Mining... Superfund... Virgin material extraction...
Fresh data is emerging from GAO in 2009 after the Gale Norton - Lynn Scarlett - Jack Abramoff administration was exposed. This data neither supports the mining conglomerates nor completely supports some of the anti-mining / reactionary material I have peddled (it points out that while there are no federal royalties, that the states where the mining occurs have effectively introduced their own royalty system, which is an alternative and better explanation of Interior Committee congresspersons membership and votes than my previous hypothesis, that they were influenced directly by mining companies benefitting from the lack of royalties). When biased sources control and limit information, conspiracy theory is a byproduct.
The evidence will still show that our country regulates recycling disproportionately to the regulation of virgin resource extraction. We also regulate mines closer to regulatory offices. So, the farther in the boonies the investment (we closed Vermont mines first, closed Montana mines second, onward to Borneo...), the safer it is from regulation. I'm explaining this to my kids this morning, so they will understand the movie Avatar tomorrow (the mining explanations are also the times the "time to go pee" application on my brother in law's iphone says to send the kids out during the nearly 3 hours flick).
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming on the Basel Convention and MPPI.
Several times along the way, BAN asked or demanded that I stop characterizing BAN's positions. But if they are saying you have to hire a USA repairman to remove the non-working part before it is exported for repair, that is not very far from "tested working" and not very far from BAN's past position that export for repair is illegal.
Here, to the best of my patience, is the blow-by-blow on the Basel Convention, setting the context for tomorrow's post, a powerpoint on MPPI and the Basel Convention.
* WR3A identifies Reuse as the economic engine of the export business and offers to reform “asset exports” in a fair trade manner.
* BAN states that export for repair, however noble an idea, is illegal under the Basel Convention.
* WR3A reads the Basel Convention, and cites Annex IX as explicitly allowing CRTs exported for reuse and repair “considered as commodities.”
* BAN states WR3A has misread and misinterpreted the Basel Convention.
* WR3A consults with USA EPA, which agrees that reuse is allowed under the Basel Convention.
* BAN blasts EPA as "apologists" for ewaste dumping who are not in tune with the rest of the world.
* WR3A consults with foreign EPA, other attendees of the Basel Convention, and sponsors an attorney from Africa to study the trade for six months, all who verify the export for reuse "asset" clause of the Basel Convention.
* BAN responds that the material is not really being reused.
* WR3A brings E-Steward and University of CA Recycling Director to see reuse market.
* BAN responds that even if it is actual reuse, it is not allowed in China.
* WR3A sees that there are Chinese permits, but that the more they are asked for, the more they are taken away by protectionist Chinese officials. WR3A leaves the China CRT market and finds Asset Markets in countries which allow it, and negotiates full permits.
* BAN responds that some of the items are not really repairable and that “tested working” should be the standard.
* WR3A arranges for full downstream audits and actual recycling of any replaced or upgraded parts.
* BAN responds that health and safety practices are substandard in these factories (which made the monitors originally).
* WR3A negotiates a discount (better price) for buyer in return for ISO14001 and ISO9000 status.
* BAN responds that the parts removed are not being recycled properly.
* WR3A brings an external auditor, accompanied by an E-Steward, to verify that the parts removed are properly recycled and that circuit boards are exported to OECD countries.
* BAN state that there is no process to properly vet and audit these markets, and states no one interprets exports as WR3A does.
* WR3A offers film and evidence of audits to EPA's R2 Committee.
* BAN votes for a "tested working" standard in R2.
* R2 committee votes to leave the door open to vetted, legal, audited reuse markets who have import permits and which verify "key functions" are intact; WR3A drafts purchase orders and contracts based on these R2 Standards.
* BAN withdraws from R2 Stakeholder group and forms their own "Certification" policy with no other voters, and publicly criticizes R2 as an inferior process.
* WR3A writes an editorial questioning whether the BAN Certification can fulfill the legitimate demands of the export market for working and repairable product.
* BAN cites (yours truly) Ingenthron's personal interest, saying he is self-serving, promoting illegal activity for personal profit.
* The WR3A author cites his background as a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, with a degree in International Relations, former director of a digital divide non-profit, and former recycling director for MA DEP.
* BAN responds that the MPPI letter of the Basel Secretariat is issuing new clarifications in February 2010 which will make export for repair illegal unless any non-working part which might be replaced is removed prior export.
Next: our critique of the MPPI letter, and why it agrees with WR3A's position more than it does with BAN's position.... We have already hinted that a CRT is not a mobile phone, and that an anticipated 2010 statement on cell phones does not explain a 2007 rejection of SKD markets, but the legalese inside the Chairman's letter from MPPI is a real smoking gun.
The question I'm asked most frequently is, "WHY DO YOU BOTHER TALKING TO THESE PEOPLE?", followed by whispered advice that I am going to be made an example out of. The fact is, Jim and Sarah and Donald at BAN have moments of lucidity, they mean well, and they have used their earnestness to position themselves as the Ayatollahs of E-Waste when it comes to the Basel Convention. I don't think Jim actually believes that I am an agent of Satan. We need to keep constructive dialogue going.
I understand that municipalities (our clients) are looking for relief anywhere they can find it. Even if most of the savings are going to be passed to resident clients, and there is not a lot of net benefit to the municipality, they will take relief where they can find it. So we have signalled we are willing to work with an improved bill.
1) Eliminate the CPU/scrap metal trick. If the manufacturers can meet their "tonnage obligations" by "buying" stuff that has always been collected for free, they will.
2) Local reuse can be blocked, but eliminate the language banning international reuse and refurbishment.
