Thursday, September 05, 2013

The balance of trade. (Always happy to do my bit.)

In our none-to-large condo, with it’s none-too-ample storage, I have four old laptops. Since they’re laptops, they don’t take up all that much room, and for now they’re sitting in a tote bag, with another bag full of peripherals: cords, spare cords, spare batteries…

When I finally do get around to doing something about all this electronics proliferation, I do have the software that will wipe clean the disks on three out of the four laptops. The other one – which has a dead battery and no plug in capability – I’ll have to toss out as-is, risking that someone will be able to glean old passwords and financial info off the not quite moribund memory.Or I’ll have to do a tear down. I’ll probably take the tear down option, as that will be kind of fun.

I also have a couple of old Linksys routers.

And somewhere in the reaches of the closet in the den, I do believe there’s a computer screen (of the non-flat variety).

Getting rid of all this gear is on my mega to-do list.

But you know as well as I do what happens to things that make it on to the to-do list, but are not exactly mission-critical, not quite necessary for the conduct of everyday life, and are, at the end of those every days, not exactly a high priority. They end up on the ash heap of to-do lists history, where they stay, I suppose, until they really start making things difficult for the conduct of that everyday life. If it gets to the point where all those laptops, routers, and CRT’s are stacked up to the ceiling, making it difficult to maneuver around, I’ll finally get around to finding someplace that wants them. (Of course, by that point, I’ll probably be such a dotty old lady that I won’t be wiling to part with them.)

Of course, before I get to that point – at least I hope – I will have found some local drop off that’s happy to take all those dead electronics off of my hands.

At which point, they will no doubt wend their way to China where they’re still hungry enough to salvage all the goodies embedded in those plastic (non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, non-environmentally friendly) cases. (Given how frequently we toss out our electronics, and how environmentally-hostile all this stuff is, you’d think that some genius or another would come up with a way to encase all those whiz-bang electronic innards in, say, a cardboard surround.)

Anyway, while we pile up our clunky old so-yesterday electronics on our latter-day midden heaps, Johnson Zeng is scurrying around, seeing the USA. But he’s not meandering from sea to shining sea taking in our national parks, or getting his kicks on Route 66.

Zeng is one Chinese trader, in one rental car, traveling across the U.S. in search of scrap metal. By his estimate, there are at least 100 other Chinese traders like him driving from scrap yard to scrap yard, right now, in search of what Americans won’t or can’t be bothered to recycle. His favorite product: wires, cables, and other kinds of copper. (Source: Business Week.)

I’m pretty sure there’s some copper in all those old laptops. I’ll be able to tell better once I’ve done my tear down.I know that there’s copper in all the extension cords and old phone connectors that our junk drawers are chocked so full of. So even if Zeng himself doesn’t want my laptops, he may be happy to get his hands of that old string of Christmas lights that’s now more string than light.

It’s not easy, by the way, the reclaim copper from wiring. Just imagine stripping all that cord encasing all those wires. Think about the last time you spliced a cord to rewire a lamp. Then think about removing miles of cord from miles of wire.

But I guess if you’ve spent your life in a hovel, and your workdays hoeing rocks, and all you have to show for your troubles are an old Mao jacket and a pair of cloth shoes, standing around all day making a few pennies an hour yanking copper out of old extension cords is a life upgrade.

Because China is still a developing economy, it doesn’t throw away enough stuff to be self-sufficient. Thus, for the last decade it’s imported more than 70 percent of the scrap copper it uses. Meanwhile, the U.S., which throws away far more scrap metal than it can ever use, has become the world’s most attractive market for the savvy Chinese buyer.

Good to know that Hollywood blockbusters and celebrity gossip aren’t our only exports.

Now every time I toss an old extension cord in the recycle box, I’ll be happy to know that at least some parts of it will end up getting recycled.

If only I could toss all those laptops into the bin…

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