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Electronics & Test

E-Waste Bill Aims to Ban Dumping

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Alexander Wolfe
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Doing our duty
Alexander Wolfe   6/30/2011 7:21:37 AM
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This falls under the banner of being good world citizens. Not exciting stuff, but obviously rampant dumping benefits no one. I wonder how much effect the 60 Minutes story of a few years back had on spurring this legislation. The piece showed the poorest of the poor picking through e-junk in India, attempting to make their living by extracting toxic materials off of PC boards so the could make a few pennies, while putting their health at serious risk in the process.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Doing our duty
Rob Spiegel   6/30/2011 8:10:29 AM
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There are a lot of nasty stories about what happens when this stuff gets dumped. In addition to the toxic chemicals hurting the poor, those parts that are getting picked off the boards get flushed back into the supply chain as counterfeits. Component manufacturers and distributors have been yelling "help" for years.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Doing our duty
Beth Stackpole   6/30/2011 8:46:45 AM
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I saw that piece on 60 Minutes and it was jarring. I applaud any such effort to put controls on e-waste and see it as a long time coming.

Dave Palmer
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Tough love
Dave Palmer   6/30/2011 12:42:17 PM
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If the U.S. is serious about restricting export of electronic waste, it will need to be tougher than the Europeans.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the European Union has had a hard time getting companies to comply with its electronic waste regulations.  The enforcement is lax and the penalties are relatively low, so some companies make the calculation that it is cheaper to break the law than to follow it.

Given that the current majority in the House of Representatives seems to be ideologically opposed to anything that would impose any restrictions whatsoever on the ability of business to do whatever it wants, I am skeptical that we will see the kind of tough law that is needed.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Tough love
Rob Spiegel   6/30/2011 12:47:57 PM
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I agree with both of your points, Dave. The EU bill has indeed not stopped those who ship e-waste to Asia and South America. And I also have doubts about whether the U.S. bill will be see the light of day. I hope it does. This is a nasty business.

Jack Rupert, PE
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E-Waste Bill
Jack Rupert, PE   6/30/2011 5:40:20 PM
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While I understand what they are trying to accomplish, I often wonder if it is our place to tell other countries how to run their industries.  Don't these countries have governments to protect their own environments? Or is this more of a case where they have laws that the US is simply helping them enforce due to their lack of funds for policing?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: E-Waste Bill
Rob Spiegel   6/30/2011 5:52:55 PM
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Good questions, Jack. I'm not sure how it works in South America where a small portion of e-waste heads, but in China there isn't much enforcement. From talking to people in component distribution, I hear that the Chinese government looks the other way both to the deconstruction of the e-waste as well as the flush of these parts back into the supply chain as counterfeits. We have some enforcement when the counterfeits come back to the United States, but not enough to slow the flow. I hear that in some villages, this is major employment. Not surprisingly, this allegedly includes child labor. The component industry has been pushing for legislation to stop the shipment of these goods to developing countries, since they know they get the parts back as counterfeits. Actually, these are not technically counterfeit. It's more fraud in that the parts are sold as "new." The TI parts really are TI parts, but they come off used products.

TJ McDermott
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Re: E-Waste Bill
TJ McDermott   6/30/2011 9:23:52 PM
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This will stop when China opens up its economy.  Until then, life is cheap there.  The companies accepting the used parts are making a buck too, by knowingly accepting the used parts.  They can choose to deal with reputable suppliers at higher cost and lower profit margin, or they can purchase from the lowest bidder, and know they get the used stuff.  Caveat Emptor.

I hope the bill dies.  This is not the way to fix the problem.

Dave Palmer
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Re: E-Waste Bill
Dave Palmer   6/30/2011 11:26:45 PM
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T.J., what do you think China should "open up" about its economy in order to prevent this? Isn't this a consequence of the "opening up" of China's economy? In many ways, buisness enjoys a far less regulated environment in China than in the U.S. Isn't that how companies are able to get away with this in the first place?

TJ McDermott
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Re: E-Waste Bill
TJ McDermott   6/30/2011 11:39:21 PM
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Their economy is strictly controlled by their communist government.  An open, capitalist economy will cause wages to increase (no more suicides at Apple I-pad factories), give people a chance to be more picky at the jobs they take (no more dangerous recycling).

It won't happen overnight.  And it won't happen because a law in a foreign country tries to stop the transfer of goods.  If cheap (if dangerous) recycling is a going market, they'll get the goods from elsewhere.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: E-Waste Bill
Rob Spiegel   7/1/2011 12:16:03 AM
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China has a ways to go. Much of the manufacturing is state of the art, but they are about 100 years behind in some of the social aspects of an industrial society -- child labor laws, safety laws, collective bargaining. As their middle class grows, they may insist on progressive changes. But that's not certain. There are traditional aspects of their culture that are not similar to the United States. In many ways, we were better equipped to fight authority and demand labor advances -- we had a couple hundred years of experience standing up to power when we demanded improved working conditions.

plasticmaster
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Re: E-Waste Bill
plasticmaster   7/1/2011 12:59:25 AM
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If China is going to make any inroads towards improving recycling e-waste or any other waste, they must first teach their people to individually serve others/their environment/etc...instead of only themselves and the almighty dollar.

They know this stuff goes on, but more people don't care than those that do.

Rob is right; as their middle class grows, so will their awareness and their level of care.

Dave Palmer
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Re: E-Waste Bill
Dave Palmer   7/1/2011 12:53:37 PM
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T.J., if someone I know has a drinking problem, I may not be able to get them to stop drinking, but I'm sure not going to buy beer for them.

If China is engaging in this kind of dangerous recycling, we may not be able to stop them, but we don't need to enable them.

And by the way, just because the ruling party in China happens to be named "the Chinese Communist Party" doesn't mean that the economy is not capitalist to the core.  The fact that there is still state ownership in a few key areas such as mining or steel production doesn't make China any different from other authoritarian capitalist regimes such as Pinochet's Chile, which was considered to be a free-market paradise.  The problem is not lack of economic "openness," it's lack of democracy and public accountability.

However, the Chinese people are not quite as meek and submissive as Western stereotypes would have it.  There has been growing social unrest as a result of poor conditions, some of which has focused on environmental problems. I think these protest movements will ultimately lead to change.  Either the government will appease the protesters in the name of preserving the so-called "harmonious society," or there will be another revolution.

Greg Stirling
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The price of Gold
Greg Stirling   7/1/2011 2:59:43 AM
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Not sure if this is a factor, but certian recyclers will go to great lengths to extract a small amount of GOLD from electronic components.  They take serious health risks in the process.  And some think that the revenue from the business is worth the risk.  To these people it is simply their livelyhood, their survival... 

 

William K.
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Platinum
Electronic waste recycling
William K.   7/13/2011 9:23:53 AM
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I find the whole thing amazing, in that we have a bunch of well-off politicians mandating that the castoff waste not be sold to those who can benefit from it. There must be some economic motivation that has not been made public, some hidden agenda, since this does not come from their "inherrent goodness". 

Is it possible that the people doing the recycling are aware of the hazards, and are making an informed choice? The fact is that we simply are not able to create utopia by ramming all sorts of regulations down the throats of those who choose to take risks. No amount of legislation is going to make life risk-free, that is the fact. 

There does come a point where all of this alleged safety concern winds up strangling the livelyhood of others. We can see it right here in the USA, and now the politicians hope to extend this strangle-hold onto other parts of the world. 

Besides all of that, there is a lot of work needed to restore our economy right here in the USA, so perhaps our legislators need to work on some of the much closer to home problems.

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