Sep 14

Dale Dougherty

Dale Dougherty

Local Recycle & Reuse Hits A Bureaucratic Roadblock

Let's imagine that you set up a non-profit to recycle electronics and divert computers from going directly into landfills or otherwise being destroyed by a grinder. You look for ways to refurbish these components and possibly recombine them into functional computers that go out to areas and institutions that have difficulty obtaining computers. You might even collect some of the vintage electronics that comes through the door and hang on to this stuff because you think it's cool and somebody may want it someday. Yes, your place looks a bit like a junkyard but it's one that employs people to do something with the junk you collect. And while you have organized these efforts as a charity, you have figured out how to break even from providing these recycling services and you don't need donations or government support.

You do all this and then a government inspector drops in one day. This is an inspector from the Department of Toxic Substance Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency . You've had inspectors before and the visits have been cordial. Your operation is not unlike the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. You have worked with the DTSC in the past. You think you're a friend of the environment because you repurpose equipment that would otherwise be waste.

You expect to pass the inspection but no. Instead, you get written up. Perhaps it's because there's a new inspector in town with something to prove. No matter, you've now been handed a Section 1 violation, which means they can shut you down or make it very hard for you to stay in business. The inspector says that you don't have a proper inventory of all the parts. The inspector says that you have to get rid of equipment after a year, so you'll have to clear out your museum of collectibles. This is the letter of the law and you're expected to follow it. You're given 30 days to comply.

Now, if this really was you, you might get upset. You'd see all the work you've done about to be undone, unravelled. It seems nobody cares that you're in this mess and the government, which seems to promote and support environmental cleanup, is using narrow interpretations of its regulations to block the operations of a group engaged in precisely this kind of activity.

This scenario is unfolding in Berkeley where the Alameda County Computer Recycling Center and its Director, James Burgett, is having to fight for its life. I presented this scenario in hopes that you might take it as personally as James does and understand why he is very frustrated and angry. If you read his Aftermath Technology blog , you'll see the emotion. Fortunately, he has a Board of Directors that is supporting him and they are looking into a legal action. But he needs help, just as Jim Mason and the Shipyard needed help this summer when the city of Berkeley threatened to evict them.

James and the ACCRC have been a great friend of Make and especially Maker Faire, where they bring a lot of recycled equipment for makers to salvage for use in Re-Make projects. This year, James organized "Silicon Death Valley," which was a hearse full of junked computers and other electronics produced in Silicon Valley. We believe it helped create awareness for where a lot of the stuff produced in the valley eventually ends up. James not only brings the equipment, but he also brings a large team of helpers. We've been grateful for his participation.

Calling or writing the DTSC is one way you can help James. Ask DTSC supervisors to review the work of this individual inspector and consider whether this action is in the best interest of the environment. You can also write James and show support for his efforts, simply letting him know that others recognize the value of ACCRC to the local community.

At the end of our conversation today, James told me that he was disappointed that the state seemed to be "actively discouraging the highest and best environment reuse." He said the state pays a firm to destroy the electronics; it doesn't pay him to refurbish and reuse these components, which is much harder. It doesn't pay to do this, he admits, but James and the ACCRC have found a way to make it work. I hope James and ACCRC can work their way around this particular roadblock.

Keep track of what happens at the Aftermath Technology blog .

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Comments: 87

  Sarah Milstein [09.14.07 10:45 AM]

Thanks for the heads-up, Dale. Might be helpful to link to the DTSC or provide the appropriate contact info.

  rabble [09.14.07 11:54 AM]

My letter to Asha at the DTSC:

I'm a senior engineer working at Yahoo's San Francisco Office. I have donated equipment to ACCRC for recycling and volunteered there several times. They have been helpful in developing projects which supply computers to schools, non-profits, and organizations which would not be able to afford computers otherwise.

We were able to arrange containers of refurbished computers to be shipped to schools in Guatemala and Ecuador. Hundreds of children use those computers every day, years later, to get on to the internet. Without the work of ACCRC they would not be able get online and would be left on the other side of the digital divide.

As a volunteer at ACCRC, and somebody who coordinated community driven effort to bring in volunteers i have had a positive experience working with them. They required everybody go through safety workshops, have protective equipment, understand which materials were toxic and make sure that they were disposed of cleanly. They attempt to keep an inventory of the equipment coming in and being processed. It is difficult to keep full track of every piece of equipment which comes through. In fact, if they spent all the time to track down every piece of equipment, then they would end up spending all of their time in paperwork and would not be able to focus on refurbishing equipment and proper disposal hazardous materials.

The shutting down of ACCRC will not advance the cause of eliminating toxic waste. Without an open facility like ACCRC many more monitors and other computer waste will be put in dumpsters and go to landfills. I know it's illegal to throw computers and monitors in the trash, but it happens. Only with places to recycle and properly dispose of equipment such as ACCRC are we protecting our environment.

Their space may not be as organized as possible. They may have problems with record keeping, and storing historic computers as a museum. But the reality is that strict enforcement of DTSC toxic regulations will make the situation worse. No other organization can afford to replace ACCRC and we will loose a valuable community asset in eliminating waste and recycling computers for underprivileged communities.

  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 12:29 PM]

Oh, this is a serious drag. I mean, I have a big pile of e-junk that I've buffered for years now with the intent of getting down to accrc one of these days.

May it be helpful to observe that the inspector seemingly has some good points that do in fact relate to public safety concerns. That district is vulnerable to flooding, warehouse fires, terrible effects during earthquakes, etc. Suppose it floods, for example: whatever washes off is going to wash directly into the bay. Suppose it burns: dense smoke is going to hit nearby residences.

ACCRC can't document what's in their big pile of stuff. It's aparent upon inspection it contains toxic stuff.... and here we are.

Noble causes and generous deeds are great, but they should really pay their own way. They should not sneak a backdoor taxpayer subsidy. ACCRC argues basically that they can't afford to comply (e.g., to keep inventory records) but that they should be given a pass because of the good they do. That pushes a safety-related expense on the taxpayers. Instead, ACCRC should raise more money and pay to comply.

I think it's paranoid to think the state is forbidding archival of museum-quality pieces or salvage of re-usable parts etc. Not at all. But the state is just saying that if you're handling toxics, you have to keep track of them, and therefore you shouldn't be pointing a pile of junk saying "some of that is probably museum-quality" but should be showing me the list of what is salvaged, what is junk, etc.


  james burgett [09.14.07 01:47 PM]

A couple of points:

ACCRC has never had a release of any sort period.
(feel free to check on that)

our policies and procedures passed on two previous inspections. To my knowledge there has been no change in the applicable legislation and no change in accrc's proceedures.

So I ask. What changed and why didn't this come up in the two previous inspections?

In addition Compliance is easy all we have to do is destroy everything that comes to us and this problem goes away. The inventory is only on the material we retain.
The insane legislation requireing destruction or disposal is cited repeatedly by the dtsc agent in her report and she explicitly orders us to tell her how we plan to get rid of it. (to add to the fun the stuff that set her off was a pallet of next cubes, a pdp 8E,some dual sytems 8080 based boxes and an almost complete collection of atari 2600 cartridges.)

Read the regs and the report. Its not paranoia its documented.
All of the material was on pallets and ready to be handled in an industrial manner, most were wrapped and effectivly sealed (we are trying to restore the pdp 8e and have lit up a 2600 so thats open).

In addition the regs involved are just a might vague and the question seems to be when "disposal" occurs If its donated to us (We are a 501(c)3) and a tax deduction is generated is it "disposal"?

If a government agency contracts with us because of our re-use policies over a much more luctrative "diposal" method is it disposal? My contracts all specificly state re-use as a primary aspect of my responsibilities.

Mr lord your willingness to spew opinions without checking readiliy availble references is painfull to observe and demonstrates that your intyelligence is at best superficial.

  terrie [09.14.07 01:57 PM]

I did some research into the chain of command and am going to try these email addresses for letter writing:

  • AArora at Asha Arora, Berkeley Field Office, Department of Toxic Substances Control
  • MGorsen at Maureen F. Gorsen, Director, Department of Toxic Substances Control
  • LRobinso at Leonard E. Robinson, Chief Deputy Director, Department of Toxic Substances Control
  • LAdams at Linda Adams, Secretary for Environmental Protection, State of California
  • governor at Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor, State of California

  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 03:19 PM]

James, I hope you have good legal council.

