50,000 Years

Finished the VT, NH, MA, NC, VT, RI, Los Angeles, San Diego, MA, VT tour last night.

In my last few hours in LA, having had dinner (spicy Hunan frog) with our visitors from Malaysia, I drove past LAX and parked at the Pacific beach just under the airport.  Maybe 20 people straggling around the beach, drinking by their cars, bicycling, starting a fire.  I changed to jeans and rubber shoes.

Standing on the sand and watching the Pacific, I had a very strange and clear sense which I can best describe as a "vision".   Like Black Elk, the Sioux Indian whose memories were recorded by my great grandfather's friend John G. Neihardt, I had a vision of the earth 50,000 years from now.

Would there be humans?  50,000 years is not long at all from evolution's perspective.   But it's so much longer than recorded history.

It would be plenty of time for rain forests to grow back, but not enough time to evolve new species to populate them.

What can I do to make an impact that would make a difference 50,000 years from now? It was so clear to me standing there, the vision of standing there on the same beach in 50,000 years.  I cannot imagine anything I teach my children would not be washed away from the years.  I cannot imagine anything I write would still be remembered or recorded.  In geologic time, it is such a short period of time, but in human history, it's an impossibly long time to reach towards.

All I can do is try to have an impact on species preservation, to lessen the violent speed of extinctions.  Is that best done by improving human's life conditions, so they have fewer kids and more education?  Or does improving their living conditions make them aspire for more consumption?   Increasing populations ability to consume always increases their consumption exponentially.  Probably eliminating malaria and HIV will blunt population growth somewhat, but just as likely the smaller population will want more stuff.

The issue of e-waste remains the consumption of rare earth metals, as in consumption and disposal.  Ironically, tin (leadfree) solder increases the same consumption of the rare metals mining.  The story of ewaste which will be remembered 50 years from now will probably be the tantalum mining in Congo rainforests to make cell phones, which are held in drawers to tossed away in an eventual housecleaning.  We need to mine human ore before we mine beaches and rain forests.

That's the farthest I can see of my own impact, that somehow I'll slightly slow the speed of the bullet driving into the rainforest by scavenging metals from the waste stream.   In my vision of 50,000 years, it was not a meaningful contribution that I made.  But hopefully, the desire to do good, the desire to care about the earth 50,000 years from now, that itself is the impact we are not creating but experiencing.  Hopefully the selfish consumption is a pants-pooping stage of human endeavor.  Conservation itself, caring about future unknown, gene washed generations, is what will be more widespread in 50,000 years. The gut feeling that throwing away something which was created with such violent extraction as a cell phone retains some value that we cannot see, and that paying to recycle it seems right somehow.  In our gut, we see past the mining subsidies and superfund subsidies, and refuse to throw away the bloody copper, paladium, aluminum, and stainless steel.

That the same gut feeling must somehow survive through the next 5,000 generations, so that someday, 50,000 years from now, someone else may stand on the beach, wondering and caring about the next 50,000 years.

It makes me wonder who stood on the beach in 49,010 BC.

I remember when I re-read Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks.  I was lying on the carpet in the living room of my grandmother and great aunt, Frieda Ingenthron and Maude Freeland, in the home of William E. Freeland, my great grandfather.   My dad strolled by, and asked in "interrupting dad speak" what I was reading.

I sighed and told him, in certainty he would not know what I was talking about, so matter of factly, "Black Elk Speaks".  Expecting at most a "Huh," and hoping that another interrupting question would not follow.

"Oh, John Neihardt," dad said.  I was surpised he knew the author and the book.  Then, "Do you remember him?"

I didn't answer, surprised by the turn in the conversation.

"I don't suppose so, you were too young.  He was good friends with (great grandfather Freeland) Paw-paw.  They used to see each other a couple times a year, they knew each other from the Indian service."

I am very sure that I would have been moved by Black Elk's vision without this close call with with celebrity.   That I write about the connection seems trite, and cheapens the elder's visions, turning this into an excuse to write about myself rather than a description of the vision of 50,000 years.

But at that time on the beach, 36 hours or so ago, the sense of vision seemed profound.  I like profound.  I want profound.   Profound rules. 

The profoundness of the speech of Black Elk trumps Neihardt, trumps my dad and his grandfather, and means something because he was willing to speak about a vision.  Because I have read and believe in peoples with visions, I am able to hold visions and to recognize the difference between a vision and a celebrity encounter.  50,000 years from now does not make me more important, but 50,000 years from now, the best hope I have is that mankind will hold visions of what will matter in the next 50,000 yeasrs.   And we will have long banned restaurants that serve shark fins, and cell phones made out of gorilla habitats, and stop discarding a tiny piece of e-waste metal which came to us at a greater cost than a baby seal pelt.

I hope and trust the spicy Hunan frog was not an endangered species, like Ozark terrapin turtles, fox bats, whales, bushmeat, and baby shark fins.   Maybe it gave me visions.

BAN Response to our Blog

(from a hotel room in San Diego)

Two months ago, Resource Recycling magazine asked to pick up a post from this blog which I had titled "We Shouldn't Have to Make That Choice" (an allusion to Jim Puckett's response to CBS News reporter Scott Pelley, when he asked whether other jobs were available in Guiyu).  The theme was to question whether too many "E-Stewards" have taken the "no export" pledge too far, at the expense of pricing themselves out of the market, and worse, forcing legitimate buyers to find the legitimate exports they need from "back alley" sellers.  That's the question... doesn't BAN need to send a message that reuse is good, and that reform of the export market is better than "banning" certain exports of repair, reuse, and recycling.