3) Ghost tonnage. If the manufacturers can meet their obligation with scrap metal and unregulated (non-CRT) tonnage which does not have weights and time rules and indoor storage, it also allows them to buy "exaggerated tonnage". We have written previously that the massive increase in recovery reported in Product Stewardship legislation states owes much to delays in getting the legislation passed (the "long grass" lawnmower fallacy) and in removal of any incentives to police fake weight slips. The less a recycler actually collected, the cheaper we can sell the inflated figures for.
The days of using computer recycling profit to subsidize TV CRT collections are ending. There are too many TVs, too big, and there is too much competition (e.g. Goodwill Industries) taking computers only. We can live with S.77 but we are really aggravated that VPIRG will not take our recommendations seriously.
What percentage is useful for reuse, useful for recycling, or "Toxics Along for the Ride" (EWaste) depends on several factors:
1) wealth demographics of the generator
2) frequency of collection
3) type of material
4) processes for recycling
More tomorrow. I am actually just trying to bury the family photo album I was forced to post here (because Facebook does not accept picasa slideshows, evidently).
This Associated Press article, High-tech vehicles pose trouble for some mechanics by Daisy Nguyen, gives voice to the auto mechanics who bemoan the increasingly complicated repair situation brought about by onboard computers on autos. Basically, they are having to sign EULA agreements which keep them from repairing the car.
The automobile repair industry is a little bigger boned than electronics repair (link is to Aftermarket.org, the Automobile Aftermarket Industry Association), and they have had success towards rounding up 51 Senators to back the Right to Repair Act. Computer refurbishers should get on board and study this before it passes and see if we can get some relief for our industry written into the law.
This law is specifically in response to frustration over access to the code on the computers in cars. Repair professionals say that independent mechanics are not able to access the computer software information in the same way that dealership-shops can. But as long as they are opening the issue, a lot of gripes about parts and aftermarket support are thrown into the law to boot.
Here is a well-considered blog on the Act as proposed. I am hoping that Ralph Nader's re-emergence (I think he helped craft anti-obsolescence bills involving electronics and TVs in the 1960s) on the car-repair scene will lead to better Product Stewardship laws for computers than the current system, which is based on an irrational fear of export that has led to shredding of working parts. And it would be great if Consumer Reports, which has followed the bill for cars with intelligent commentary, would get involved in the E-Waste bills with the same focus on potential unintended consequences.
Rather than "shoot from the hip" I decided to do what I did seven years ago during a similar debate with Jim Puckett. I went and read the Basel Convention. After all, its all online and I have a degree in international relations (Carleton College '84) and studied a semester at the UN in Geneva.
So I have been the MPPI document.
Guess what?... Methinks the NGO doth protest too much. Just like when I found that the Basel Convention explicitly allowed export of used electronics for repair and refurbishment, and that BAN was on record protesting (aka ACKNOWLEDGING) that ruling, MPPI is full of statements that explicitly agree with WR3A. And BAN is once again on record angrily protesting what the MPPI states. This will take some time but I have time, so I'll try to draw up a factual and reasoned outline of what is WASTE and what is REUSE, citing the very document Jim says (in the refurbishers post) that I'm unfamiliar with.
So stay tuned, I'm going to do a term paper on repair and refurbishing in the Basel Convention.
End the "GREEN SCARE". McCarthyist environmentalism must stop. People were afraid to criticize Senator Joe McCarthy because he was such a fervent democracy-loving crusader. It was a mistake to let him on as long as he did intimidating and denigrating good people during the "red scare".
In today's New York Times there is another article about the elephant in the room - mining sensitive areas for high tech or "rare earth" metals.
When you get a new technology - like color TV in the 1960s - I think it is natural to be so fascinated by the taste that you never peek into the kitchen. That's how we wound up with cadmium phosphors inside "new" color TVs back in the 1960s. The first color CRTs were of course used by the military, which is where BAN found evidence of cadmium in CRT phosphors in a US Navy MSDS sheet almost ten years ago.
The new technologies of today, the NY Times Keith Bradsher points out, are often energy savers, "green devices", which are championed as a way to have our cake and eat it too. We can continue to enjoy rising consumptive lifestyles and conserve the environment at the same time with a technical solution. The article is found in the Business section.
As the article shows, China provides the rare earth metal mining. If you need to buy cadmium for a new device today, it will come from Chinese mines. But heaven forbid that the chinese techs washing cadmium phosphor for CRT recycling start to use recycled cadmium.
But this gets right back to my "baby seal pelt" packaging analogy (a reuseable, organic, renewable source of product packaging). It is the basic, and sometimes fatal flaw of the OECD-centered Basel Convention. It does not cover mining, refining, smelting, manufacturing, production, assembly, all of which have been the growth industries in the developing (soon to be, not yet OECD) world. It is a great tool for what it is designed for - to prevent outsourcing of DUMPING and DISPOSAL. The linguistic problem is the contagion that defines recycling as a form of disposal, and in BAN's world, even the process material from upgrades (a 128 RAM replaced by 512) makes the entire remanufacturing process a 'disposal' process.
This I believe. There are scientists and engineers who have the patience to try and try to resolve really stubborn problems, and we are not mistaken to put our faith in them. But the "problems" they are given to resolve are too often oversimplified by environmentalists without the same sense of patience and problem-solving skills. In the same way as the engineer is given the assignment of designing a battery which is not too heavy to compromise MPG (the solution was the rare earth metal mining in China in the article), we need to give them a key directive:
DON'T CUT DOWN RAIN FORESTS AND DESTROY CORAL REEFS!
This simple directive was missing from the "leadfree solder" or ROHS directive from Europe, which gave a prime directive of not putting anything toxic into the double-lined and monitored landfills we had asked engineers to design for our municipal solid waste. The engineers, when asked, gave us solder made from tin and silver, two of the most notorious rare earth mining metals. They gave us cell phones with tantalum mined from gorilla habitat.