All I'm suggesting is that you might be better able to solve this thing if you have a better understanding of the ways the inspector did the right thing, regardless of what happened in past years. Imagine a citizen who asks the fire chief "If a fire goes through there, what health precautions should I take? And do you guys have the right equipment to control the situation?" The regs you've run afoul of seem to be basically aimed at requiring you to help the fire chief (for example) give a true, confident, and welcome answer.

It's just a hippy thing or a zen thing I'm trying to say: If you see the problem from the regulator's perspective, then you can move straight on to relieving their concerns. If you don't see the problem they see, and are just telling them "you must stop harassing me!" then, well, they won't (and probably shouldn't).


  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 03:45 PM]

Another way to say it, James:

Unlike Goodwill, you are specifically in a business that encourages people to drop off toxic materials which, prior to any work you do on them, have negative economic value on the open market. You take in people's toxics-related liabilities, even in some cases charging money to do that.

When you create a concentration point for toxics like that, the state has an interest in seeing that their handling is "well regulated". The state needs to have a pretty good idea what is accumulating on your spot and the way that is implemented is to give you a year to decide what to do with each incoming item in exchange for your keeping track of what's there on any given day.

I wonder if you don't have other bureaucratic problems on the horizon: If you're salvaging stuff out of the junk stream and then saying the 1-year rule doesn't apply to that because it has value, then that should probably show up on your balance sheet as a corporate asset (e.g., it would be fair game in a liquidation or as collatoral).


  james burgett [09.14.07 04:30 PM]

The dtsc is giving me greif over the exact same thing tha calepa gave me an award for.

For fututre ref I was a fireman.

The problem is one of interpretation not action. In previous visit from other dtsc inspection this behaviour was approved and even encouraged. During this inspection this agent demonstrated a serious lack of understanding of basic aspects of hazardous material handling. In specific she made some rather gross blunders as to lead acid battery identification. (not all lead acid batteries are shaped like car batteries, she did not seem to know this and was going to bust us for mixed batteries until my warehouse manager showed her the epa required lead acid symbol on the side of the battery)

I submit that the previous inspectors were demonstrably better informed on this issue and as they were willing to collect information before threatening violations. (They where smart enough to read the label while Ms arora was not)

In addition I submit that two previous inspectors who are not demonstrably ignorant trump one who is.

We actually have a rather extensive policy for what goes into the re-use area Ms Arora made no attempt whatsoever to determine what system existed.

Its now moot as a higher pay grade from the dtsc is meeting with us on the 25th and we expect to have our concerns dealt with in a much more rational manner.

We expect ot find that statements of non-compliance were greatly exagerated.

So if she was in the right why did her boss pull her out of the game?

  james burgett [09.14.07 04:50 PM]

Your second interpretation is also flawed.

We are a charitable re-use agency period we recover material from donations and if possible re-furb them and give them away.
The only things we charge for are data destruction and (frankly underpriced)pickup fees

As for asset value. I agree and if and when I can afford an appraisal I'll do it.

So Mr lord have you had enough fun trolling and looking for fault? It seems the dtsc has.

  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 05:52 PM]

So Mr lord have you had enough fun trolling

That's uncalled for.

I'm sorry that as a fellow citizen of Berkely I tried to help you. How silly of me to think that, just maybe, accrc actually has some corrections to make.

My public safety concerns arose from your decriptions of operations in response to the citation. Now, as much as I hope accrc keeps operating, I also hope that the regulators don't cave here because there's clearly some potentially dangerous insensitivity to the reasonable concerns of the neighbors.

As for fees: indeed I see that. The data destruction fee is an example of what I described: you take on somebody's liability (the existance of that data on disk) and take a fee to offset a fraction of your expenses. Also, was it not the case that a couple of years ago (the last time I looked it up) you had higher fees for CRTs?


  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 06:20 PM]

I predict:

Accrc will have to make some corrections in its operating procedures. Its CEO will be relieved and amazed at how minor they ultimately turn out to be. The entire event will be a boost in publicity and fundraising. Between now and then, some really amazing people in my town are going to suffer a lot of stress worrying about the horrible potentials.


  james [09.14.07 07:01 PM]

sorry not a full troll a subspecie, a concern troll.

Again your basic assumption is flawed. we seem to have gotten past the inventory now and seem to be at loggerheads over the one thing you have stated is "paranois" the ONLY remaining issue is the requirement to destroy and or dispose after one year.

You have been wrong consistently in this discussion. the issues you claim are important turn out to be minor and the points you claim are paranoia are all that remain.

While I very much hope you are correct I am very glad that I only participate in this conversation as for it cathartic aspect you amuse me no end.

You do realise that you have been wrong on all counts today? Yet you lack the intelligence to percieve your failings and limit the damage by shutting up.

While Im at it I have a reason to be here. Do you actually have a life or is haunting blog comnments all you have?

I say again troll and frankly an uninspired one.

  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 07:25 PM]

I think our misunderstanding on the 1 year thing is that I don't think it means you have to throw out *anything*. All it means, afaict, is that you have to inventory it and declare that inventory to be salvage. The advantage for the state is that they can then say "so, whatcha got in there?" and get a good answer. The impact on you is a little bit of new cost to your operations -- which is why I'm hopeful that part of the fallout from this should be a fundraising boost. (I'm poor but I'll kick in $20!).

I know you are looking at what they are literally saying: "This is trash. You must inventory your trash and you can't keep it around for more than a year."

Ok, so, creatively: you inventory the trash, some you already know you want to dispose of but most you want to keep. So, you say: this large part of that is no longer trash -- it's salvage -- and here's the inventory. I'll bet you another $20-to-nothing (as a donation) that that's just about all you have to do.

I only participate in this conversation as for it cathartic aspect

I got that sense. You can yell at me anytime, so long as I can bark back a little.

Do you actually have a life or is haunting blog comnments all you have?

I'll bet we have friends or friends of friends in common. Basically, you come off as a pompous twit and apparently I come off as a gassy troll.

I like your work. I stand by my suggestion that you should consider a posture of dancing with the devil here because, as I've bet, I think a little bit of change in paperwork plus a new procedure for counting things and you're probably good to go.


  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 08:13 PM]

My bill, James:

So, I owe you $20 just for saying I do. To add fuel to the thought that this should lead to a fundraising boost, I'll declare another $20 matching fund and I'll assume that at least one other O'Reilly reader will certainly match it - so that's $40. If I win my bet and this comes down to little more than you needing a better inventory tracking system, then I'll later owe you another $20 (that's my prize). I'll paypal the $40 momentarily.

Please play nice with the friendly regulators.


  Thomas Lord [09.14.07 10:02 PM]

I hope people will actually match my $20 challenge contribution. I found a neat thing that might inspire that:

I'm sorry that on James' radar I'm clearly a trolling asshole. On mine, he's a pompous twit whose hubris is getting in the way of his capability to cope with some minor regulatory concerns ("whacha got in there, anyway?").

I'm not trying to claim any moral high ground. Perhaps I am a trolling asshole or perhaps not. The project is good. It deserves support. Anyone can see that.


  james [09.15.07 09:39 AM]

Rules as stated are that destruction and disposal are mandated. I have had no conversation with the dtsc where this is not a primary topic and insistence.

Until I caused this shitstorm the dtsc was totally immobile on this or any other topic.

Had to invoke public wrath to get them to re-consider very bad policy.

Observation: dtdsc had no interest in helping or adapting until such time as I deminstrated that its behaviour would have consequnces.
Then they suddenly saw room to move.

for friendly dtsc agent. read gorup that had to be forced from an unreasonable position.

No. Truth to power is not nice, policy is insane and demonstrably so will continue to mantain and demonstrate this position.

Second the existing policy for putting material into and out of re-use far exceeds the compromises that the dtsc is now proposing. The only kicker at this point is what you claimed was paranioa and they are not moving on this.