As most know, I don't like people having to give up NON-toxic, value added, repair and refurbishment careers overseas.  Given a choice between burning a wire generated in China or refurbishing a computer monitor from America for resale, the poor will be less poisoned and far more enriched by the refurbishing of western goods than by the further scrounging of the dregs.  Should we eliminate dregs from Western exports?  Absolutely.   Does the removal of a 128 stick of RAM and replacing it with a 512 stick of ram constitute pollution?  Ridiculous.

Here is a post on Toxics Alert summing up the debate between Puckett and Ingenthron.

1)  That my post damaging to their integrity.  Jim assured me he was not threatening a suit.   I think I sprinkled more allusions to BAN's well meaning effort and the positive effects of bringing Toxics Along for the Ride to the discussion of exports.  I think my post tried to balance the good and the bad outcomes, while questioning whether "the perfiect is the enemy of the good".

2)  BAN members alleged that Ingenthron was not aware of the latest clarifications by convention stakeholders with regard to exports of e-waste for repair.    This was a reference the the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative, on the export for reuse and repair of cell phones.  Since it has not been published (due February), they should have said "everyone is not aware" and not pinned that on me.  Their E-Stewards certainly are not aware.  But first things first: I was not writing about cell phones.  Second, there is no consensus document published about the latest arguments between the "stakeholders", and if you have to have attended the latest meeting with Jim in order to read the ratified text of an agreement, then we should run like hell from the Basel Convention.   The section I referred to in Annex IX, B1110, is explicitly about CRTs and was passed and we have a legal import permit.  For BAN to state that a meeting in Switzerland trumps a written import permit referencing the text of the Basel Convention is legally absurd.

3) Again about MPPI, "In clarifying the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI) Guideline negotiations, Puckett says that all of the Basel Parties at the table agreed that whenever an export takes place for repair and hazardous parts are discarded, they fall under the Convention. BAN incorporated that guidance now adopted by 172 countries into the e-Steward Standard."  We did not say that repair is not covered, we said it IS explicitly covered and is explicitly legal. We do not discard parts! We had the entire end-of-life trail of each component audited, at great cost to both the USA and overseas WR3A members. Furthermore, the MPPI Chairman's letter agrees with us that repair is good and reuse is good and the challenge is to keep it from becoming a loophole for waste dumping.  That is exactly WR3A's approach, any removed parts must not be discarded but properly recycled.  The disagreement between BAN and WR3A is whether repair (under conditions of Annex IX and MPPI) is better than "Tested Working".  I still intend to write about the MPPI, but for now, it's just a non-sequeter.  The MPPI does NOT say TESTED WORKING, and does not talk about computers.  No, it says what WR3A says, which is the fallout (removed parts and unrepairable units) must be recycled properly.

4)  "In one particularly contentious part of his original Talking Points editorial, Ingenthron accused BAN of being responsible for Malaysia's decision last year to prohibit importation of U.S. CRT glass. Puckett contests that claim, making available a letter which shows that he had instead offered Malaysia a legal way to continue such import, but Malaysia refused to accept it."
That is not exactly what I said, but let's go with it.  BAN's letter to the Malaysia DOE speaks for itself, and Malaysia DOE and Samsung's abrupt end to purchases of CRT cullet from the USA weeks later speak more in favor of my sources.  I did not say BAN did not set out conditions of compromise.  I simply said Samsung bought CRT washing equipment, which it uses, and BAN stated that they could not wash glass, and they stopped buying glass.  BAN's letter supports my contention 100%.   I never said BAN meant ill, I just said they are attacking CRT glass, which under the CRT Glass test is only produced by recyclers who are doing the RIGHT thing and removing bad glass.  The outcome of their letter is more mining for Samsung and higher costs for those of us removing TAR.

The Toxics Alert piece names me personally and refers to my personal motives.  I am only human, and whether or not my motives are pure, I get mad when people say things like this about me, and I tend to say things back.  BAN evidently no longer believes my motives to be environmental, but that in traveling overseas to set up a refurbishing factory with ISO9000, ISO14001, R2 audits, end market tracking, a legal permit to operate, and which donates a percentage of their refurbished computers to Malaysian and Indonesian schools, that I am "self serving".   Gee, perhaps NPR got it all wrong when the covered the Las Chicas Bravas recycling project, and our goal is not to empower the export market with legally enforceable agreements and rights to charge for higher standards, but really it is about a cover up, and our goal is to enslave.  I suppose a doctor who cures patients is self serving, and I shouldn't dismiss this outright.  But it would be a lot cheaper, wouldn't it, to just sell the stuff and mix in the bad stuff? That is the cross-fire we find ourselves in, between competitors who don't give a rats ass about CRT glass markets because they don't remove the bad units, and E-Stewards who all seem to have drunk the "tested working" kool-aid that BAN floated at R2 but which was shot down.  BAN argued against export for repair, then left to start their own E-Stewards Certification o'er the definition of "key functions".   If it's actually acceptable for E-Stewards to do the same as R2, and to export to factories like WR3A's partners, which are both legal and safe, then why is E-Stewards necessary?

I wish my response to BAN's response could be less defensive, and perhaps we should stick to the discussion of Annex IX B1110 (about CRTs), and spent less time impugning one another.   Jim and Sarah may be overwhelmed, they are smart people, but they treated my opinion piece like it was a cartoon of Allah, and have published a response which clearly seeks to harm my business and my staff and my business partners.   If the Basel Convention is in fact to become a law, as I hope it will, it must leave open the conditional doors to refurbishment, as it does.  More importantly, it must be a legal document for regulators to interpret and enforce, and not subject to the fatwahs of self-appointed ayatollahs who threaten the dreams of Mexican grandmothers in one sentence, while saying that export for repair is legal in another sentence (and that we had mischaracterized the term "tested working").

If I have been doing this for years, I can only imagine how confused their supporters like HessTech and WeRecycle and other E-Stewards must be.

