Indian Graveyards and PC Hospitals

I wrote this at JFK airport, with a 5.5 hour delay for a flight overseas.  I was consciously thinking about slowing down my posts.  I had already stepped on my own headline with E-Scrap News and the WR3A annual meeting which will now be held there.  But darn, this is a good article I found on Boingo. Travellers know, Boingo is a "hotspot" not a publication - the article from India I found in  Computer Graveyards, a walk through the 'e-slums" of Mumbai.

The photos capture a lot like things I have seen.  You have to spend some time, let your eyes adjust.  You begin to recognize that two photos are embarrassing messes, and two photos show bootstrapping techies creating wealth they can be proud of.  Yes, proud, even though they are poor.

This text too looks at first glance like another anti-export diatribe.  But read it closely.  The author, Sriram Sharma, gets to know Harshit Patel of the Indian place "Techshop", an e-commerce website that resells computer hardware.  The Indian company has an e-cycle takeback program, similar to our "cash for clunkers" project with Retroworks de Mexico.    
Even though the zone here doesn’t exactly meet environmental standards; there is one good thing about this place, said Harshit. “The people here help reduce e-waste by working and identifying which parts are working. They take it and reassemble it into a working computer and sell it.”
What's not so great about the article is the repeated anecdote substituted for data  
According to SVTC, only 10 % of e-waste is recycled responsibly. “The rest are openly burned, soaked in acid baths, and dumped into rivers or piled into mountains of e-waste for scrap recovery.”
Ok, great, I thought it was 80%,  or 75%, or "fifty-fifty", or 15% bad, or 30% bad... all stats I've profiled on this blog from different sources.  I think "e-waste" represents the most journalism ever posted about the least amount of scientific data.   Ok, now it's 90% bad, (the source - SVTC) but the author is also talking to an Indian technician who does this and clearly he has a brain and experience, but fails to ask him his own opinion.

When I talk to techies overseas, they tell me the crap they get is domestic.  Sometimes it was western reuse by origin, but it wore out years ago and was returned.  If you gauge their enthusiasm, they want the stuff from wealthy countries - that's where (as Ms Fang said) "the candy is".

Harshit is the kid in class, if you were a Peace Corps teacher like me, you'd be really excited to follow in his later years.  He is totally able to do this, like the women in Mexico or our contract manufacturing partners. The environmental savings are much greater than recycling in the USA.  Every time he fixes something that was "good enough" for someone to get online, but which did not require new manufacturing, he scores mega sustainability points.  From the article:
The Earth from Above exhibition quotes a 2004 UNU report which states that it takes 1.8 tonnes of materials to make a desktop computer and a monitor. This includes 240 kg of fossil fuels, and 22 kg of chemicals. Pound for pound, it is a lot more energy intensive than the automobile industry. The same report gives readers a good reason to support durable products with a good servicing ethic, and platforms with a lesser number of upgrade lifecycles: “The energy savings potential of reselling or upgrading is some 5-20 times greater than recycling.” says Eric Williams, author of the paper.
And by trading with him - fairly, and accurately, and with full accounting - you are building up a guy named Harshit, who will become the recycling infrastructure founder India needs, to boot.  I would like to talk to the author, and to Harshit Patel, about what they think of the Fair Trade Recycling approach, compared to boycotts and shredding.

Graveyards, yes, but hospitals too.  You don't close the hospital when you find dead people there.

Here is someone making the same point from TED... TED fellow Dominic Muren says what I've been trying to say about prioritizing e-waste, and the perfect becoming the enemy of the good. Not sure who is saying it better, but two advocates are better than one. 

His monologue "RECYCING IS STUPID" is specifically about shredding electronics which could have been reused, and why on a global warming basis that is bad. I don't like the headline but have rewritten it for this blog.  I don't like headlines that mimic the #1 Myth about E-Waste, even when they nail several other Myths on the way.
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