Kenny Kemp: Making Scotland a green and pleasant land

Alex Salmond should look east at how Hong Kong has recycled its way to another success

THE First Minister has recently returned from Hong Kong. But he will have missed something that is urgently needed in Scotland to help resolve our terrible youth unemployment.

I have recently returned from a trip to China where I have been following the massive trade in mobile phone re-selling, with phones being recycled, packaged and sent from Scotland.

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Every day there are tens of thousands of phones being shipped out from companies, including Redeem in Falkirk, and then re-sold in Hong Kong for re-sale in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand and mainland China.

The journey of a mobile phone is something few Scots ever really think about. Why would they? Their mobile has become just another necessity and as the turn of the year approaches they will be trading in for new models. Who cares?

Yet iPhones, Blackberry, Nokia, Sony-Erickson, LG, Samsung and Motorola are harvested from across Europe, but mainly the UK. They are tested first in the UK and then flown to Hong Kong. The phones have to be in working order to meet legislation: otherwise it is classified as waste.

Around 4,000 phones are packed in recycled cardboard boxes with each phone tucked into an individual soft pocket, then several dozen boxes are packed on to a single pallet in Falkirk, wrapped with industrial lengths of cling-film, and sent by air freight from Edinburgh or Glasgow airport, and on to a 13-hour Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong from Heathrow.

This goes on several times a week. It takes two to three days to deliver from door to door.

This is globalisation in action. Using a container ship would take three weeks and this might entail a vital loss of income.

Phones have a shifting value and they need to be on the Asian market as quickly as possible. Air freight arrives at Hong Kong’s Terminal One, which is geared up for commerce with Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited, the largest in the world. It is automated, streamlined, and clearing customs is straightforward. Phones dispatched from Falkirk on a Monday arrive in Asia on the Wednesday evening.

Auctions go on every day around Hong Kong from 12 noon until 8pm.  The Asian traders come and examine each batch. They spend hours examining each load of phones, testing them with their own chargers, and pulling off the back and checking the batteries and sim card holders.

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These very smart young Chinese know exactly what they are looking for – and how much each handset is worth on the market that day. Local “monitors” and CCTV watch over the boxes of phones because this is valuable stuff. Each batch is numbered, so bidders fill in a form, saying how much they will pay. This is their offer price – and they had to stick to this. When the auction is closed at 8pm, the offers all had to be submitted in Hong Kong dollars.

The companies work until midnight, matching up the offers for each batch, and then informing the successful bidders by text to collect next day, when they are expected to settle up. The activity is mind-blowing. There are literally thousands of young Asian and Chinese employed in this trade.

Then these phones are taken and sold to the consumers, many smuggled into mainland China. But there is something else going on that Scotland needs to replicate.

Along Hennessy Road, not far from the central business district with its international banks and hotels, with shopping malls filled with designer clothes, and in Kowloon, there are a number of “computer centres”.

These centres are an Aladdin’s cave of remarkable industry, split into hundreds of smaller units and rambling over several floors that are served by escalators.

This is a department store of innovation. Each tiny hub is occupied by a variety of Hong Kong Chinese who are trading, repairing mobile phones, rebuilding computers, and assembling digital cameras.

While everything is for sale, there is a massive amount of activity, chatter and an exchange of ideas. Even tiny electrodes, individual digital wafers, pieces of circuit board, and bits of computer kit are bought and sold.

Behind many counters are fresh-faced workers – and there are as many woman as men – sitting with soldering irons fixing computers, phones or building a frame for a computer. It is a marvel to see.

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This kind of activity goes on over three floors - open at 8am and closing at 10pm. The point of this is that these computer centres are in the main shopping thoroughfares, not out on some chilly out-of-town campus.

So where in Scotland do we have such places? We don’t. So surely it is the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise’s job to replicate such hubs here?

It wouldn’t cost millions – but it would need some foresight. There should be one in central Dundee, and in Ayr, Paisley, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

For a start, the Scottish Provident building at the corner of St Andrew Square, overlooking the anti-capitalist camp, might be a fine place to begin.

It requires a few computer literate souls to get it started. It requires customers to bring in their old computers, phones, cameras, anything electrical that can be taken to bits and repaired or rebuilt.

Then anyone interested in computer games, mobile phones and other kinds of modern technology can congregate on a daily basis.

There they can exchange ideas and become a real hub where innovation and creativity meet commercial application. The building has been empty for years – why not get it started and see how it works? I think there is no time and nothing much to lose.

Kenny Kemp is a freelance business writer working on a book about Scotland’s global business links.