Killer Text in Product Stewardship Bills

At the same time that US Congress is forced to draft the "Right to Repair Act" to mandate manufacturers comply with parts replacement and repair expectations (auto manufacturers are allegedly increasingly using a "EULA" agreement in the car's computer to thwart repair shops), Product Stewardship activists continue to astound me by putting the following language into bills... (this one from Maine LD1631, An Act to Provide Leadership...."

§ 1785 Anticompetitive conduct
A producer or stewardship organization, including a producer's or stewardship organization's officers, members, employees and agents that organize product stewardship programs required under this chapter, is authorized to engage in anticompetitive conduct to the extent necessary to plan and implement a product stewardship program and is immune from liability under state laws relating to antitrust enforcement, restraint of trade, unfair trade practices and other regulation of trade or commerce for this purpose.

Ralph Nader spends his 20s forcing OEMs to allow repair and warranty items, and to ban anti-competitive conduct, and here we are throwing concessions like party favors in order to reduce the disposal cost of a durable item you only throw out once every 10 years.  For the price somewhere between the cost of a Starbucks coffee and a Tappen Zee bridge toll, we throw out 10 years of PIRG legislation?

Resource Curse - Robin's Theory on the Paradox of Plenty

The "Resource Curse" is described well in the opening of the Wikipedia entry...
"The resource curse (also known as the paradox of plenty) refers to the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources, specifically point-source non-renewable resources like minerals and fuels, tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."

One theory is that the concentration of wealth from a raw material source provokes military coups and use of violence to take control over the fountainhead.   Those activities are inefficient and retard economic and social development.   Sounds plausible, but resource-rich nations like Saudi Arabia have not had coups (at least, since the days of Ibn Saud).

My hypothesis is that young people are attracted to jobs. If the best jobs are doling out government handouts, or running defense networks, or brokering government controlled easements to forests and oil fields, that is where the youth competes for jobs. There are not many engineering jobs (for locals) created at an oilfield operations in comparison to government jobs administering shares of that resource. What skills are rewarded in competiton for those cushy "functionaire" jobs is the problem.

For young career-seekers, the job skills that matter in those resource-rich, "command and control" economies, are probably "personality skills" and "connections" rather than technical education. Aggressiveness, popularity, personal connections, charisma, name recognition, other leadership qualities, probably trump reading, writing and arithmetic.

A national government without a natural resources "tax base" is stuck taxing small business and agriculture. That country is not likely to have as many government jobs that would attract 20-somethings, in comparison to the "resource rich" nation. There are relatively fewer cushy government jobs for the same number of candidates, which would leave some smart and talented people looking elsewhere. One indicator of test of that hypothesis would be that you'd expect more overseas medical school applications per capita from a country like India, and fewer from Kuwait.

In a resource poor country like 1950s Singapore, South Korea, or Japan, I would predict that more young people would make money by repairing high tech stuff. TV repair, monitor repair, engine block repair, etc. were all prevalent in these countries three decades ago, because a person with knowledge can learn a skill (circuitry schematics).   When the jobs are in technical repair, I would expect that kids stay in school, and that families reinforce knowledge and study skills rather than aggressiveness and charisma.

Reminder from previous posts, this is a rough outline of the "evolution" of the technical manufacturing market in places like Guangdong, Singapore, etc.
  1. Repair is taking an appliance from a consumer and fixing it to give back to the consumer.
  2. Refurbishment is taking appliances (scavenged or purchased) to repair to sell to a 3rd party consumer.
  3. Contract manufacturing is running a company on behalf of an OEM which chooses to outsource the manufacture. Counterfeiting is basically doing the same thing, but without the OEM's permission or revenue sharing. Either one can be done with used parts... with or without the knowledge of the OEM. This whole area is called the "gray market".
  4. Reverse-engineering is taking working and non-working used appliances and taking them apart and putting them back together again to learn how to manufacture new ones, and making your own OEM brand.

My theory is that all of these activities bring in very high wealth in comparison to fishing or agriculture, leading to Buffet-esque growth in nations which can get their hands on large quantities of appliances to repair from developed countries. The Natural Resources curse is to the degree it distracts smart people who could be on the mechanical path to growth, and either brings them into non-productive government sectors or makes new products affordable (less need or value in repair), or both.

Here is a slide show from Cairo which shows how the business works.

E-waste piles in such a place would be residue from a value-added operation. As the nation succeeds and develops, it will (in this interpretation) lift its buckets as it climbs, and develop environmental procedures. The ewaste will be cleaned up more quickly if a fair trade contract is implemented to offer incentives

This dovetails with another theory I may have already written about, which says that displaced peoples (Jews, Palestinians, Bamilekes, Taiwanese) quickly free the percentage of "first born" tied to agriculture. Take two families with three kids who own land - one of the three kids has to stay to caretake or preserve the family's property, leaving only two for medical school, engineering, or remanufacturing. The displaced peoples will be allowed send a higher percentage of their children into higher education or trades. Statistically, this would result in higher income per capita.

It is unheard of that a displaced people gets chased into a resource-rich place, though I have a third "Beverly Hillbillies Bedoin" theory about what happens when the least educated, poorest, most ignorant and religious group suddenly finds wealth.

"Let me tell you all a story about a man named Jed..."

The slides of my visit to the Egypt repair operation, Medi-Com (which was refurbishing computers for resale to medical schools and med school students in Cairo) are from a partner from a Palestinian family. You know what SUCKS? The BAN and Greenpeace press about "dumping in Africa" screwed this up.