The fate of the gorillas is the Monkey's Paw outcome of our wish for more efficient cell phones. I can't tell you the relative weight of demand for timber, demand for pineapples, demand for cell phones, and demand for hamburgers has on rain forest development, but the fewer economic reasons we give to build roads into rain forests, the less bushmeat traffic we will inflame. Biofuels may be the next big rainforest killer. All I can do is hope that my writing might influence someone to pay for such as study.
The environmentalist, ecologist, engineers do NOT need to be told that the new process cannot be done by a women's coop in Mexico, by the manufacturer takeback programs in Singapore, or by racists or religious bigots or neo-cons or flower children that the process needs to be centered geographically around a 4o year old definition of "developed" economies. If the entire process, from extraction (preferably from waste) to ISO14001/ISO9000 EHS standards, to socially progressive corporate management, to meeting affordable demand for computers, to "end of life" recyclability, is all good, then drop the ZIP CODE FETISH.
Singapore is in a non-OECD zip code. Get over it. It also has a higher environmental enforcement and standard of living than Silicon Valley CA.
Here is my dilemma... I'm taking potshots at BAN because they are running a negative campaign and have been dragging their feet at presenting a truly vetted positive alternative. The new "certified" ewaste program will probably force them to deal with the tough choices (like glass-to-glass recycling only being possible in non-OECD countries), just as reuse is always going to be done best in less affluent areas.
My partner Gary Hepler and I won the 1980 Arkansas state debate championship by running a positive case. It is generally the rule that you choose negative if you win the coin toss, because it is always easier to go negative and to raise questions than it is to anticipate every possible negative attack on your plan. Gary and I had seen the finalists from North Little Rock High School defeat our school's strongest debate team (John Smart and Chris Doughty) with their well-practiced affirmative case. We saw they were extremely well rehearsed in their positive case, and their weak point seemed to be improvisation. So we presented a positive case.
WR3A's positive case is Fair Trade Exports. Creating environmentally positive jobs in developing countries. It is the win-win. The jobs it allegedly exports are mostly immingrant and sometimes illegal aliens in the USA (creating jobs for Mexicans in Mexico). It is creating the same infrastructure allegedly missing in the countries which have established demand for reuse. It has had nowhere near the success that the "export ban" idea has had, but like a stubborn engineer, I have not seen the hypothesis disproven either by Jim Puckett's interpretation of MPPI and Annex IX or by the challenge of auditing overseas end markets.
The cowboy appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
'Before I let you in," said Peter, "I must ask your merit. Have you ever done anything of selfless and brave?'
'Well, I can think of one thing,' the cowboy offered. 'On a trip to the Black Hills, I came upon a gang of bikers, who were threatening a young woman. Seein her in distress, I told them bikers to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen. So walked on up to the largest and most heavily tattooed dude and smacked him in his face. I kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground. I yelled, 'Now, back off!! Or I'll kick the crap out of all of you!'
St. Peter was surprised and impressed. Flipping through his notes, he asked 'When exactly did this happen?'
'Why, just a couple of minutes ago… " says the cowboy
The photo by the way is from the great 1968 Sergio Leone film, Once Upon a Time in the West... "You brought two horses too many." I watched it with my kids on DVD last night. Will never watch it on TV with ads again.
Thanks to John Chilcott of Waste Management for the Black Hills Cowboy joke.
I have given two responses to BAN so far about their representation that, while Annex IX of the Basel Convention explicitly says "YES" to export of CRT devices for repair and refurbishment, and even has a footnote saying that some Parties consider items received for reuse and repair to be commodities and not waste, that (in BAN written responses to my company's offer to sign the Pledge), the export for repair and reuse is not "really" allowed.
My first response was "what does a ruling on mobile phones have to do with CRTs?"
My second response (yesterday) was, "how did a ruling expected to take place in February 2010 (on mobile phones) discount the written allowance in the text of the convention four years ago?"
Thanks to John, here is a copy of the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative 2.1 Chairman's paper, BAN comments, and other comments. I can now catch up with the discussions on cell phones since 2006, which I admitted I had not read.
Guess what? Our factory takeback program (the former monitor manufacturer which now buys back 6 year old monitors for re-manufacturing) is apparently completely compliant, because the parts removed are NOT disposed of in the non-OECD country, they are recycled in an audited end-market chain of custody!
In fact, the entire WR3A approach, which is to legalize, streamline, audit and monitor the repair market is apparently exactly the approach of the MPPI document!
I need to review it further but I will be posting excerpts in the days to come. But it appears to me that the same factory which has a legal permit, which properly recycles incidental breakage and fallout, obtained ISO14001 and ISO9000, gives detailed reports on each and every shipment, is following precisely the recommended approach by the Basel Convention. It appears to me that BAN should be giving my company an award.
The Basel Action Network (BAN) took issue with many claims made in an opinion piece published in the December's issue of E-Scrap News, authored by Good Point Recycling and American Retroworks owner and CEO, and fervent re-use advocate, Robin Ingenthron, calling them "false and damaging to our integrity." In his Talking Points piece, Ingenthron, who is also the founder of The World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association (WR3A), raised his concerns about the effect BAN's e-Stewards certification program would have on refurbishment.
What is good about this? GLASNOST! BAN has successfully tarred USA EPA, UNCTAD, ISRI, and R2 Practices with a broad brush of accusations, including self interest and indifference to the poor. But it is true that too many of the companies which are "following" BAN principles are just crushing everything up, leaving demand to be filled by a mix of good and bad and indifferent suppliers.
BAN stated that a new "mobile phone partnership" initiative trumps The Basel Convention's own Annex IX.
