It looks like electricity is finally coming to Las Chicas Bravas, our women's coop partner in Fronteras Mexico.
I am sitting in a cabin at a ranch in the Sierra Madres foothills, 20 miles from a copper smelter, 30 miles from what's billed to be the largest and richest copper mine on the planet, in a wildlife sanctuary cum sustainable farm, with my wife and kids. We have been rocketing along dirt "roads", carrying researchers and reporters and photographers back and forth between Arizona and Mexico. Have barely had time to talk to the kids about watching lambs being born or male calf castration or other sunny truths you learn on a farm.
At the recycling plant, the ladies are putting on the same brave faces they have for what's now 3 years of rollercoaster rides. We get a building, the (ex)mayor refuses to allow electricity to be connected (Las Chicas don't pay bribes). We get awarded the city of Tucson Contract, it's taken away in a horrible fashion (contract canceled AFTER collections, ladies accused of the worst "e-waste export atrocities"). We get a huge smelter purchase order for CRT glass, then the Mexico EPA cancels our permit to break the tubes or end market them in Mexico. Unless the permit is reissued before the accumulation time limits on the CRTs, we must now load the tubes to be re-transported to the USA, at enormous cost. We win a legal battle against the mayor, and then our lawyer is assassinated.
We get an EPA and Mexico EPA grant to collect used TVs inside Arizona and Mexico (a "cash for clunkers" program), and then the grant is frozen. A competitor in Arizona is telling our clients that we are illegal, another competitor bizarrely tells clients that Las Chicas are delivering their ewaste to Unicor, the prison program in Tucson. A third competitor tells clients they are throwing barrels of poison into ditches.
When I told the Ladies yesterday that the rewiring for electricity had been approved, and it should arrive in 90 days, they stood and clapped and cheered. They were so happy for this small, ordinary bit of good news, three years late in coming.
At times, with the string of bad luck and reversals, I feel like the biggest jinx these ladies have ever come across. I see them killing themselves to remove screws from thousands of TVs and monitors, with their bare hands, and then having to write almost all the income towards proper CRT disposal, which could have been free at the smelter, or paid for by the EPA grant.
A reporter asked me how much money I had lost here, and how I could stay at this for so long? I asked him back, how could I leave? I was not an "ET" (early termination) in Peace Corps. The UN says Mexico - and other countries - are already the number one generator of their own e-waste... most of it is NOT from imports. So I guess I'm the Johnny Appleseed of sustainable programs, having suffered the same reversals in Vermont. After losing my job and being stuck with bills for e-waste collected in Vermont in 2001 (the original partner kept the grant but did not pay the ewaste bills - I worked them off), and being the only employee driving a rusty truck in 2003, collecting ewaste in Northeast Kingdom Vermont and Northern NH, and paying all the money I collected to the truck and the CRT glass processor, I can tell them this is normal.