CRT Display Units

It is really hard to ramp up this Purchase Order for 100,000 CRTs.

The demand for the CRTs is there in two groups.  One group simply needs a $20 display unit.  Your computer is no good without a monitor.   The 3B3K market sees the CRT as longer lasting and more affordable.  This is why the refurbishing factories want us to increase the supply, and why they are willing to buy from people who do not remove the bad ones if they cannot get the supply elsewhere. 

There is another CRT market - hardcore gamers.  They like the CRT because it's better engineered and they don't mind sacrificing the desk space for a wicked awesome game experience.  Follow this Youtube post and check out the comments about playstation 3s on CRTs.

Still, I've been making the case for qualified, inspected, fair trade, accountable CRT exports for years.  I keep running into the same two types of suppliers - people who already do it and will export them anyway and who don't like the sacrifices involved in Fair Trade exports (lower prices in return for more accountability), and the people who believe, that the CRTs are not really being repaired or that think the replacement of parts overseas constitutes a crime.

We have the factory takeback programs, and we have the audits and the demand, but I can't budge BAN and I can't make a living squeezing pennies for the export-for-price market.

Jiminy crickets.

Rabbit in a Log

here's a rabbit in the log and I ain't got no dog
How will I get him I know ( I know )
I'll get me a briar and I'll twist it in his hair
That's how I'll get him I know
I know ( I know ) I know ( yes I know )
That's how I'll get him I know
I'll get me a briar and I'll twist it in his hair
That's how I'll get him I know

My grandpa Clarence Fisher ("Pa") is a man whom I've written about a few times (mostly regarding his ability to repair and rebuild stuff, and to show the capacity to have succeeded as an engineer if born in another place and time). He had quite a number of really good (and true) stories about his life in the Ozark mountains.
He told about how he and his brother were out hunting skunk pelts, and they saw a skunk run up and under this big old rock ledge. The ledge was too low to the ground for them to see under or crawl under. So Pa told how they used their pocket knifes to cut a tree sapling, and to split the end in two. Then they could probe up and under the ledge until they felt something soft, then real quick they twisted the sapling so the skunk's fur would get all entwined in it. They pulled out the skunk and bopped him on the head, getting a pretty good spray in the bargain.

They figured there might be some more skunks under that same ledge, and went to poking around some more and sure enough, felt something soft. They twisted the fur up in the sapling and dragged the critter out.

A few hours later they were delighted to have took seven skunks, for meat and fur and hide, and they headed home to tell their ma.

Of course they were not allowed into the house, they smelled so bad, and it was too late to bathe, so they went out and slept in the barn. The next morning they'd bring the pelts in to the school teacher, Mr. Rey, who was paying kids for pelts as a way to augment his teacher salary.

Pa told how when they got to the one-room Taney County schoolhouse (near Forsyth or Walnut Shade, not sure), that they smelled just awful, but Mr. Rey was pleased with seven pelts. So they sat in class.

The rest of the kids in class spent the day leaning out the window, gulping fresh air.  Pa chuckled about how he and his brother were just boys, and the whole time felt nothing but pride and happiness that whole day, on account of the money they'd made from old Mr. Rey.  So the teacher was happy and the boys were happy.   It makes you appreciate what some people have to go through to earn a living.

The reason I write this is that I was listening to Pandora Radio this Memorial Day weekend, and my favorite station is based on Kentucky Colonels (bluegrass), and the Stanley Brothers just came on signing "rabbit in a log and I ain't got my dog". I have heard this song dozens of times but I guess I never heard the lyrics well enough to realize the singer is teaching the same trick, sticking briar up in the log to turn around and twist the rabbit's fur.

(My buddies from Carleton College may note that Clarence White of the Kentucky Colonels bluegrass band later joined the Byrds on the album I played too loudly on fourth Goodhue.  My son Morgan's middle name is Clarence, his great-grandpa's namesake).

