WR3A Challenges BAN E-Stewards!

In several posts, I've stated my aggravation that BAN e-waste E-Stewards are giving lip service to exports of "tested working" computers and monitors, but are actually shredding the equipment in an anti-reuse, "no intact unit" video display unit wildfire.
If I'm wrong, here's a challenge - WR3A has been asked by the UN to provide 500,000 computers and monitors for schools in Africa between now and the year 2012.  We can probably come up with 20,000 per year.   I challenge BAN E-Stewards to "match" that amount.
I will put any BAN E-Steward in touch with Paul Jhin, a former USA Peace Corps administrator, who is trying to set these schools up.   In this photo, he's in his Los Angeles office with Mr. Allen Liu, a CRT Engineer (he invented display technology of Asian lettering on terminals in his 20s) and Ow Yung, Su Fung, his VP of Operations at the contract manufacturer in Malaysia.
They accept WR3A monitors and computers, and we are trying to come up a way to "tithe" for the Digital Divide.  In return for the United Nation's guidance and oversight, we'll try to devote 10% of our exports to these schools in developing countries, wherever the UN has provided satellite internet.  WR3A members have not been asked to agree to this yet, but if they don't participate, BAN can win even more easily, right?  Our partners in Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Mexico and Peru are on board.
Nothing new for us.  Net Peripheral, Allen and Fung's company, already set up several schools for the blind in Malaysia and Indonsesia.   My company set up internet in Mexican schools.
The question is, will BAN E-Stewards match our contributions?  Admittedly, mine get repaired and refurbished in Mexico, Indonesia, and Malaysia.   Can these USA companies provide "tested working" monitors to match?
Or will they just call our donations "ewaste dumping", and call in our containers as "hazardous waste"?
Anyone on the fence out there?  You are more than welcome to ship through WR3A and donated 10% or more of your refurbished units to the United Nations cause.   Or you can send your monitors through a BAN Pledge E-Steward, and ask them to donate their 'repaired in America' computers to match ours.  If BAN beats me, I'll give up and ship my repairable units through a BAN e-Steward.

Basel Convention Annex IX B1110 Rules apply.  Any residue (non working, incidental breakage, TAR, obsolete, etc.) must be properly recycled at an internationally ISO140001 facility.  The total of all replaced parts from all members must count towards their total Toxics Along for the Ride.   Ayatollah of Ewaste, let the people read the Basel Convention online. Let us read it for ourselves.  Without a computer, we can only take your word for what the Basel Convention really says.

On yer mark, git set, go.

"E-Waste Madness" Propaganda

"Reefer Madness" was a 1936 propaganda film which exaggerated the harms of smoking marijuana (seems it leads to laughing and murder). In 1937 the US passed the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, leading to cannabis criminalization, which led to the Mexican drug war.  So pot did lead to murder, but mostly as an unintended consequence of trying to ban it.

Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-communist campaign against USA artists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did not have as violent an outcome, but it is still studied with shock in political science classes.  It was the Senator's exaggerated threats of communism, not the the blacklisted entertainers, which injured democracy.

The propaganda war against native Americans empowered General Custer.  In his book "Our Savage Neighbors", author Peter Silver "reveals in vivid and often chilling detail how easily a rhetoric of fear can incite entire populations to violence."

Today, a "rhetoric of fear" by certain "environmentalist watchdogs" is inciting a war on reuse and repair of electronics.  For example, a Greenpeace video from Ghana clearly shows well packaged, nice looking TVs being unloaded from a sea container and sold in a marketplace (described as "thriving").  Then the video cuts to a much smaller number of TVs and monitors at a dump.  Someone is burning an older junk monitor for copper.  Someone is inexplicably throwing a small circuit board onto a fire.  The voiceover declares that "many experts say" that the majority of the imports are "in fact" e-waste.

Notice in the same sentence "Many experts" and "in fact".  To requote economist Roger Brinner once more, "The sum of anecdotes is not data."

The facts are that when I suggested to BAN.org's Jim Puckett that he visit Lagos, my intention was to contrast less sophisticated reuse markets with the giant contract manufacturing factories BAN had unintentionally targeted.   But when he returned to Asia, he still took CBS 60 Minutes in a circle around a lot of computer monitors destined for a factory I have visited, and told CBS that these monitors go straight to Guiyu, which does not have a computer monitor anywhere in the footage.  After several years of trying to work with the "watchdog", I'm tired.   They are doing more harm than good, barking at EPA and R2 and a major move in the right direction by ISRI.  A noisy dog that barks at everyone is not my definition of a good watchdog.

Prior to publication of the 2006 Enviornmental Health Prospectives article "Unfair Trade:  E-Waste in Africa" (by CW Schmidt),  BAN thanked me for the lead to go to Lagos and filmed things there.  But BAN continues to attack good engineers in developing countries in a propaganda campaign that is funded by well meaning baby boomers.  With African poverty as a backdrop, the contract manufacturing / manufacturer takeback programs in Asia which assembled the monitors and TVs are again the focus of BAN's attacks.

BAN continues to state that 80% of these exports are ("in fact") "e-waste".   It's untrue.  About 30% are waste - which is too much.   We need to reform the trade in used electronics, just as we need to regulate alcohol and marijuana.   But BAN is in effect promoting prohibition, and faking that their E-Stewards are testing and exporting for repair and reuse. The E-Stewards are shredding (and if 80% is unrepairable, illegal, hazardous waste, why not?)  In the face of world demand for internet, this is a "let them eat cake" approach.  BAN promotes "solutions" such CA SB20 "cancellation" clause, and the Gene Green bill (banning exports of computers for repair and refurbishment).

It's now old news that BAN is getting support from shredding tycoons and OEMs with an anti-reuse bias.    What is bizarre is the support they are getting from champions of sustainable development, like NRDC.  Josh Mailman, who knows Africa well, expressed interest in funding a "fair trade" program for used electronics, but BAN reportedly stated that the program did not respect international law.  The Basel Convention allows export for repair and refurbishment.  Mailman should contact the United Nations, Resolve.org, EPA, UNCTAD, and others on BAN's "wall of shame" and ask himself why so many good people are suffering friendly fire in BAN's "war on drugs" approach to reuse. 

Two years ago I met another good chap, Donald Summers, a former Middlebury College and Harvard University graduate who is a consultant for BAN.  He told me that the lesson BAN had to beware of is "the perfect is the enemy of the good".  I hoped that signaled a change in direction for BAN.  But here they are, still engaging in the same kind of propaganda as Reefer Madness, General Custer, and Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy.   They attack R2, they attack ISRI, they attack EPA CRT Rule.  Dell tells the Goodwills not to reuse monitors, and BAN applauds. 

<- This factory in Indonesia is GOOD.  It provides people with affordable computer equipment that lasts a really long time, is quite repairable, and is unlikely to get stolen - all key attributes to the 3B3K. (3 billion people earning $3k per year). The myth is that USA companies who are E-Stewards are domestically repairing CRT monitors.  The myth is that Indonesian customers can afford LCD monitors. These myths are the "perfect" alibi for BAN to attack this good factory.  Unfortunately, the perfect does not exist.  So BAN stewardship means shredding computers and display units which my students and friends in Africa cannot afford to buy new.  My enviro friends are taking food off the table and promising something healthier to replace it, but they leave the children hungry. A "no intact unit" policy is NOT the same as domestic repair capacity.   

The more good people in the USA and EU break repairable computers, the more good people overseas must buy from not-so-good people.  What a waste of good effort by good people who could be working together in a "fair trade" environment.

When I filmed this video, BAN labelled me an "export apologist".  Apologist was a favorite insult of Joseph McCarthy.