Why, for the past 8 years, has BAN opposed companies which are removing, crushing, and responsibly recycling two out of three monitors and TVs if their chief argument is "hot off the presses" (a meeting about cell phones)?
When McCarthy tried to go on the attack once more, Welch stepped in again and famously rebuked:
"Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild...Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
While WR3A and BAN argue about the arcane nuances of Basel Convention Annex VIII and Annex IX (what is allowed and is not allowed for export - computers and TVs are allowed as a commodity explicitly under Annex IX when intended for reuse and repair, period, no matter what Jim says about the implications of some mobile phone partnership), people are destroying the earth.
They are taking mercury from lamps we recycle in western countries (at an annual expense of billions of dollars) and using the "recycled" mercury (hg) to mine for gold in the Amazon and Peru.
Some quotes from the article;
For every gram of gold extracted, up to three times more mercury is needed. The toxic metal is used to bind with the gold particles, forming an amalgam which makes them easier to extract.
It is cheap and efficient; so cheap that much of the mercury is left in the rivers and lagoons, poisoning the flora and fauna and in turn passing into the food chain.
I have been working on mining issues since the 1970s. I have been working on international development issues since the 1980s. We export TVs and computers, some needing minor repair, to Lima Peru. It creates jobs in Peru and not much waste. We are negotiating a new protocal (like the ones we have with Las Chicas Bravas in Mexico and with the monitor factories in Asia) which will pay the Peru TV repairpeople to properly recycle any parts removed or replaced. In our experience, paying for this and training in it creates a long term market for people in their own countries where statistics show MOST of the ewaste is home-generated scrap anyway, not imports.
"BAN says" (this is a big nyah-nyah or no-no, Jim Puckett insists that it is libelous for me to "say what BAN says", but I can't get a clear statement to the contrary of this) that the used electronics repair trade (which they call "e-waste", the same as illegal dumping and burning) is unethical because we need to either send "tested working" TVs or to identify and remove parts which might be upgraded (which would even stop tested working, since they replace power supplies for 220 current).
The BBC article talks about people being desperate there for jobs, and how the government is afraid to close the mining because people need the money. WR3A is about how proper repair and recycling in the export market both cleans up the mess and creates sustainable jobs - as an alternative source of rare earth metals. An alternative to mining.
I am getting pretty mad that BAN tells me to "stop pointing people to Annex IX", as if laws are made by him because he flew to an international conference with a bunch of commies and academics (ok now I'm name calling, seems to be the way to get attention). These apparently well-meaning folks decide they are experts in cell phones because they own them, they discuss cell phone repair, and then - with no ratification or vote from any elected official - apparently decided they didn't like the "repair and refurbishment" clause which was specifically written into the Basel Convention. They now say that the language about "repair and refurbishment" of computers and TVs, the clause SPECIFICALLY authored and footnoted, should not apply now. Because I am reading the actual text of the actual Basel Convention. And that, they decided, was no longer applicable, including the clause which specfically says that Parties can consider electronics and CRTs a commodity when for repair and refurbishment.
If the Basel Convention can be completely re-written as a living document without the involvement of democracies, maybe it's a good thing the USA doesn't ratify it. The fact is that I know lawyers who have been attending the same conventions as long as Jim Puckett has.
If the Basel Convention DOES say what BAN says, then it is a bad law. Fortunately, it does not say that. Read it. It does NOT condemn us all to mine material from rain forests (because recycling is imperfect) or to deny poor people access to the internet because working computers get upgraded and repairable computers get repaired. Blah blah blah, go around and around. It doesn't say that. Robert Tonetti of EPA went to the conventions, John Bullock went. The Convention doesn't need Ayatollahs to tell us what it says because we are illiterate.
Our WR3A factories are about improvement and jobs and recycling, and we improve the practices and do so in compliance with international law. Meanwhile, like "climate change emails", all of this is distracting from the biggest environmental horror on the planet - rain forest mining (coral reef mining may follow suit).
Close to 200 sq kms (77 sq miles) of jungle have been lost in the evocatively named Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region.
"To know what we are losing, this area of Peru - the western Amazon - is the world's enclave of biological diversity," says biologist Ernesto Raez, who heads the Environmental Sustainability Centre in Lima's Cayetano Heredia University.
"Counted in terms of richness of species, this is the place where world records have been obtained for butterflies, birds, amphibians; you name it."
If BAN Stewards are in fact shipping tested working material which is not being upgraded, and items for repaired with the bad part removed, then let them come forward with examples.
How about a law making it illegal to destroy or shred a TV or computer that could be fixed, and another law banning export? That is where USA mercury policy is headed, when exports of mercury are finally banned in 2013.
Aristotle was a student of Plato, who was a student of Socrates. Aristotle became one of the biggest critics of Socrates theory of "form". Today we consider them all, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, to be the cornerstone thinkers behind Western thought and logic.
Then I found this site: Parts Guru
What does PartsGuru.com have to do with E-waste? Well, visit the site. They have more than one site, and one is in Lansdale, PA, but the Vishnu character and the European, Indian, and Chinese parts available say this is a world business. The owner or founder's face is on the home page.
This is exactly what I saw in Cameroon, in Malaysia, in China, and even in Lithuania. It exists in Europe and the USA too, but almost all of those businesses (and cell phone repair shops, too) are run by immigrants.
Finding, buying, selling, trading... new and used parts. Taking stuff apart and keeping pieces in inventory. It's an incredible entrepreneurial path to wealth and development. And the "Big Secret Factories" and "Partsguru.com" show that repair and refurbishment can be scalable.