The opinions of the demnstrably wrong are of little or no interest. An as for my being "pompous twit"

You and the dtsc are the only ones who have maintained this opinion during this issue.

The dtsc has a legitimate gripe, you on the other hand need a life

You are a troll I will demonstrate.

1: taking a contrary position without data.
2: when shown to be wrong change the subject (might be assets ooh bad)
3: invoke false support authority (neihbours are scared) I know my neighbors quite well and none of them have an issue. So this is an attempt to gemerate false authority.

Last I submit that you need to read the regs as your solutions seem to be illegal. again yours ignorance is showing. The demand is for destruction there is no language in the regs for salvage and you are just spewing happy happy horseshit.
Dancing with the devil would be fine but the devil is way beyound dancing at this point.

If you are correct and the dtsc will just look the other way if I make up some bogus inventory it still the same problem just delayed until a less enlightened dtsc agent comes along. (which if you think about it is what is heppening here two reasonable thinking agents followed by one who is not.)

I need to change the regs as written they demand destruction or disposal period. The path that has worked for us in the past has been through public outcry and negative press.

If we had not done so we would probably close on monday as normal channels and reasonable behaviour did not work. While this is regrettable, it is also demonstrably true.

We may now have a reasonable dtsc agent in the game. But I submit that there was none until we also demonstrated the abilty to become "unreasonable" in public.

Keep your money, buy some logic lessons. you operate with to many assumed precepts and work yourself into unsupported happy conclusions not
based in fact.

  Thomas Lord [09.15.07 10:41 AM]

I'm now quite convinced ACCRC's management is completely off mission. I take back my previous praise for the organization.


  Thomas Lord [09.15.07 01:02 PM]

For the record, is is a key provision of the law for which ACCRC has been cited. As you can see, fear that ACCRC can not possibly operate is, indeed, paranoid:

From California Code Title 22, para. 66273.35, emphasis added:

(b) A large quantity handler of universal waste may accumualte universal waste for longer than one year from the date the universal waste is generated, or received from another handler, if such activity is soley for the purpose of accumulation of such quantities of universal waste as necessary to facilitate proper recovery, treatment, or disposal. However, the handler bears the burden of proving that such activity was solely for the purpose of accumulation of such quantities of universal waste as necessary to facilitate proper recovery, treatment, or displosal.

Proper disposal within the one year limit is defined to include keeping an inventory -- obviously storage for proper recovery, for longer than a year, requires no less.

It is not the inspector's job to come in and take an inventory by eye. It is the inspector's job to come in and verify the accounting ACCRC gives as part of its burden of proof.

This is not unreasonable regulation. Imagine if you (not you, James) lived two miles from a facility that takes in ever greater amounts of toxic materials but that, when the state inspectors show up tells them (and anyone else taking notice) to pretty much go f themselves -- all basicaly to evade answering the question "whatcha got in there?"

There are a lot of indirect stakeholders in ACCRC's continued success and good fortune. I hope that they and the board can find a good solution to what should be a minor operational problem with the facility.


  J Tom Moon 79 [09.15.07 03:40 PM]

I thought this was an interesting and very relevant story so I submitted to Slashdot.

-J Tom Moon 79

  Arjun [09.15.07 04:56 PM]

What I don't understand, is why the author of this blog-article Dale Dougherty is presenting such a one-sided view. I have read the commentary and I see quite honestly cool, level-headed facts presented and reiterated by Thomas Lord, and desperate, vapid claims of pseudo-abuse by james burgett who runs the ACCRC.

What I don't understand is why the ACCRC isn't asking for immediate volunteer support to get their stuff inventoried? That would be much more effective than inflammatory rhetoric strewn across random internet blogs.

If you get cited (and I have been!!) you don't argue the citation, you rectify it THEN you argue. The government is quite unyielding for good reason, they want things fixed post haste. Reading through the comments the fact the ACCRC was not cited on the two previous inspections is unfortunate, as perhaps it would have lessened the false sense of impunity they seem to have towards compliance.

Best of luck to all involved, very interesting story.

  Thomas Lord [09.15.07 06:30 PM]


Thanks and... FWIW, I don't think that the O'Reilly editorial coverage here is one sided. I got a pretty balanced sense from the top-post, for example.

Mostly, I think this is embarassing for just about everyone involved in the thread -- me, james, dougherty, etc. Clearly the conversation went a bit south. I'll bet some good comes of it, though. (man, I'm racking up a lot of "bets" in this thread :-)


  Justin Dossey [09.16.07 04:21 PM]

If the beareaucracy is the issue, why not fight using your own? Create another nonprofit recovery/treatment/disposal entity, have it pay to share your space, and pay it (about the same amount) to recover, treat, or dispose of the things you don't get to within a year. If this other entity can't do it, it can always pay you to do the same the next year.

It's silly, but it does keep you within the letter of the law (at least, as I understand the it).

  Theo [09.16.07 06:42 PM]

Seems like a storm in a teacup, however doing good for society does not exempt one from complying with the law.

The photo for example shows considerable amounts of poly, that would worry me as a neighbour, it is a considerable toxic firehazard.

The rest should be just a matter of dividing the material in a recycle and waste stream.

Goods marked for recycle or marked as second hand would be obviously exempt from toxic waste considerations, as said before it should be just a small paperwork detail.

I am not familiar with Californian law, but normally it would only require to accept or purchase any goods as trading stock and in due course separate out the waste stream of materials to be discarded.

That way the two streams would come under different laws, and the waste question would not arise.

I do agree that some of these agencies can have a tendency to go overboard and if possible they should allow a certain amout of discretion, from what I have read it does appear they have given them a fair trot though.


  John S. [09.16.07 08:35 PM]

Just goes to show, the best place for old computer parts is with the rest of the a landfill. Time to give up on the waste of time called recycling.

  Thomas Lord [09.16.07 09:55 PM]

Now *that* is a troll! :-)


  Thomas Lord [09.16.07 10:01 PM]

Justin: that kind of thing generally doesn't work (legally) except in cases where it is entirely unecessary (such as this one).


  Jason [09.16.07 11:55 PM]

This is what I wrote to the head of the DTSC. Copy and paste if you like.


Dear Ms. Gorsen--

I am writing to you about the Section 1 violation issued to the Alameda County Computer Recycling Center (ACCRC). I am a resident of Berkeley, CA, and I have found the services of ACCRC to the community and environment to be highly commendable. It read with dismay that the ACCRC is apparently being shut down primarily due to loose on-site control of its inventory.

I find it rather ironic that an agency tasked with environmental protection has ordered a non-profit organization committed to recycling toxic materials to shut down within 30 days. I question this inspector's sense of priorities in a state known for its chemical and other heavy industries. More to the point, I sincerely hope that this inspector's work does not reflect the judgment of your agency.

Perhaps rather than summarily shutting it down, you agency should find a way to support an organization with goals so aligned to your own.

While I understand the need to abide by technical details, I believe you should either dispense with the shut down order, or lengthen its time to a more appropriate window for an organization that is largely volunteer-run with modest resources to be able to comply reasonably. I look forward to hearing the solution your agency devises to this disappointing action.

[my name and address]

  Aaron [09.17.07 12:18 AM]

Of definite newsworthiness is the increased concern that enhanced regulatory enforcement by the likes of the DTSC and similar politically-connected agencies against small businesses such as the ACCRC, actually serve as signs of continued active and renewed TARGETING of these very same businesses at the expense of other perhaps less worthy endeavors.

Berkeley residents will of course recall the recent Richard Brenneman story 'Car Dealership Zoning Draws Resident Fears' in the Berkeley Daily Planet. From
--- quote begin ---
As Berkeley’s planning commissioners prepare for a public hearing on a plan to rezone two hunks of West Berkeley for car sales, embattled activists have questions.

Drafted at the urging of Mayor Tom Bates as a plan to keep car dealers—and the sales taxes they raise—within the city, the plan has raised fears among some that the plan could be targeting local business and result in property value spikes that could drive others to leave—including the area’s dwindling supply of artists.
--- quote end ---

Funny (not!) how this regulatory crackdown on the ACCRC occurred just North of this car dealership rezoning area in West Berkeley.....