Cliff Notes on "E-Waste" Policy In USA

Here's a cheat sheet version of the history of EWaste in USA, condensing information from several blogs to help those who are researching the history of the "ewaste" market.

The theme of my blog is that environmentalists should first reform mining, so that the recycling-shredding companies can compete fairly as suppliers of (scrap) raw materials in the free and fair market.   If the price of raw materials outcompetes the reuse and refurbishing markets overseas, that may indicate that new product is better.   But when government bans the refurbishing to the benefit of shredding, it is no better than when government interferes in support of mining over recycling.
  • In the USA, Mining is subsidized (General Mining Act, Superfund) relative to recycling.
  • Seven (100%) of America's secondary copper smelters left the USA because they had been located near population centers, and while less polluting than primary smelters, pollution close to people draws enforcement.   
  • EPA classified disposed CRTs as hazardous waste, but exempted reuse (commodity) CRTs.  Basel Convention did the exact same thing.
  • Developing nations are the growth sector for the internet.  Countries with 1/10th of USA GDP per capita have increased internet access by 10X the USA growth.  They are not getting online with brand new computers.
  • Contract manufacturing companies which assembled computer monitors for OEMs in the 1990s (Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, China) saw LCD investments go to Northern China, and faced obsolescence.  They survived by switching to "white box" (new and unknown brands) and by buying back USA monitors for refurbishment, in the tens of thousands per day. They sell these to the developing nations above, aka the "good enough market" (good enough to get online).
  • When the savvy engineers import tens of thousands of monitors per day from junk and scrap guys in the USA, they wind up with "Toxics Along for the Ride".   The importers would tolerate up to 30% bad monitors before cutting off a supplier, because they needed to run their factories three shifts per day, seven days per week.
  • The 30% residue built up, and began to look pretty ugly.  While most of the monitors exported for reuse did get reused, the pile of leftovers doesn't move and looks worse and worse day by day.
  • Basel Action Network protested the exclusion of repair and refurbishment as a "loophole" both at the Basel meetings and in USA EPA policy.
  • BAN takes pictures of poor kids on piles of junk, and then fabricated a statistic, that "80% of electronics exported" are not repaired or recycled but disposed of.
  • BAN began a propaganda campaign (based on anecdotes without data) that 80% of used electronics exported are disposed.  BAN has discussed the contact manufacturing operations with me in detail (they claim that if a capacitor was replaced during refurbishment, that the capacitor was then a transboundary movement of waste, and the monitor refurbishing therefore is counted as "e-waste" dumping).
  • BAN got a lot of press ("if it bleeds, it leads"), and used the publicity to create an "E-Steward" or Pledge standard which attracted recyclers who either have heavy capital (shredding) investment or who work with off-lease corporate material.
  • The BAN E-Stewards basically all have "no intact unit" policies.  California instituted a "no intact unit" policy for the entire SB20 system, Maine and Washington and Oregon also succumbed to anti-reuse legislation.  It is contagious.  Vermont is the first state to explicitly remove the policy in its new legislation.
  • The "no intact unit" export policy attracted the attention of manufacturers who saw it as an opportunity, which I call "planned obsolescence in hindsight".  Dell was in a lawsuit with Tiger Direct, Fuji in a lawsuit with Jazz, HP was in a war with cartridge refurbishers.  But the biggest "protectionist" force is the Chinese government - the communist party owns the largest new CRT manufacturing factories, and considers refurbishing of cheap used monitors to be "dumping" in a trade sense.  China, in fact, began a "no intact unit" policy in 2002, allowing crushed and broken monitors to be imported, but banning working units.
  • While the "anti gray market" OEMs know the contract manufacturing and white box market is not "Guiyu", they promoted Gene Green (D-TX) legislation to ban export of intact units for repair and refurbishment across the USA.
  • Wendy Neu of WeRecycle was a major donor to the Obama Campaign and is on the NRDC Board.  She attacked ISRI and other proponents of the idea that export should be reformed rather than banned.  More and more shredding investors see the anti-reuse, anti-export bandwagon as an opportunity. 
  • Obama's EPA is moving export policy away from EPA officials who studied the reuse market.
So professional recyclers (ISRI, the Responsible Recyclers-R2 Stakeholders), the EPA, and Basel Secretariat all accept that export for repair and refurbishment is legal and should be reformed (inspected, certified, documented) in order to protect the refurbishing jobs in developing countries, protect the growing internet demand supported by the "white box" and repair market, and to prevent unnecessary mining by cleaning up the recycling programs in developing countries.

BAN has enlisted support of anti-gray market manufacturers and shredding tycoons to bring Obama to support the Green bill.  Ironically, BAN constantly invokes the name of the Basel Convention, whose reuse policy they protested as an NGO, and are at war with.

CBS 60 Minutes goofed and bought the propaganda and did NOT visit the contract manufacturers which purchased the monitors they circled by helicopter in Hong Kong.  CBS did not see a single monitor in Guiyu, but supported BAN's false contention that 80% of CRTs exported are burned for copper or scrapped in unsanitary, polluting conditions.

When major media makes a wrong turn, it has a snowball effect, and other media (e.g. Boston Globe) feel safe writing stories from BAN press releases.  NO ONE IN THE PRESS HAS BEEN TO THE CONTRACT MANUFACTURERS, who buy 80% of the exported monitors and TVs.

The end effect, like "war on drugs", abortion bans, and booze prohibition, is to create an underground economy.  The contract manufacturers buy the CRTs they need from back allies and smugglers.  People who earn $4k per year demand internet access and will get it by hook or by crook.

BAN should come clean and address the tens of thousands of monitors per day purchased by contract manufacturing companies. They should see that evading the truth of this market will haunt them for decades to come.  The Gene Green bill will severely impact the lives of the technicians and engineers in developing countries - the best and the brightest will be condemned to poverty.

In this internet age, it's not like the policy wars of, say, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Eisenhower tried to reform BIA).  My great grandfather left boxes and boxes of letters between him and Eisenhower's staff on how the BIA should be reformed, but Nixon ended the reform due to press in the "Wounded Knee" press events.  The history, in the past, was written by the winners.  But I am documenting the lies day by day.

80% of computers exported are not burned in primitive backyard conditions.   

There are refurbishing factories behind the purchases in Hong Kong. 

The way out is to reform mining, so that the shredding companies can compete fairly to supply scrap in the free and fair market.   If the price of raw materials outcompetes the refurbishers overseas, that may be an indication that new product is better.   But when government bans the refurbishing to the benefit of shredding, it is no better than when government interferes in support of mining over recycling.

BAN meanwhile was active in making sure that Samsung's CRT glass factory, a facility their own web page described as clean enough to eat off the floor, does not use its CRT washing capacity to recycle USA CRT glass.  From their own website:

Action Taken: Because we became aware of the fact that Malaysia was importing cullet as a waste for further cleaning and processing, BAN (whose mission involves pressing for compliance with the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban) sent a letter on October 7, 2008 to the Malaysian competent authority asking for their position on cleaned cullet relative to the Basel Convention. In the letter, BAN iterated its support for glass-to-glass recycling and for the interpretation as non-waste, as described above. We offered to support Malaysia or another Basel country in approaching all the Basel Parties to formally request that cleaned, furnace-ready cullet be explicitly exempted from Basel regulation (for all Basel nations). BAN did not call for a prohibition of the importation but rather offered a long term solution. Instead of accepting the idea we offered (to declare the cleaned cullet a non-waste and work with us to amend the Basel Annexes accordingly), the Malaysian government instead made the decision to stop the import of all CRT glass from the US, a non-Party to the Basel Convention. BAN, of course, has no authority to make decisions for countries on import prohibitions. We continue to seek Basel Convention compliance but at the same time encourage the designation of cleaned cullet going to glass-to-glass primary processing facilities as a non-waste under the Basel Convention.

