World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association
WR3A is a Fair Trade association (tradename Fair Trade Recycling reserved in 2013) established to improve the export markets for surplus electronics and e-waste. WR3A was conceived in 2006 following a visit to China by a group including a USA electronics recycler (American Retroworks Inc.), a University of California Davis recycling program director, and a Seattle recycler with a zero-export policy. The group visited three of China's semi knock down factories. Those factories purchased USA computer monitors which still have functional CRTs. The CRTs are knocked down to the bare tube, which is inserted into a new TV or monitor case, complete with new tuner board, etc. WR3A founders observed that the junk CRTs imported into China's Guiyu province were leftovers of functional CRTs purchased by the factories. While the Chinese government, which invested and owns new CRT manufacturing factories, shut many of these operations down as gray market activities in 2006, many of the assembly factories were relocated to other countries.
WR3A proposed to form a coalition of USA companies to export only the good CRT monitors directly to the reuse factories, removing imploded, damaged, screen-burned, older, or non-compliant raster (e.g. Trinitron) CRTs from loads destined for CRT factories. The USA companies which remove and recycle the bad 1/3 of CRTs would benefit from higher prices, and the Chinese factories would bypass the sorting villages such as Guiyu. The WR3A was swamped by orders from Asian factories that year.
The Chinese government, which took over most of the new CRT manufacturing capacity worldwide in the 1990s, opposed the import of used CRTs. Many of the factory owners, relocated their businesses in 2006 and 2007 to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Others relocated their used monitor sourcing operations only to Hong Kong and Vietnam, trucking the CRTs overland to Chinese factories. The USA has its own CRT refurbishing factory, Video Display Corp of Tucker, Georgia.
With the decline of purchases of used displays in 2011, WR3A found that growing supplier membership would create organizational conflicts between cooperative suppliers. The organization refined its mission in 2013 to defend the strategy of partnering with overseas refurbishing companies, and increasing used electronics exports through fair trade agreements. Importers of used equipment in Africa, Asia and Latin America consider the organization an "anti-defamation" group, dedicated to the principle that if used computer exports are outlawed, only outlaws will export used computers. The organization strongly refutes what it considers racial profiling of tech sector in emerging markets.
The organization has members in South America, Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe, dedicated to defending legitimate used electronics exporters from what the organization considers false and defamatory declarations as "e-waste" and "toxics externalization".
In 2015 and 2017, WR3A led visits to the Agbogbloshie District in central Accra, bringing journalists from Al Jazeera, The Independent, Smithsonian, and others to meet with Dagbani speaking translators. The visit led the journalists to discredit allegations that Agbogbloshie was "the largest e-waste dump in the world", a "former wetland on the outskirts of the city", and that it received hundreds of sea containers full of junk electronics. WR3A found credible evidence that dumping at the site was being exaggerated by Accra Metropolitan Association representatives interested in relocating economic refugees to develop the property, three months before forced evictions. Used electronics processed at the site were shown to be delivered by carters with wheelbarrows, and to consist of devices, such as VCRs, which had been imported decades previously. WR3A provided reporters with World Bank statistics showing domestic Ghana generation more than accounted for the e-waste observed in Ghana.
In April 2013, WR3A held a "Fair Trade Recycling Summit" at Middlebury College in Vermont. The Summit brought together researchers from Memorial University (Canada), Pontificia Universidad Catholica de Peru, University of Southern California (USA), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), representatives of the USA International Trade Office, Basel Convention Secretariat, Interpol, and several used electronics importers from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The group deliberated on beneficial development in emerging markets through electronics reuse and repair (labelled "Tinkerer's Blessing" after Yuzo Takahashi's 2000 technology history, A Network of Tinkerers.). The role of electronics repair and reverse engineering in development was contrasted with the so-called "Resource Curse" of economic development through natural resource exploitation. Middlebury students and presenters discussed whether a more balanced approach to recycling secondary materials may be warranted. A follow up meeting between WR3A and Interpol was held in July 2013. In November, 2013, Interpol announced a new research program to study the used electronics trade before continuing arrests of African importers (Project Eden).
The debate between Fair Trade Recycling advocates and the anti-export organization Basel Action Network was profiled in USA Today (September 26, 2013), in Discovery Magazine, and in NIH in 2006
In July 2012, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, announced a 5-year research project to study and map the routes of used electronics, WEEE, and "e-waste" exports. WR3A is a partner in the research grant, along with researchers from universities in Peru and California. The first year, the group will document efforts to develop a "Fair Trade Recycling" model in Mexico (see NPR, PBS, AP, coverage), and then research the possible application of the model to Peru, Bangladesh, and China.
WR3A formerly adapted and registered the tradename "Fair Trade Recycling" in 2012.
WR3A collaborated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology for publication of MIT's January 2012 study on E-waste generation and exports. WR3A provided researchers with detailed reconciliations of 3 years of exports from WR3A members. MIT compared WR3A data to corroborating data from ISRI, USEPA, Basel Secretariat (Ghana, Nigeria) studies.
In May 2011, WR3A was interviewed as part of an "e-waste" by German news magazine ZDF.Kultur, which investigated the assumptions that African imports were "primitive" and linked exports to Egypt's Green Revolution.
In March, 2011. WR3A was profiled in Motherboard.tv, for the organization's case that reduced exports of used electronics by "stewards" was having unintended consequences.
In October, 2010, WR3A announced a partnership with Basel Action Network to reduce unnecessary breakage and destruction of working computer monitors in California, under California SB20 laws. This followed a report critical of California "cancellation" policies published in the Sacramento Bee on July 19, 2010.
On July 30, 2010, Discovery News presented an analysis contrasting WR3A's "fair trade" engagement approach with the Basel Action Network's (BAN) "trade restriction" approach, and abstained from choosing sides.,
In January 2009, the organization presented statistics and a film at the Keynote Address of the CES 2009 in Las Vegas. The statistics demonstrated that the rate of growth of internet access is much higher in countries with very low incomes. It is logically unlikely that this growth can be achieved with new computers. The WR3A also presented film of the reuse and refurbishing operations which demonstrate proper recycling practices and best available practices in these ten countries.
- Recycling Today, February 2005
- The Economist, February 25, 1989
- Yuzo Takahashi's 2000 technology history, A Network of Tinkerers: The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan
- Links to stories by PRI, NPR, PBS, AP at http://retroworks.net/retroworksofmexico.html
- T. Reed Miller; Jeremy Gregory; Huabo Duan; Randolph Kirchain (January 2012). "Characterizing Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics: Summary Report" (pdf). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
- "Mexican Town Turns U.S. E-Waste into Treasure". sacbee.com. 2010-07-18.
- "Revenge of the TV Monitor Zombies". Discovery Communications. 30 July 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
- "(Discovery Blog record)". Discovery Communications. 30 July 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
- "On Their Own Terms" (NPR Transcript). 2009-05-15. Retrieved 2009-07-01.
- Video of CES 2009 Keynote Address broken link?
- WR3A film
- "Waste Management in the United States" (pdf). Office of Solid Waste, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. July 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-01.