Editors Note: Status of WR3A Good Point Blog

Blog Status December 6, 2016.

Wahab, left, points to photo in Washington Post of Idrissa, who was struck and killed by a truck in 2013 or 14
Catching up on editing 4 blog articles (from "Collateral Damage" series) and one magazine article, and preparing for my presentation at ICM in Salzburg, Austria.  Also getting all my vaccinations for the re-visit to Ghana.   I'm double checking things from the draft Fair Trade Recycling report (2015 visit).

1- Does something bad happen  at Agbogbloshie?  Bad for health, for the environment, etc.?

2- If something bad happens, is it related to unfair export and import trade?

3- If something bad happens, due to unfair trade, is it illegal or a "loophole"?

4- If something bad happens, due to unfair trade, and it is illegal, should Joe "Hurricane" Benson and other Tech Sector African businesspeople pay fines or go to prison for it?

The answer to the first question is yes and no.  Or rather, some bad things happen, and some good things (better than if the goods were in the USA or EU) happen.  The worst thing is probably the men who burn wire and then use their bare hands to scrape metal out of the dirt and ashes.  The earth there will be contaminated by lead.  Some of the lead is from automobiles, some from leaded casings in older electric wire (not computers).  If they aren't washing their hands really well, they are likely to suffer consequences.

The good thing is that the goods are used for far longer than westerners use the goods.  Even after westerners have finihsed using the electronics, Africans will tend to reuse them twice as long as that. And hand disassembly is better for the environment than shredding.  And the cost of achieving internet, phone, TV, radio and other teledensity measures, per African is a TINY FRACTION of the upstream environmental cost per capita done by Western countries.  And most of THAT damage, from mining, occurs in places like Africa.

2 - No.  The junk in Agbogbloshie is far more likely to be collected from African city residents and businesses after 10-20 years of use than it is to be imported. The people saying that it came from sea containers being dumped to avoid recycling costs are making it up at best, and in some cases lying.

3. Not under Basel Convention Annex IX.  But - in reaction (over-reaction) to lies about #2, some EU countries have passed stricter laws.  It's like if you thought bananas were poison, and passed a law against selling bananas... yeah, banana sellers would be criminals.  But seriously.

4. No. This was a witch hunt.

Breaking News: As HK WEEETRF, So Follows Accra's "Ewaste" Moon Shot?

Another logical conclusion to all the research into NGO's proposed bans on E-Waste Exprot Trade.

"Hey, we can do it right.  We can repair and recycle better than you can"

As goes Hong Kong, so goes Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana.  A $30M State of the Art E-Scrap Recycling Plant is breaking ground in Ghana.   In January, I'll be there.
The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency are set to commission the construction of a recycling facility at Agbogbloshie in the Greater Accra Region. 
Estimated at $30 million for the first phase, the facility is expected to recycle all waste electrical and electronic equipment to final products in an environmentally sound manner, relieving the people of Accra and its environs, specifically Agbogbloshie community of toxic pollutants generated from the burning of e-waste. - See more at: http://citifmonline.com/2016/11/23/govt-to-construct-30m-e-waste-facility-at-agbogbloshie/#sthash.EpjnrmbK.dpuf
Once again, the solution to "sweatshops" is found to be "air conditioners".  Given the choice between moving business back to "Big Shred" in Europe and the USA, the Tech Sector in Emerging Markets says "Thanks but we like managing this, and by the way we're really, really good at it".

Finally the End of Ewastegate?

Collateral Damage 3: Sensationalism vs. Science

John Brown by Levin Handy, 1890-1910.jpgIn a recent correspondence, the Executive Director of the Seattle NGO made a comment about our long history trying to work with or around each other on the subject of "e-waste" regulation.  He summed it up by saying "We have a disagreement about international law and policy".