BAN phones in response to ISRI

BAN has quickly reacted to the ISRI policy.  ISRI's policy is to prove and document that any exports are legal and environmentally sound prior to exporting.  BAN says that the exports cannot, by definition, be legal or environmentally sound.  That sounds like job security for BAN - if the developing world can never hope to achieve sustainability, their job as a watchdog is secure.

BAN says in their press release that a USA policy which requires documentation of proper recycling is worthless.  Evidently any export of used computers, if some of those computers get properly recycled rather than repaired, is the same as dumping.  While ISRI requires proof of proper recycling as a condition of export, BAN has stated again, on the record, that people who manufacture and assemble computers cannot disassemble or recycle properly.  Given BAN's premise is that Indians, Chinese, Malaysians, Mexicans and Indonesians (all hosts to major electronics manufacturing hubs) cannot do this work that therefore it's impossible for such proof to exist.

White marble floor factory, CRT engineers with patents, Mercedes in the parking lots... it doesn't matter to BAN, it cannot by definition be done properly.

Jim Puckett of BAN says in his release:
“If a developing country like China or India had everything it needed to properly manage hazardous wastes like e-waste, it would no longer be a developing country." 

In the first part of that sentence, BAN sneaks in the premise that TV repair is the same as hazardous waste management, which is not true anywhere.  Neither the USA nor any country I am aware of regulates electronics repair and refurbishment as a "waste disposal" industry.

The definition of "developing" is also apparently naive.  Chile was invited to become a member of  OECD in 2009.   Singapore is still not an OECD member.  But Chile mines the copper for the electronics and engineers in Singapore design them. India and Mexico have the most developed metallurgy, with China coming up fast in the rare earth metals that are increasingly relied on in cell phones and other electronics.  The components are made in China or Malaysia, and then the electronics are assembled in Mexico, Indonesia, or India.

Last month BAN claimed that an export of computer or TV monitors back to a factory which made those monitors (manufacturer takeback) was equivalent to dumping and burning the CRTs in a primitive backyard operation.  BAN was sure enough of this to call in 9 containerloads of CRTs destined for the TV manufacturer takeback operation as "hazardous waste" without looking at them or visiting the factory.

ISRI is calling on American scrap industries to document the contents of the container and to not only visit the factories, but to audit them.  ISRI is also raising the bar on recordkeeping and documentation of the refurbishing and recycling industries.  BAN just slams this without carefully looking at it.

I guess BAN has given up on EPA, given up on WR3A, given up on ISRI, in the same way BAN has given up on the developing world (where the world's tallest skyscrapers now are).  It is indisputable that the developing countries are building cities and factories and building our electronics.  But BAN disputes it is possible for those countries to take apart a monitor safely, so they say ISRIs policy of certifying that the monitor factory is handling it safely is impossible.   I guess I have given up on BAN because no matter how much the Mexicans and Malaysians and Indonesians and Indians and Chinese try, no matter how sustainable their electronics manufacturing industries become, BAN has labeled them as retarded grass monkeys,  living in mud huts and burning wire.  I'm not the one to call BAN a racist organization.  But I have heard them called that while visiting some of the refurbishing factories which BAN has yet to admit exists, and yet to set foot in. 

The developing nations BAN talks about are not perfect.  But many of them are far more developed today than the USA was when the OECD was formed.  If BAN is so certain, I hope Jim Puckett looked on the back of the monitor he composed his press release with.  Where was it made Jim?  Where does "manufacturer takeback" go from here?

Is the perfect the enemy of the good?

BAN has done a lot to raise the bar and improve the situation in the USA's own scrap recycling industry.  BAN has also frightened overseas importers into investing in proper recycling and documentation of their unrepairable leftovers.  But during the past few years, BAN has been isolating itself from engineers in the developing countries, from environmental enforcement officials, and now from ISRI, the representatives of USA's own recycling industry (which after all are the ones BAN says should be doing all the recycling, right?)  After some constructive discussions in 2004, BAN has retreated into its insular habits, throwing labels, taking photos of poor children on scrap piles and not of Las Chicas Bravas or Egyptian med students or Malaysian CRT engineers.  As BAN isolates itself, the organization is going to pull some environmentalists into their Jonestown.   Outside, we will continue to build the capacity in developing nations which they need to handle the scrap they produce themselves.  Countries with 3000 per capita income are getting online at ten times the rate of the USA, and they are doing it with computers which will one day become e-scrap.

ISRI Takes the Lead on E-Waste Export Reform

Significant leadership position taken by America's largest institute of recycling professionals:

ISRI Board Charts Roadmap to Address Global Electronic Scrap Recycling

WASHINGTON, March 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The board of the nation's largest trade association for recyclers today laid out a roadmap addressing the growing problem of the improper export of end-of-life electronic scrap.
In voting unanimously to approve a new, aggressive policy to protect health, the environment and worker safety, the Board of Directors of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) signaled that ISRI members are behind efforts to stem possible health and environmental hazards that occur when e-scrap is not exported responsibly.
"The ISRI Board voted today to adopt an aggressive, forward-looking policy that puts forth a safe, responsible and legal framework for electronics recycling both at home and abroad," said ISRI President Robin Wiener. "Among other provisions, the policy bans the export of electronic equipment and components for land-filling or incineration for disposal and requires that facilities outside the U.S. that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented, verifiable environmental, health and worker safety system in place."
The ISRI Board's decision reinforces environmental, health and worker safety standards that closely track the EPA's Responsible Recycling (R2) program, which can be accessed on the EPA's Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/r2practices.htm
EPA's innovative R2 program was finalized in 2008 to create and adopt safe and effective policies for electronics recycling in the US and abroad. Career professionals at the EPA, several state governments (including Minnesota and Washington), OEMs, electronic recyclers and trade associations including ISRI and ITIC sat down in 2006 to begin work on these standards. Additionally, these standards were tested in the field to ensure that companies who were awarded the certification had to meet tough benchmarks. The guidelines are used by accrediting organizations like the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) to certify that companies are complying with health, worker safety and environmental laws.
"ISRI has always been a staunch supporter of recycling electronics in compliance with domestic and international legal requirements," Wiener said. "This is emphasized in the new policy, which requires that facilities outside the United States that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented environmental, health and worker safety system that can be verified; requires a business record-keeping system to document compliance with all legal requirements; requires that any facility must be capable of handling hazardous waste; and ensures that US exporters can confirm a facility they export to is in compliance with the law."
ISRI Director of Government and International Affairs Eric Harris noted that the newly adopted policy includes provisions that will address actual problems in recycling facilities throughout the world rather than requiring a total trade ban on the export of electronic scrap as the only viable way to deal with irresponsible recycling outside of the United States.
Harris pointed to a newly released study in the March 22, 2010, issue of the journal, Environmental Science and Technology. In the report, author Eric Williams of Arizona State University writes, "Trade bans will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem" and argues that a complete ban on export of used and end-of-life electronics to developing counties fails to solve the problem because   the developing world will generate more used and end-of-life electronics than developed countries as early as 2017. Additionally, by 2025, the developing world will generate twice the amount of electronic scrap as what will come from developed nations.
Williams is an assistant professor at Arizona State University with a joint appointment in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability.
"The policy adopted today by the ISRI Board of Directors embodies the most environmentally sustainable and realistic approach to electronic scrap recycling," Wiener added. "This is a responsible, safe and legal approach to electronics recycling that protects worker health and safety, as well as ensuring environmentally sustainable practices that can actually deal with this global issue."
SOURCE Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries

Retroworks de Mexico 2010 and climbing

It looks like electricity is finally coming to Las Chicas Bravas, our women's coop partner in Fronteras Mexico.