And just before you think I up and forgot to write about "e-waste" recycling and exports and electronics recycling policy, consider this. I am seven generations of hillbilly.  My parents did not have electricity or phones or televisions until they were teens (actually, my wife did not have a telephone or color TV until she was a teen), and could no more imagine I'd make a career out of recycling "ewaste" than that I'd be trading in it with Indonesians, Peruvians, Mexicans and Egyptians. But here I am today, a supposed national expert on proper management of cathode ray tube glass, printed circuit boards, etc., and I am just a generation or two out of the woods. But one of the reasons I'm told we shouldn't provide computers and monitor displays to Africans and Latin Americans and southeast Asians is that they don't have the skill or technology to properly recycle.

That's bull-hockey. What they lack is the financial incentive to properly recycle. You give them that and they will do a better job than anybody. And the people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America who know more about recycling than I do have already been born and are probably already in business, and they will be as far away from the wire burning villages of their grandparents as I am from skunk hunting in the Vermont woods.

The USA was added to the OECD in 1961;  Mexico in 1994, Korea 1996.  There has been a freeze on adding countries during the past decade, even though countries like Singapore and Malaysia have far passed what Mexico, Korea and the USA had for environmental agencies when they were admitted.  The Basel Convention hitched its horse to OECD, and OECD fell asleep.

There are places in China which look like the photos at  And there are people dressed like hillbillies at Silver Dollar City in Branson.  And don't start me on comparing Doe Run (the CRT glass end market in Missouri) to Samsung Corning in Malaysia.

Here's to Grandpa Fisher this Memorial Day 2010.  His wife, grandma Lauradean Youngblood Fisher, is still with us, time to give her a call.

rest of the lyrics...

I'll build me a fire and I'll roast that old hare
Roll him in the flames to make him brown
And I'll feast here tonight while the moon's shining bright
Just find me a place to lie down
To lie down, to lie down
Find me a place to lie down
I'll feast here tonight while the moon's shining bright
Just find me a place to lie down

I'm going down the track with a chicken on my back
The soles on my shoes nearly gone
Just a little ways ahead there's an old framer's shed
That's where I'll rest my weary bones
Weart bones, weary bones
That's where I'll rest my weary bones
Just a little ways ahead there's an old farmer's shed
That's where I'll rest my weary bones

Good Idea 231: Tip Jar App for Online Content

I love the internet.  It perfectly connects rural New England with cultures and places worldwide.  How many trips to the library have I saved looking up content online?  My recycling bin is also less heavy than it was 15 years ago, when I was reading the Boston Globe every day.  And no, the tonnage of ewaste does not replace that in weight (though arguably it may if upstream mining wastes are included).

There is a lot of concern, however, that news sources like and Boston Globe and other media do not have a sustainable business model.  They have saved on paper, saved on ink, saved on distribution, but they have not been able to replace subscription income via clickable ads.  They are placing the ads in more obnoxious places, but I'm not sure this actually does the sponsor a big favor.   It gets my attention, like someone standing in front of my TV during a Celtics game gets my attention.

My kids were asking about homeless and panhandling people they encountered in Paris (not in Vermont).  I was explaining the economics of asking a million people passing through the train station for a handout only has to be successful a small percentage of the time to achieve income.  Kind of like email spam.  Unfortunately, the journalists who write articles cannot spam their articles to a big enough group to count on random income.  People have to seek their article out, and that limits the number of "eyeballs".

What is needed is a tip jar application, similar to the Digg and Tweet buttons I have installed on the top right of this blog.  If I could hook up my credit card to a "Tip" Application, and click a quarter or a dollar, I'm sure I'd do it once in awhile.  Making a commitment to subscribe to an online news source, such as WSJ, is too big a commitment because I can't make time to get there every day, and there are too many alternative news sources.  But if I did go to WSJ now and then, I might leave a tip.  It should be hooked to Twitter or Digg or Facebook, the "form an account to give away money" is not a big draw.

Waiters and waitresses earn pretty significant income from tip jars.  I don't know about hotel staff (they certainly aren't getting 20%).   What the journalists might need to figure out is for them to get the tip personally before the publication itself figures out how to use the application.   But then again, there is no better proof than this blog that editors have a value, maybe the tip jar belongs with the institution not the writer.

