate or dispute my points.


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