I am sitting in a cabin at a ranch in the Sierra Madres foothills, 20 miles from a copper smelter, 30 miles from what's billed to be the largest and richest copper mine on the planet, in a wildlife sanctuary cum sustainable farm, with my wife and kids. We have been rocketing along dirt "roads", carrying researchers and reporters and photographers back and forth between Arizona and Mexico. Have barely had time to talk to the kids about watching lambs being born or male calf castration or other sunny truths you learn on a farm.

At the recycling plant, the ladies are putting on the same brave faces they have for what's now 3 years of rollercoaster rides. We get a building, the (ex)mayor refuses to allow electricity to be connected (Las Chicas don't pay bribes). We get awarded the city of Tucson Contract, it's taken away in a horrible fashion (contract canceled AFTER collections, ladies accused of the worst "e-waste export atrocities"). We get a huge smelter purchase order for CRT glass, then the Mexico EPA cancels our permit to break the tubes or end market them in Mexico. Unless the permit is reissued before the accumulation time limits on the CRTs, we must now load the tubes to be re-transported to the USA, at enormous cost. We win a legal battle against the mayor, and then our lawyer is assassinated.

We get an EPA and Mexico EPA grant to collect used TVs inside Arizona and Mexico (a "cash for clunkers" program), and then the grant is frozen. A competitor in Arizona is telling our clients that we are illegal, another competitor bizarrely tells clients that Las Chicas are delivering their ewaste to Unicor, the prison program in Tucson. A third competitor tells clients they are throwing barrels of poison into ditches.

When I told the Ladies yesterday that the rewiring for electricity had been approved, and it should arrive in 90 days, they stood and clapped and cheered. They were so happy for this small, ordinary bit of good news, three years late in coming.

At times, with the string of bad luck and reversals, I feel like the biggest jinx these ladies have ever come across. I see them killing themselves to remove screws from thousands of TVs and monitors, with their bare hands, and then having to write almost all the income towards proper CRT disposal, which could have been free at the smelter, or paid for by the EPA grant.

A reporter asked me how much money I had lost here, and how I could stay at this for so long? I asked him back, how could I leave? I was not an "ET" (early termination) in Peace Corps. The UN says Mexico - and other countries - are already the number one generator of their own e-waste... most of it is NOT from imports. So I guess I'm the Johnny Appleseed of sustainable programs, having suffered the same reversals in Vermont. After losing my job and being stuck with bills for e-waste collected in Vermont in 2001 (the original partner kept the grant but did not pay the ewaste bills - I worked them off), and being the only employee driving a rusty truck in 2003, collecting ewaste in Northeast Kingdom Vermont and Northern NH, and paying all the money I collected to the truck and the CRT glass processor, I can tell them this is normal.

Someday, I hope, they will have a factory bigger than mine in Vermont, and generate more than the $1.3M per year in value Good Point Recycling generates. Someday, my dream is to buy Don Chucko's (Antonio's) 1957 Chevy Apache, almost exactly like my Grandpa Fisher's 1957 Plymouth pickup which he tried to teach me to drive and to clean the points on the spark plug.

EARTH DAY EDITION: Pre-Publication

NOTE:  The first post below was "pre-published" to allow people to voice opinions or concerns before the final version was posted.  The final version is available here, as published at Greenwala.