As a Berkeley resident, I too am aware of the benefits of having local businesses and creative endeavors as the ACCRC and the Shipyard around. Besides contacting the DTRC, it may be time to also contact the local press; e.g., such media outlets as the Berkeley Daily Planet,, and perhaps the San Francisco Chronicle,

  Jessica [09.17.07 10:42 AM]

The DTSC's director's assistant (916) 322-0504 recommended that people email their concerns to the Chief Deputy Director Leonard Robinson at . She diplomatically indicated that he is very interested in recycling efforts.

  simon [09.17.07 11:01 AM]


I'm no expert on any of this, but an analogy that occurs to me is junk car yards. Many of these salvage yards do have inventory systems, but the more traditional ones, where you spend a happy day taking cars apart with your own tools, don't. These are the ones that offer the best deals, too.

These guys, for example (and as far as I remember, it has been a few years since I did this), have no idea what parts they have: you get to wander in and they judge the price of what you bring out at the time of sale. All the work is up to you.

Perhaps one solution is to consider relocation? Berkeley is not what is was in the 1960s, and although this seems to be a case of two entities that serve the public good coming into conflict, a simple solution is probably the best.

Plus, rents are so high in Berkeley, why stay? Why not move up to Hercules or Pinole or something, where restrictions, and containment in the event of a fire, might be less taxing, so to speak?

Perhaps the guys at Urban Ore, who used to do computer salvage but have stopped since they moved, would be useful to talk too? Or maybe organizations like this:

I don't know, not an expert, but it seems to me there can be a happy ending.

Just like Weird Stuff Warehouse, who moved from a central location to a very hard to find location on the peninsula, since this organization is a destination stop for its fans, it doesn't seem to me it matters all that much where it is located. People will find it!

Just in case it is useful, here is a list of junk yards for sale in the usa:

And I agree with previous posters, with the technical and volunteer know how of your customers, it might be possible to create an inventory pretty fast, which would allow online sales too...


  Coward [09.17.07 11:39 AM]

Geez, James can sure be... caustic...

An executive summary: The ACCRC is staffed by mostly ex-addicts with no skills and low literacy. Asking them to keep additional paperwork is futile because they are always screwing up as it is, and the accountants up front spend all their time tracking down names and addresses for EVERY SINGLE FUCKING MONITOR donated (which is what the DTSC demands).

If Berkeley floods, all that electronic equipment is going in the Bay, on pallettes or not. If Berkeley floods, however, the slime and grime from all the unwashed hippies would do far more damage to the environment than some Newtons and a smelly old PDP-11.

  jim mason [09.17.07 01:06 PM]

regulatory entities have difficulty with non-standardized endeavors. regulations are optimized to deal with the general case, not the exceptional cases. regulatory entities are staffed with personalities usually in the maintainer camp, not the creator camp. the cultural and personality collisons are inevitable.

the collisions are particularly painful in cases like this and shipyard where the specific activities are in service of and demonstrably furthering the ends that the general regulations are written for. but the methods are unusual. in the shipyard case, which i run, 100% recycled building materials were refused a reasonable hearing in bldg and safety, despite berkeley's new mandates for using a % recycled building materials in new buildings.

if one chooses to do the exceptional, especially over physical property where regs and codes are elaborate, it is likely that you are going to have to fight the bureaucracy. i thought that the bureaucracy would respond to creativity and a dense collection of interesting things. after six years i found that it is unmotivated by such things. i could not see this for the longest time, as i exist in an economy of creativity and innovation. that is bestows value and attention in my world and most around this blog. such is not the case in bureaucratic entities.

unfortunately the creative perp usually ends up needing confrontational strategies in the face of bureaucracy. giant negative publicity. lawsuits. creative embarassment. attacks on staff. everyday negative muckraking political strategies. it is gross. but it is what i have found the bureaucracy understands. and yes, compliance where you can. but often your options are few.

once you beat them back and they constituency helps them understand how your uniqueness is serving the ends they deeply believe in, they love you and want to take credit for making it all work.

so give em hell james. cause severe pain and embarassment wherever possible. then let them take all the credit for it working in the end.

jim mason

  Jonas Cash [09.17.07 01:07 PM]

You know what it really is?
This is just another example of the little guy getting screwed over while the big guys keep getting away scott free by doing far worse.

Just look at the crap that we Bay Area renters have to go through now with being threatened for possible eviction by those landlords thinking that they'll be foreclosed -- from loans due to the whole credit crunch business!
The banks and politicians (DTSC) will always come out ahead.

  crypticguise [09.17.07 04:20 PM]

James B...Don't back down on this. It seems like the latest inspector is using the "letter of the law" to destroy a very useful ongoing project to recycle and dispose of old computers.

It is typical. My suggestion - go to both your local and state representatives and the newspapers with your story.

These idiots need as much NEGATIVE PUBLICITY as you can give them. The solution to your "non-compliance" is not difficult if the bureaucracy will simply use some common sense.

Best of luck. Give the bastards hell. Thomas Lord sounds like a lawyer. Too bad someone as knowledgable as he is regarding the law couldn't get off his FAT ASS and lend you a hand working thru this matter in a non-legal way.

  Thomas Lord [09.17.07 04:28 PM]

Jim and Aaron,

Oh please. This isn't the man beating up on artists, not in either case.

Neither art nor good charity nor good waste direction justify objective, correctable endagerments of public safety/preparedness. "Art," as I understand, is exceptional because it satisfies practical constraints (the limits on its own production) in particularly graceful ways. Good charity is little different. Nobody is advancing any cause when they do their work at the expense of very simple-to-satisfy public safety regulations.

In my opinion: ACCRC appears to be an economic backbone of our community and is amazing for having created opportunity for a bunch of people against whom there is prejudice. Autodidactic James has incredible strengths and a few, important at this moment, weaknesses. ACCRC could probably win big out of all of this if they can figure out how to partner up with a good lawyer, a time-study man (to work on internal processes), and a few 10 thousand bucks to bootstrap the corrections. I'm ever the optimist but that's what I see. The question is: can culture at ACCRC permit, embrace, survive, and thrive under such a scenario?

James blogged that they had $500 in the bank when the nastiness hit the fan. What the hell!?!? Not only do I still hope they pull out of this feeling like it was no big deal but ... um ... gentle elites in the audience: they apparently need a little endowment and/or line of below-market credit not so much as a revenue strategy, but just as a shock absorber for 5-year surprises like this one.

Blah. ACCRC is being jeapordized by it's own rapidly accelerating success.


  Thomas Lord [09.17.07 04:37 PM]

Cryptic Guise:

Too bad someone as knowledgable as he is regarding the law couldn't get off his FAT ASS and lend you a hand working thru this matter in a non-legal way.

I gave the foundation some of my money, to help them through this. I worked my fat ass off earning that money.

Also, I assume that by "in a non-legal way" you are not suggesting that the right solution is for ACCRC to break the law.


  rascal [09.17.07 10:00 PM]

I'm just curious about what he's hiding, that woudl make him go off on some poor inspector that just cites him for one thing, soimething that is part of the law.

  Felix [09.18.07 07:44 PM]

In your letter to the DTSC director you say:

"I find it rather ironic that an agency tasked with environmental protection has ordered a non-profit organization committed to recycling toxic materials to shut down within 30 days."

What I don't understand is why you think ACCRC would be shut down in 30 days. The violation (posted on James Burgett's company blog) says:

"The inventory shall be submitted... within 30 days of receipt of this report."

If you read through the entire violation, you'll see that in no way is shutting down even mentioned.

Wonder why James thinks he's going to be shut down? Paranoid much?


I'm curious too.

  Scott M [09.18.07 07:45 PM]

You know, I'm all for recycling and doing good. But jeez, rules are rules. It doesn't matter that previous inspectors cut you some slack. It doesn't matter that the current inspector was maybe a bit wet-behind the ears. They have a good point about the regulations not being followed.

Looks like the AARC needs:
1. A legal department to ensure compliance, regardless what the nice inspectors let you get away with.
2. Better fund raising or better business management to pay for the aforementioned legal department, and inventory-takers.