The scalability of the gray market is alarming to many OEMs. It used to be that if there was someone who could take apart and put back together your machine blindfolded, that he was a niche player, confined to some place by geography, and obsolescence kept repair and maintenance from being a threat. Japan is probably the first nation to industrialize based on refurbishing and knock-offs, but I'm not sure about that.
But I saw this in Africa. Someone dirt poor, with time on their hands, would buy a scrap bike or moped and take all the parts and inventory them and start to build a store based on a mini-chop-shop economy. This economy exists in the USA for automobiles and airplanes, and actually I'm quite impressed by the laptop parts market on ebay. Outside of the USA, it exists for typewriters and coffee machines.
A friend at Fayetteville High School in Arkansas, I think it was Michael Rudko, once said that the universal human condition was summed up in the final scene of Vincent Price's movie, The Fly. The final image, they find the tiny fly with the human head and arms caught in a spider web (trust me, it was a cult movie, I'm only 47) crying "HELP ME! Heeellllpppp mmeeee!" They sell model kits of the little dude in the spider web. The disbelieving detective has the human universal response... you can almost hear his gears ticking... "Don't understand. Must smash with rock." Rather than save the specimen of the tiny human-fly for science, he picks up a rock or a brick and smashes it.
That is what the states with Product Stewardship laws seem to be doing with "ewaste", a characterization of the parts and repair and recyclin and waste market so broad in definition that it really does somewhat defy regulation. At MA DEP, we tried to write regulations and run the grants in a way which preserved the value of the Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army and TV and appliance repair markets. Two of the parts/repair people, Peter Kopchyk and Dick Peloquin, went on to establish huge ewaste companies. Goodwill Industries now has 450 takeback sites, I modestly claim started with some seeds from the MA program which I told Pat Nathan of Dell about in Austin Texas, as a consultant back in 2001 or 2002.
Put it all in a pile, call it ewaste, and kill it. It is much harder to develop a Dick Peloquin or Hamdy Moussa or Ow Young Su Fung than it is to buy a shredder. But when I was consulting for the Chinese Guangdong Electric Appliance Institute and Guangdong EPA in 2002, I asked whether Ms Huang Wenxi whether the Chinese Communist Party, in developing deals with OEMs for manufacturing plants, would try to destroy the little repair people (while near an entire city block of double decker shops which all sold oscilloscopes and TV repair equipment - not repaired TVs, store after store that sold equipment to TV repairmen).
She understood the question, and did not want to be political. But she said in her opinion, it would be impossible. There are too many repair people and the secondary economy was too big. Even if they tried, she thought the repair and reuse market was too big to control.
That's kind of our theory of how democracy spreads, and how internet access creates freedom of the press, right?
Hint: Skip all the reading and go to "FallacyFiles.org". If WR3A defends (A) practice B, and practice C takes place at the same overseas site as practice A, then WR3A has not defended practice C. I think that one is called "The Masked Man Fallacy"
With electronics scrap, some of the demand for some of the products is so high (laptops for example) that the electronics "tire pile" operators avoid failure by mixing in a certain amount of junk stuff with the good stuff in their loads. The piles effectively get moved to Africa or Asia, where they get burned for copper. I call it "taking a dump".
Our argument with BAN has to do with the best strategy for dealing with that practice. WR3A flies overseas to meet the very best operations. Those are the ones who are improving the quality of life of their employees, improving the recycling practices, investing in doing a good job. They get the good stuff they need without accepting tons of bad stuff by buying from USA companies which can account for the bad stuff here in the USA.
When a really good company, like Total Reclaim in BAN's hometown of Seattle, starts shredding up equipment that is visually fine because they cannot repair it in house, they pass the "Opportunity Cost" on to generators, who pass the cost through legislation back to the OEMs.
WR3A is NOT making apologies for the tire pile people.
WR3A is trying to get the Total Reclaims to ship inspected stuff to the factories that need good stuff and will take the time to do it well. They will get ISO14001, they will get their nation's legal import permits, they will do it all correctly if they are rewarded for it. What we need is for BAN's hometown of Seattle to supply BETTER equipment than NY.
Lest there be confusion: WR3A is not saying that bad practices don't exist. We are saying that good practices also exist, and we need to reward them in order to compete against the bad practices in the marketplace. Fair Trade Coffee is not saying that all coffee farmers are well treated... Fair Trade Coffee is saying that you can have the best effect on the situation by trading with the coffee farms where the farmers ARE well treated. Organic produce is not saying that all produce is organic, it is saying that you should buy organic produce to encourage proper farming.
WR3A is not saying all the e-waste exports to Africa are kosher. What we are saying is that given the choice between buying used electronics from the good people for less $, or buying loads laced with junk from bad people for more $, that African buyers will be empowered to stop buying from tire pile people. We aren't saying that BAN refuses to allow Total Reclaim to test and remove "unrepairable parts" etc., we are saying that the standards of "tested working" are so primitive an understanding of electronics that they have the unintended consequence of big investments in big shredders.
Should Africa ban the importation of CRTs? After all, LCDs cost only 5 times more, and last 30% as many years as a used CRT... But that's a LOT of money to a medical school student in Accra. If given the choice between getting online and staying barefoot and pregnant until free LCDs are handed out, the nurses and engineers I have met will buy the computer monitor they can afford from the tire pile monster, which is BAN and WR3A's mutual enemy.
Does the marketplace change constantly? Absolutely. Buyers who were willing to take 21" monitors for repair 5 years ago won't pay for them tested working today. Loads which had 5% recycling/fallout a year ago are being harshly down-graded by WR3A buyers today because the supply of monitors domestically (from their own countries) is growing. They can afford to be picky. It's a good thing. We have to change our shipments constantly, and resist the temptation to insist the buyer take "working" 21" monitors that they don't want or cannot resell.
