Thu, 24 Feb 2011


By Grace Chua - Straits Times
Batam. At least once a week, Indonesian Tamrin Khairul, 34, makes a trip to Singapore and returns with new purchases such as computers, TV sets and Xbox game consoles.

Except that these items are not new - they are used electronic goods he buys from second-hand shops in Serangoon Road. Each time, he returns with about 20 computer central processing units (CPUs) and monitors that he spruces up, cleans and sells in his shop.

The repair-and-resale industry provides those like Tamrin with a living. He says he makes "enough to eat."

His Batam neighborhood of Batu Ampar is chock-a-block with shops selling used computers, TV sets, washing machines and assorted items.

A CPU might sell for Rp 700,000 ($80), while a full desktop computer set might go for 1 million rupiah. In comparison, a brand-new computer might cost Rp 5 million. These cheap electronic goods and appliances are popular with offices, schools and lower-income households in Indonesia, where per capita GNP was just $3,720 in 2009.

Batam is one of the main places that Singapore exports its second-hand gadgets to, thanks to its proximity. Other destinations include Vietnam, South Korea and African countries like Nigeria, according to dealers in Serangoon Road.

In Singapore, rag-and-bone men collect old computers and other electronic gadgets, which they then sell to scrap dealers and resellers.

An old laptop fetches about S$10, while newer items in working condition can fetch a higher price. These then end up in other countries, as foreign dealers buy them to send home.

Reusing electronic items helps extend the machines' natural lifespans and keeps them out of waste streams.

But there are concerns that when these items reach developing countries, they are not recycled or disposed of properly at the end of their lifespans.

If goods sent to Batam are no longer in working condition and cannot be repaired, they are sold for scrap. But if the scrap is not recycled safely, its plastics and metals may harm workers and residents; if it is incinerated, its toxins may pollute the air, and if it is dumped in landfill, its toxins may leach into water.

The United Nations' Basel Convention controls the transboundary movement of waste containing such toxic substances. In countries that comply with the Convention, permits are needed to import, export or transit hazardous waste.

Singapore acceded to the Convention in 1996, and enacted its Hazardous Waste (Control of Export, Import and Transit) Act two years later. Anyone who wants to export second-hand computers and machines must show documents proving they are bound for reuse.

But this regulation does not seem tough to get around.

Second-hand dealers in Singapore told The Straits Times they use a variety of methods, some of which are questionable.

Surhadi Supandi, 40, claims he ships a hundred TV sets at a time via ferry at an informal, jetty-less seaport. The "port" abuts a scrapyard that holds all manner of materials: wooden pallets, unidentifiable plastic and metal bits, and tires.

Other dealers insist the courier services they use are legal, at about S$50 for a suitcase-size box - taxes and fees included. "I have to maintain my reputation," said dealer Yap Shun Ming, 38, whose shop is in the Cipta Prima used-goods market.

He said that about three years ago, dealers were able to ship used electronic items over in large shipping containers, but this stopped as the Indonesian government viewed it as dumping.

But this does not stop most dealers.

Among the shops of Batu Ampar in Batam, Jumadi, 38, shows off haphazard piles of electronic scrap at the back of his repair shop-cum-Internet cafe. Apparently, even here, no one wants fixed-up but aging cathode-ray-tube TV sets.

He will eventually sell the items to scrap dealers, he said.