There are a lot of days that I feel very frustrated. While Kiva.org is pairing do-gooders with businesspeople overseas to develop sustainable jobs, other do-gooders are, hopefully without intention, screwing up these peoples' sustainable, development-track, operations. The ban on ewaste exports takes away the development path which brought prosperity to Signapore, but they don't want to allow us to replace it with a fair trade alternative. And BAN is ignoring my pleas to promote a "fair trade" solution, labelling me a self interested, selfish, self serving businessman. And an "apologist" for ewaste dumping.

BAN will probably win this argument in the popular media. The ewaste legislation is passing. The OEMs know how to raise the barrier to entry for competitors, and are anxious to stop counterfeiting and reverse engineering and market cannibalization. Some companies with a lot more money than Las Chicas Bravas has are circulating a story that export for repair is illegal under the Basel Convention (it is explicitly stated, in writing, that export for repair and refurbishment is LEGAL, is not waste, is a commodity! This is like saying "The Bible never mentions Jesus", citing the source (Basel Convention) to state the opposite of what the source says. "Tested" is not in the Basel Convention, the convention states that you look at the process and determine whether export of Annex VIII pollution is the result or the intent of the trade. That requires a fair trade contract, and measure of the fallout, and reconciliation of the waste. Like WR3A does, and like MPPI calls for.

What's great is that I can publish a blog, and that people at MIT and in India and in Peru and in China are reading it and sending me encouragement, and that history will test whether my hypotheses are valid.

Or maybe I'm all wrong. I like learning I'm wrong. There are several things I was fascinated by in the past (Mars polar caps changing, could it be a signal that climate change is affected by other than human intervention? I get a good explanation, and I don't keep writing about it). When you keep repeating something you have learned is wrong, it is either a sign of self interest or of stupidity. BAN's theory is that I am self-interested. My banker's theory is that I am not sufficiently self-interested.

Islam Peace Activist

I don't know how I got the spammail. Reader beware.

It appears to be something I might have written if I were Muslim.

For all I know, it is riddled with executable files and will take over the western world. But still, it looks to me like Huck Finn.

Since 50% of my export business is with Islamic countries (Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia), I read these posts seriously.

To me, it looks like it was written by any one of my trading partners.

To hell with all this protectionism, distrust, etc. "I wish that I knew...


Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters,

God forbid if any one of our near one and dear one is
killed then the killer is evil, a beast and what not
and should get penalty but if one among us kills
anybody then he is not evil and we start lying,
denying or even justifying the killing.... double

Being Muslims, many of our brothers and sisters are
not working for peace. They are misguided, mistaken
and spreading the virus of hatred and revenge through
telling deliberate lies, disinformation and false
accusations, which is resulting in death and miseries
for number of innocent people living around the world
at the hands of merciless KILLER MUSLIMS and also
bringing bad name to Mohammed (PBUH) who never killed
anyone in his life time.

Instead of teaching about Good & Evil, certain Radical
Muslim Clerics are only "Trading in Religion". They
teach us about accusing, abusing and killing the
non-Muslims. They try to hypnotize us to Hate and Kill
the non-Muslims and brethren of other sects or be
killed and without using any common sense, we readily
believe in whatever is being said by these Hate
Mongers. Actually, they are "Agents of Satan" who is
paying them heavily and in return they are cutting at
the very roots of the Ummah. Instead of "Mourning"
most of the Muslims are rejoicing on the brutal
killings of the non-combatant innocent civilians and
"The Murderers" have always been "Our Great Heroes".

Before it is too late and the Curse Of God falls upon
us, we should use common sense, find out the TRUTH and
must change ourselves to save Muslims from becoming
the most "Hated, Isolated, Discredited and Suspicious"
people in the world. We must start working for
promoting "Sectarian Harmony and Religious Tolerance"
in the society and should prove to the WORLD through
our deeds that Islam is not a religion of Zero
Tolerance and Mohammed (PBUH) teaches "Love & Peace"
and not Gangsterism, Terrorism, Barbarism, Extremism,
Sectarianism, Cruelty, Inhumanity and "Hatred &
Killing" of the innocent civilians.

Islam is a religion of peace. Islam teaches respect
and love for all even the animals. But many
narrow-minded Muslims have so far failed to learn
anything good from the teachings of Mohammed (PBUH)
who preaches love for the peoples of all religions. We
are far away from the basic principle of Islam i.e.
"Enjoining the people to do Good and forbidding them
from Doing Evil" and thus, possess no quality of the
civilized society. Unfortunately, many of us show Zero
Tolerance towards others and have wrongly learnt few
thing to be called as good Muslims and those are
"hate" the non-Muslims and "Accusing, Abusing and
Cursing" the non-Muslims. ...act of madness?

The killing of others in the name of religion is a
Sin. Can a FATHER ever teach his Children to be the
permanent Enemies of each other?

The time has come for us to stop readily believing in
whatever is being said, read and written by the LIARS
/ Hate Mongers. Unfortunately, some misguided-Muslims
believe that the Holy Koran and Holy Prophet (PBUH)
both have instructed Muslims that the opponents be
KILLED and that they are simply following the orders.
We should use our own common sense and only believe
which is logical, convincing and in the best interest
of the humanity.

Why do we hate others so much, may be they are better
humans then what we are. My feeling is that the
Muslims should unite to discredit and deactivate the
fringe mullahs (Preachers of Hate) who promise a quick
trip to paradise to people who have little and
sacrifice themselves with bombs strapped to their
bodies. If the mullahs (THE LIARS) thought that it
really was a way to paradise they would be strapping
bombs to themselves! Their followers are kept too
ignorant to see this for themselves and enlightened
Muslims should educate them. We must promote
understanding and peace. We are all watched by the
same God and need to help one another, not Hate and

Our contention is that the WORLD should resolve the
conflicts facing the Muslim World to stop the
terrorism. Unfortunately, all the disputes facing the
Muslim World are our self created. The root causes of
all the disputes are based on the Muslim Philosophy of
Hate against the non-Muslims. The Muslim literature,
teachings and preaching are spreading and injecting
this hatred in hearts and minds of the Muslims. Our
intolerant behavior is further proved by the root
causes of all the pending conflicts that we (Muslims)
cannot live side by side in peace with the
non-Muslims. All the disputes facing Muslim World can
be resolved easily, only if we (the Muslims) are able
to condemn the "Philosophy of Hate" created in us by
our past and present elders who have divided the
peoples of the world in the name of "Religion, Cast
and Creed".