Having googled around for the tip jar idea, I found Kachingle, and some other betas that came out this year. A one-in-a-million idea in a world with six billion people has six thousand competitors.  If Kachingle is acquired by Twitter, Google, Bing or Digg, etc., we may have a game on.

Fascinating Interpol - EPA Conference

WR3A (Robin Ingenthron and our new intern from Middlebury College, Matt Birnbaum) were only able to attend the first day (open to stakeholders) of the conference in Alexandria, Virginia, but we did meet with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and did hear presentations from several enforcement officials from the USA, Asia, Europe, and Africa.    We arrived at 3AM and left at 9PM, and I would describe it as the most important conference I have attended in a long time, just because of the concentration of people concerned about a single topic:
  • When is the export of used electronics a crime?
  • What are the financial benefits of the crime?
  • How will Interpol and the various government agencies stop it?

I have to catch up for my absence at the plant, but would like to write more later.  What I'll report for the time being:

1) Basel Action Network exhibited tremendous power and influence at the event, giving a long presentation with photos.  BAN is promoting a process flow diagram or decision tree which is very conservative about exports, and using photos and anecdotes and estimates to justify it.

2) The European enforcement officials were younger and more emphatic or enthusiastic about arrests and solving the problem through enforcement.   Since Europe has passed a WEEE system similar to California's, they can argue that it is a violation of a law to export working equipment... it can be criminal even if it is environmentally and morally good.   This makes life simple for an enforcement agency, we just need to get them to focus their power on bad actors and not randomly select good people, like my former trade partners in Egypt, for enforcement.

3) The Hong Kong representative's presentation was chilling.  China knows exactly what is going on and has many agendas.   I have heard before and can verify from several sources that China considers it a crime for me to resell a Pentium 4 laptop which I have used for one week, in fully functional condition, properly licensed and title.  "Second hand" is defined by China as "discarding", and is considered a crime.   Again, that is old news, and past blogs have explained some of the angles (the financial interests of Taiwan in refurbishing, the financial interests of the Chinese Communist Party which owns virgin CRT plants).  Here is the shocker:

The Hong Kong representative announced that under Basel Convention, that Hong Kong port is a "transit" point and is defined as a Party to the transaction.   That China has, according to the official, an obligation to stop shipments between two other parties who do NOT define working and repairable second hand goods as waste.  I made a point to meet one on one with the Chinese official afterwards, and he made this clear that China has the right to stop a shipment, in my example used hard drives shipped back to Singapore from California for re-manufacturing.  This invokes a right by China to stop sea containers with used goods of any quality, working or repairable. I believe this is specifically barred by the WTO Doha conference, and should be on everyone's radar, especially the USA Commerce Department.  Again, this is anything previously owned by anyone else, used cars, store returns, remanufacturing cores, China announced that it can stop shipment via the busiest port in the world between two parties consenting to the trade.  As a sidebar, the representative did announce allowance "green wastes" as a new term for recycling (steel, plastic, etc.) which they will allow... this closes the hole in my meetings in Hong Kong where I noted that clean steel was also previously owned, and under their previous definition, was a "discarded waste".

4) Africa.... this will take a longer post.   I lived in Africa and have a soft spot for Africa.  There is a way to resolve some of the issues through Fair Trade, and we will post more about the challenges and opportunities later.

Jim and Sarah of BAN and WR3A's intern Matt and I spent a little time "catching up", which was a good breather following the saber rattling of the past 6 months (following E-Scrap News publication of my post which was critical of the unintended consequences of E-Stewards model).    Jim does not want me to characterize his positions on his behalf, and it is challenging to report on a two-way exchange without doing that.  I can only say that I told him I objected to his editorial that Fair Trade was poisoning people, and told him that if the E-Steward companies actually DO test and ship tested working (rather than shredding), that I will be much less critical of BAN.  I only object to people pretending there is a domestic repair alternative to overseas refurbishing, when the actual main solution in practice is shredding.  That is not a solution to the demand, and actually leads to more junk being shipped as the market tries to replace worthy "certified" material with whatever-they-can-find.   (I think Jim Puckett would allow me to report positively that the guy has a sense of humor and said he really enjoyed the April Fools post more than his colleagues did, and that his son thought the "ayatollah" photo was funny.)

