Frequently Asked Questions About Fair Trade Recycling

What Does “Fair Trade Recycling” Mean?

Western media has reported on “junkyards” in Asia, Africa and Latin America as if sea containers of western junk are arriving and dumping directly on the poor. In fact, over 80% of the world has electricity, and appliances. In fact, most of the material pictured in Africa and Asia was imported and reused for 5-15 years before it was thrown away.

Boycotting Africa, Asia and Latin Americans “Tech Sector” will not reduce the amount of e-waste generated by cities like Accra, Cairo, Dakar, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Lima, Mumbai, etc. These metropolises have terrific reuse and repair markets, and a huge need for end-of-life recycling plants.

Fair Trade Recycling sells to the Tech Sector the legal reuse and repair equipment they need, with a discount, creating incentives to close the circle. We make “geeks of color” the stewards of end-of-life recycling. 

What is Fair Trade Recycling?

Fair Trade Recycling is an alternative to boycotts and bans on trade of used electronics with technicians, repairpeople, schools, and recyclers in developing countries.

How does Fair Trade Recycling address “e-Waste”?

Most importers in Africa, Asia and Latin America pay a lot of money and take significant risk to buy used equipment. FTR companies offer a discount – selling used electronics for less money – in exchange for better, safer, and fairer recycling practices.

What are some examples of Fair Trade Recycling?

Retroworks de Mexico is a factory opened in rural Sonora which recycles difficult items, such as televisions, using hand disassembly. Retroworks de Mexico sells working televisions and offers to take back “junk” electronics from the countryside in exchange. Original equipment manufacturers, like this one in Malaysia, are also models for using discounted reuse to organize and properly manage discarded and waste equipment.

See our “Case Studies” page for more examples in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the USA.

Is Fair Trade Recycling legal?

Fairly traded used electronics are legal under Annex IX of the Basel Convention if they are reused or repaired, and legal for recycling if the process does not produce toxics. However, some countries have banned the export or import, either to protect sellers of new products, or in reaction to allegations that the trade is “likely to pollute” or “inherently unfair”.

What is the Fair Trade Recycling organization?

A non-profit organization called the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association (WR3A) was incorporated in Vermont, USA, in 2006. The goals of the organization are to provide a model for environmentally sound reuse, repair and recycling practices. WR3A members pledge not to ship “toxics along for the ride”, to address concerns of buyers and suppliers, and to transparently reconcile each shipment to learn and improve the trade.

Does shredding “e-waste” prior to export make it safer?

No. While shredding equipment is becoming more sophisticated, it is not a panacea for recycling “treatment”. The focus materials of concern (CRT glass, lead solder, batteries, etc.) are actually difficult to see and to harder screen for when a computer is shredded. Shredded material, exported as “raw material”, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but a computer monitor which is reused in a school is environmentally more sound than a shredded computer.

Aren’t used items, like CRT displays, obsolete?

Rich nations may find it difficult to believe, but new CRTs are still being made by the thousands every day. They are still popular for standing up well in hot climates, and being difficult to steal. Nations like Egypt became “most wired” to the internet in the past decade through the purchase of used computers, including CRT monitors.

Are overseas computer refurbishers “informal” or working in impoverished conditions?

Roughly six billion of the seven billion people in the world live in “non-OECD” nations. Millions of people live without electricity, and have no urgent need for used electronics. However, most of the exports of intact used computers go to very large factories – often the same ones which made the original equipment. The original equipment assemblers of CRT monitors (e.g. Foxconn, Wistron, BenQ, Proview, and their contractors) were estimated to be over 95% of demand at the peak of CRT exports. Small, “village recycling” operations do exist, but are considered more of an embarrassment in places like China than a fair representation of the global trade.

How do I find out more?

Email for more information, or join our “Fair Trade Recycling” Group on Facebook.



Fair Trade Recycling means spending the time to find out who the buyers are, and to negotiate terms of reuse, repair and recycling which the USA and Europe can be proud of. Like Fairtrade Coffee, it’s a constructive alternative to boycotting the poor.