Basel Action Network: How to Debate Policy

A decade ago, a small organization in Seattle Washington used pictures to embarrass the scrap recycling industry.  The result was positive.   Our recycling industries have vastly improved our accountability because of the constructive criticism from Basel Action Network.

Refurbishing Technician in Singapore
This year I decided to return the favor.   The BAN organization has taken on more responsibility, and has more clout.  But it needs to mature, and take account of the unintended consequences of simplistic, cartoonish portrayals of the scrap and reuse industry.   Simply scolding people like Robert Tonetti, Eric Harris of ISRI, or Eric Williams of Arizona State University won't do. 

BAN has done well, and should be comfortable with their role as "certifier" or judge of proposed processes.  It is very different from the role of "advocate".   Unintended consequences are building up.   Kenya is banning used computers, Egypt is intercepting working monitors intended for hospitals, and the best and brightest of contract manufacturing takeback programs in Indonesia were sent letters to stop imports (to refurbish only monitors generated in Indonesia - far lower quality than those they had purchased from the USA).  

A Refurbishing Technician in Tatooine
When I first met Donald Summers, BAN's consultant (and Middlebury College alum), he said his most important advice was not to let "the perfect become the enemy of the good".  That was two years ago. It would be a step forward for BAN to publicly admit that the majority of the CRT monitors circled in China were not headed for Guiyu.  They were purchased by factories which I sent BAN pictures of several years ago.  The Chinese government has now banned their import, it is true, but not for environmental reasons - China bans the import of week-old Pentium 4 dual core laptops.   It is a protectionist ploy, more pertinent to the Doha round of the WTO negotiations than any waste disposal covered by Basel Convention.

At times my discussions with (or around) BAN have been cordial, at times less so.  The organization needs to recognize that protectionist and censorship and planned obsolescence are riding their good intentions.  Tomorrow's post is a concrete example of an "export for repair" which BAN and I could not come to terms with 5 years ago.   What the discussion of the tiny capacitor says about interpreting Basel Convention Annex IX (legal exports), about BAN's interpretation of the Convention, and what BAN is willing to do to win their argument, is cause for study by policy makers at the UN, at EPA, and at Interpol.

Tomorrow's post also unveils the breakdown between R2 Standards and E-Stewards Certification. BAN and WR3A had argued the rules governing a very small component which has led to millions of dollars of opportunities, warranty returns, outrageous claims of pollution, and a breakdown in civil discussion between well-meaning organizations:  The Clone Wars is one suggested title, but really its (Factory) Return of the Capacitors.  It looks a bit dry, which is why I'm going to set it aside for further editing tonight.  But it tells a tale of people who do repair and refurbishment, people a lot like a young Anakin Skywalker repairing droids and sky racers in Episode I of Star Wars.   In Episode I, you have a combination of images which are both sophisticated and primitive... That sums up the developing world today, where the most modern Cities may be found in non-OECD nations.  The bigger the national boundary, the more jarring the city-state juxtaposition.
Next:  The Capacitor Wars

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