E-waste Recycling Policy

I like "Product Stewardship" as a concept, and I like the folks promoting it. But some of them (ahem, I've heard) have a fatwah out on me. When legislation gets momentum and is close to passage, there are usually a few of us who have carried the ball and being this close to the end zone, success becomes paramount.

As someone who has invested his kids college fund into trucks and balers and demanufacturing equipment, I also have carried a ball and have self-interest in the topic (though probably passage of S.77 in Vermont would be survivable now that I've been able to invest in new brand management systems). But while we can roll with S.77 and other manufacturer-takeback bills (can't beat em, join em) I think anyone can see that there are some myths being promoted about Product Stewardship, and that it is in the end a municipal funding bill. I can be Johnny Damon batting leadoff for the Yankees in that game. A new team, a practical measure. But let me keep my long hair when it comes to Product Stewardship as an "environmental paradigm". It's being promoted on some myths that need to go on record for what they are.

What are the myths? Example: When I hear people say that I am getting thousands of cassette tape players because of unenlightened engineering, I am always dumbfounded. What exactly could Sanyo have done differently when they were designing these three decades ago? They work fine, but they are "buggy whips", obsoleted by the CD media. An export buyer wants them only for the copper and maybe the plastic, and exporting them "for reuse" is a lie.

The same export market - where internet is dial-up at best - loves CD Players. I am getting lots of CD players, too. They look to the sorting staff a lot like the obsolete VHS and cassette tape players. But if we export the CD players, and we mix in cassette players, we may be transshipping waste ("TAR" or Toxics Along for the Ride). But, if we destroy CD players we are sabotaging reuse hierarchy, we are creating waste, and we are telling most of the world (those still waiting for broadband) to "eat cake".

The electronics reuse, recycling, and waste business.... its about the media. Cassette, CD, MP3, which is accessible and to who. In Africa, those with broadband access burn the music and videos onto CDs, which are bought used and played on used TVs and CD stereos imported from Europe. But when I explain this, some eyes gloss over... it's really difficult to be a good communicator when you are explaining the key differences between two gray electronic boxes in a gaylord.

Cassette and VHS: Export Bad (not for reuse)
CD and DVD: Export Good (for reuse - at least for now)
Leapfrog to Pandora.com = Let them eat cake

But putting aside the mundane free market trivia (DVD players have less copper than VHS players but sold in the 2nd Quarter 2009 for 356% more), what about advocacy, feelings, passion and mission? The earth is cooking, gorillas are dying, we have to do something.

Perhaps my real frustration is that "I sound like my parents" (whoa, my conservative republican dad was listening to Cat Stevens play "Father and Son" - cue to video below if you have internet bandwidth, insert CD if you are in a developing country, or insert cassette if you are a Luddite).

"When I was your age...." I was in the "non-profit" side (an obsolete philosophy itself, as demonstrated by Kiva.org), championing reform of the General Mining Act of 1872, since High School. Before I left (for Carleton College, where I'd study International Relations), I typed a letter (white out and all) to Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, asking that the Bureau of Land Management and raw material policy put conservation at the forefront, and that recycling should be the raw material supply chain with subsidies, not virgin material extraction. I learned a decade later that my letter had an effect on Senator Bumpers, who became one of the only advocates for reform of the General Mining Act of 1872.

I continued to fight against raw material subsidies, especially with Bush Administration cronies Lynn Scarlett and Jack Abramoff. I seemed to get traction by publishing the Retroworks Mining Factsheet in 2003. But I could not even get National Recycling Coalition to discuss mining and forestry. Grrrr!

Having run the ball 99 yards, I felt like the recycling community was walking off the field, saying "It's been 135+ years, it's hopeless". Right when the mining reform bill has passed the House of Representatives! Right when it's in Senate Committee! Aaaarrrrrrrrrgghhh!!!!!!!!!!

This reform is very close to passage, and is being promoted in part as a federal revenues bill (royalties on mining). That's kind of like Electronics Product Stewardship, which is actually going to pass based on municipal and state budget demands. So really, really - I identify with the folks pushing S.77.

I am limited by running 2 businesses and leading 2 nonprofits and need effective advocates like "Computer Takeback" campaigners to put the whole lifecycle chain into focus. Brand names, manufacturing, assembly, media production, and product marketing are much more complex than raw material management.

Odd how much gray hair is on both sides of the aisle. I hope some future Carleton College or Middlebury College or Williams or Anherst or Rice or MIT student is able to cut across the paradigms and connect media to mining and international supply and demand chain reform. I hear a lot of people say they don't know what I'm talking about, that I'm a poor communicator. But I keep writing, hoping some reporter or student comes along and sees that the Free Market makes money. That involves conservation. But if you give the mining away for free, in 1872 dollars, you enable all kinds of waste. Stewarding the Product is nice end-of-pipe management, and I don't blame municipalities for grabbing the revenue. So I can back a bill while criticizing the philosophy, but am happier doing so if I can get some General Mining Act yardage in return. We are closer to the goal line on Federal mining legislation than we are on ewaste export, e-waste stewardship financing, or any other solution.

We need fresh legs. 1872 to 1972..

No comments: