Deafening Silence. E-Waste Soccer & The Accidental Racist

The California Compromise still has much potential.

But the Geeks-of-Color (the R2 Factory in Asia which offers most downstream due diligence) received a letter of enforcement days after meeting online at the E-Scrap Conference.  BAN denies having purposefully contacted their government, but they are now planning to get out of the business.  The new rule, circulating in developing nations like a bad flu, is "4 years old" from date of manufacture.

A 4 year old cell phone is different than a 4 year old CRT.   But all electronics have been grouped together by well meaning bureaucrats, and the result is an purchase order which is impossible to fill.  The best CRTs on the market right now are 7 years old (ones made in Korea, but barely used).  Working or no, the instruction to our factory partner is that a September 2006 monitor is "ewaste".  That would require an entirely new application for import, and the SB20 rewrite would become exponentially more complicated.

Hopefully they will remain in the recycling business (they are the primary CRT glass collector, supplying Samsung with CRT glass collected from within their country).

There are several other "Geeks of Color" factories we can do this with.  But how can I tell them for sure that the last vendor wasn't whacked as a result of coming out publicly?   Hard to argue against the feeling that "no good deed goes unpunished".   I would have to coin a new term to convey the understanding of the geek importers of the anti-export watchdogs... "The Accidental Racists".

The invitations to NRDC to tour the factory have gone unanswered.  The California SB20 processors seem afraid to pick up the ball, and we really need California policy to be driven by someone closer than Vermont and Seattle (the two most active people in the discussion being and  People are re-circulating the tired argument that any device which will fail someday (including new) will one day be ewaste, and it's better to leave the kids in Africa barefoot than to sell them a monitor that will work until 2020.  Even BAN doesn't subscribe to the ban on export of working equipment, but they are oddly silent when their E-Stewards tell regulators that the Stewardship Rule is "no intact unit".

The UN has a group that gets it, which could intervene.  They came at WR3A's invitation to Vermont, and seemed to understand the challenges and opportunities.  But during the California Compromise meetings, they only participate enough to say "please deliver 112 computers to Haiti on this date", not seeming to understand the role they need to play in the policy discussions.

Meanwhile, my company in Vermont and Mexico is having its busiest month ever.  We are trans-shipping CRTs from the maquila north to be processed in Arizona, and bringing the refined cullet feedstock back to the smelter, in 4 loads.  We are on a one-day-event rampage in Rhode Island, trying to meet our collection goals for the OEM programs.  We are trying to put together partnerships prior to the new Vermont S.77 legislation starting.

This morning I realized I'm in a soccer game.  Who cares about Fair Trade?  Not Americans.

The techs-of-color are in desperate communication with us.  They call weekly via skype from several nations.  They want us to rescue them from the choice they've been dealt...  Angola, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico, Egypt, Senegal, Costa Rica, India, China...  They all know WR3A and are eager to see Fair Trade succeed.  Their other choices?

Option 1:   To be shot at by "Racists of Conscience", who depict their brightest 23-year-old techs as wire burning monkeys.  When one of their clean refurbishing factories is "clubbed to death" in 2010, there is no apology for the rough tackle from the non-profits, only a silent rewriting of their past "unnecessary force".  Allen H. at NRDC, was apparently allowed to change his quote about primitive wire-burning in the Boston Globe (the quote now has "bracketed explanation"), but nevertheless continues the cartoonish portrayal, via his blog, like another "late hit".  Like American Football, this game is played with big money for big pieces of equipment - shredders.

Option 2: To accept "Toxics Along for the Ride" by USA exporters who use the export market to dish out just enough pollution to make the transport acceptable to pay for.   Like American Baseball players, they play a game of statistics, stealing bases, calling fouls.  Mixing in just enough old stuff to be carried by the value of new stuff, sending CRTs "forced home" to factories without inspection, and without paying a fair value for those that must be dismantled.

WR3A is in a game of soccer which the rest of the world cares about, but which the E-Waste industry won't offer prime-time coverage of.   My friend in Malaysia told me the day before yesterday that they have appreciated all we have done, but that at the rate we achieve progress, the cost of LCDs falls.   We appear to be steering the ocean liner just fast enough to reform CA SB20 and have no more market for the product.  A moral victory for Fair Trade, but not enough for California or BAN to play the role open to them - to become the best possible supplier of the best possible products, creating sustainable jobs in countries offered only mining and wire burning.

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