'I hate it when you call me a scrapman. This is an engineering business'

Share
Related Topics
I am the kind of old-fashioned soul who can't bear to throw anything away. But I am also a gadgety sort of nerd. I am caught between loving old friends, and longing for new ones.

Bar a letter "R" which sticks, my dear old Amstrad desk-top computer is in fine heart. It has handled and stored, without breakdown, about 2 million words since it began, five years and about 5,000 running hours ago, to sit on this desk overlooking the village street.

I now face a dilemma. I have been offered a far more modern machine for pounds 100. The new machine (redundant to the glossy organisation which owns it, but a fantastic treat to me) has a huge memory and is very fast. My Amstrad is, I fear, headed for the scrapheap. Or rather, it is probably going to be deconstructed by Ray Mann, an extraordinary businessman near Ross-on-Wye.

Though I have become pretty sure that most plastics should end their lives making heat in municipal incinerators, Ray is proving that there is another option. Thousands of computers pour into his works every day, and get taken apart, as plastics represent about 60 per cent of the value of all the recyclable material in computers, faxes and photocopiers.

"I hate it when you call me a scrapman," he says. "This is an engineering business." To prove it, he takes me to the infra-red spectrometer with which he can pinpoint the precise make-up of the plastic parts of practically every machine in a modern office. He treats the provenance of plastics the way forensic scientists looks at fingerprints. When he sends ground- up plastic to Bayer (his main customer), they know they can reintegrate the granules in their production of new plastics with no fear of contamination. Almost all the other bits and pieces get recycled and some parts are reused.

Whether it makes the ultimate ecological sense to send scrap plastic back to Germany is not entirely the point: markets much nearer home will presumably open up, once the pioneering Germans have shown the way.

I wittered on to Ray about how the Third World ought to be able to use this gear, intact. I regaled him with stories about the electrical repair industry of Egypt. Some of the items one sees being repaired in Cairo are so old that they're fit to be reimported to the West as curios. Ray was dismissive: why send poor people streams of highly heterogeneous machinery, all of it of an age when it is prone to break down, and likely to be loaded with ancient software?

But his best argument was that the charities which might send redundant computers abroad would be better off begging firms to disgorge the old machinery cluttering up the corridors of their premises. The charities could then pass the stuff on to Ross-on-Wye.

Mann Industries doesn't pay for these machines. Instead, it logs them in and gives its suppliers an account of the money value that the scrapmen/engineers have retrieved from the units. Mann makes its money by charging a percentage of the final value. A charity bringing in old crocks could earn good money from Mann, and then fund people in the Third World to buy new computers. This process would have the merit that, at small ecological price, the West can indulge its passion for constant improvement and solve the waste problem that fashion-victimhood causes, while the Third World computer- nut could be turned into a customer, reinforcing an indigenous computer firm in his or her own country.

I can't see what could be wrong with this counter-intuitive wheeze, marrying ecological good sense with compassion. It reminds me of the slogan of a Yorkshire knacker's yard: "Old favourites painlessly destroyed." Only, Mr Mann holds out the prospect of their being reborn, which is better.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project