I made several points which I would describe BAN's reaction as constructive and encouraging - that the CRTs in Hong Kong primarily go to a SKD refurbishing plants, that WR3A requires recycling of removed parts and circuit boards in a Basel Convention approved fashion, that demand for $20 display units - CRT monitors - is still gigantic and the only option for students in developing countries.

What would make me pessimistic about working with BAN on ewaste policy compromises is that I have been making those points since 2003 and in written letters to BAN since 2007.   So the pop-topical reference for today's blog is of course the wonderful 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis.


Interpol in Alexandria

Arrived last night, a little before 3AM, to Alexandria VA for the meeting of Interpol and EPA officials on their plan to enforce against dumping of "e-waste".  Our newest WR3A intern, Matt Birnbaum of Middlebury College, is with me, I picked him up in NYC and got to know him on the way down.

How will Interpol enforce the difference between export of commodities and export of waste?  If Interpol accepts the BAN allegation that 80% is toxic waste, then the 20% seems like a small price to pay.  But if the African entrepreneur is spending $7000 for the sea container shipping, $10,000 for the load of computers, and flying to the USA to pre-inspect the load, what is the real likelihood that the 1,000 computer monitors are waste?  How will Interpol know?

Take a look at BAN's own photo from their website.  This is a containerload being emptied in Lagos.  The caption states that "many" of these which are not working will be dumped.  That's probably true, but then again, that doesn't really support BAN's contention that 75%-80% are waste.

What a professional sees is a containerload of very specific sized televisions.  It actually would take Good Point Recycling a couple of months to set aside a load of TVs of just this size - 12 to 16 inches.   The larger TVs, which are more common, contain more copper, so if BAN's allegation that these will be burned for scrap is true, it's curious that there are no larger TVs visible.  Or for that matter, printers, or other electronic scrap.

What I happen to know about this size of TV is that they are in demand in places where electric current is so weak that a 19", 25", 27" etc television will not boot up.  These are typically in demand in poor but upwardly mobile areas.  The slums don't have electricity at all, the rich people have strong enough current to boot a large TV... and in developing countries, the rich tend to have flat screens.

But back to the economics.  There are about 1000-1500 TVs in this container (I've never done a shipment like this, and have never sent a containerload of TVs to Africa and don't recommend it).  If they are costing the African entrepreneur, between shipping and inspection and per unit, about $13 per TV, how many of them could possibly be bad?

My company doesn't do this.  But sometimes I wonder, is the world better off when good people withdraw from a trade?  It would be interesting to do a psychology test and show the photo to Americans and try to find out what is behind our reaction, why it does not occur to people to figure out a legitimate reason for the men pictured to purchase these TVs, why no one at BAN thought of the electric current demands in upwardly mobile shared electricity markets in Africa.   If the photo elicits disgust, what is disgusting?  Is it fear of capitalism, business, and trade?   Or, most ominously, is it a white reaction to black faces?  If the load is legitimate, has BAN turned the men above into a Willie Horton campaign?

Glasnost is Good for NGOs

In the course of researching links for yesterday's post, I had an Orwellian experience. Press quotes and articles appeared to have changed, or had I misread them?

The specifics of yesterday's post had to do with the paradox of manufacturer takeback as a solution when manufacturers are in countries which  the NGOs object to.   If no monitor is made in the USA, a monitor sent for repair or reuse - sometimes under warranty - goes back to the factories I've been lobbying in favor of (if certain "fair trade" criteria are agreed to and monitored).

The "primitive" description of the Indonesian factory I can no longer find... NRDC's quote in the Boston Globe now has brackets in it, which I don't recall and am not really sure how brackets are captured in an interview in the first place. But here is ETB's press release, still inaccurate, still on the web.  Note ETB's claim that the sea containers sent to the Indonesian CRT manufacturing factory "were opened and confirmed to be stacked full of untested, used computer monitors -- each containing several pounds of lead and other hazardous substances -- thus making them an internationally defined hazardous waste and therefore illegal to import into Indonesia."

