Last night 60 Minutes (a CBS News investigative reporting segment) aired a piece titled “The Electronic Wasteland”. The segment covered the devastating effects of illegal disposal of electronics overseas and illustrated the complicated dynamic of our industry. What was at the heart of this piece was best practices for the processing of these devices, specifically the characteristically hazardous components (Printed Circuit Boards and Leaded Glass). The environmental cost was clear in its illustration of improper disposal, but wasn't as clear was the real cost economically and why this is happening in the first place.
For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to see it last night you can by clicking on the link below:
In 2003 California passed landmark legislation (SB20) and subsequently SB50 legislation to prevent the disposal of Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) in our local landfills. Its passing came after the Department of Toxic Substance Control recognized the potential threat that the lead in these devices has to our groundwater and ultimately the health of Californians. The DTSC also realized that if they were going to impart a landfill ban for these electronics they would need to provide funding because the value of the residual commodities would not cover the cost of proper disposal. Thus, the Advance Recovery Program, whereby consumers pay a fee at the point of purchase (of a new CRT or FPD device) which is used to provide a FREE recycling solution at the end of life and reimburse state authorized recyclers the cost to properly recycle televisions and computer monitors. The most important message here is that there is a steep cost for doing the right thing.
At the same time California was passing its take back program for electronics the scrap market entered an all time high and continued to climb to record highs, thus spawning interest from some of the most unlikely and unintended entities taking interest in recovering electronics as a revenue opportunity. The GREED around being GREEN took over and collectors of e-waste began to hold material hostage from recyclers for ransoms far beyond what the material was worth. The cost? Material was shipped intact to non-developed nations where they were dismantled with cheap labor and less then desirable methods in order to increase margins and profitability, and at the expense of the environment and the health of its final destination.
While the DTSC regulates and enforces the California program and its covered devices (CRTs and FPDs) to encourage diversion from our local landfills, the Basil Action Network, the Non-Governmental Organization featured in the 60 minutes piece, promotes the export of these materials and others (like PCBs) to under developed nations, and for a good reason (just watch the 60 minutes piece). The intent of the BAN and its Pledge of True Stewardship is admirable; to use it as a barometer for finding a reputable outlet for electronics can be misleading. Note that the BAN has not audited any of the recyclers who have currently signed the pledge, so while they are implementing a trial audit program, to date not one of the “stewards” could be validated by the BAN. This means that it is quite plausible that some of these organizations are over stating their capabilities. Additionally, the pledge does not account for real economies of scale and include immeasurable and impractical methods. These are reasons that ASL Recycling has not subscribed to its pledge for our best practices, instead we have adopted its measurable and practical components and paired it with California Regulatory measures and our client's expectations and needs.
ASL Recycling is hoping that this coverage and exposure of the ultimate cause of improper, unregulated disposal will help elevate the importance of best practices and the cost, environmentally and financially, that we will pay. ASL Recycling is committed to fostering best practices and has tirelessly tried to penetrate the marketplace with that philosophy, namely with the GREENetwork. We believe in preventing the disposal of electronics and other hazardous materials in our local landfills as well as those abroad and we try to incorporate that philosophy in all of our products and services—it has been a stake in our brand.
ASL Recycling has a complete destruction process which means that we are mechanically dismantling the entire e-waste stream down to commodity streams (dark and light plastic, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, low and high grade printed circuit boards, leaded glass, etc.) WE DO NOT RESELL OR SHIP ANYTHING INTACT. This is important because most of what ends up in landfills in non-developed nations is sent over for “reuse”, which is legal, but unfortunately, is not getting reused. Its fate is clearly illustrated in the 60 minutes piece.
Additionally, the material categories that we generate have no outlet except for reputable smelters. With regards to the HAZARDOUS WASTES (leaded glass and printed circuit boards) we use the world’s most reputable outlets. We send our glass to SAMSUNG/CORNING and they smelt the cullet down into more leaded glass and then manufacture new CRT tubes. We send out printed circuit boards to XSTRADA (a precious metal recovery plant here in Canada).
ASL Recycling has audited all of these facilities and their processes.
All of the other categories of waste (which are not characteristically hazardous or regulated) are sent to smelters or third party recyclers who specialize in those specific streams of waste (see complete downstream below).
We hope that more organizations that are generating or collecting electronic waste will start taking a keen interest in understanding the global impact of e-waste and become knowledgeable advocates and representatives for their respective organizations. We also hope that this will motivate them to take an active role in auditing their processing partners and consider that even though there is a substantial cost financially in properly processing these devices, the cost to our environment could be greater if they don’t.
We invite and encourage our clients to come see our process and become passionate about all that goes into diverting electronics from our local landfills.