Fellow Muslims! if God is one and he loves mankind, we
should value each others life and strive to protect
each other than thinking that if we kill we shall have
reward. God looks at human beings not as belonging to
different religions, that is why the rain falls to
all, the sun shines to all and we all breathe the air
freely. We are all created or given life in the very
same way- whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew etc.
Let us learn to love each other sincerely.

The change of heart and mind is possible to achieve if
we keep up our relentless efforts for a violence free
and peaceful world. We need to preach love, kindness
and humanity with extremist devotion and mission. The
mullahs (THE LIARS) and the preachers of HATE must be
excommunicated at every level and we should stop
giving them donations as it is our money which is
being used by them to spread HATRED for killing of the

We must also stop dividing the World into Muslim and
non-Muslim blocks. Our political leaders and religious
teachers must offer positive ideas. Without the
ability to imagine a better world, we cannot build
anything together. Tolerance of the beliefs of other
peoples in the world, warmth and friendship across
racial cultures MUST be the objective of all peace
loving people worldwide. What is being offered today
through religion is "Death, Destruction and


Merciful God, please give to peoples of the world, the
required wisdom and determination, to Forgive and
Forget the bitterness of the past and learn to live in
peace like brothers and sisters, by condemning the
divisions and hatreds created in us by our past and
present elders.

Please Read And Circulate this Message For Peace.
Thank you.

Peace Activist

Hornets Nests - E-Waste Debate

I have been contacted recently by people I trust and respect, who question whether it is sane or intelligent to "wave a red flag" at BAN.org or SVTC.org, the self-appointed custodians of e-waste ethics. Jim Puckett himself has most recently called me a "crusader", in kind of semi-non-derogatory way, though he also demanded that I take back a number of things that I cannot, e.g. that the Basel Convention Annex IX explicitly allows used electronics to be exported for repair and refurbishment.

The MPPI standard sets conditions, for cell phones, that the parts replaced or units found unrepairable must be re-imported for proper recycling. This, of course, is what WR3A established some years ago, as we set a standard for the 3 years of record keeping and documentation of actual reuse mandated by EPA in the "export for repair" language of the CRT rule. I've covered the philosophy of proper and fair trade between USA and overseas "refurbishers", some of whom are in actuality "Manufacturer Takeback" programs - the ORIGINAL CRT Monitor factory buying back the monitors it made originally for refurbishment and parts harvesting.

But right now I'm just thanking the people who have given me feedback. Some of it has been cautionary (are you crazy?). Some of it has been stoking my flames. A lot of it has been dialogue.

The purpose of the blog is twofold - to allow open air and sunlight into a vast overseas trade which has been stigmatized, and to properly disclose exactly what my company does and the standards we operate under.

There are plenty of awful export sites to be photographed, and plenty of USA exporters who are at best callous and indifferent to Toxics Along for the Ride. My business has benefited by BAN and SVTC exposing the cheating trade. But there are also important investments of millions of dollars - like in Tech Displays Mexicana and Samsung Corning in Klang, where the perfect has been made the enemy of the good. Recycling has only two enemies - mining and disposal. In either case, "the good is the enemy of the goo". In the "Big Secret Factories" which we trade with, there is a way for the 3B3K - the 3 billion people who make $3,000 per year, to get onto the internet, to tweet, and to expose dictators and create blood banks for maternity wards.

I guess I feel entitled, by having worked side by side with BAN in publishing the CRT Glass Test in 2004, to ask publicly why BAN is itself crusading for standards which affect only the companies which meet the CRT Glass Test, and affect none of the exporters who fail to document proper reuse and recycling.

My belief is that Jim and Sarah and Shiela and Barbara and Ted will understand that the dialogue respects their intelligence and offers them a way to find cracks in the foundation. It is not an easy belief to hold at times. But if they are going to claim that my company is discarding pieces and parts removed (as Jim claimed in a post to the google refurbishers group) rather than following the exact end-of-life trail which R2 and MPPI support, then I believe that withdrawing from the debate would hurt our ability to bridge whatever very small divide exists between the best practices and the perfect practices.

Testing and removing parts BEFORE and item is exported is the "perfect". It is definitely not what MPPI says. What our standards are is to remove groups which statistically show low likelihood of repairability, and to remove items which may in fact be working but are over-supply and unwanted or obsolete. For whatever percentage has to be recycled (remember, even warranty items fail), to properly reimburse the importer for the cost of proper recycling and to ensure that the proper recycling of failed warranty items is compliant with R.

The 20% or so of goods we export as "reuse" items are warrantied. We document exactly what is not repaired and document its recycling. We see an opportunity to move the factory from Asia to Mexico, which would remove the OECD debate over the failed parts and incidental breakage...

I am trying to attract investors, and Jim at BAN has said he regrets saying anything nice about me to one of the investors who spoke to him about our Mexico project. In that case, perhaps I have indeed stirred a hornets nest and shall regret it. But I think, on this Martin Luther King Day, that the regret I feel is the same regret that Rosa Parks felt some mornings on the long walk to work during the Birmingham Alabama bus boycott. In the rain, legs tired, as the year long bus boycott by African Americans continued. Recyclers must speak the truth, whether it benefits their investment, angers their bosses, or invites EPA inspections.