Now look at the quote from Puckett in the Boston Globe article about the containers.  "But Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network said those assertions defy belief. Research his group has done shows that 75 percent of CRT tubes sent overseas do not work. Testing should be done on each one, he said."

  • Where is the research?
  • Where are the numbers?
  • I have done research and found that 75% of these loads are good, and agree that 25% bad is unacceptable... I am not an "apologist" for ewaste dumping.   ASU found that 85% of  computers shipped to Peru are good.  

I have gone public with my allegation that BAN does not possess any numbers or statistics at all, and that BAN knowingly told CBS News that monitors (in the Hong Kong segment) were being sent to Guiyu, when I have already sent BAN documentation of the contract (re-)manufacturing factories visited in Guangdong. 

To remain credible, NGOs which make false accusations must acknowledge they made them and retract them publicly, not simply re-write them or remove them from the web after the article has been written.

THE LINK TO THIS press release below, as of today, is here.  To be fair, I have not spoken one on one with Barbara at ETB in awhile, I owe her the courtesy of a call.  (I have spoken to BAN ad nauseum, provided pictures, and they still claim that "fair trade recycling" is poisoning people.  I believe their organization is trapped in their own story and that their entire funding could collapse if they back down from the 75% toxics claims).

Fake Electronics Recycling in Massachusetts

Indonesia Rejects Nine Shipping Containers from Brockton "Recycler"

In February 2010, the government of Indonesia turned back nine containers full of cathode ray tube TVs and monitors sent from CRT Recycling, Inc of Brockton, MA. CRT Recycling collects TVs and monitors for free from cities, towns, and schools across Massachusetts.

The Indonesian government acted after ETBC partner group the Basel Action Network (BAN) witnessed the containers being loaded in November 2009. When the containers arrived in February, Indonesia seized the containers, inspected them, and ordered them returned to the United States. They would have been an illegal import of hazardous waste into Indonesia, so they were rejected.

Export Used EPA-Registered Broker

CRT Recycling utilized a waste broker, Advanced Global Technologies Inc., of Burbank, CA, to handle the shipping of the containers. Advanced Global Technologies is listed on an official EPA website as being an EPA registered e-waste exporter. Under the CRT rule, the EPA requires two different kinds of protocols for CRT exports, one for CRTs exported for "recycling" and another for CRTs exported for "reuse." If the CRTs would have been exported for recycling, the exporter would have had to ask the EPA to request permission from the government of Indonesia to import the containers. But this export was made as "for reuse" which does not require a notice and consent procedure. Exports of CRTs in the name of reuse require the exporting company to merely file a one-time notice with the EPA, stating that they are exporting for reuse. No approval process is required.

BAN Tracked Containers to Indonesia

In this case, BAN volunteers staked out CRT Recycling Incorporated in Brockton, Massachusetts, a company that takes thousands of monitors every year from local schools and governments who unwittingly believe their old computers and monitors will legally and properly recycled. BAN photographed a container in the CRT Recycling, Inc. yard being loaded with cathode ray tube (CRT) computer monitors. Using container numbers and online shipping company databases, they were able to track the container and its ship to the port of Semarang, Indonesia. In November of 2009, BAN contacted the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and warned them of the ship’s imminent arrival and the hazardous wastes it carried.

Indonesian authorities then seized the container and found it to be part of a consignment of 9 such containers coming from CRT Recycling, Inc. These were opened and confirmed to be stacked full of untested, used computer monitors -- each containing several pounds of lead and other hazardous substances -- thus making them an internationally defined hazardous waste and therefore illegal to import into Indonesia. All 9 containers were then returned to the US. The containers arrived in Boston port in early February and detained at the Boston Freight Terminal with a deadline to clear customs by February 28th. CRT Recycling, Inc. has stated that they will turn the CRTs over to RMG Enterprises, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, for further processing. The EPA is expected to inspect the containers upon arrival.

