Truth about "E-Waste" Globalization

1)  What do developed countries do better than emerging economies?

They have a population which cares immediately about the environment, and which reacts politically when the environment is harmed or their health is endangered.  This creates a stronger regulatory environment.  A point I have made in past academic blogs is that regulatory enforcement is proportionate to property values, which is the actual key to "environmental justice" (low income populations generate low property values, which demand less civil law focus, which is an indicator of other law focus).

2)  What do emerging nations do better than developed countries?

The lifecycle of most devices is much longer, because it is worth it to maintain and repair and reuse an item when its value represents a high percentage of your income.   This is also true of parts (chips, capacitors, RAM sticks) and also recyclables, which are typically sorted and graded into higher [reuse] value categories.  This spreads the carbon and other pollution impacts over a greater usage and benefit, and should be recognized as a positive environmental contribution by Geeks of Color.

3)  What are the practical limits of reuse exports?

For direct reuse, there is a point where the value of the item is worth the repair labor, but the user at that level does not have electricity... there are diminishing (bummer) returns.  Eventually black and white, 40 year old TVs may still be fully functioning ---  but dudes the used 10 year old color TVs will be so cheap that there won't be a market for the black and white even.   People who are in need of food, medicines, and tools will not spend any portion of their income on a device which they cannot aspire to use. 

4)  What are the practical limits of e-scrap recycling exports?

The practical limits of recycling copper, aluminum, and other value items is limited only by the unemployment level.  Compared to mining the same amount of "hard rock" metal, it's practically, like, limitless.  Because it's not limited by electricity, fuel, etc... A human scavenger is competing with a huge frickin' machine.

Proper dismantling and recycling jobs could be open to the poorest people, if they were paid well and trained - at least, the idea should not be dismissed.  The point is that the recycling value added is not bound by the same "electricity" and other practical limits of reuse.  If you export a copper bearing item, even working, to a region without electricity in homes, they may well cash out the raw material value by recycling it.  Functionality does not bring value to a community without electricity. 

The issue with export-for-recycling is to compensate the factories to allow for transport of difficult-to-manage materials (CRTs and other "focus materials) to a place where they will get recycled. This is why I chose a place in Mexico close to a mine and smelter, and our reuse factory is close to a CRT glass furnace.  It's not that hand disassembly is bad, or that shipping CRT glass to an African lead mine is impossible, it's just that those costs need to be covered. We have demonstrated that in many cases, they can be covered by the value of the repairable items, but only if the ratio of repairable/working is at around 70%.  Below that, the materials can still be managed well, but may need to be paid for if the trade is to be "fair".

5)  Who is most likely to be a good trading partner to an African entrepreneur?

Certainly not someone who refuses to trade with the African entrepreneur, or who calls for it to be illegal for anyone at all to trade with him/her.  That person is worse than worthless.

6) What does Adam Smith have to do with this?

Adam Smith demonstrated that if there are two tribes, and one makes arrowheads twice as well as the other, and the same one makes arrow shanks THREE times as well as the other, that more wealth is created if the faster tribe stops making arrowheads and only makes shafts.  Even though the slower trip is half as fast at making the arrowheads, more wealth is created if the first society does what it does BEST and leaves the poorer tribe to do what the first tribe does second best.

This is pretty mathematically sound.  If you watch History channel, you can also see how the copper mines of Eritrea demonstrated this 3000 years ago.

Emerging nations repair, reuse, and recycle well.   Allowing them to build on that is not abusing them unless you underpay them and fail to give them financial incentives to do as much as should be done.  Shutting down a factory in Indonesia because it replaces capacitors, making a computer look and work like new, without mining or remelting or refining, because the factory PROPERLY recycles the removed capacitor, and you have defined proper recycling as a "form of disposal".... ugghhh.  

A serious crime was committed last February, when someone at a "no export" e-waste company told BAN that the Indonesian factory was importing hazardous E-Waste, and BAN informed the Indonesian government that the containers contained "waste" and "hazardous waste".

A serious crime was committed when BAN and NRDC and ETB publicly led people to believe the factory was primitive and backwards and polluting.   But this week something new came to light.  The exact same export container shipper to the SKD factory, Gordon Chui, is the same one that ERI exported 6.9M pounds of 'breakage' to.

Yes, it's the same guy.  And if I defended  him in February as someone who was being wrongly accused of dumping purely because of his ethnicity, I don't see how I can now accuse Fresno of doing something wrong by exporting through the same guy.

What I can object to is the way they abandoned him, just like they abandoned the glass pile in Yuma.  If it was my container that was held up to my face, I would not say "I've seen the light".  I would say that my export partner is a good man.  "Touche Pas a Mon Pote."

The most avid followers of this messed up, perfect is the enemy of the good, anti-export philosophy are people who have never even been out of the USA and who think laptops and tablets are being made in Silicon Valley, and who have never even heard of "Shenzhen".  I am not saying that all recycling overseas is clean and wonderful.  I'm just saying it is not that complicated, and given a few simple fair trade incentives, we can build R2 recycling factories with friends in other countries which we can be proud of.  I dream that my grandchildren will have more loyalty to their dot-com address than to their passports, and that national boundaries will mean little because the standard of living will be no more different crossing from USA to Mexico than it is crossing from Switzerland to Austria.

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