MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury-based Good Point Recycling has won electronic waste handling contracts for New York and Rhode Island and is close to finalizing a similar deal with Vermont as it further burnishes its reputation as one of the world’s pre-eminent e-waste recyclers.
The company has also broadened its business plan by serving as a broker for low-cost, refurbished computers, funneling them to classrooms and blossoming businesses in a half-dozen economically developing countries thirsting for tools to join the global economy.
Landing the New York, Rhode Island and potentially Vermont contracts means that Good Point is responsible for virtually every step in e-waste processing, including collection and delivery of materials, deconstruction of that material, and certification that individual components are good for re-use.
The agreements mean that Good Point can keep the e-waste pacts it has with individual counties and communities in those states, as well as secure additional pacts in other counties and communities where the company had been under-bid by competitors who may cut environmental corners. In essence, Good Point is being rewarded with a level playing field and by keeping a “clean shop,” according to Robin Ingenthron, Good Point founder and CEO.
Good Point does much of its work in Middlebury. It handles more than 5 million pounds of e-waste per year — a number that keeps growing. Of that amount, roughly 23 percent was recycled for computer use. The remaining 77 percent was deconstructed into material that could be recycled (such as copper and other metals) or put in a landfill.
“It almost all comes here,” Ingenthron said, though there are some exceptions to that rule. For example, if there is an e-waste recycling event in Rhode Island and there are some big console TVs in the pile, Good Point will try to have such material broken down by another recycler.
“We do work well with other recyclers and at times contract work out,” Ingenthron said.
Good Point officials are confident they’ll be able to handle the additional volume of waste that will come from Rhode Island, New York and Vermont, but recent recycling laws have added a new dimension to the company’s task and cash flow.
For example, after July 1, the fees that Vermonters used to pay for the proper recycling of their TVs and computers are going to be paid by the manufacturers. For example, the $12 the Addison County Solid Waste Management District used to charge for a person to recycle their computer will now be assessed to the computer manufacturer.
“It’s a bit like the bottle deposit system,” Ingenthron said, noting Good Point in some cases is having to wait for checks from manufacturers in other states where the new law has already taken effect.
“We’re going through the growing pains of changing who gets invoices and when they get paid,” Ingenthron said.
The new laws have not resulted in a massive spring cleaning of people’s e-waste.
“Some people thought that when (e-waste) recycling was free, we would see lots of it, but we haven’t seen that at all,” Ingenthron said, alluding to Rhode Island’s and New York’s experiences. “I think for your average person, you throw a television away once every 10 years, for a $10 fee, it’s kind of like a bridge toll.”
Good Point was already approved by many of these manufacturers to run their recycling programs in states like Rhode Island and New York. The company has held a contract for e-waste handling in Oyster Bay in Long Island, N.Y., a municipality that has 950,000 residents. It is the volume of e-waste from these larger, regional communities that allows Good Point to take on contracts in Vermont, with its 640,000 residents.
“We could never support the jobs and the overhead here just based on Vermont material alone,” Ingenthron said.
CHANGES IN THE MARKET
Good Point officials have seen a lot of changes in the e-waste recycling industry during the past decade.
“Our whole competition playing field has changed,” Ingenthron said. “Now, we have to put in time to fly our visitors in, document every single load, prove to Sony that the factory we are working with in Malaysia is actual a Sony vendor. We are now documenting the re-use work.”
That’s a change from a few years ago, when recyclers had to document the shredding of the non-recyclable electronic components.
“Now, after the legislation, we are mostly competing against people who shred everything and who say ‘There is nothing worth re-using,’” Ingenthron said.
Shredding everything, Ingenthron said, is wasteful and is a practice that chokes off an opportunity to extend low-cost technology to foreign nationals who simply can’t afford to pay upwards of $1,000 for a new computer system.
“We have become famous now for being the remaining re-use company in this legislative environment,” Ingenthron said, “because of people who just said, ‘We’ll shred everything.’”
Ingenthron noted that California passed legislation mandating that e-waste be destroyed. Computers can contain lead and cadmium in computer circuit boards; lead oxide and barium in computer monitors’ cathode ray tubes; mercury in switches and flat screens; and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing. The challenge is to remove and dispose of these items in a responsible way. Good Point has agreed to the state of Vermont’s request that it be certified in this practice by an independent party, Ingenthron noted.
“People who are out looking to buy working (recycled) product can’t find it in California,” Ingenthron said. “It has been driven into a back alley.”
That, in turn, has led to unscrupulous dealers of e-waste on the West Coast, according to Ingenthron.
“If used computer exports are outlawed, only outlaws will export used computers,” Ingenthron said.
He added California, Oregon and Washington have, by banning exports, “destroyed the reuse market” and as a consequence have an e-waste recycling cost of around 50 cents per pound, compared to 20 cents per pound at Good Point.
The West Coast states produce many thousands of machines that could eventually be put to good use in nations that have very few, Ingenthron said.
Espousing what Ingenthron calls a “fair trade” policy, Good Point currently brokers the export of recycled computers to Malaysia, Ghana, Mexico, Peru and Indonesia. The company recently sent 30,000 used computers to Cairo, Egypt. Some of those computers, Ingenthron theorized, might have even played a role in the recent revolution in Egypt that forced the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak last February.
“Egypt is our story,” Ingenthron said of the power of computers to help the masses. “Would Egypt have happened if all the states had gone like California and banned the export of (recycled) computers?”
Miguel Hartur is development manager for Worla Aid, a company that imports technology into the African nation of Angola. Hartur was visiting with Ingenthron last week to study the computer recycling process. He showed pictures of an Angolan college that currently has no computers for its 700 students.
“The cost of a new computer is $1,000, so I believe if they stop exporting the used computers for Africa, it will be disastrous,” he said.
Hartur said Angola is still recovering from the effects of a 27-year-long civil war.
“Education is a remedy in Angola,” he said, noting widespread unemployment. “Without education and technology, I don’t see how we can develop. It is very, very difficult.”
Fortunately, Ingenthron said, some intensive lobbying has “defused the planned obsolescence bomb” in the Northeast, to the extent that state legislatures in that region have been open to the export of safely recycled computers.
“If you can demonstrate Fair Trade re-use partnerships, we can compete,” Ingenthron said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]