Here is a copy of the letter I sent to NRDC.  As expected, NRDC, a very reputable organization, did (unlike BAN) respond to the letter, and I hope more dialogue will ensue.

Letter to NRDC Ingenthron 100302                                                            

EWaste's "Breaking Point"

We'd all be horrified if it was reported that some USA humane societies were sending kittens to  foreign countries, where starving people were cooking and eating the kittens.   In reaction, a pledge not to export kittens to developing countries seems natural.  But if the result is that humane societies start to euthenize all kittens, you might want to check out whether most of the kittens sent overseas were in fact being cooked and eaten, or if 80% of them in fact were winding up in good homes, and the initial story was anecdotal.  That would require math.  Instead, the NGOs are trying to make a "no intact kitten" policy seem like it  is superior to the hard work of finding good homes for kittens.  The "no intact kitten" policy has reached a breaking point. 

The competition between two "certification" standards for electronics scrap ("e-waste") operations continues to dominate policy debate. From EPA's Responsible Recyclers (R2) certification, the discussion moved to ISRI Policy.  Although reasoned debate always seems to result in "qualified exports", BAN moves the no-intact-unit, no-reuse standard forward on their own, usually by getting an organization like NRDC on board. Now the discussion has moved to EPEAT.  

Had the NGOs (BAN, ETB, NRDC) been able to compromise on the export issue, I'd still be friends with them and we'd put our combined energy into enforcement and recruitment, and some new directions I plan to announce later.  Instead, they have broken off discussions, do not respond to allegations that their standard promotes shredding, and refuse our offers to seek dispute mediation with organizations like Resolve.    BAN has attacked UNCTAD, attacked EPA, attacked R2, attacked ISRI, attacked the manufacturing takeback factory in Indonesia, attacked Samsung for using recycled glass cullet instead of mined ore.  Along the way, they have picked up support from some extremely reputable organizations, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, quoted from the Boston Globe.

“There is enough documented evidence indicating that monitors and other types of electronics shipped under the guise of resale or reuse winds up being disassembled in dangerous conditions,’’ said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is so much documentation consumers should assume that unless the material is going abroad [to be repaired under warranty] it will be disassembled.’’

To be clear, NRDC above says hat the factories which repair monitors under warranty are ok.  They also site "documentation", which is what I've been begging for ("math"). But the article is attacking a factory which takes back monitors, including ones to be repaired under warranty!  E-Stewards disqualifies the factory taking the exact same monitor back for the exact same process!

The E-Steward standard disqualifies the largest manufacturer-takeback operations in the world (like the Indonesia factory pictured), which are also the largest export demand in the world.  The factories, with connections to Wistan, Foxconn, BenQ, Proview, and other contract manufactures, made practically all the computer monitors in the 1990s, and have more than enough talent and engineering to repair and indeed recycle them.  That was another "breaking point".

The paradox is that the NGOs are promoting "manufacturer takeback" while excluding the very factories which manufacture the electronics.  I don't know if this is from ignorance or if paradox equals job security.   The "primitive wire burning" operations are the same ones many if not most of the OEMs rely on to make their products, and many of them already have ISO14001 because they had to get it for contract manufacturing contracts.  Now the difference appears to be a piece of paper, a "warranty", which makes the same people doing the same thing to the same monitor either "primitive" or "sophisticated".

The story is coming out.    We are seeing chinks in the armor.   BAN knows they are wrong.  A lawsuit is reportedly in motion, in reaction to the arrogant attack on the Indonesia factory BAN slapped out to Boston Globe and others last February.  Rest assured, if BAN calls in MY containers to the customs agents, which I have sent to an audited, legal, accountable refurbishing factory, and states that they do NOT meet the specifications of the factory, yet accept the same factory as an option for "warranty" items, and then accuse me of being a bad exporter to my clients and to the press, I will sue them back to the stone age.