I hope it can be said about me and my company, that we are who we say we are and we do what we say we do. I am not going to smash up working equipment and tell people I am repairing them in the USA and meeting world demand. I am not going to throw the good, the bad, and the ugly together into a sea container and say that they are all exported for repair and reuse. I am not going to say that each item we fix is perfect, or that our end market is perfect. We will only document exactly what our standards are and document exactly what happens to the units at the end of their chain of trade. If BAN wants Vermont companies, like Small Dog Electronics, to insist that Green Mountain Coffee and Ben and Jerry's and Seventh Generation to boycott my company because our standards don't fit the definition of perfect, then my Vermont company will continue to lose business. If BAN tells an investor from Investors Circle not to invest in my company because BAN feels that it leverages my research into MPPI and Basel Convention Annex IX, so be it. I think that the people who have visited Las Chicas Bravas or the Big Secret Factories see that this is not an ego trip on my part, there is something good happening. And it is the same good thing that brought Taiwan and South Korea and Singapore out of hunger and poverty and made them the technnology giants they are today. Asians and Africans and South Americans are not *******s who are incapable of best practices. Indeed they have their own supply of ewaste and need investors to help them to drop their buckets where they are, and lift as they climb.

I may be stupid to stir a hornets nest, but I think that calling BAN and SVTC "hornets" is disrespectful. The sheer amount of money my company spends to properly recycle all the bad CRT glass, by itself, will distinguish us from the bad exporters exposed by 60 Minutes. The debate over the replacement of a faulty aluminum heat sink on the board of a used computer monitor sent to a Cairo repairman for sale to a blood bank demands to distinguish itself from the debate over unregulated export for disposal.

Vermont Legislation to pass; Haiti on Hold

Vermont Agency of Natural Resources did not express much interest in this e-waste bill a year ago, but they jumped in this time and took the reigns. For Good Point Recycling, that was probably a good thing, since they share many of our concerns about "ghost tonnage" and "hit and run" (OEMs coming in and holding an event to claim tonnage and then leaving the smaller towns to fend for themselves).

The committee was very patient, though not infinitely patient.

I will write more later but wanted to take a moment to share our concern for our partners in Haiti. We had looked into trading with Haiti (for reuse) during the past 9 months and connected with a United Nations digital divide program, which was looking for cheap and working CRT monitors (not a repair operation, these needed to be tested working). We had a TV repair and truck repair operator that we found in Miami who traded in Haiti and hoped to have him find the monitors in Florida (through WR3A members) and test them there. We did a load of TVs and learned things (like he cannot use anything over 19" because the power grid in Haiti is so weak that 27"+ TVs don't start up, not enough juice).

I met the buyers following up an old connection in the used truck business. A Haiti buyer had purchased a Mack Truck from Earthworm Inc, the non-profit recycler I worked for in Boston in the late 80s until 1992 appointment at MA DEP. Jeff Coyne there found a photo of the Earthworm truck, logo and all, in Haiti, and I found a Haitian woman who purchased used trucks for repair. She like that I could communicate in French. I liked - loved - the fact that when I described our truck for sale, the 1998 Freightliner FL70, that she immediately asked whether it was an Allison tranny or the Dodge tranny (the FL70s in 1997-98 had a massive recall over the Dodge transmission, and it was one of the first things I learned when I bought the truck used in Memphis, from Ron at L&B Freightliner, that I was very lucky I had not bought one of the "Dodge Ram" transmissions.

This older lady grilled me in Haitian francais over the specs on the truck, and then we discussed whether it was still possible to fill the box of the truck with clothes and pots and pans and stuff like was done in the 90s with the Earthworm truck. She said she still made most of her purchases from Thrift shops (Salvation Army and Goodwill) and shipped them to Haiti, but she said that since 9/11 that the rules for moving full trucks had changed and made that business model nearly impossible. But she sent her son and son-in-law up to Vermont to visit Good Point Recycling.

We were trying to connect her repair business with the UNGAID program and a Christian missionary group in Haiti, and I'd put the PO out for working monitors in the meantime. While the Committee was deliberating S.77 (and asking questions about evil exports), I was on the laptop canceling the purchase as news of the earthquake rolled out.

We had not really done any business in Haiti yet, but were preparing our first shipment of the tested working product and had to stop the shipment this week. We still have skids of the DVD players and stereos in the warehouse which the Haitian's son in law thought would be worthwhile to put in the truck and drive it to Florida (he'd transport the stuff to Haiti separately later).

I cannot imagine that our buyers are concerned about TVs and computers at this moment, though we will help them in any way we can when they are ready. But we would donate the truck now if we can get it to Florida, and I will listen for what they need in Haiti when Wadner and his mother in law are ready to focus on their business again.

Apple Computer Event - Addison County Court House


Good Point Recycling of Middlebury Vermont has cancelled the scheduled photo event on February 3 at the Addison County Court House in Middlebury Vermont. Thanks and our apologies to those who contacted us.

Apple Computer sales

Vermont S.77 Are you watching?

I think the people reading this blog are probably people who google s.77, which is to say those who are clients who care about s.77

So call this the "suicide blog".

For intermission, I went to Carleton College. I think we had Sony Walkmans ($98) for cassette tapes by my junior year. So we could have done this. But the question is, where are the Sony Walkman cassette tape players?

Answer to question: Amazingly, they are selling on ebay for $20. Keep in mind, this is 25 years later. It begs the question, is "speculative accumulation" all that bad?

S.77 Vermont E-Waste: The Pithy

The trick with VT S.77 now is for our clients (municipalities) to get the money without pretending that Vermont is like Wisconsin or NY, starting from scratch. We are already 80% of the way to the goal and most of the "opportunity" will be for out of state companies to bid on programs we set up years ago, using their relationships with manufacturers (some based on promises not to reuse or repair).