  Felix [09.18.07 07:53 PM]

I apologize for the huge line breaks. It didn't look that way in the preview!

  tekel [09.18.07 08:53 PM]

I used to live in Berkeley. You guys might want to get in touch with the folks at BRING recycling, where i live now in Eugene, OR:

They seem to have their acts pretty well together. And while (a) the regulations in Oregon might be less strict than in California and (b) they specialize in building materials instead of hazardous computer waste, they must have some kind of easy-to-use inventory system to have functioned as a successful business for 30 years.

They don't have barcodes on stickers or RFID tags, although given what you're dealing with, that might actually be easier than just making piles of shit on the floor. Most of the items they sell have a price written directly on the item with black magic marker. But somebody has to take those items in, sort them into garbage and resaleable piles, and assign a price to items in the resale pile.

Doesn't seem that difficult. AARC could still employ low-education drug users, if that's the best fit for your employee model. You just need to divide the warehouse into two sections- one is the "intake" section, where you pile random crap as it comes in the door. The other is the "museum" or "resale" or whatever- and you assign one or two people to transferring items from the one section to the other, and making a record of everything they touch.

Seems like in any case, whether the state backs off or not, you need some serious process re-engineering.

  tekel [09.18.07 09:13 PM]

Oh and BTW I'm in law school, not a lawyer, so I can't offer to represent James or the ACCRC. None of this is legal advice. And I'm in Oregon, and I'm broke, so I can't fly down to help in person.

But if you want some assistance drafting/proofreading letters, I'd be thrilled to give you a hand with that. As far as fixing your process, I can't directly help you there, but goddamn and Jehosephat, you're in the SF bay area, and this has been blogged on BoingBoing and Make. This is your fifteen minutes of internet fame. Don't squander it. Send Pesco an email and ask him to recruit you a professional volunteer who has done some kind of project managment or process engineering.

Better make it just one so they don't end up arguing with each other :-D

When your volunteer has a new process suggestion for you, send the regulators a very conciliatory note. Outline the new process, describe how it will eventually fix your inventory problem, mention the "we're good for the environment" high notes, ask for input on your new plan, beg for more time to fix things, and invite them back in six months to look the place over again.

And in the meantime, start looking for real estate in Oakland, because if your problem is just Berkeley NIMBYism, it ultimately doesn't matter whether you fix your problems or not- they're going to kick you out anyway. And then you need somewhere else to go. Maybe call the Crucible folks and ask them how they got a permit to be where they are?

  Thomas Lord [09.18.07 09:56 PM]


I don't think there is NIMBYism here. For the shipyard, yes, and that's a whole story about earthquake and fire preparedness costs... but here: i didn't hear a squeak about ACCRC (other than suggestions to use their services) until the state noticed this thing. That would turn into NIMBYism if ACCRC actually blew its response but we all know that ACCRC won't blow its resposne. It's not so ridicululous to say, especially in honor of our hosts, that ACCRC won't blow its response in small part thanks to a contribution of web 2.0 collective intelligence here.

"knock on wood,"

  Thomas Lord [09.18.07 10:28 PM]

A personal plea to the ACCRC mgt. and board:

Your web site does not clearly, fully identify yourselves. I hope you will change it so that it does.


  Matt Wilson [09.19.07 06:32 AM]

Similar but nonsimilar situation, recycling plant for toxic metal waste dissolves everything in super strength acid leaving nothing more toxic than sand, still gets written up and taken on a 6 month regulation ride because by regulations even the treated sand is still toxic, even with NO/NONE/Nondetectable(below 1000ppb)metals. The government does not care how great or noble your cause is, nor does it care if it actually effects the health of citizenry, the regulators and bureaucrats only care about their rules. Trust me, get a good lawyer who is specialized in enviromental regulations and prepare for a long fight. The situation I was in we eventually "won" the right to not be fined for what we had already disposed of, but still were forced to change processing to avoid producing this "toxic" dirt. This was in Texas, I can't imagine how much tighter things would be in Berkley *shudder*. Best of Luck to y'all!

  jason douglas [09.19.07 12:05 PM]

if a company sells a product such as oil for your car. they should be recquired to take that product back and recycle or dispose of it properly after its life cycle has ended. a "true" cost factor should be built in.

why doesnt the government make these computer makers built in that same system for the computers that are obsolete after 2 years?
we should pay a true "environmental" cost upfront instead of making these corporate giants richer.

  Thomas Lord [09.19.07 10:55 PM]

I'd like to post a reply to James'

blog post.

James writes:

Again the dtsc has an issue about the stuff we think might be recoverable/valuable/historic nothing else. If they impose a fine it could quite possibly kill us. The threat to impose a fine is in the text and is not a point of argument. Running out of funds would close us down. (this threat has been reduced, Thank you for the support, We are working on the donation receipts)

Everything stated there supports dtsc action and raises flags for supporters.

Fundamentally, DTSC has said that your documentation for those materials is not up to snuff. It may or may not be the case that your treatment of the materials you handle is reasonable (obviously, it looks like it probably is). The problem is, you haven't met the state at the legislated "half way" point in documenting what you're doing.

That should be simple to fix. But then you go off about being down to $500 and being shut down because you can't afford fines and that sets off all kinds of alarms. That is a sign of poor management -- poor preparedness. It is a sign that, indeed, ACCRC might be a disaster area just itching to happen. As NPOs go, ACCRC is, at the very least, dangerously over extended.

What if a major earthquake hits tomorrow? Nevermind the DTSC complaints -- you don't even have money in the bank to put your gold heap to rapid use.

Don't be blaming the state here, in other words -- you need some professional business management in there.


  Thomas Lord [09.19.07 11:26 PM]

Another way to say it:

Your business plan (the critic says from his armchair, I admit) should just assume that every 5 years you get hit with this kind of threat for some damn reason or other, that it can almost always be worked out with slight changes in the procedures that create documentation. You should have, so to speak, a charged "financial capacitor" ready to cover such surpise jumps in your cash-flow needs.

I think the state regs here are kind of elegant in the way they fail. Let's stipulate (I don't belive, but let's stipulate) that the inspector here just completely messed up. That WILL happen, reliably, whether it happened in this case or not. The glide path through such events is for ACCRC to be able to gracefully handle a few $K for such .. oh.. let's say 3 or 5 year "floods". That's cheapest-fastest-best.

Even if the inspector got it all wrong she still did her job in testing your readiness to cope with a more substantial problem. As a licensed toxics handler, your readiness is at issue.


  Megan [09.20.07 05:59 PM]

Granted this was printed in 2002:

"From an opportune dumpster dive in the early 1990s, James turned a scrounging habit into a multi-million dollar non-profit recycling venture that now eclipses any other operation west of the Mississippi."

but doesn't "multi-million dollar" suggest that they should have more than $500 in the bank?

  The Volkemon [09.20.07 09:26 PM]

Greetings from the MAKEblog!

@Mr Lord- Your posts are rational brainfood.

Thanks. Pleasure to read.

WTH happened to that James fellow?!? Was amusing cannon fodder at the least.A great educational tool also, IMO. Givin the choice, I would always prefer knowing what NOT to do over what one might to try.

  chad [09.21.07 03:54 AM]


Thank you for doing the right thing. Thank you for giving a shit.

Lord & other dissenters,

Get your heads out of our myopic asses. Your grandchildren will not care if James' operation is compliant with regulations, they will care if they can drink clean water. If you have a real solution for ACCRC, offer it, but you're not doing anyone any favors with your passive aggressive comments.

Horseshit on a hot summer day. You must root for the empire when you watch Star Wars.

  anyonymous [09.21.07 07:35 AM]

IANAL so this is not legal advice. In an event of fire, various toxins can be release or created from the burning of the materials contained in a computer (dioxin, PAHs, 4 lbs of lead from crt monitors, etc.). The firefighters would need to know how much and what is in inventory before arriving at the scene and to know what protective measures to take.

Let say there is a fire in a nearby building and your warehouse and several others are in vulnerable. By ascertaining which building would cause the greatest harm, they could concentrate their efforts.