Who is better able to respond and change to the marketplace? Tire Pile Tony? Or E-Steward Eddie? If E-Steward Eddie takes himself out of the running, more 21" monitors will appear in warehouses in Africa, because it creates an impossible choice for Souleymane - buy from Tire Pile Tony, or wait for free LCDs to be handed out.
I'd like some college students to take up the research... Does the "war on drugs" approach work better for e-waste than it does for cocaine? We should not be apologizing for bad behavior. But I have lived in Africa for two and a half years, I have visited buyers in China, Malaysia, Egypt, Mexico and Lithuania. I have read the Basel Convention cover to cover. I have gotten legal import permits for the best factories, and invited Stewards to tour them and to sell to them. We sponsored an attorney from Burkina Faso to study for six months, sponsored a business school student from Mexico, and now sponsored an intern from Holland to study and compare the Fair Trade model.
"Is not being done legally" >vs< "Cannot be done legally"
Should industry "qualify itself'?" Long term, probably not. But if Stewards are shredding up repairable equipment, we need a compromise. The drug mafia makes billions because drugs are illegal. The tire pile guys are raking in profits BECAUSE of BAN.org and product stewardship eWaste legislation, not in spite of it.
The measure of which is a better standard, BAN Certification or R2, is ironically how much the qualfied companies export in the end. The more the better. Because if the exports are properly documented, legal, and ethical, and done in a fair trade manner, nothing will help the techies and recyclers of the developing world more than more, more, more exports. Give them a choice, to buy from good people at a better price, and watch the flowers grow. Let us sell R2 or Steward computers for 50% less than the Tire Pile guy, and we will cut his legs out from under him... and we can literally write into the contract / purchase order that the overseas buyer has to put an organic garden in the front lawn, buy trees, donate to the poor. Or we can make the deal with a women's coop in Mexico, for the recycling factory to run a cash-for-clunkers TV takeback in the Sonora desert. Much more is possible through cooperation and trade than will ever be achieved by promising impossible standards which take product off the market.
I just discovered a cool site, FallacyFiles.org. The particular link is to the "Masked Man" fallacy, which applies to this post and our gentle prodding of Basel Action Network. I wish I had the internet available when I was in the Arkansas high school debate circuit (I earned a "double ruby" from National Forensics League, and the Arkansas state debate team championship in 1980, yee-hah!)
- photos: CRTs in warehouse, Kirby tire pile in Ohio, Malaysia shopping mall where Steward computers were sold (good), Asian monitor factory converted to refurbishing
There is a distinction between final recycling or disposing, and disassembly as a maquila. It is possible to be permitted to take stuff apart (we are) but not yet to be permitted as a final end market for the CRT glass.
- YES, we do have a purchase order for processed CRT Glass from a smelter in Mexico. Ultimately, we plan to process and recycle CRT glasses and substrates in Mexico.
- The purchase order for the CRT glass, as an end market, requires breaking and processing of CRT glass, which we were notified in February we are not yet authorized to do.
- We hired a SEMARNAT (Mexico EPA) consultant to review our facility plans (copied from our Vermont facility) and to work with SEMARNAT to make sure they were acceptable.
- In the meantime, we have been informed repeatedly that our permit to import TVs and monitors for refurbishing or dismantling is valid, so long as the commodities - CRTs, plastic, copper, etc. - are re-exported.
- We have continued to keep bare CRTs intact for re-import to USA. This makes Mexico either a "transit country" or "generator" of CRT glass, or possibly neither.
These are the kind of legal questions I grappled with a decade ago, as Massachusetts DEP implemented the first-in-nation CRT Waste Ban (I was DEP Recycling Program Director).
The important thing is that we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we do. Here are the constraints we currently operate under:
- Yes, Retroworks de Mexico is a permitted maquila (the same as a TV assembly company)
- Yes, Retroworks de Mexico is authorized to inspect, test, repair, and dismantle TVs and monitors into bare CRTs.
- Retroworks de Mexico has alternative CRT markets, and is not doing anything that any reputable CRT recycler is not doing (as a generator of intact, dismantled CRTs).
- Retroworks de Mexico staff have undergone thorough training in Vermont, and Vermont staff have been down to train Las Chicas Bravas.
- Retroworks de Mexico provides complete transparency, inviting NPR Living on Earth reporters, ADEQ staff, Tucson officials, competitors and suppliers to tour our facility.
- Retroworks de Mexico has provided film evidence of what we are doing online.
- American Retroworks Inc. has rented warehouse space to store CRT TVs and Monitors indoors, according to EPA Rules.
The CRT Glass Test is tough to comply with. Doing the right thing is expensive. When I first opened Retroworks de Mexico, we could ship CRTs to Samsung intact while waiting for the smelter purchase order and SEMARNAT permit. We could ship CRTs intact to Dlubak Glass, which had a spotless record covering decades of CRT glass recycling. And we could ship to TDM of Mexicali. It's only the good actors who are in the spotlight, and we are proud to be mentioned in the same article as any of those companies.
We are about finding solutions, not "loopholes". I do not know what specifically our competitors are doing with CRTs they collect in Arizona, but since they are raising questions about our handling, perhaps it is best to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different CRT recycling options in public.
The details of the Basel Convention, EPA notification, DOT labelling, OSHA law, RCRA, commodity transport, etc. are complex. American Retroworks Inc. was among the first in the USA to file export for reuse notification and was listed on EPA's website as an exporter for recycling to Mexico until October. We believed we needed to file as an exporter for recycling in advance if we intended to process the CRT glass at the smelter in Mexico once the February 2009 permit questions were fully resolved (vs. re-transporting the CRTs back to the USA to transport them back to Mexico).
