Boston Globe's Murky E-Waste Reporting

The Boston Globe (reporter Beth Daley) was the largest paper to pick up the story that circulated, alleging that recycler CRT Recycling (CRTR) of Brockton illegally exported TVs for dumping to Indonesia.  

As I have reported in this blog, there is certainly an opportunity for unscrupulous recyclers to ship junk they must otherwise pay for.   But the factories overseas have no incentive to pay for that junk, and they are certainly not "backyard" operations.

The problem here is that the Globe (in an editorial below) has now elevated the BAN allegation, effectively confirming that the containers were bound for dumping. They did so without looking.  The containers have arrived back in the port of Boston, still under seal.  EPA has been inspecting the containers and is probably withholding judgement until they are inspected.  I would hope so.

The Globe however did not make the mile trek to the port of Boston to see for themselves.  We shared film of some of the Indonesia factories with the Globe, and I can understand how the Globe may not have the budget to fly reporters across the world.  But the containers are in the port of Boston.

CRTR prices have driven me crazy for years.  Other recyclers are jumping for joy that the lowest bidder out there is caught in an enforcement action.  But I have to ask, what if these were MY containerloads, which I had exported to a legal, permitted, audited, ISO14001 factory?  What if BAN sent a letter to the government of the importer, telling them my containers were 80% waste, and the country returned them back to me, under seal?  How would I feel if the Globe alleged inaction by EPA based on a false accusation, while EPA finished its inspection?   I would probably feel like one of the USA state departement employees accused of being a communist by Senator Joe McCarthy.   Where is a Senator Millard Tydings when you need one?

It is unfair that I am in a position of defending an arch competitor, who may or may not be guilty of shipping junk, based on shoddy journalism.   My ideal self says that CRTR, the EPA, and the factory in Indonesia CRTR shipped to, all deserve an actual investigation by a real life journalist, and that the proof will be in the numbers - how many pieces in the containerload, if any, were junk, and what happens if junk arrives in Indonesia?   That is the story that has yet to be told, that is the question the Boston Globe has yet to ask.


Quit dumping old TVs overseas

March 10, 2010
THE MURKY afterworld of dead electronics was brought home this winter when a massive shipment of old televisions from Brockton’s CRT Recycling was rejected by the government of Indonesia and returned to Boston. Old cathode ray TV tubes contain several pounds of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxins. The blowback from Indonesia is evidence of why the US, the world’s largest producer of electronic waste, should sign the Basel Convention that bans dumping in developing countries. The United States’ own Government Accountability Office says American regulations are “among the weakest in the world,’’ allowing a “virtually unrestricted’’ flow of old TVs and computers to the Third World.

My response:
"Murky" is a good word, in that it cuts both directions. The Editorial is murky, the allegation is murky. Where are the facts? There is a factory refurbishing TVs in Indonesia, there are several such factories. There is an opportunity for an unscrupulous exporter to mix bad and unrepairable TVs into loads shipped for those factories. The CRTR containers arrived back in the USA in sealed containers, neither the environmentalists nor the Indonesian government opened the containers to see what kind of TVs are inside. They are here in Boston. This is your opportunity to find out the truth. While I am a competitor of the company in Brockton, and do not like the prices he competes at, I am shocked that the Globe would reprint the allegation when the nation expects you to be there and to look at the containers, and beyond shocked that the Globe would elevate this to the Editorial section. You have formed an opinion that the load was not as CRTR represented and that the refurbishing factory is a "backyard" operation, when you have an invitation and film to view.  That is indeed murky journalism. Several journalists who have reviewed the initial press release paused in their coverage and are willing spend the time the Globe is not willing to spend to see the operation in Indonesia, look at the records of the containerloads of used electronics, and report the truth. If the Globe's opinion turns out to be right, consider yourselves lucky. If you are wrong, consider yourselves "murky" rumor repeaters, not reporters. You have up until now reported nothing but an allegation, and have done nothing to investigate it.
Robin Ingenthron

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