Say we have 25 residential collection points in the state. 80% of the tonnage is in 20% of those sites (cities like Burlington, Rutland, Brattleboro). If a manufacturer is obligated to take in 20% of the tonnage, based on market share, they will bid aggressively where that tonnage is cheapest.

Cities are cheap.
CPU scrap metal is really, really, really cheap (people actually pay for it).
Ghost tonnage (fake weights) is really, really cheap.

There will be winners, losers, and survivors. What I do NOT see is how this gets us to permanent collections in Newport and St. Albans.

Hey, just saw this from Businessweek, confirmation of what we have been reporting - MOST of the ewaste in the developing countries is home grown! Those countries are buying even more new electronics than we are. It is not an excuse to export crap, but it means that our WR3A Fair Trade approach is really needed in order to set up recycling where it hasn't been.

House Painting and Heart Surgery in VT S.77

Is your state looking at e-waste legislation?

First, don't buy the line that re-writing your bill is creating a "patchwork quilt" and that you need to stick with an existing formula. Every state that has been represented as going with the formula has made changes. There is no single bill. Even proponents of the mythical "single bill" are submitting major changes from year to year. The latest novelty, the NY style "convenience" legislation is the most complex, I'll explain why in a future blog. For now, suffice to say it is the only bill in court challenge.

So if you are starting, I suggest that you look at the job like layers of paint. I won't try to convince you that you don't need 5 layers of paint, let's just proceed now based on your belief that your wall needs 5 layers. How do you apply 5 layers of paint to a wall?

A layer at a time.

1) Ban e-waste from disposal.

You can do this now under RCRA (Massachusetts and California achieved 3+ pounds per resident ten years ago with no legislation). Some counties in VT simply banned CRTs from disposal and refer to EPA rules. This creates an infrastructure, i.e. municipalities which already collect batteries, tires and refrigerators now must accept what you ban. (It is hard for my business to collect in St. Albans and Newport, the only major municipalities which are not collecting). This is also the stage where you start setting up the minimum standards of processing for an e-waste recycler in your state.

2) Funding.

75% of residents will pay $10 for an item. If you start with that, we can arrange coupons for the other 25% and to hold collection costs down. You can have a once-a-year "amnesty" or free collection for folks who will sit in a line. But at this point you are looking for just $400k to get the entire state of Vermont collecting 100%. With funding, you can start to raise the bar to get "best practices" (R2 standard compliance) from your ewaste service providers.

3) Advertise.

What the Small Dog Electronics ewaste event in Burlington shows is that if you advertise you get participation. That has been mistaken for other things, but basically the free ice cream at ben and jerry's lines are as much about the event as about the free ice cream. Some of the Vermont legislators were telling me there were not TV collections in towns that Good Point Recycling picks up TVs from once a month. The program needs to be advertised.

4) Outside Stewardship funding

Once you get the skeleton in place, like we have in VT, at that point you may add the layer of paint for OEM funding. You have the access points created, you can identify how many people refuse to pay $10 vs. those who prefer not to pay $10 or (the largest group) were not aware of the ewaste collection until you advertised it. If the OEMs have accepted the market share approach to funding, which it appears they have, then set up a fund for that and take the money. But first use that money for advertising and coupons, and then see where the state still needs coverage. Once this money is available, I can go out and pay the $20k per year it will cost to be R2 Certified.

5) Convenience

Now if you still need to mandate which town of 4,312 residents needs collection funds from which manufacturer of digital watches, and want to calculate and administer that, go ahead. I don't think you need this layer of paint, but go ahead.

____ ~

By July 15, 2010, ANR will enact a law banning disposal of used electronics at transfer stations, landfills, or incinerators, including a ban on unfair dumping of ewaste on the export market. ANR will issue a grant application for up to $350,000 for the establishment of convenient collection programs in districts which do not have them. Those sites must be up and running by the December 2010 date below to receive their funding.

By December 2010, ANR will have printed a list of places to take ewaste in Vermont, and will publicize them through mailings and other media. This work may be contracted out to solid waste districts or to a private consultant.

By July 2011, each district receiving ANR grants and assistance will complete a "Sustainability Report" demonstrating the costs incurred by running their ewaste program. ANR will use this report to recommend use of funding collected in December of 2011.

In 2011, all manufacturers and brand owners selling electronics in Vermont will... (now you implement the fundraising / stewardship / cost sharing).

I told the committee that I feel like my business is being wheeled into an operating room for open heart surgery, and I cannot get a second opinion. But I've acknowledged that our client municipalities are running out of gas and we can no longer stand between them and manufacturer taxation.

Because we started collecting in 2000, and achieved 85% TV recycling, we don't really need the part of S.77 which was about setting up a collection infrastructure. We could use the waste ban to get a few "slow" municipalities into collections (St. Albans, Newport), we could have created $300k worth of coupons and had the recycling free.

But the manufacturers don't really respond until their goose is cooked. The coupon program started after S.77 had come within a whisker of passing, and only Sony took it seriously. Now they are looking at a bill that mandates they collect, and the towns which don't want to collect are going to feel rewarded if they say they don't have staffing and get paid for the ewaste. That may lead the 85% which have collections to demand payment. That could lead to a bidding war between recyclers for tonnage in the cheap and easy spots (Chittenden, Rutland etc.), going for the 20% of tonnage which is cheapest to collect will allow you to sell the tonnage to Manufacturers for less.

The bill is written for cherry pickers. I am doing the same thing in other states which passed the bill, signing up 20% of manufacturer obligations and then competing hard for the easiest 20% of the tonnage. I am even paying and outbidding other recyclers for the easy tonnage, which will ultimately create a bidding war and the costs will get passed back to the manufacturers.