Even though your business is quite noble in its endeavors you still must realize that you can not put people in danger in the event of a fire. They are asking you to give them a complete inventory, not shut your business down. Actually I would think if you are functioning as a 501(c)3 you would have to keep such records anyways. So what is the big deal?

  Stephen Samuel [09.21.07 01:43 PM]

Oh, Lord, what a troll!

Next thing you know, Mr. Lord will be accusing the ACCRC of being a terrorist organization for stockpiling hundreds of pounds of toxic substances.

(read: Lead in batteries).

If I was in an appropriately snarky mood, I'd actually read ALL of his comments, but I've got more useful stuff to do.

  revphil [09.25.07 04:08 PM]

We here in the Silicon Forrest hope this story has a happy ending soon.

Good luck James!


  Shadow [10.02.07 05:18 PM]

Doesnt shock me one bit.

I mean, this is the state that taxes (and essentially fines) people for recycling, then charges them again if the goods have been recycled (at least when I go to buy salvaged parts from a car salvage yard, I get charged a recycling tax!)

I know all that is trying to support recycling organizations in the state, but some areas require you to drive way out of your way to drop off stuff. Most people wont do this, and will sooner just lump everything into the trash container than pay extra.

Now they pull this. It's almost as if they dont want people recycling. That or the company that gets paid for crushing electronics doesn't like the competition and paid an inspector off. Which the latter seems more likely.

  Jejune [10.02.07 05:56 PM]

No surprise - typical government lackey mired in minutia and unable to see a big picture. It is the main reason government as a whole is so wasteful and full of red tape.

  Cullen [10.02.07 06:40 PM]

i don't think it will help mr burgett that he lists 'getting away with bizarre schemes' as one of his interests on his blog. I work for a similar recycling outfit in st paul, mn. we inventory everything. the inspector comes, finds something wrong, we fix it. 500$ in assets? go home. your lack of suitable responses to mr lord are more indicative of a troll than anything else i've read on this blog. i wish i could support you, but frankly, i hope they shut you down.

part of owning a business is learning to deal with the red tape. ONE person takes issue with the fact that you have boatloads of toxic material rather near the ocean, and you flip out? encourage people to email her and treat her like shes stupid, simply because she doesn't agree with your views? she may not have asked the right questions, but from what i ca tell, you did to volunteer the correct information. when a inspector comes to my place of business, i have everything ready. you dont treat these people like they aren't there to have a good time; assume that every time they are going to go nuts ad call everything off - make it perfect. i am SHOCKED you've been doing this this long, and i think its funny that you believe that the previous inspectors were more competent because they missed your pallets and buckets of plastic. you really need some business advice.

  Don [10.02.07 06:48 PM]

If they weren't so dangerous and damaging, liberals would be hilarious.

  Bill Maddox [10.02.07 06:53 PM]

It seems like one way to avoid issues with the salvaged collectibles is to establish a separate entity operating as a historical conservation organization or antiques dealer rather than as a waste recycler. Or just sell the stuff now. Genuine collectible hardware brings top-dollar on eBay. I buy lots of this sort of stuff. A PDP-8E CPU alone will fetch $1000 to $1500. Sounds like a good way to raise some money.


  Iain [10.02.07 07:01 PM]

Lord: Please do the majority of us a favor and get a blog - so we can go back to not paying you any attention.

  Gideon [10.02.07 07:30 PM]

Lord: yeah, i actually read what you were writing. I can see why others thought you were trolling, but you're obviously not. Good on you for trying to help, pity James was so spooked by this whole thing.

James: I run a similar (but smaller) business in my non-work hours. I applaud you and your efforts. So far i've only been able to distribute PCs locally, well done getting them out of the country. I'm sure this will all blow over, and you're likely to benefit from the publicity in the long run. Good luck to you, etc.

  Nick B [10.02.07 07:38 PM]

If they weren't so dangerous and damaging, conservatives would be hilarious.

  Thomas Lord [10.02.07 08:13 PM]

If hilarious danger weren't so conservatively damaging it would be liable.


  Anonymous Wiggly Thang [10.02.07 08:53 PM]

To quote James:
"So I ask. What changed and why didn't this come up in the two previous inspections?"

Well duh. This is real simple people.

You pissed off Microsoft. Yes, it really is that simple. You are spreading Ubuntu. It's obvious that monkeyboy Balmer had some phone calls made.

It matters not that you have been doing good. There isn't a single hope on this planet for you now. Microsoft puppets/proxies will find and use every single piece of law against you - big, small, far, and wide. Your duckies have to all be in a row, because unwanted eyes are on you now.

And now the MS shills are flooding the intarweb tubes, libelling and slandering, trying to sound legit and make you look like a criminal.

Well, that's what I think anyhow. I could be wrong...

  Jeff [10.02.07 09:21 PM]

It's unfortunate that restrictive government regulations like this get in the way of productive enterprises. In Arizona there is a similar organization, called "StRUT" (Students Recycling Used Technology", and they face similar restrictions on their activities. It's amazing how much the government can destroy more than it can help.

  Strat [10.02.07 09:23 PM]

There are likely pressures to shut down the ACCRC by both the state-paid recyclers, and also computer hardware and software makers/sellers. Not to mention city/county pressures over local zoning issues around the car dealer zoning move.

The software/hardware sellers don't want old machines out there working, as they see that as a possible lost sale, whether or not the end-user(s) would have bought a new machine if the recycled machine weren't available.

It *could* simply be an issue with one inspector, but I suspect if that were the case, the issue would not have gone any farther than the desk of the inspectors' supervisor to whom the negative report was submitted.

  Anonymous [10.02.07 09:29 PM]

This guy's mistake is that he is operating in California, instead of anywhere else in the country.

  Terry [10.02.07 09:51 PM]

Mr. Lord, I have two serious problems with what you have said here.

The first is that the initial classification of "toxic waste" is clearly in error; as Mr. Wilson has pointed out, once such a classification occurs, government is slow to move on changing it. Mr. Burgett has more or less proven, through his ability to usefully recycle this equipment, that it is not in fact "toxic waste".

My second problem is your suggestion that he more or less play along with the farce in order to get out from under his current troubles with enforcement of regulation which is largely not applicable to his organization's operation.

I believe this demand for an inventory within 30 days constitutes a clear indication of the DTSC intends for the future of the organization. From the regulations governing such materials, it is very unclear to me what level of documentation would prove sufficient to satisfy this agency, particularly if the inspector in question is representative of their perspective.

I fear that allowing the classification of the material as "toxic" will have the negative effect of preventing cross-border shipments, such as the past shipment of full operational computers to Guatemala. Perhaps this is an intended effect, or it is not, but buying into that classification is wrong.

I see this as no more or less a case of improperly assumed premises, just as the man who is asked to answer "yes" or "no" to the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?"; there is no possible right answer, so long as you accept the incorrect assumptions of the questioner.

Having personally volunteered in community programs for diversion of the people that Mr. Burgett is helping through his actions, and having seen what passes for county services in California, I much prefer Mr. Burgett stay in business doing what he is doing.

It may end up being more difficult to go after real offenders and offenses (the Chevron refinery whose license is up for renewal comes to mind), but that job is in fact what the inspectors and regulators were hired to do, rather than manufacturing economically safer targets out of people who are of beneffit to the community.

-- Terry

  Anonymous [10.02.07 10:13 PM]

Wow! What a bunch of bureaucratic nazi's we have out there! Especially this Lord dill hole...

This guy is just trying to help make the planet a better place. All this talk about "toxic" materials, BULLSHIT!! The materials are only toxic if you break them up, which is EXACTLY what would normally have happened to this old hardware if people like James didn't step in. If this crap all got sent to a land fill the systems would have to be ripped apart, metal salvaged where possible, then the boards ground up. All that toxic dust and bits from the grinding process now have to get delt with carefully so they don't end up in the air or water supply. This is NOT a problem when the systems are being repurposed and reused! James is saving us all the cost of the energy required to other wise scrap the parts, the costs involved with then having to deal with the toxic left overs from the ground up PCBs, and the cost of then shoving it all in a landfill. And to top it all off he is helping the underprivledged get access to used computers! Where's the problem?