Dear Friends, the draft post below may stir some controversy.  I am intending to publish it in a mainstream paper.   It may be foolish of me to pre-post this for attack.  But I really like Plato and Aristotle, and I like dialectic, I like debate and reasoning.  Part of what has made my company stronger is our willingness to question propaganda, even when it is directed at our competitors.   At my age, people who know me know I've been an environmentalist my whole life, and I wouldn't print it if I didn't think it.   We all need truth, we need facts to come out.  If I'm wrong, please tell me.   
Top Ten Myths About "E-Waste"
by Robin Ingenthron- To be Published on Earth Day 2010 (pre posted for comment)
Before tackling the "Top Ten Myths About E-Waste", let’s ask what the term "e-waste" means.   In the dictionary and in the courts, "waste" means the material that is discarded or disposed of… stuff that didn’t get recycled, but was dumped.  If you sent two computers to China, and they fixed one,  the second one was “ewaste”. 
Two Chinese officials told me that any property once owned by one person and now offered to another person is considered "discarded" by the first, and all secondary sales can be regulated as "waste".   If I used a laptop for a month and then sold it to my friend?  "Definitely ewaste."
So I use the term "e-waste" in quotes, as many myths come from the confusion between commodities (steel, plastic, working cell phones) and “waste”.  How did these “e-waste” myths gain such momentum?  Most of the Myths below have some root in the truth.  But too many are based on the photo of a child, and a misstated number, and other "green" propaganda.   As economist Roger Brinner said, “The sum of anecdotes is not data.”   I am a fervent environmentalist, and wrote this hoping to encourage students and scientists to keep digging at the truth.  After 10 years of debate in the press, the truth about E-Waste is obscured by well-intentioned propaganda.  Those Myths feed cynicism, which generates contrary Myths AGAINST e-waste recycling (also listed, see #1).   We need more scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers, FAR more representatives from importing businesses, and FAR fewer “Ayatollahs” proclaiming facts from a megaphone.
 10.  MYTH:  "There is a growing tsunami of ewaste."
The Pitch:  “Electronics are becoming more disposable, with shorter useful lives.  And there is evidence [Franklin Associates] that obsolete electronics are the fastest growing segment of the MSW stream.   And the changes in analog TV broadcasts did make old "rabbit ears" TVs obsolete for receiving live broadcasts, unless they are connected to cable or satellite.  The pile is just getting bigger and bigger.”
These facts are true, but they do not describe production of electronics.  Most of this increasing tonnage is “legacy” equipment, and it simply reflects increasing opportunities to collect “e-waste”.  Our recycling is certainly growing.  But much of the product being collected (think CRT televisions) is coming out after decades of storage.   Notice that the more recently a state started a program, the higher the pounds per capita.  There is indeed a wave, but the wave has already passed in places like Massachusetts and California, as the old “old growth” TVs have been cleared out. The tonnage is only “growing” where the collections just recently started.  This is the “lawnmower effect” – the longer you wait to mow the lawn, the heavier the bag of clippings.  In more mature programs, most of the mass is still older units, but most of the count is from younger units.  As the old stuff is depleted, newer stuff comes in, but the newer stuff is smaller.  The old wood console TVs we watched Super Bowl X on are finite. What we are seeing with record-breaking collections of e-waste is not more and more e-waste generation, but more and more collections.  
9. MYTH:  We won't recycle “ewaste” unless it is free.
The Pitch:  Widely advertised "free" recycling events, like the one Sony held at the Patriots stadium in MA, draw lines of cars and piles of TVs and computers, even though the town of Foxboro MA has a regular drop-off program.   Free Earth Day events in draw a crowd.  It is easy to conclude that these people kept the old TV in their garage because they couldn't pay $10 to recycle it on a normal Saturday.
We call this the "Ben and Jerry's" effect, after the long lines for Vermont's "Free Ice Cream" day, held every spring at Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlors.   How many people in the long line, waiting for a free cone, don't otherwise eat ice cream?  Imagine a FREE STARBUCKS coffee event.  You can bet on a long line.  But you will not find a single tea drinker.    Recyclers recycle, non-recyclers don't.   The free recycling events show that people will suffer irrational inconvenience to save a buck, especially if it makes the news and they can talk about at the water cooler.   But suppose I offered to PAY $1 per junk TV across the street from the free event?  If my line is longer, that wouldn’t prove that people “won’t” recycle a TV for free.  The important thing is to establish a sustainable system, one which doesn’t “sticker shock” but which also puts the once-every-10-years problem in perspective.   People recycle TVs because they have a TV to recycle.  Start with $10 fee collections before passing legislation or creating a command and control system. Compare the burden of the fee to a bridge toll.  People waiting in a long “free” line are just recyclers.  As George Washington said, “Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.”
8.  MYTH:  “E-Waste” Recycling wastes energy.
The Pitch:  Looking at the recycling trucks, the shredding machines, and the cars full of ewaste, it's an easy hypothesis that recycling wastes energy.    Penn and Teller fanned the criticism in their "Recycling is B*****t" video (which also attacked "recycling creates jobs" and other truths about recycling).  How can recycling not cost energy?
The fact is that metal mining and refining always demands more energy and pukes more pollution than recycling.  The same is true of forestry… If you eliminate the newspaper recycling truck from the city street, you need two logging trucks to drive up a mountain, because we can’t give up toilet paper.  The proof?  When oil prices go up, demand for recycled paper, recycled metals, recycled plastics all skyrocket.  In a gasoline crisis, you see even MORE recycling trucks onto the street.  It is not a choice between recycling and dumping, it is a choice between recycling and mining.  That's why, when the nation's heart and total focus was on the men in battle in World War II, when conservation and pollution were the farthest from our minds, the Greatest Generation had scrap drives in record numbers.  Electronics recycling collection costs are high, and the energy from labor and demanufacturing is considerable, because the plastics and metals and stuff arrive welded together or attached with 20 different screwheads.  But E-Scrap recycling survives in the free market, and thrives in the poorest countries, because electronics have copper and many other hard-rock metals which take enormous energy to refine out of hard rocks and mountain quarries.
7.  MYTH: Electronics Repair is a Lost Art.
The Pitch:  Repair shops are disappearing, especially from tawny neighborhoods.  There were estimated to be 100,000 TV repairmen in the USA in 1990, but the department of labor projected a five-fold decline in 2000.   You may have had your RCA TV repaired for $50 in 1988, but try to find someone to replace the flyback today.
There is a difference between an art which is “lost” and an art that moved to another neighborhood.  Seventy years ago, there were car repair shops on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan… car repair didn’t disappear, it moved to Hoboken and Queens.  This same trend occurs across oceans. Techies are generally smart people, and they pursue the best opportunity available to them.  The repair guys in Boston didn't forget how to repair your 1980 RCA TV.  But why fix a TV worth $10 if you can repair a laptop worth $200?  The repair economy gravitates to the highest value item from the wealthiest client.  A good used car salesmen buys cars in the tawny neighborhoods and sells them in the strapped neighborhoods, and electronics repairs flow the same way. Overseas techs would much rather repair rich country electronics than the ones discarded in their ghettos.  In those poor countries, electronics repair is considered the same as an engineering job. If you have a cell phone you want repaired in New York or Paris, it will probably be a foreigner’s shop, and if you choose not to pay for the repair, he probably will repair it anyway and sell it in another neighborhood – perhaps at his parents home in Taipei, Mumbai, or Mexico City.  Your ability to get a Pentium III repaired is affected by the other available repair jobs. 
Say there’s a laptop repairman at Good Point Recycling..  He is busily assembling RAM sticks for a Pentium 3 laptop, which he has been testing for the past hour.  Suddenly, I place a Pentium 4 laptop to the table.  The Pentium 3 suddenly becomes “an organ donor” for the P4.  The repairman didn't change, the value of the Pentium III didn't change, what changed was the opportunity that the Pentium IV presented.  The P3 may still be a good job for another repairman in another tech room.
6.  MYTH:   Electronics are dangerously toxic.
The Pitch:  Five pounds of lead in an average CRT.   Cadmium phosphors found in piles of CRT glass.  As described in King/McCarthy's 2009 publication Environmental Sociology, "E-waste today contains a witches' brew of toxic substances such as lead and cadmium in circuit boards; lead oxide and cadmium in monitor cathode ray tubes..."  HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia, and many other reputable sources have beaten the drum about toxics in TVs and computers.
It’s safe to say that the TV is in its most dangerous state when it’s turned on in your living room.  The presence of toxics in computers and monitors, as compared toxics in automobiles and light bulbs, has been exaggerated. Virtually no computer monitors have cadmium, and there is no liquid mercury in a TV or computer.  The lead in CRTs is “vitrified” (chemically bound up, solidified in the glass), the same as the lead (more, actually) in leaded glass crystal.  CRTs of 40 and 50 years ago used cadmium for yellows or greens, but Japan outlawed cadmium, and anyone who wanted to sell a TV to the second largest economy got rid of cadmium by 1970.   
What about the poisoned waters in Guiyu China? First, the poisons emitted from primitive circuit board recycling don’t actually come from the circuit boards, they come from the highly poisonous “aqua regia” acids the boards are soaked in.  Burning plastics and lead is also a polluting process, but one that should be distinguished from disassembly and repair and recycling that lead and plastic… and from general use. Second, BAN found arsenic in the river by Guiyu. Chemists and engineers will tell you there's no arsenic or cyanide in “e-waste”... but there is probably a copper mine upstream.
Are there risks in e-waste recycling?  Absolutely.  But the risk of toxins has been dramatically overstated as compared to, say, the toxic dangers of pumping gasoline at the self-serve.  If you take 50 years of experience from TV repair industry, you find hurt backs, busted toes, a rare electric shock, and occasional cuts from incidents of broken CRT glass.   You don't see lead poisoning, silicosis, or other banes of mining raw materials.   At recycling yards, or trash tipping floors, where thousands of tons of the TVs might be crushed and pushed and whacked, you are likely to find lead dust, but the point to that is careful handling.   Inside the landfill, an unbroken CRT does not leach poison, but if you haul it in trash and crush it on the tipping floor, it won’t arrive intact.  The point is not to confuse the risks of processes (like burning and handling) with spooky “brews” of poison.  (Computer viruses are also not contagious to humans).
5.  MYTH:  Manufacturer Take-back leads to design solutions
The Pitch:  If Original Equipment Manufacturers are handed back the problem of obsolete electronics, they will have have an incentive  to design, produce, and sell items that avoid those problems.  
CDs made the cassette players obsolete, and MP3s made the CD players obsolete.   Windows 95 made the Pentium I, obsolete, Windows 2000 made the Pentium II obsolete.   The end of analog broadcast made the rabbit ear TVs obsolete.  There is no way that the engineer of the CRT could have anticipated the LCD or plasma screen.  Making the manufacturer of VCR pay for its recycling will not change the tide of blue ray players.  Obsolescence is dictated by media, not by hardware.  But it is true that the hardware people benefit from the turnover in new technology, and Product Stewardship laws brought the hardware people to the table.  I would argue that a Product Stewardship bill which taxes media – the FCC auctions of the airwaves, the sales of new operating systems, etc., would be more logical and an easier fee to pass along (since you are adding the tax to a “right” not physical production).
The other problem with this theory is that it is based on a somewhat quaint image of manufacturing.   If you take my Dell desktop apart, the hard drive is made by Seagate, the motherboard by Intel, the video cards by NVidia, the screen assembled by BenQ, the CRT tube by Trinitron, the RAM stick by Corsair… I don’t know what “Dell” made besides the logo.  Forcing all these assembled parts back upstream is certainly going to make a lot of noise, but it’s not likely to affect the engineering.