Vermont S.77 2010 discussions

Headed back this morning for the 3rd day of testimony about Vermont's proposed e-waste bill. S.77 has been sent to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Two years ago, the price of recycling ewaste was dropping fast. Samsung was buying post-consumer CRT glass tubes to recycle into new CRTs, we had more orders for refurbished monitors than we could fill, and we had an extremely talented and ethical monitor manufacturer in Malaysia who was getting permits and responding to our Fair Trade philosophy (we lower the price in return for ISO140001, permits, best practices). We said that the rate of growth of e-waste collection in Vermont, in pounds per resident, was actually FASTER than the projected collections under the e-waste Stewardship bill.

A year ago, BAN involved itself in the Samsung glass purchase order, and without parsing their letter to the Malaysia Dept of Environment (Jim doesn't like when I characterize their position), suffice to say that weeks later Samsung no longer recycled CRTs from the USA and continued to do so from Europe, Japan, Australia, South Korea, etc. USA CRTs began to go through Korea, Canada and Mexico instead. (You will see Korea, where Samsung is based, playing a larger role, as BAN goes after India, which is the other remaining CRT glass market after China, which has put its money into virgin mining and no longer wants to allow recycling of CRT glass except from Chinese sources).

Today, TVs are pouring in, from digital conversion but more so from the falling price of flat TV displays at Wal-Mart and Best Buy. But Mexico has been shut down as an intermediary. The cost of CRT handling is going to go up. So, we are in a position of either passing costs to our municipal clients in Vermont, or getting on board with S.77

In three days I have heard a lot of testimony I disagree with, but with 600k residents it's not like Vermont going to kill the planet with unintended consequences. So now we are about doing surgery on the S.77 bill to fix the anti-reuse language.

History will show that the legislation is a million dollar solution to a $300k problem. But $300k is a problem for cities and towns in Vermont, and I don't want to be holding the bloody towel if staff are laid off at the solid waste districts. And the kind of thing that I was also afraid of (cherry picking of good clients like CSWD and good material like computers) has already happened with Small Dog Electronics and Goodwill Industries.

What I really, really, really don't like is that I spend my life doing the best thing I can do and then I hear, in committee, that an retailer has told someone, who told them, that my company, Good Point Recycling, is dumping Vermont e-waste in China (as the CEO threatened in a negotiation over money). Environmentalists are taking on the age old role of the church in modern society. You join (the church, or the environmental group) because you really want to be a good person. You try to use your church or group to do good things which you don't really know much about. In your tireless crusade against sin, Gallileo and Copernicus get in the way. Not comparing myself to either of those geniouses. Just saying that when the flock doesn't know Jupiter from Alpha Centauri, the idea that Gallileo belongs in jail can seem like "precautionary principle".

Nothing up my sleeve

Quiz: 3 videos

Which is the biggest waste of time?
Which gives you goosebumps of pleasure?
Which is Trash?
Which is Treasure?

For me, the first is what my friends in Cameroon are watching and talking about, and one of them has uploaded to youtube with a used PC from USA.

The second is kind of trash to me, but may be more meaningful than the first to an PIRG activist looking for inner meaning. It is also what my Cameroon friends think life in USA is like.

The third is something I could never, ever have imagined sharing with a friend in Africa twenty years ago when I first heard it. It is a bizarre example of connections. I show videos on youtube of Captain Kangaroo to my kids. Web is Wonderful.

MPPI and WR3A Monitor Factory Order

Our WR3A computer CRT monitor purchase order appears to be the exact same thing as the Basel.int chairman describes in his final paper (protested by BAN.org)... Fair trade. It reads as if people who are in the buying and selling and regulation business sat down and tried their darndest to make a common sense trade initiative which makes sure that known junk isn't sent to people who can't deal with it, and that good repairable stuff is not destroyed because people look down on overseas repair people.

It reads as if good people can do good things if they sit down and negotiate a fair contract, a win-win document, designed to improve the lives and the environment of both parties. It reads as though the Asian or African or American or European or Latin American businessperson loves their kids equally, and likes it when our kids play together while the dads and moms work out a fair trad agreement.

It is a non-racist document, which treats repair entrepreneurs (for cell phones) as equals to the collection companies in the OECD countries. It aims to negotiate a deal which allows fair trade and export with protections and guarantees on quality.

The main difference is that WR3A purchase orders include ACTUAL QA/QC documentation of ACTUAL reuse rates. We document EXACTLY what happens to each of the 100,000 computer monitors which are refurbished in the factories which made the monitors originally. The monitor factories are able to do this because they did it when they made monitors for big name companies.

I am sick of racists. Just because you want good things for someone of another race does not mean you are not a racist. Some of the biggest racists on the planet are do-gooders who cannot treat people of other countries as equals because they think themselves more noble because they live in luxury. Guilt brings sadness. Racism can result. The people I work with overseas are so much more skilled than sanctimonious, self-righteous green-kin who are willing to mislead in order to accomplish their particular crusade. The people I trade with have seen, first hand, how the poorest people can become the wealthiest with their skill and knowledge and mastery of technology. They were them. They employ themselves.

We negotiate with them to make sure they have the right financial incentives to do the right thing environmentally. It is the only thing that works. The MPPI document has been a good read but now I am REALLY pissed off. It is a wannabe WR3A purchase order without actual interviews, actual technicians negotiating with actual sorters, actual fallout, market demand projections, etc.

I have a chart to do which gets into the legal mumbo jumbo. But for right now, I take back whatever sounded like an apology for not having read about Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative before writing about CRTs. Because the MPPI document is a living document which derives consensus through a search for best outcomes.

Leapfrogging is not an "outcome", it is a panacea.