Should we have notified EPA of intent to export to Mexico as an end-market before or after breaking the CRT glass? If we had gotten all the breaking questions resolved in Mexico in 2009, this would have been easy. In hindsight, this "chicken or egg" end market documentation has created the false appearance that our maquila authority is rescinded. Mexico EPA has rescinded some permits, but they are for CRT glass processing, the one we are still applying for, not disassembly for re-export.
The tempest has clouded the fact that some companies are basically trying to do the right thing, while others are dropping ocean sea containers to be loaded with ewaste for transport to China.
Despite dozens of offers, we had NOT started trading processed CRT glass from USA recyclers for our end market because we lacked the legal status to manage broken glass as a commodity. We did see that those companies offering processed CRT glass ARE doing the right thing, and we would love to work with those companies when this is settled. We have the engineering studies, we have the purchase order, we have the market. We could have made a lot of money if we had started trading CRT glass, but we have constantly erred on the side of caution.
There is another list of companies which had no processed CRT glass, which only had intact, cherry picked, junk material. They were only interested in price.
And those are the ones trumpeting our problems with the new processing permit. Hmm.
We need MIT.
Look at these quick stats:
Good Point qualified only 22.5% of used electronics last year (by weight) as qualified for export for reuse or repair. I would estimate our fallout (unable to repair) at 15% of those, approximately double the new wholesale product failure. Our method is to trade exclusively with overseas nerds, techies, geeks and repair-wonks, and to invite them to train our staff, and to compensate them for proper recycling of any bad product they receive, and to train them (a la Las Chicas Bravas) to recycle the "e-waste" that results either from improper packing, improper sorting, or parts removed.
The 85% which was reused is extremely profitable for the repairpeople, as they are abled with almost no raw material, or OEM rich country licensing fees, to produce an added value manufactured computer device. The "Good Enough" market needs computers at under $60 apiece.
These statistics are somewhat compatible with BAN estimates that 75% of used electronics are "junk". We can confirm that much of what we receive is junk or winds up as junk because of improper collection, storage and handling. We can also confirm that there is a price point at which it becomes economically inefficient to remove the junk, and that recyclers who cut corners can lower their costs considerably by being less careful or by "taking a dump" on some poor overseas person now and then whose English challenges create a window to misrepresent picked-over and scavenged material as to be in "as is" condition. I lose a lot of business to people charging half of what we charge, who have less junk bills.
What we express doubt about is whether even these worst actors can economically ship 75% "waste" or junk for less than the cost of proper domestic dumping or recycling. It is more likely that USA exporters are not properly trained or properly communicating... kind of like when I sent brand name monitors, tested working, to an Asian plant six years ago and found out that a portion of them were manufactured with a trinitron tube and were not acceptable, despite the fact they were "tested working". But no doubt there are exporters who haggle, who say "I'm not giving you this that you want unless you take it all."
What I doubt is that an importer could be leveraged to take 75% waste. (Check out this INVENEO group, for example). To the degree it occurs, it is most likely to happen with precious metal bearing scrap, precious parts (chips, RAM, etc.) scrap, and extremely expensive-to-recycle-domestically scrap (imploded CRTs). I do not believe that it occurs to any significant degree with repeated sales of screen repairable monitors sold for $10 each, which contain only $1.44 in copper and plastic, and which cost $3.27 each to ship in containers over the ocean.
What is needed is a protocol or model which maximizes the ability of the overseas importer to create good technical jobs serving the "good enough" or 3B3K market, which uses compensation for proper recycling of any incidental breakage or fallout, and which thus creates an overseas recycling process which can be harnessed to manage the bad material when the stuff generated within the country (including refurbished items which eventually are broken or fail).
I believe this is most likely to happen through fair trade. Of the other two alternatives, export-everything or boycott-exports, it is shocking but probably the second place would go to free market, export everything. The boycott approach dissuades reputable USA companies from exporting, and creates an artificial supply-demand imbalance which benefits disreputable exporters (creating more rather than less junk in loads).
The alternative, which is that the developing world will "leapfrog" (as I understand it, as a result of curtailed exports of the reuse and repair goods, the demand is met by even better and newer products), appears possible in the cell phone industry. MIT researchers at the Legatum Center have made a case that the computing power of hand-held cell phone devices is increasing at a rate which will make cell phones the PCs of the next decade, and that "desktop" devices and TVs will become oversized junk.
That intriguing case for the future does not necessarily mean that the infrastructure for cell-phone technology will be achieved more quickly by starving the entrepreneurial reuse and repair market overseas, in fact I believe the research shows that new technology is always more quickly and effectively adapted by nerds, geeks, techies and repair-wonks, and that the new technology fails when it is implemented by centralized government or non-profit.
The central flaw or fallacy in logic in the export-boycott approach is that they throw out the good in pursuit of the perfect and expect to achieve the perfect more quickly as a result. This is like taking dirty rice away from starving people in the belief that the people will get cleaner rice as a result. It is imperialistic, misguided, and at some point becomes immoral if pursued with rigor exacerbated by ego.
If the Polk award goes to a 60 Minutes film which shows computer monitors in Hong Kong, then goes to a village without a single computer monitor in sight, and calls the process waste of the circuit board burning (none of which came from computer monitors) an indictment of exporting computer monitors, it will be essential that the press recipient comes out and outs themselves, the same as an MIT professor who earns a Nobel and then discovers a flaw in their own research.
The research of "e-waste" exports in a dispassionate and scientific way reflects other debates about the pros and cons of the export market. UNCTAD says that shipping drained (acid-free) auto batteries to auto battery plants in Thailand and Philippines is better than not sending them (and having the auto battery plants mine lead to make the batteries). The World Health Organization shocked a lot of people in the EU and USA in 2006 by declaring that DDT was the most efficient way to save millions from dying of malaria in Africa.