4.  MYTH:  Most of the junk electronics found in developing countries are discards from wealthy nations.
Pitch:  (If) 80% of the E-Waste collected in the USA is exported, and (if) 80% of the exports are useless ewaste, it follows that the electronic scrap scattered in the streets of poor areas like Guiyu, China, came from imported loads from rich countries.   The people tearing down the ewaste are too poor to have generated it themselves.
Actually, China is the number 2 generator of scrap electronics after the USA.  Reports from Malaysia, from the United Nations, and from researchers at Arizona State University all confirm that most of the scrap electronics found in places like Guiyu actually originated in the home country.   This makes sense when you consider that the biggest area of growth in internet access is in developing countries.  Countries with average per capita GDP of $3000 increased internet access at ten times the rate of USA growth (USA’s GDP per capita is $47,000).   It's also true that some of the discarded electronics observed at the landfills in Africa were purchased used, worked for several years, but finally became obsolete. How will these countries develop the capacity to best recycle their own scrap electronics?  In the USA, it was techies, geeks and repair people who started the ewaste recycling industry.

3.  MYTH:  Most electronics will be repaired or recycled if you send it to a country poor enough. 
Pitch:  The free market works perfectly.  Anything can be repaired, anything can be recycled.  Even the screws are made of metal.  If we export e-waste to a poor enough country.
This was presented to me by a notorious e-waste exporter, who I had just introduced face to face with Sarah Westervelt of BAN (whom he didn’t recognize).  There are a lot of e-waste generators who choose recycling companies based on the lowest price.  Many think that the free market works and that importers wouldn’t buy the stuff if it wasn’t good.   The problem is that the shipping lines and sea containers are a “bottleneck” – a sea container holds 40,000 lbs, and that’s what goes in.    If there is a single high-value item – such as classified submarine tracking equipment, some laptops, or a nice Harley-Davidson motorcycle, importers will look the other way when obsolete equipment falls out.   Poor countries cannot recycle CRT glass unless there is a smelter (like in Mexico) or CRT furnace (like in Malaysia, India and China), or there is enough “fair trade” money for them to pay for the bad units.  Left with a repairable TV, an African will repair it, but left with a damaged CRT screen, they can only strip the copper and leave the leaded glass on the ground… at a penny a pound, they cannot pay to ship it to another continent.  And a country has to at least afford electricity before they can repair used computers; the poorest billion people cannot really benefit from junk of the wealthy.
2.  MYTH:  80% of used electronics exports are illegal end-of-life product.
The Pitch:  BAN and Greenpeace claim that 80% of the ewaste collected in the USA is exported, and that 80% of that is junk for disposal.  They say that American companies export the junk to avoid the cost of proper recycling.  And when BAN or Greenpeace or Toxics Action Coalition finds a pile of junk on the ground or in a warehouse, no doubt that "80%" of what they see there is junk.
At most, about 30% of the exports of uniform loads (barring a new motorcycle, guns, or other "sweetener" in the load) are junk.  In a study by ASU of used computers sold to Peru, more than 85% was repaired and resold. While it is certainly true that it costs money to remove a junk, imploded, ancient, Apple, unrepairable monitor or TV from a stack of good ones, you need more than just “avoided disposal fees” to pay thousands of dollars for a shipping a container across an ocean (dumping it in the Atlantic would achieve the same cost savings).   Overseas buyers typically pay $5000 for a container of used electronics scrap on top of that shipping, and they don’t pay that for unrepairable CRT monitors with a dollar’s worth of copper.  Obviously, there are financial gains to be made by letting some of the junk flow into the overseas container, but if it’s more than 30%, the economics just don’t work, and the business won’t be repeated.  
As for the pile in Guiyu, or the landfill in Ghana, of course it’s 80% junk.  The good TVs and computers are sold, they are off in use.  The ones that didn't sell are the junk ones.  The junk accumulates, like orange peels in a monkey cage or bones in a lion cage.   Finding empty soda cans doesn’t prove that people buy empty soda cans.
As for Legality, the Basel Convention is available on-line.  It is not necessary to get a self-proclaimed expert.  Used electronics exported for recycling and repair are addressed in Annex IX, B1110.  Annex IX is the list of what is legal if it does not result in a toxic.  That means that the export is illegal only if it is a polluting process.  It does not prohibit factories which made monitors from buying back their old monitors for refurbishment.  That doesn’t mean there is nothing illegal mixed in as “toxics along for the ride”, and you should audit your “ewaste” recycler carefully if they do export.  But 80% is economically impossible unless you count legal reuse and refurbishment in the “e-waste” calculation.  Maybe 80% are exported (though with market shares of Creative and SIMS and ERI and other large e-waste processors, I doubt it).   Probably many exports are illegal… but “80% illegally exported” is the second biggest Myth reported in the industry.
 For what it's worth, one importer in Asia said that 70-80% of his loads were reuseable or recyclable. The rest, he said, he gave to fishermen who used them for ballasts. For every ton of fish they brought back, they threw a half ton of “ballast” into the ocean. We will find a lot of computer monitors on deep sea diving missions some day (But they were not 80% of the load). This is a call for openness, transparency, and Fair Trade. No “toxics along for the ride”.
1.  MYTH:  E-Waste Recycling isn't worth it.
The Pitch:  Freakonomics postulates that if recycling which costs money, it cannot be done by the free market.  Are e-waste programs just an expensive boondoggle?  Clients cannot see the difference in service between a recycling company that charges them for the same pile of computers that another company pays for.  It's all a cynical ploy to get you to pay to recycle something that does no harm in the dump.
This is the most dangerous myth because it stabs recycling programs in the heart - by reducing participation.   EPA, USGS, the Department of Commerce, and state and county governments have studied recycling.  We have weighed the costs and benefits, and set up programs.  Convincing people NOT to participate creates a double waste - the material that gets thrown away as well as the cost of driving past a non-participant.  By not participating, the cynics make recycling slightly less affordable and practical than it would otherwise be.
Cynicism hurts the companies which are investing in doing a better and better job of managing used electronics.  It undercuts the refurbishing and repair industry, which has been the best path of development (far better than drilling and mining and plantations) for the developing world.  As one group of clients gets cynical and goes for the lowball bid, the recyclers competing for the smaller pie might be tempted to malign each other's reputations, insinuate foul play, and charge higher margins on the declining volumes.
Last year, my company managed about 5 million pounds of used TVs, computers, printers, VCRs, laptops, keyboards, oscilloscopes, monitors, copy machines, cell phones, stereos, surge supressors, and other surplus, working, repairable, junk and anything else you might label "e-waste".   If you took all that material and put it in the dump, you'd avoid our fees (about 12 cents per pound after collection), about $600k.   That 600k employs 25 people.
The evil lurking inside waste electronics is not the toxics constituents.  Think of throwing away ivory, or a baby seal pelt.  Most of the environmental harm from a disposable society is wasting the precious materials, which were extracted at great costs in environmentally sensitive areas.    Gorilla extinction is tied to the mining of coltan for cell phones.  Conflict metals are going into electronics as well as jewelry.   Even non-toxic elements in a computer, such as tin, are mined at the expense of coral reefs in Indonesia.  The copper production at the OK Tedi Mine in Papua New Guineau produces a green plume of cycanide tailings which have assassinated all life in the river, and fishless sea harbor is now visible from outer space.    To produce the same amount of copper, aluminum, gold, silver, and other “hard rock” mined metals is a shocking cost.    Hard rock metal mining produces 45% of all toxics produced by all USA industries, and even more toxics in developing countries.  14 of the 15 largest Superfund sites come from virgin metal mining.  Even the worst forms of recycling produce less pollution than the cleanest form of mining.
Your gut instinct is that it makes no sense to throw away such a complicated piece of equipment.  That’s why you stored it in your attic, or put it in your car to bring to the school or charity.   Your gut is right.
Electronics reuse and recycling also creates jobs.  If you look at a large, well run landfill, like the one managed by Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the amount of material our company processes in a year equals one day's worth of MSW solid waste disposal by weight.   The reuse, repair and recycling we do on that one day’s worth of material brings $1.2M into Addison County and creates 20 jobs.   If that material was brought to a landfill, it would take less than a day to push dirt on top of it.   This proves that recycling is worth it, and that any “subsidy” is either making up for another subsidy (landfills and mining), or a start up cost that can go away if enough people, like you, choose to recycle.
There are probably many more myths about e-waste.  Is hard drive destruction demanded because Chinese paupers are booting up hard drives?  Or is it the value of computer programs (MS Office, Photoshop, etc.) behind the legislation which drives shredding?   Does a printer run through a shredder in the USA wind up in a different country than a printer exported for disassembly?  Or does the fluff plastic and the steel just go into separate containers to the same place?   Are cameras and ink cartridges refilled or burned?   Do “green” products matter?  Does just the promise to act green matter as much (through brand exposure and commitment) as the ecological footprint?   There are many other sacred cows roaming El Rancho del E-Waste.   I don’t know, and am not ready to declare something a Myth if I’m not pretty confident in my facts.   But that just means there is plenty more to research, study, and write about in the coming years.

