Basel Action Network's legacy - stagnation and poverty?

Is the solution to poor coffee farmers to take away their coffee business?
Is the solution to poor recyclers to take away their recycling business?
Is that the best we can do?  The people remain, we just remove "recycling" as the verb.
Folks, it is looking grim.  The U.S. Congress is currently debating whether to pass H.R. 2595, which would ban the export of any device not tested and certified as fully operational. Since the Basel Convention doesn't actually SAY "tested working" or that refurbishing businesses are illegal in developing countries, the new tactic is to get governments to call used computers "waste".  The same companies who brought us "planned obsolescence" are licking their chops, as laws are passed to do their work for them. Most "hindsight obsolsecence" laws are being passed in developing nations themselves, where officials are so fearful of the myth of toxic ewaste that they are denouncing their home grown techies, the Michael Dells of Africa and Asia, and banning even working units from import.

We are likely to lose the fair trade battle.  I have met with ambassadors, import businesses, and African Entrepreneurs.   Despite the films WR3A  has made, and the efforts we have promoted to make "fair trade" possible, the continent of Africa is increasingly accepting the BAN approach of a ban on imports.  (BAN has alternately said they are in favor of export for reuse and refurbishment, but is continuing to promote the phrase "tested working", and is taking no steps to convince either Africa or their E-Stewards that is is ok to export intact units).  The few E-Stewards who are exporting intact units at all should watch BAN's game in Africa and Asia, because the tested working market is being closed as well.

Since the closure of our repair partner programs in Senegal and Cairo, I have gotten desperate, even angry at BAN, for continuing to promote the myth that 80% of exports are junk.  That defies environmental sense, defies economic sense for the importer, and defies the photos and film the NGOs themselves are producing.  The films of containerloads being emptied show nice stuff.  They have to go to the dump to show bad stuff.

The bad stuff goes to the dump.  Is it 20%?  30%?  5%? - it depends on the exporter, and only WR3A members are able and willing at this point to disclose those numbers.   If it is a good company exporting, it's a little bit of junk (accidental breakage, removed parts).  If it's an uncaring company, it can be 30% and higher.

But now Cairo is shut down (we are refurbishing to like-new condition in Asia to supply Egypt), and here is a story from Kenya, announcing the shutdown of all used computer imports, working or not, into the whole country.  The same article shows a poll that Kenyans cite internet almost as high as cell phones as technology they cannot live without. 

Kenya's Saturday Nation, March 5, 2010
The Ministry of Information and Communication is proposing a ban on importation of refurbished computers in the next budget to reduce e-dumping in Kenya.
Permanent secretary, Dr Bitange Ndemo says that Kenya, like other African countries, has become a dumping ground for used machines.
“It has become big business for the foreign companies we import from as some are paid by their governments to amass the dumped electronics, refurbish and sell them to us,” said Dr Ndemo.

Ok Jim, you win in Egypt, you win in Kenya.  So let's complete the vision for those countries development.  Your hope is that they will "leapfrog" the west.   Bring it on.  Let's see the "leapfrog".  Where are the new computers?  That's the solution, right?  The Kenyans should "leapfrog" and get new computers.  What a great vision.  

The African continent can skip right over the repair, refurbish, reverse-engineer, knock-off, contract assembly, and manufacturing evolution that southern China, Signapore, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, India (and even 1800s USA) followed on the path to development.   We can throw out the UNCTAD reasoning, that recycling is inherently better than mining and should be cleaned up and reformed.

We can destroy the Zabbaleen's sorting stations, kill their pigs, and close down the informal recycling programs in Cairo.  We can ban the Indonesian CRT assembly and manufacturing factories which turned to refurbishing cores (CRTs) to save their factory jobs, like Cummins Engine in Memphis Tennessee did. See Indonesia rejects CRT shipments to Refurbishing Factory

If Fair Trade loses, who wins?   There are roughly 3 billion people earning about 3 thousand dollars per year who, for the past decade, have gotten access to the internet at 10 times the rate of the USA.  Even a $60 computer is extremely expensive to them.  But Basel Action Network has sold the vision, and the refurbishers are shutting down. So now they can now leapfrog us.  Their national development should not bear the indignity of checking email on (gasp!) a CRT screen.   3 billion LCDs (which last 25% as long as a CRT life), coming right up!  Ready, set, go!