The fact that the state government wants to mess with this operation is appaling, and those of you who support strict regulation of this non-profit venture disgust me! It's not like this guy is making tons of money dumping crap into the ground, into our air, and into the water supply like a lot of the big industry in our country gets away with! You people ought to be more concerned with doing something about the big businesses that are rapping our environment and our ecconomy than this guys computer recycling operation.

As for you Mr Lord, yes you ARE a troll. This line says it all:

"Imagine if you (not you, James) lived two miles from a facility that takes in ever greater amounts of toxic materials"

I have to assume you are the one that lives 2 miles from this place? And with this statement you are trying to make it sound like this recycling place is dangerous to live near. Ok, if it is so dangerous to live next to a bunch of computers why do you live where you do? You obviously have at least one computer as you used it to do your trolling in this blog. Your neigbors most likely have computers. I would be willing to bet there are more used computers in a 1 mile radius from your house than are sitting at this warehouse 2 miles from your house. Are you and your neighbors going to inventory all your old hardware and any cardboard boxes or plastic packaging material you all having lying around your houses and then submit these inventory lists to the state? I didn't think so...

If a fire breaks out are the firemen going to sit outside of the building requesting a current inventory of what's inside before they are willing to put out the fire? No! That's absurd! But this seems to be one of the driving points people are bringing up as to why this place might not be safe. I'm sorry, but firemen are pretty good at their job and can most likely tell what kind of fire they are dealing with from signs like the color of the smoke and the smell. Plus they can always ask what in general is stored inside the warehouse and a generic answer of "used computers and packaging materials" should be good enough. They don't need a specific list of "103 used Dell Dimensions, 35 used LCD panels, 52 cardboard boxes" just to put out a fire!!

Expecting James to do this is just stupid... This is not some big business scheme to make the rich richer. It looks more like a personal endevore to make the world a better place by reusing something that would other wise have great costs for "proper" disposal (if you consider dumping stuff into the ground "proper"), and helping people in need at the same time! This is a nobel effort and the state should be trying to lend a hand rather than wrap them up in red tape!!!

  Anonymous [10.02.07 10:16 PM]

Oh yeah, and someone should fix the code for this site so that breaks work the same way in preview that they do in post. Had I known that I wouldn't have used double breaks! But I figured it was WYSIWYG, guess I was wrong...

  Pete [10.02.07 10:31 PM]

is Thomas Lord a concern troll?

well, we can't really tell for sure from this vantage point at least.

his position is certainly curious. counter intuitive you might say.
every apparent expression of support for ACCRC was
spiked by some kind of criticism. which doesn't bode well.
(and all PR flunkies understand that the most effective criticism comes
from a friend and supporter.)
and these points of attack, notice how they shifted as they were
dealt with. this indicates that no single point of contention was of prime interest, rather that the objective was repudiation of the ACCRC itself, by any means necessary.

on the other hand of course, perhaps Mr Lord is merely arrogant enough to repeatedly attack a productive charitable organization (on grounds
that seem to me at least to be unconscionable), merely because he started, so he will finish.

what cinches it for me? Mr Lord never once apportions any meaningful blame,
not even the possibility of blame, on the officials responsible for the inspection.
like a pit bull circling a bear, it's his unshakable
focus on the ACCRC that seems entirely too contrived.

clearly the most important aspect of this case centers around the change in interpretation of the law (which apparently did not change
itself in the intervening period)

why did they not approve now, what they approved twice before?

therein lies the story and apparently, Mr Lord, with all his protestations, does not want us to venture there:

"Even if the inspector got it all wrong she still did her job in testing
your readiness to cope with a more substantial problem. As a licensed toxics
handler, your readiness is at issue."

move along.. nothing to see here.

  Futatorius [10.02.07 11:25 PM]

Lord's a troll, quit responding to him.

James, get a good lawyer. You were fortunate that the first two inspectors didn't have their heads wedged too. What you got this time is closer to the standard treatment: irrational, obstructive and pig-headed. This is a situation that can be resolved only through the courts and by political pressure. All the other suggestions are very nice, but basically are just noise.

  Thomas Lord [10.02.07 11:30 PM]

Yes, a repudiation of ACCRC by any means acceptable in this forum was, roughly speaking, the objective. I wanted to make the state's best case, full on, and right up in James' face in a forum with no binding consequences. I wanted to absolutely prove that this nationally recognized hero was, in fact, screwing the pooch. I wanted to prove this because, by proving it, I could make it false in the future.

It is ambiguous whether or not I succeeded except that we can note that James ultimately endorsed the position I advocated and, in doing so, found the state to be willing to play ball.

Next up: ACCRC's transparency. Why aren't the board members named via the org's home page? What's the excuse for the $500 bank account?

"Just because you have an unpleasant disposition and dislike people, this is no obstacle to work,"


p.s.: if you think that is trolling, and feel compelled to insist so in public, that basically proves that you are a troll.

p.p.s.: shut up and stick around, you might learn something.

  Ben [10.03.07 04:18 AM]

Post this on digg...the ubuntu fanatics (like me) will close quarters on these bureaucratic asswipe windows bootlickers!

  John [10.03.07 06:12 AM]

Lord is definitely a troll.
Just in his first comments he states he has a pile of ejunk that he has been accumulating, planning on taking it in. First off, as time goes by it becomes worthless. Swamping them with worthless junk is doing them a disservice, not a service.

Nuff said, except, don't feed the trolls

  Dave Mann [10.03.07 07:00 AM]

Hi Folks, I have finished reading all of the comments here and other web sites mentioned above. I came here to read after the issue was publicized on Slashdot.

I find the whole tussle between some petty bureaucrat and a Doing Good organization to be a paradigm of "Government".

Back in the Protest Days, when we fought to create various agencies of government to control pollution, Big Oil, the Bu$hites and the NeoCon Christians, we also created agencies which would control those of us whose sole aim was to Do Good.

Doing Good is such a simple thing ... a person sees a need and works to the best of ability to fill that need. Of course, there are always going to be rough edges in that process.

Why rough edges? Well, for starters, we are not "professional charity providers" (or whatever the present moniker).

Remember that the Professional Charities take for themselves as much as 90% before that remaining 10% is spread around to the needy. And always with complaints by the Professionals that "More Giving Is Necessary". Meanwhile the Big Bosses are making $100,000 a year bonuses.

It is obvious to me that Brother Burkett is Doing Good. He has a vision, he saw a need and he is working to fill that need.

An elegant solution. We should all be so fortunate to live in communities where everyone had his philosophy.

But wait! Is he "in compliance"?

Ah, the magic words straight from the laws which we demanded: Compliance. Follow the rules. March in one line and do not deviate. Remember Citizen, there is nothing here for you to see, now move along.

The "Compliance Inspector" is nothing more than a mindless Civil Service Bureaucrat. Most likely she goes home to her living space with self-righteous indignation at "those people" who are "not in compliance". And most likely sleeps soundly at night.

Unless you can get inside the head of a Government Bureaucrat -- or have been one at one time as I have -- you will not be able to understand that "the inspector is just doing his/her duty and following the rules and regulations". Good Nazis shoveling dead Jews into ovens come to my mind as I type that word-image onto the screen.

What to do, what to do?

I feel that the first thing to do in defending the recycle program is to stop frittering away your energy writing about our indignation. Civil Disobedience has ALWAYS worked in the long run. Calling for volunteers to come in for even a one hour stint at assisting in fixing the complaints is easy -- assuming people put their feet and hands where their mouths are and actually "do something". It doesn't take a rocket scientist to walk into the warehouse and use one of those computers to start a spreadsheet of "stuff" categorized into what ever category the Inspectors ant it to be in. Printing some paper signs which can be fixed to various piles with clever names such as "Held for Further Assessment" (or some other mindless and meaningless Bureaucrat-speak).

If one of those computers is loaded up with Ubuntu Linux and Open Office, then you already have all the Red Tape Paperwork tools needed to generate reams of paper which can then be used to flood the Bureaucrats with reports, spreadsheets, issue papers, logs, inventories and other mindless drivel which make the Bureaucrat oh so happy .... paperwork and lots of it!