Karachi Pakistan reverses ban on "e-waste"

The Daily Times reports on the same thing I've been blogging about...

The article mentions that people in Pakistan were told that the ewaste is "radioactive", but that they prefer affordable internet.  What needs to happen is fair trade, getting good USA companies to ship useful material and clean recycling feedstocks.

Self Fulfilling E-Waste Prophesy


Factory which made monitors sees OEMs leaving their business for new LCD monitor manufacturing capacity opened in northern China.

Factory stays open by buying used USA monitors and completely refurbishing them, like new, in brand new boxes, which (unlike LCDs) are actually affordable to students from the villages.

Villagers start to access internet, getting online at 10X the rate of growth of USA.

Factory demand goes so high that villages start to import all kinds of monitors from the USA, good bad and ugly.  The villages sort out the good ones the factory needs and throw their "e-waste" on the ground (breaking off the copper and plastic for recycling, but nowhere to send the CRT glass).

NGO finds the leftovers on the ground and calls for an end to exports from USA.

Factory realizes they are behind the situation, and tries to buy only the correct monitors from American companies willing to recycle the bad and ugly monitors in the USA.

NGO calls on good e-Steward recyclers to boycott sales to Factory.

Factory goes back and buys from the ewaste villages, which buy mixed good and bad monitors from USA recyclers willing to export.

USA e-Steward recyclers which break good monitors sacrifice income and find it tough to compete with mixed ewaste exporters.

Americans find it hard to pay for recycling at "good" American non-exporters.

NGO calls on legislation to force OEMs to pay for recycling of used monitors.

OEM sees Factory making like-new monitors to compete with them, agrees with NGO to disallow exports to factory.

CBS 60 Minutes finds ewaste on the ground in villages from USA exporters that don't segregate monitors.

NGO, expensive E-Stewards cite 60 minutes.

Factory closes, laying off thousands... who return to work on scrap in the villages.

EPA Enforcement of CRT Rule on Exports

It is being repeated over and over in the press that there are no rules about CRTs exported for reuse.  This is inaccurate.   Under US EPA Final Rules on Cathode Ray Tubes, there is a list of companies which have submitted "one time notification of export for reuse", meeting provision A (My company submitted on January 10, 2007).

There is a provision B to the EPA export rule.
  • "The exporters listed below must keep copies of normal business records demonstrating that each shipment will be reused. Records must be retained for three years. The notices are required to be submitted only once."
In 2007, at the Recycling Today conference, EPA and BAN and WR3A met together to talk about the export for repair business, meeting face to face with importers from Mexico, Malaysia, Egypt, Senegal, Indonesia and Thailand.   Here's a photo.  We should be way past misunderstanding. 

We disclosed our whole export for reuse and repair process, we showed our end markets.  But we have never been asked by EPA for our records of reuse (BAN asked, but in the same breath, said they were illegal regardless).  If BAN is saying that 80% of the loads these reuse companies are exporting are in fact waste, then EPA needs to start collecting the records to see if that is accurate.   Through WR3A we have records not only on the reuse, but on the proper recycling of incidental breakage which (using the CRT Glass Test) we can verify independently.  We did so with an R2 audit, we also take film.

BAN, it would appear, either does not believe that the CRTs are really being reused (they have stated repeatedly that 80% are disposed) or believes that the repair and refurbishing of them is illegal... My contention is that they believe NEITHER.  Instead, the evidence is that BAN thinks they SHOULD be illegal and are waging a campaign against these operations.  The dialogue is over, they have said, so I'm calling all the cards onto the table.

Basel Action Network SAYS:
"According to BAN, about 80 percent of the e-waste consumers deliver to recyclers is not recycled by these companies at all but is simply shipped to countries in Asia and Africa to some of the world’s most impoverished communities where the waste is smashed, burned, melted or chemically treated in extremely dangerous backyard operations."

BAN's position, apparently, is that if repair includes replacing a simple capacitor (something Americans did all over the country in the 1980s and 90s), that the capacitor must be tested and replaced before the export for repair may occur.
  • Are the exports 80% waste or 80% good?
  • If the export is still illegal under Basel Convention Annex IX b1110, why did BAN protest that clause and state in writing that it conflicts with Annex III?
  • If it is really these tiny parts and capacitors removed in repair that BAN considers illegal, then it isn't 80% of the load, is it?  

BAN may just be saying that if 80% of the loads are refurbished and have a part replaced, that 80% of the load is waste.  If that is the issue, then we need EPA and some journalists to wake up and smell the ... smoke.  Or, if NRDC says these CRTs are being burned for copper, and BAN is talking about a 1-gram non-toxic part replacement, then wake up and smell the lack of smoke.

We test the CRTs for key functions, as the importer requires and demands, and if my staff make an error, we pay for proper recycling.   BAN is creating a situation where people invest in big shredding machines because they are afraid of making an error.  EPA requires that we keep records of our errors.    This whole discussion is SO 1999!  Dudes!  C'mon man!

Looks Like a Job For ... Bicycle Repair-Man!

One man's e-waste is another man's computer.  As I've stated before, two of the first 10 billionaires in China were repair and refurbish techies.  One was a farmer who figured out that it was more rewarding to repair USA tractors than to repair communist era Mao Factory tractors... so he'd get the John Deere's from scrap metal dealers and fix them up.    Another was a BICYCLE REPAIRMAN!   And whenever you mention Communism and Bicycle Repair in the same paragraph, you must footnote the following Monty Python sketch.   Or the Right to Repair Act of 2010.

Indonesia CRT Recycling Factory

Again, here is some film of Indonesia CRT refurbishing and repair factories.  BAN has described this factory as villagers who burn the monitors and CRTs for copper.

The first photos show dumping.  Most of the presentation, however, is professional refurbishing jobs.  Why does BAN want to take these jobs away from these poor people?  They say it is pollution, they say it is illegal, but it is neither.

Environmental Hypocrisy

This article in Newsweek, which explains how self-righteousness corresponds positively to arrogance, struck a chord.


While your average environmentalist pontificates on the Boston Globe allegation that CRTs exported to Indonesia are 80% bad vs. the recycler claiming they are 90% good, here is a real story about the real issue in Indonesia.

NPR's Living On Earth reporter Ingrid Lobet visited the forests in Indonesia, and documented not only that cutting down the rain forest eliminates trees that consume carbon, but how it exposes centuries of peat which by itself belches carbon into the atmosphere.

