When waste occurs in the used goods and recycling export trade, it is from the same causes as waste produced in "brand new" and "tested working" markets (described in "Legal Dual Party Intent" parts I and II). The remedy for waste is 1) Intent, and 2) Communication, and 3) Cost internalization. We call this "Fair Trade".
Fair Trade recognizes demand. When you have very strong and very legitimate demand, it's best not to over-restrict trade, but to reward instead the "Best Available" practices and technologies. Profitable exchanges with "Techs of Color" will leverage the trade to achieve even better outcomes.
Fair Trade is not perfect trade. The two parties must enter into an agreement which is transparently with intent to improve outcomes, but it's a business. Exchange rates fluctuate, demand fizzles and soars, and longshoremen are known to handle goods roughly. The world is better off when good people nevertheless attempt those contracts. The World Bank, USAID, Peace Corps, and Kiva all know that there is risk to making loans, doing business, and getting your hands dirty. But a surgeon who is afraid to pick up a scalpel may as well get out of the way.
A shiny conscience has as much value as an uncirculated coin... valuable to collectors only.
Whether the e-waste in the developing nation comes from brand new product which breaks down, new products returned to the (developing-nation) manufacturer under warranty, a material handler on a fast forklift, improperly inspected "tested working" products for exports, or lazy "toxics along for the ride", it's there. Every one of these activities has the same result - a broken circuit board in a developing nation - it is foolish to say that each activity is equal. A result is not a verb, and is not necessarily a crime. What we need is communication and dual party intent.
Environmentalists' challenge is to look at each activity closely, and determine if the importers and exporter are communicating correctly, and providing incentives to correct for cost externalization. If neither party has the intent to pollute, then you can say that the "e-waste" was generated upon receipt, and must be dealt with properly. It's unnecessary to say that an "e-waste" crime has been committed by the generator with good intentions, who is filling a need.
The biggest misconception in the "E-waste Industry" is the pretense that perfectly repaired-in-USA goods are available, and importers just cannot find them. The USA doesn't fix things as well as Egypt or India or China does. We invent new things. Faced with a pile of working (but untested) computers, the "best available" practice is to allow Techs of Color to (at worst) repair them without resorting to underground smuggling.
When you enter this trade and record each transaction, patterns become clear when "transboundary" shipments of non-working product accumulate in non-OECD countries. Failure to test the product is not high on the list.
1) Circumstances beyond control of the parties to the trade.
Acts of god and congress. When a load of working computers is intercepted in Egypt, and customs officials seize the goods and dismantle them, waste occurs. Storms, accidents in handling by longshoremen, etc. are other examples.
2) Mistakes in planning, changes in markets
An importer may buy 10,000 televisions, working etc., which they have sold in the past, and find they can only sell 8,000 of them. Diminishing returns on inventory happens in brand new product, resulting in "surplus property". This is more likely to be discarded, but was never illegal or intended. The same occurs when sellers of tested working equipment fail to understand that languages, hemispheric changes, voltage, and mistaken demand occurs in the tested working, fully functional markets. Communication with the buyer is key.
3) Along for the Ride
When two parties agree strongly on 70% of a load, there is diminished concern over what "rides" on the last portion of a container. If you have a large car trunk, you are more likely to bring more food on a camping trip, and will produce more waste at the campsite. Same principle with a 40 cubic yard container of computer monitors... if you have spaces for 100 more monitors, you may be tempted to toss on monitors outside of the PO (Apple, Sun, 21", Trinitron which are "tested working" are common "TAR" items, not desired in secondary markets overseas). This is the problem WR3A has focused on.
Eliminating the good 70% is a tremendous blunder; reducing the junk 30% is imperative.
In none of the cases above do you see "75%" or "80%" waste in the used electronics trade. Those are simply not repeatable numbers.
Rich nations must deal with "along for the ride" material without burying our heads in the sand, by grouping all Geeks of Color in the same "primitive" boat as children torching wires. Dual Party Intent contracts have been created after visits to buyers, meetings with import officials, operation of a recycling company, years of regulatory experience, a degree in international relations, experience in the Peace Corps in developing countries, etc.
The best available practices and outcomes will be achieved if 1) more good and working equipment is preserved, rather than "cancelled", to give buyers more choice of supplies, 2) there is more communication (dual) with the purchasing market (don't drive them underground), and 3) good people are not afraid to deal with other good people.
As the Wall Street Journal's Alessandro Torello reports, the European Union has been unable to distinguish secondary (recycled) materials trade from trash disposal, and American e-waste advocates seem willing to emulate a bureaucracy which cannot distinguish between Beliden, Umicore, and waste management in Naples. The perfect has become the enemy of the good. In the case of computer reuse, the "perfect" has named the good as it's chief target. Perfect, slow down on the friendly fire. You have set up lofty goals which your followers are not even trying to meet. Your stewards adapted "no intact unit" programs which renounce reuse income, ceding good markets to less scrupulous sellers. In frustration, they are lashing out at those sellers, and impacting the Best Available Fair Trade markets.
Stop the digital bloodshed. This clip from the 1976 Allegro Non Troppo, the "Italian Fantasia" movie by Bruno Bozetto, is a tribute to what can happen to a Coke bottle, and what extraction and consumption is on a path towards.