Global warming "controversy" is welcome to me right now. I had this bad feeling a couple of years ago that I was hearing a little too much political correctness and back-slapping, good-old-greeboy certainty about global warming science. I do believe in global warning, but I had this bad prickly feeling up the back of my spine, this discomfort, which revolved around two things - the rush to diagnose carbon emissions as the best strategy (I remain a rainforest protectionist jealous of lost press in that fight), and I saw evidence of group-think when the Mars north and south poles were revealed as showing advanced melting. The people with their hands on the levers of the press were just a little too quick to poo-poo the Mars pole melting. I still agree primarily with the global warming scientific majority, but before all the "email controversy", I did have a feeling that there was a little too much agreement being translated into policy over things like emissions trading banks... which looked a bit like a ponzi scheme to me (since technology is so often reused, getting rid of a carbon emitting contraption into the reuse market would not eliminate the carbon production but would result in an incentive for switching... and if the device is destroyed to prevent reuse, the life cycle of production means most of the gases emitted were made mining and making the machine, which now is depreciated over a shorter period...)
I understand the "greenhouse gas" debate, warming began a century ago, and because of the same "tipping point" factors (loss of white reflective ice leads to more heat absorption) which are argued to emphasize human causality, may in fact have been destined to occur. I believe that deforestation is the primary culprit, and that purchasing automobiles with batteries made of rare earth metals better not be coming at the expense of mining in the rain forest, like coltan mines used for cell phones, operating in Congo. I don't tend to see enough of that type of speculation and discussion in the press. I tend to discount the press entirely as well meaning, and resource-driving, but like a big dumb ox that needs to be harnessed and steered to achieve transportation.
This is a call to disagreement. Science is better when smart people challenge and argue with each other. When your primary antagonist gives you the silent treatment, something is not right.
I should not complain, Good Point Recycling is better off than many. We did not put all our money into one end market, and our diverse reuse revenue (22.5% of tonnage) bridged the collapse of the metals markets a year ago. We grew in Vermont, buying our own building when bank financing was impossible. We have been able to hire great workers laid off from Addison County Vermont stalwart industries - Connor Homes, Standard Register, CPC Plastics, Specialty Filaments.
We are treading water and have not had to pass price increases to our clients. We have a lot of credential. Contracts to collect and manage or process e-waste for Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Viewsonic, Acer, Toshiba, LG and others. New contracts in NY, Maine and Rhode Island. We have a successful Vermont TV Recycling program, which is capturing more material with coupons and convenience than other states are capturing with grants and regulations. We have an enthusiastic customer base in Arizona, begging for us to put together the trucking and trailering to bring the same success to the Southwest.
But it's at a point now where we have to decide whether to buy the truck for Las Chicas Bravas in Mexico, OR replace the aging truck in Vermont. Should we pay to transport to Retroworks de Mexico? Well, after we put the electricity in the plant, perhaps. So in the meantime we roll up domestic recycling bills for CRT processing in New England.
One of the investors in Washington wanted to know why we weren't an E-Steward. Our whole plan for Mexico was to bring the whole Asian refurbishing e-shebang close enough to the USA border for clients to vet, and into the OECD sphere. Sonora was a good compromise between the technicalities of the Basel Convention and doing what I love - bringing good jobs in reuse to people who actually want the jobs, to places where being a TV repairperson is like being an engineer, a lofty profession. In doing so, to create a proper end market for the people of Mexico, who have their own e-waste to manage.
This entire decade of my life is about creating a win-win, creating an e-Peace Corps, seeing people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do, and bringing together the right tools to make it all more affordable for Americans to recycle and more affordable for hospitals in the developing world to computerize their blood banks, so women can stop dying in childbirth.
It has been exceptionally gratifying, hosting dinner tables of geeks from Mexico, Senegal, Egypt, and Peru - sometimes at the same dinner! Watching the Egyptians scribble down details of a particular laptop technical fix onto a napkin, as they learn it from the Taiwan Techie. My day at work is a day at the playground.
I have the perfect job. I just have to make really hard decisions now, because small businesses cannot get financing. Buying the building in Vermont in 15 years took all the savings I had put aside to bring the Big Secret Factory to be run by Ms. Vicki Conce and her co-hearts in Sonoroa. It opened up a 200 ton per day smelter to our purchase order for CRT glass.
Well, back to contracts, purchase orders, cash flows and financials. Putting off Peter's bonus to pay for Paul's overtime. I am thankful for the growth we have, which is continuing. It's just sad we don't have the money to simultaneously join E-Stewards and to invest in the equipment and training we need, to have been laying off people in the spring who we knew we would need again in the fall.
Fair Trade. It can be self financed, slowly, but not with the vigor and flair that it deserves. We can't get E-Stewardship without capitalizing the plant in Mexico, we can't capitalize the plant in Mexico without selling to the refurbishing factory in Malaysia, we can't raise the capital for the plant in Mexico without an E-Steward label.
Maybe the correct literary tribute is not to William Styron and "Sophie's Choice". Good grief, maybe I am channeling Faulkner. Am I coming across to investors as an Abner Snopes, ready to grind my heel into their carpet? Or do I just so distrust the sanctimony of the BAN Pledge that it's really about Huckleberry Finn? Something deep inside me just hates the cynicism towards our vetted buyers in Egypt, Senegal, Peru, Indonesia, Mexico, and even China. I remember when Huck Finn felt guilty for helping the slave Jim run away from Mrs. Watson, which he realizes is illegal, realizes is stealing her "property". So he prays for inspiration on what to do, and writes a letter to tell on Old Jim.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing.
But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, “stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he”s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.