The "burning environmental issue" is the rain forest and coral reefs, which are headed down the path of the Mediterranean shores (Turkey used to have redwood-forest scale timber, and the Adriatic sea was once teeming with life).  Mining lead or tin or copper to make new electronics is not happening much in the developing world - it happens in Indonesia.

Some environmentalists are making the story about the negatives of the most sustainable alternative jobs Indonesians have - reuse and repair and refurbishment and recycling.   Recyclers are not the bad guys.   Let's cut the friendly fire.  Basel Convention explicitly allows the factory refurbishing which is done in Indonesia, the allegation that it is all bad stuff does not hold water (who pays 7000 per container to ship junk?), and the outcome is a ban on exports.

A ban on exports increases mining and destroys rain forests.

Holy moly.  NRDC, Obama, Greenpeace!  Stop with the friendly fire!  Help us raise the standards of recycling through fair trade, allow the reuse and refurbishment to make recycling more affordable, and make recycling the hero that it is - an alternative to mining and forestry.  Here I am in a picture with an E-Steward and a University Recycling Coordinator for California, inside one of the refurbishing factories that indisputably refurbish CRTs that Americans are throwing away.  How can Natural Resources Defense Council not at least step in and explain that the reuse exists, and then oppose it ... heck, I don't know why they oppose it.  Maybe because they got some money from someone who invested a few million in a CRT crusher in the USA.  No... that would be cynical.   Surely not.   Really, it's because they don't believe the factories exist, right?  I sent them a letter last week offering to take NRDC on a tour of the factories, no response yet.

2002 Roadmap for E-Waste Export

This is where I met BAN and tried to work with them from 2002-2006.   They seemed to appreciate the facts and prices.  I thought it was worth reposting.  It's dated, especially the reuse prices, but it makes a lot more sense than any statistics or research the anti-export lobby has put out.

Exports of Scrap Electronics - Situations, Principles and Standards

Boston Globe's Murky E-Waste Reporting

The Boston Globe (reporter Beth Daley) was the largest paper to pick up the story that BAN.org circulated, alleging that recycler CRT Recycling (CRTR) of Brockton illegally exported TVs for dumping to Indonesia.  

As I have reported in this blog, there is certainly an opportunity for unscrupulous recyclers to ship junk they must otherwise pay for.   But the factories overseas have no incentive to pay for that junk, and they are certainly not "backyard" operations.

The problem here is that the Globe (in an editorial below) has now elevated the BAN allegation, effectively confirming that the containers were bound for dumping. They did so without looking.  The containers have arrived back in the port of Boston, still under seal.  EPA has been inspecting the containers and is probably withholding judgement until they are inspected.  I would hope so.

The Globe however did not make the mile trek to the port of Boston to see for themselves.  We shared film of some of the Indonesia factories with the Globe, and I can understand how the Globe may not have the budget to fly reporters across the world.  But the containers are in the port of Boston.

CRTR prices have driven me crazy for years.  Other recyclers are jumping for joy that the lowest bidder out there is caught in an enforcement action.  But I have to ask, what if these were MY containerloads, which I had exported to a legal, permitted, audited, ISO14001 factory?  What if BAN sent a letter to the government of the importer, telling them my containers were 80% waste, and the country returned them back to me, under seal?  How would I feel if the Globe alleged inaction by EPA based on a false accusation, while EPA finished its inspection?   I would probably feel like one of the USA state departement employees accused of being a communist by Senator Joe McCarthy.   Where is a Senator Millard Tydings when you need one?

It is unfair that I am in a position of defending an arch competitor, who may or may not be guilty of shipping junk, based on shoddy journalism.   My ideal self says that CRTR, the EPA, and the factory in Indonesia CRTR shipped to, all deserve an actual investigation by a real life journalist, and that the proof will be in the numbers - how many pieces in the containerload, if any, were junk, and what happens if junk arrives in Indonesia?   That is the story that has yet to be told, that is the question the Boston Globe has yet to ask.


Quit dumping old TVs overseas

March 10, 2010
THE MURKY afterworld of dead electronics was brought home this winter when a massive shipment of old televisions from Brockton’s CRT Recycling was rejected by the government of Indonesia and returned to Boston. Old cathode ray TV tubes contain several pounds of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other toxins. The blowback from Indonesia is evidence of why the US, the world’s largest producer of electronic waste, should sign the Basel Convention that bans dumping in developing countries. The United States’ own Government Accountability Office says American regulations are “among the weakest in the world,’’ allowing a “virtually unrestricted’’ flow of old TVs and computers to the Third World.

My response:
"Murky" is a good word, in that it cuts both directions. The Editorial is murky, the allegation is murky. Where are the facts? There is a factory refurbishing TVs in Indonesia, there are several such factories. There is an opportunity for an unscrupulous exporter to mix bad and unrepairable TVs into loads shipped for those factories. The CRTR containers arrived back in the USA in sealed containers, neither the environmentalists nor the Indonesian government opened the containers to see what kind of TVs are inside. They are here in Boston. This is your opportunity to find out the truth. While I am a competitor of the company in Brockton, and do not like the prices he competes at, I am shocked that the Globe would reprint the allegation when the nation expects you to be there and to look at the containers, and beyond shocked that the Globe would elevate this to the Editorial section. You have formed an opinion that the load was not as CRTR represented and that the refurbishing factory is a "backyard" operation, when you have an invitation and film to view.  That is indeed murky journalism. Several journalists who have reviewed the initial press release paused in their coverage and are willing spend the time the Globe is not willing to spend to see the operation in Indonesia, look at the records of the containerloads of used electronics, and report the truth. If the Globe's opinion turns out to be right, consider yourselves lucky. If you are wrong, consider yourselves "murky" rumor repeaters, not reporters. You have up until now reported nothing but an allegation, and have done nothing to investigate it.
Robin Ingenthron

Basel Convention on "E-waste" Export for Repair

What DOES the Basel Convention say about Export for reuse, repair and refurbishment?  This is Annex IX, B1110, which specifies "what is the good stuff", the language describing those things that are definitely not banned for export under Basel Convention (which USA has not ratified anyway).

"B1110 Electrical and electronic assemblies:
• Electronic assemblies consisting only of metals or alloys
• Waste electrical and electronic assemblies or scrap(13) (including printed circuit boards) not containing components such as accumulators and other batteries included on list A, mercury-switches, glass from cathode-ray tubes and other activated glass and PCB-capacitors, or not contaminated with Annex I constituents (e.g., cadmium, mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyl) or from which these have been removed, to an extent that they do not possess any of the characteristics contained in Annex III (note the related entry on list A A1180)
• Electrical and electronic assemblies (including printed circuit boards, electronic components and wires) destined for direct reuse,(14) and not for recycling or final disposal(15)
14. Reuse can include repair, refurbishment or upgrading, but not major reassembly.
15. In some countries these materials destined for direct re-use are not considered wastes."

This pretty clearly says that CRT glass is bad if it is not exported for reuse, repair, refurbishment and upgrading, but that if it is for those re-uses, that it is not an illegal waste.  

BAN has said that I am not qualified to read or interpret this.  When I have said we have legal authorities from overseas nations who agree with us and grant import permits in writing, BAN says to tell them who they are so that BAN, the small Seattle NGO, can write to them and dissuade them.
Here is BAN's argument (regarding MPPI, the mobile phone issue).  Please read it.  In my opinion, it's extremely not entirely very clarifying, but in their own words is best.  Here is why the Convention actually says "tested working" and "no export for repair", according to Basel Action Network.  

Anyone can grab an obscure international treaty (I would pick the Doha round of the WTO) and start a non-profit, take pictures of children, provide no data (only anecdotes and estimates), and form a consensus around protest opinions, based on the phenomenon that no one else reads the actual text of he actual treaty.  This is insane.