Fundamentally, perhaps not really.  We agree on what the Basel Convention says about trade between OECD and non-OECD countries.  We agree on what the Basel Ban AMENDMENT says, which would change the rules in the Convention (which covered disposal) to cover recycling and repair.  We agree the second, the Amendment, has not been ratified.  We agree that his organization has been successful in getting several European countries to substantially adapt rules on scrap recycling, repair and reuse to match the language in the Basel Ban Amendment.  And we agree that we strongly disagree whether that is the right direction for "international law and policy".

Although I'm certainly more comfortable around international law discussions than your average junkyard recycler, I would not attribute the disagreement, at least primarily, to interpretation of international treaties.  Here's my problem.

1) OECD is a bizarre basis for determination of "waste crime".   The Basel Convention uses "OECD" to make a binary distinction, drawing a line between Brazil (non-OECD) and Mexico (OECD) that "waste" shall  not cross.  The line is based on a bizarre "club membership" standard. It is not based on any science, whatsoever.  Rather, its entire basis is a rather quaint 1970's "third world" idea correlation.  Places like Singapore and Hong Kong, have higher average per capita incomes than the USA. They are not OECD, but are clearly in the business of electronics manufacture, warranty returns, refurbishment and recycling.  "OECD-Non-OECD" makes as much sense as dividing people by race, by religion, or as "cowboys and indians".

2) Sensationalism and generalizations about e-waste appeal to implicit racism.  The stories are easy to write, and create wealth for the Seattle NGO, jobs for EU and USA regulators, and trade barrier leverage for "Big Shred" recyclers.  Sensationalism makes cheap, plentiful, disposable articles, creating the collateral damage of Joe Benson, Net Peripheral, and Las Chicas Bravas.

It's really the second - the sensationalism ("poverty porn") of Asian, African, and Latino reuse markets - which drives emotions.  Emotionalizations are attractive to journalists this time of year.  I didn't introduce those to the debate.  At the beginning, my blogs and correspondence with Basel Action Network were an attempt to de-emotionalize the subject of trade, to reduce the use of photos of kids at dumps, and to reduce the prosecution and impugnment of refurbishing factories, even (or especially) those in emerging markets.

"Bad Science in the Headlines" has been a subject of research for some time, and there is nothing in e-Waste coverage to distinguish it.   Sensationalism in journalism is a human health risk.  Racially profiling geeks of color is not only morally toxic, it can produce actual risks to human health.

But if BAN brought emotion-guns to the policy fight, I can't fight with a scalpel.  And so we had little recourse but to focus on the accidental racism, the collateral damage, and false stereotypes which the sensational "e-waste" journalism brought down upon the Geeks of Color.

2016 - Particularly Hoppy Bourne Brew of Ewaste Blogs

This year, the average readership per blog has doubled.  That's no doubt thanks to the interest in #ewaste generated by the Basel Action Networks claims, and academic links to MIT Senseable City Lab.  I thought perhaps the links to Hong Kong (specific geographies, like Tin Shui Wai) may have had something to do with the readership, but actually the hits were greater in the Pakistan Faisalabad blog (which tracked the 3 CRT monitors that BAN said were exported, 2 of which wound up at a TV remanufacturing operation a few blocks from a major urban university - a far more interesting story than the dystopia described by BAN).

Or is it something else entirely that attracts readers?  Jim Puckett, the speakers on TED about #ewaste, EU policy makers, publish-or-perish researchers, the regulators, and myself, are all looking for the right background for the movie we are making in our heads, about ourselves, and our role in discarded items generated by consumers.  We all perceive ourselves in a defensive position.  EU folks I interviewed seem absolutely dumbfounded that the African Tech Sector I work with saw them in a completely "offensive" light.

Pictures of kids at dumps, and Halloween ghoulish rice-paddy language, make our jobs - and our blogs - seem more exciting, more worthy of a Moby Soundtrack (bottom).  Activists perceive ourselves as heroes, academics as judges or historians, and commercial interests are in some ways the most honest - getting food on the table for families by providing what the marketplace asks for.