"E-Waste Madness" Propaganda

"Reefer Madness" was a 1936 propaganda film which exaggerated the harms of smoking marijuana (seems it leads to laughing and murder). In 1937 the US passed the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, leading to cannabis criminalization, which led to the Mexican drug war.  So pot did lead to murder, but mostly as an unintended consequence of trying to ban it.

Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist campaign against USA artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did not have as violent an outcome, but it is still studied with shock in political science classes.  It was the Senator's exaggerated threats of communism, not the the blacklisted entertainers, which injured democracy.

The propaganda war against native Americans empowered General Custer.  In his book "Our Savage Neighbors", author Peter Silver "reveals in vivid and often chilling detail how easily a rhetoric of fear can incite entire populations to violence."

Today, a "rhetoric of fear" by certain "environmentalist watchdogs" is inciting a war on reuse and repair of electronics.  For example, a Greenpeace video from Ghana clearly shows well packaged, nice looking TVs being unloaded from a sea container and sold in a marketplace (described as "thriving").  Then the video cuts to a much smaller number of TVs and monitors at a dump.  Someone is burning an older junk monitor for copper.  Someone is inexplicably throwing a small circuit board onto a fire.  The voiceover declares that "many experts say" that the majority of the imports are "in fact" e-waste.

Notice in the same sentence "Many experts" and "in fact".  To requote economist Roger Brinner once more, "The sum of anecdotes is not data."

The facts are that when I suggested to BAN.org's Jim Puckett that he visit Lagos, my intention was to contrast less sophisticated reuse markets with the giant contract manufacturing factories BAN had unintentionally targeted.   But when he returned to Asia, he still took CBS 60 Minutes in a circle around a lot of computer monitors destined for a factory I have visited, and told CBS that these monitors go straight to Guiyu, which does not have a computer monitor anywhere in the footage.  After several years of trying to work with the "watchdog", I'm tired.   They are doing more harm than good, barking at EPA and R2 and a major move in the right direction by ISRI.  A noisy dog that barks at everyone is not my definition of a good watchdog.

Prior to publication of the 2006 Enviornmental Health Prospectives article "Unfair Trade:  E-Waste in Africa" (by CW Schmidt),  BAN thanked me for the lead to go to Lagos and filmed things there.  But BAN continues to attack good engineers in developing countries in a propaganda campaign that is funded by well meaning baby boomers.  With African poverty as a backdrop, the contract manufacturing / manufacturer takeback programs in Asia which assembled the monitors and TVs are again the focus of BAN's attacks.

BAN continues to state that 80% of these exports are ("in fact") "e-waste".   It's untrue.  About 30% are waste - which is too much.   We need to reform the trade in used electronics, just as we need to regulate alcohol and marijuana.   But BAN is in effect promoting prohibition, and faking that their E-Stewards are testing and exporting for repair and reuse. The E-Stewards are shredding (and if 80% is unrepairable, illegal, hazardous waste, why not?)  In the face of world demand for internet, this is a "let them eat cake" approach.  BAN promotes "solutions" such CA SB20 "cancellation" clause, and the Gene Green bill (banning exports of computers for repair and refurbishment).

It's now old news that BAN is getting support from shredding tycoons and OEMs with an anti-reuse bias.    What is bizarre is the support they are getting from champions of sustainable development, like NRDC.  Josh Mailman, who knows Africa well, expressed interest in funding a "fair trade" program for used electronics, but BAN reportedly stated that the program did not respect international law.  The Basel Convention allows export for repair and refurbishment.  Mailman should contact the United Nations, Resolve.org, EPA, UNCTAD, and others on BAN's "wall of shame" and ask himself why so many good people are suffering friendly fire in BAN's "war on drugs" approach to reuse. 

Two years ago I met another good chap, Donald Summers, a former Middlebury College and Harvard University graduate who is a consultant for BAN.  He told me that the lesson BAN had to beware of is "the perfect is the enemy of the good".  I hoped that signaled a change in direction for BAN.  But here they are, still engaging in the same kind of propaganda as Reefer Madness, General Custer, and Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy.   They attack R2, they attack ISRI, they attack EPA CRT Rule.  Dell tells the Goodwills not to reuse monitors, and BAN applauds. 

<- This factory in Indonesia is GOOD.  It provides people with affordable computer equipment that lasts a really long time, is quite repairable, and is unlikely to get stolen - all key attributes to the 3B3K. (3 billion people earning $3k per year). The myth is that USA companies who are E-Stewards are domestically repairing CRT monitors.  The myth is that Indonesian customers can afford LCD monitors. These myths are the "perfect" alibi for BAN to attack this good factory.  Unfortunately, the perfect does not exist.  So BAN stewardship means shredding computers and display units which my students and friends in Africa cannot afford to buy new.  My enviro friends are taking food off the table and promising something healthier to replace it, but they leave the children hungry. A "no intact unit" policy is NOT the same as domestic repair capacity.   

The more good people in the USA and EU break repairable computers, the more good people overseas must buy from not-so-good people.  What a waste of good effort by good people who could be working together in a "fair trade" environment.

When I filmed this video, BAN labelled me an "export apologist".  Apologist was a favorite insult of Joseph McCarthy.


Anonymous said...

This is one of the best articles on electronics recycling that I have read. It is tough but your point is crystal clear.

Feelgood said...
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