In reading the assigned article for this unit, what are your thoughts about the Colbert brothers’ business? Are you surprised they could operate such a business? Do you believe there are any similar businesses operating like that today? Do you think international laws should be more uniform? Why, or why not?
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I found the reading assignment very interesting. They were able to justify their actions by arguing that they were providing two benefits. The first benefit being that they were taking unwanted and soon to be banned chemicals and “disposing” of them for US manufacturers. The other claimed benefit was that they were providing low priced permitted chemicals to developing countries without consuming additional resources.
In terms of life cycle analysis and Pollution Prevention (P2), this business model could be construed to be seen as positive if you are able to ignore the deadly effects of the chemicals that they were dealing in. The brothers were taking chemicals and “reusing” them. Reuse is the second level of the the hierarchy of P2. They also diluted the chemicals they distributed and had no quality control. This allowed for contaminated and mixtures of unknown chemicals to be sold. This sort of business highlights the need for uniform international chemical and waste disposal regulations. Health and environmental risk do not recognize national borders. Chemical and waste disposal regulations should not either.
I know for a fact that these type of businesses still exist. Ship breaking is the common name for the disposal process of large and medium sized commercial vessels. This work is known to be environmentally damaing as well as very dangerous to workers. Historically, ships that reached the end of their useful life were “run up on the beach” in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan. There, they were cut up by hand and the materials “recycled”. There was no cleaning or preparation and fuel, oil and chemicals were allowed to drain onto the beach and into the waters. Under intense international pressure, ship operating companies must still dispose of old ships. They currently have two choices. They can can have them recycled in locations such as China that have some environmental controls in place but it may actually cost the company to dispose of the vessel. Alternatively, they can sell the vessel to another operation company whose sole purpose is to deliver it the unregulated ship breaking locations in Southeast Asia. These companies are no better than Colbert Brothers. In 2010, I had the opportunity to take a 755 foot cargo ship to the breaking yards in China. The company who owned it was a large international company who recognized the value of responsible disposal.