Instead of protesting the mining of raw materials for electronics in Africa, like the coltan for cell phones (which has decreased the population of lowland gorillas by 60%), western NGOs like BAN have chosen to protest reuse and recycling, the only alternative to that mining (other than stagnation and poverty).  They hit a nerve among the conscientious in the recycling community.  And it is certainly true that there were plenty of bad actors mixing in "Toxics Along for the Ride". 
For several years, BAN did a good job of improving our industry by keeping us on our toes.  But today's article from Saturday Nation in Kenya is Sarah and Jim's prize.   The UN program I have been meeting with had a plan to put 500,000 internet computers into Africa this decade.  But the only way to afford that was with CRTs (which don't get stolen, are built like battleships, are repairable) - but used CRTs, working or not, are being made illegal to import used.

Meanwhile, independent university research into the issue indicates that WR3A and Fair Trade programs are on the right track.  A new study from ASU is appearing Mar. 22 in Environmental Science and Technology, which seems to blow apart the theory that ewaste export prohibition would clean up ewaste dumps overseas. The study estimates global generation of obsolete computers, with these results:
  • By 2016-2018 the number obsolete computers generated in the developing world will exceed that in the developed world,
  • Global volumes of obsolete computers are expected to triple between 2010 and 2025,
  • By 2025 the developing world will generate double the developed world’s waste computers.
[ASU]'s results fan the debate on how to deal with backyard recycling. Trade bans, he argues, will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem. The study’s authors suggest that direct policy action to address the environmental impacts of informal recycling is needed. Policy should also consider the considerable economic and social benefits of refurbishing electronics for reuse in the developing world. 

Who will manage the "home grown" recycling, as developing countries produce their own WEEE and e-waste?  In the USA, electronics geeks like Dick Peloquin and David Cauchi pioneered proper e-waste recycling practices.  One of the first thing Retroworks de Mexico did was estabish a "cash for clunkers" program to get ewaste off the streets of Sonora in Mexico. Our refurbisher in Malaysia is now the CRT recycler for schools and communities there.  But the same fair trade improvements made in Senegal and Egypt are now shut down.   With HR 2595, which BAN applauds, we will shut down the factories in Malaysia and Mexico next.

Jim, you wrote a comment on a past post that the dialogue was over, you were not speaking to me anymore.   It's all going according to plan, so why listen to criticism?  I'm sure you have a great answer to these questions.  You say that 80% of the exports are "junk" and that our processes are illegal because "a part may be removed during the repair, which is then waste".   

So are you saying the capacitors the techs may replace are 80% of the load?  Look at the tech in Egypt (at top) whose job is gone.  Did he really repeatedly pay for 80% junk?  Is his circuit board repair so polluting that he's better off spending three month's income on a new PC made from mined materials?  I confess, we did not remove the tiny little capacitor that he bypassed.

The Indonesia factories (left), BAN says to the press, are illegal because 80% of the material they import is waste to be burned.  But what BAN's director says to us, when we described the factory, is that the upgraded pieces (even if later properly be recycled), were technically waste because they were not removed prior to transport.  

Almost the same thing, I guess, 80% of the containerload is junk, or some pieces removed during a repair and properly recycled are "technically" waste.

BAN has momentum, they are going to win.  They will shut down these poor overseas techies and geeks I deal with, the valedictorians and heros of their schools, by throwing them in the boat with copper wire burners.  But they are making up a story about the med school students "leapfrogging", while treating these technicians like Joe McCarthy treated the "commies".  

They take pictures of junk and lead journalists away from the refurbishing factories (showing CBS 60 Minutes stacks of CRT monitors in Hong Kong and leading them to Guiyu, where there is not a single CRT factory - or a single CRT in sight).  And gosh, they are winning.  But whatever happens to my friends and their businesses, history is going to get out.  BAN had better come up with some solutions, either leapfrogs or fair trade reforms.  If Jim Puckett counts the Kenya, Egypt, and Indonesia import bans as successes, but does not replace the affordable electronics, he will go into the history books as the Ayatollah of E-waste.  When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, both will fail.


Anonymous said...

This reads like the ravings of an emotionally unstable person. It's angry and incoherent.

Too bad-- there may be some valid points here.

Robin said...

So true. But, I wasn't always a lunatic. Some of these valid points I made years before, before I cut my ear off.

EarhEcycle said...

Ban, Basil Action Network seems to be all about headlines in the name of monopolizing the ewaste industry and monetary gain. In my experience they are just another left wing Nazi self interest group created and self regulating for the few they let into their little pier group (at a cost). Last year they attacked my company, EarthEcycle, after all the smoke blew and no infractions were found, they got real quiet. No apology, no fixing what is broken. Also Ned Eldridge or ELoop, LLC ran a recycling event right after mine and claimed all the glory. The fact is they all send the same products to the same people either whole or dismantled, they just charge you for picking it up. Third world developing countries? Are you serious? ...please, these countries are making the stuff in the first place. Jeffrey L. Nixon of EarthEcycle in Tulsa Oklahoma.