Also important is for people like us who see this as one more Big Government issue to get involved with alternate political parties such as the Greens, the Libertarians, The Socialist Workers of the World, and the American Liberty parties. The greatest fear a Bureaucrat has is a change in government and elimination of their job.

Thank you for reading what I have written.

  Mark [10.03.07 09:43 AM]

Regarding comments like "whatever washes off is going into the bay", the comments about toxic smoke from burning polyethylene and "...event of fire, various toxins can be release or created from the burning of the materials contained in a computer (dioxin, PAHs, 4 lbs of lead from crt monitors, etc.).

Does anyone writing this dreck know anything about the environment, chemistry, or combustion/fires?

First, if a flood is that big there will be LOTS of other items washed into the bay to worry about, especially petroleum products from automobiles. I think the picogram quantities of lead, cadmium, etc that wash off the circuit boards are dwarfed by what washes into the bay from the soil and rivers/streams (check the "background" or "natural" levels of lead in the soil in CA, may shock you; note lead is not man-made but a naturally occurring metal found in an ore called Galena (hmmm Galena, CA anyone? maybe they mined lead there in the past!).

Yes polyethylene burns, and dioxins can be formed in fires, but firstly: not all warehouses are sprinklered in CA, nor are those with sprinklers ADEQUATELY sprinklered nor are all sprinkler systems adequately braced/reinforced to survive/function after moderate earthquake. Also a LOT of warehouses and commercial building use a foam core or foamboard construction for the walls, so don't worry about the smoke from the poly wrap, the smoke from the structure fire itself will get you.

As for dioxin, toxins, etc.; let me say this s-l-o-w-ly so everyone gets it: ALL fires involving carbon produce dioxin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, not just plastic fires. (NB - the dirtiest fires for PAHs on an weight/BTU of heat basis are 'high-efficiency wood stoves). And if you are worried about the lead from a monitor, what about the hundreds of pounds of lead paint on a structure if a fire breaks out?

Basically, these are not “universal wastes” until designated as “waste” - if they are truly “items set aside for possible use… and for donation/development of a museum” then the inspector has their head up their arse!

Having dealt from a business/regulatory basis with CA agencies and many other states/countries (I am based in another state) I can say CA has the greatest variability in quality. Some folks are absolutely wonderful and knowledgeable; on the other hand I was in a meeting in Sacramento where the Chief of a department (and others) absolutely cringed at insane views/ramblings espoused by an underling with a personal axe to grind but precious little brainpower to fuel their ranting.

  Ron [10.03.07 11:56 AM]

RESPONSE TO 1st "THOMAS LORD" posting...
To extend the useful life of these computer parts is obviously beneficial, E.friendly and common sense.

How can this warehouse of computer parts be worse than...
1) Letting them be dumped in landfill and potentially allowing uncontrolled entry of toxins into the local water table.

2) A flood of the local circuit city or Walmart, plastics factory or other 1/2 million warehouses storing nasties?

Just another case of over eager government officials poking their face where it doesn't belong.

  Daniel [10.03.07 12:20 PM]

Let's put the credentials out first. I do have a degree in chemistry. I worked as a chemist for a private company that tested, hauled, consolidated and disposed of hazardous waste. I currently work for a state government (not CA) doing compliance/enforcement inspections.

From what I've read here Mr. Lord is not a troll and his understanding of the regulations is close enough. There are both federal and state regulations at play here that need to be addressed by the ACCRC. Why did they clear previous inspections and not this one? Could be many reasons, turn over in state environmental agencies is high. A college science degree is required and the pay is usually lousy. The inspector this time may have been new and not really known what was going on, the same could be true of the previous inspectors. The previous inspectors may have seen the ACCRC as doing a larger community good (as they most certainly are) and let some things slide. In which case they did you no favors as the next inspector may not see it that way.

Hazardous and toxic waste may not remain at a facility beyond a year, that is a federal regulation. Inventories must be kept very strictly and Mr. Lord was correct in his reasons why. If there was a fire the emergency response team will need to know what chemicals are on site in order to set out a perimeter, determine how best to handle the fire (you wouldn't want to spray water on a sodium fire after all) and determine an evacuation zone. That is emergency response 101 and covered in your normal 40-hour HAZWOPER course that any personel handling hazardous waste or even materials should take.

The main problem the ACCRC is having here is one of labeling. Want in on a scary little secret of the environmental regulation world? The difference between a hazardous/toxic substance and a hazardous/toxic waste is a label. That's it. The waste is useless to the holder and needs to be disposed of. It comes with a lot of paperwork and regulation. The substance is something that is marketable or useful and is very lightly regulated. I recently inspected a bio-diesel production facility and their process produces bio-diesel (obviously) with methanol and glycerine as by-products. The bio-diesel is a substance the methanol and glycerine are wastes, unless a use can be found. In their instance they burn the glycerine in their boiler (and get an alternative energy tax-credit in the process) turning a waste into a fuel and sell the methanol for use in manufacture by other companies (turning a waste into a product line). Getting the ACCRC's "waste" reclassified as something else like parts or regular inventory will go a long way towards making the problems go away.

In my state we would be bending over back-wards to help a program like this get into compliance and, if possible, an exemption. It's too bad that it sounds as though California needed public pressure to come to that position. Plus, I'd have a way of recycling all those hard drives, motherboards, processors and CRTs I've got laying around.

  Pete [10.03.07 05:09 PM]


please be aware that listing your credentials anonymously means nothing whatsoever.

Hi, i'm Pete and i have 37 PhDs to my name!
are you now convinced of the veracity of
everything that i say? thought not.

i'm sure you mean well Daniel but.. without some identifying information, you may as well be blowing smoke. i don't know that you aren't Thomas himself in point of fact.
(note: i'm not suggesting that you do identify yourself. only that posting your credentials anonymously merely engenders something between bemusement and suspicion. bespicion, if you like. :)

i'll address the rest of your points tomorrow after a good nights exposure to the toxic waste found in close proximity to my person.

  Mark [10.03.07 05:11 PM]

I was merely trying to show that whatever "hazardous" or "toxic" definition people were trying to project was a more than a bit overstated; as you infer these are "parts" at ACCRC and not any more "waste-like" or "hazardous" then what's at Fry's or Best Buy.

Any hazardous chemical inventories are covered by the requirement in CA to file what is called a "Business Plan" listing hazardous chemicals on-site. Oddly enough a Business Plan filing is not required for electronic equipment storage, so at least one CA law does not consider these electronics to be "toxic chemicals".

And hazardous waste in a satellite accumulation area can be keep on-site indefinitely until the container is full. Once full a Large Quantity Generator has to ship in 90 days, a Small Quantity Generator has to ship in 180 days (or 270 days if they have to ship over 200 miles).

It is basically an embarrassment that this is happening, but that is very often par in state government.

  Kristian Hermansen [10.03.07 06:14 PM]

Keep up the good work dude!

  Antonio Su√°rez [10.04.07 12:12 AM]

¬°Bravo James! Bien hecho.

  Richard [10.04.07 03:51 PM]

If the computers and monitors at ACCRC are considered to be toxic waste, then why are they not considered toxic waste at Best Buys, Circuit City, and your local computer shop? Why doesn't the DTSC site Best Buys for it's accumulation of toxic waste? Why are companies still able to sell what is considered toxic waste? If I were to buy a new computer from Dell, at what point does it become toxic waste?

Double standards?

  Matt Heck [10.10.07 06:48 PM]


I have to tell you, under the circumstances I really can't see the political benefit to yourself of some of the arguing above instead of just saying, "Thank you for your input," and trying to present yourself the way you would like your organization to be perceived.

This is a PR fight. Yes, that's kind of silly. People ARE kind of silly. It's a PR fight. Find a good for-profit CEO you think handles him or herself well in hostile interviews and compare notes.

As for a long-term strategy, see if you can find a small town that really, REALLY needs a better environmental image and look into either relocating there or opening another facility there. You need political support more than you need money. Find people who NEED to help you. That's got to be doable-- there's an election coming up.

Best wishes,

  Holly [03.15.08 09:01 AM]

Spin Trade Exchange ( partnered with recyclers nationwide to encourage the proper disposal of unwanted no longer working IT equipment.

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