We do not dispute the anecdotes, and we are working on making the process of reuse better and better.  The piles of waste CRTs in the BAN photos in China were CRTs which could not be used by the factory, they were outside of the purchase order (e.g. screen damaged, or trinitron R4 displays), and the reaction to the export of off-spec material should be to return or pay for proper recycling of the off spec material, NOT to ban the trade in ON-Spec material.   In my opinion, E-Stewards clearly does the latter, labelling commodities as wastes based on outright deception, e.g. their hoodwinking of CBS 60 Minutes on the "trail" of the CRT monitors in Hong Kong (NOT GUIYU!!! NOT GUIYU!!!).

The BAN e-Steward ewaste standard is easy to obtain if you adapt a no-intact-unit standard.  Requiring the monitors to be tested and repaired in the USA prior to export is so difficult that it results in shredding up working monitors.  They allow the shredders to then imply that the manufacturing factories, the warranty operations, are depicted in Guiyu. 

Also from the Globe story:
But Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network said those assertions defy belief. Research his group has done shows that 75 percent of CRT tubes sent overseas do not work. Testing should be done on each one, he said.

Let's see the "documentation", let's see the math, how many monitors are working when tested, and how many monitors are being shredded vs. sold for reuse.    I have records (as required by EPA) of final reuse and management of hundreds of thousands of monitors, and offered the same to BAN if they would accept the factories pictured here. BAN said they would not, under any condition, accept factory refurbishment, no matter what proof or documentation I provided.

Where are the kittens?

WR3A members have now visited the contract manufacturing factory in Indonesia, the one in question by the Boston Globe press article where NRDC Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz is quoted.  EPEAT has enough electronics manufacturing expertise to understand the reprecussions of profiling Foxconn, Wistron, BenQ, Proview etc. in bigoted manner.  NRDC has sided with the John Tierney (author of Recycling is Garbage, which NRDC and I worked together to rebut in the 1990s).
The key difference between R2 and E-Stewards is BAN's claimed interpretation of Basel Convention Annex IX, B1110.  (BAN's apparent interpretation of the Basel Convention's repair and refurbishment allowance is belied by their own letters to the Secretariat protesting it as written).   E-Stewards does not allow a perfectly good manufacturing operation to take back its own products.  Seagate in "primitive" Singapore cannot take back hard drives, for example.  Why would it be ok for Seagate to take back my hard drive if I kept the warranty paper, but would be "poisoning people" if I did not have my warranty paper?  Can this entire dispute be resolved with a longer warranty?

The US Commerce department needs to weigh in here, as through EPEAT the EPA are at risk of promoting a standard which is in conflict with USA positions at WTO, that commodities are not wastes if certain tests are met ("fully functional" definitely not being one of the tests).  The USA has core refurbishing operation, like Catepillar and Cummins Engine and VideoDisplay Corp, which have been victims of other countries labelling their cores "wastes" as a predatory trade practice.  EPEAT needs a recycling standard which discourages shoddy and sham recycling, or which culminates in "toxics along for the ride".  It does NOT need to take sides on the Annex IX "debate". 

Like NEPSI and other "consensus" standards, EPEAT risks "apparent consensus" actually based on "last man standing".  The person with the biggest investment makes it to all the survey monkey polls and all the calls, people with less bias have less at stake and cannot justify as much participation.   The paper shredding industry did that in the 1990s and it resulted in closure of USA paper mills which were too busy making paper to go to meetings setting standards for paper shredding.

FOOTNOTE:  The original Boston Globe story by Beth Daley has been rewritten following the criticisms posted in this blog.

Subject: Living Will, Known Unto God

I am still thinking about a comment made on Fareed Zakaria's CNN program concerning Americans and health care.  To distill the comment, the reason Americans spend more per capita on health care for fewer people covered is probably not a reflection of efficiencies gained from socialized systems in the EU.

Rather, it stems from something spiritual.  Europeans know they are going to die someday.  Americans do not seem to grasp this.   The result is that Americans spend more in the final days of life, chasing after cures for things like old age.  This article by Garson and Engelhard disagrees with the premise that the USA spends more on the final years of life (making a good point that the data is skewed by Medicare eligibility rules - more Medicare gets spent on people eligible for Medicare, who tend to be older... a good point).  But even this article concedes the following point:

"Second, would we act differently even if we knew we had less than a year to live? Perhaps less than you think. The most telling example of this was the failure of the Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation, or APACHE -- a scoring system that gave 95 percent odds that a patient would die in an intensive-care unit. Once a patient received such a prediction, the intent was that the amount of care delivered would be reduced. But this reduction did not occur. Why? Many people have trouble facing the reality of death, preferring to believe that they are part of the 5 percent who will beat the odds: 'Aunt Bertha always beats the odds, and she will now. ...'"

What I am observing is that soldiers are the Americans who have the "big picture" in mind, risking their lives to defend larger social goals.  I have never been drafted or been in a situation where it made any sense to volunteer for the military.  Yet, as a student of international relations and political science, I am a strong supporter of FDR's agenda to challenge Nazi Germany, and am sobered by the statistic that during his campaign for the presidency, 90% of Americans opposed entering World War II, and 70% of Americans even opposed sending scrap metal to England during the blitzkrieg!

Contrast that pacifist statistic with the images of D-Day in Normandy or the war in the Pacific.  These same Americans, once we were committed to be in a war, were able to suspend self preservation instincts and commit acts of untold bravery.

So what I'm thinking is that I need to volunteer for something like the invasion of Iwo Jima thirty years from now, when I'm not likely to "beat the odds".  I'm thinking that if I had been diagnosed with Aunt Bertha's syndrome, that I'd be first in line at Normandy beach.  Why not be bravest when I have the least to lose?

For me, as a former Peace Corps volunteer, I am setting up a life plan where I will have friends in the poorest and most destitute countries.   When I reach a time that my kids may feel compelled to spend what my parents spent caring for my paternal grandmother (don't ask), I want to be working in Guiyu, side by side with the people there, stripping copper wire.    I am more likely to choose the right place if I am actively trading and developing trusting relationships with partners and clients in Africa, Latin America, Asia etc. now.

You might assume this is written in whimsy.  People who knew me in high school and college, when I said I was going to one day own a recycling business and travel the world and practice philosophy for a living and make sure my kids are fluent in two languages before they are old enough to realize they are learning twice as many languages ... those people might read this and might know how I plan my life in decades not in months.  It has made me a better person in some ways, but a less careful person in short term situations.  When I speak my mind, I often realize I'm rubbing someone the wrong way.  But I also realize with dead certainty how few things I say are remembered a decade later.  People tend to remember that I spoke the truth, or that I said something funny, and here and there a quote may survive.  But the anger and jealousy and offense created in speaking truth to power, and practicing dialectic for better long term outcomes, is what makes a life worth living.

My son (14 next month) is reading Huckleberry Finn.  I told him to tell me when he gets to the line, "All right then, I'll go to hell."  It embodies so much, the challenge to society which finds the phrase offensive, and the bravery of the least among us willing to sacrifice eternal life for the sake of a friend that no one else knows is a human being.  The decision to float south in order to ferry back north.  My friends in the developing world are my Jims, and lacking the discipline to meditate away my ego, I can accept my role as a junk dealer scrap e-waste guy who is a bit like Huck Finn in the business world, and shrug off the bad labels, by embracing them, just as Huck did. All right then, I'll go to hell.

No one is going to care about "e-waste" three decades from now (Grandpa Robin set up the first laundromats...  Grandpa Robin set up the first gas stations...  Grandpa Robin set up the first bottle redemption infrastructure...?  WTFC?)  My late life health care plan is to imagine myself on the shores of Guadalcanal. My plan is to have a funeral which is wicked cheap, in a place not many people would ever travel to attend.  When I tell everyone I neither intend to be burned or landfilled at the end of my life, but composted, it's a tongue in cheek reference to disappearing in the jungle.   What may bring me soulful joy is to think of people in Cairo, France, Senegal, Peru, Indonesia, Arkansas, Vermont, Cameroon, Lithuania, Denmark, Holland, Somerville, Fresno that I met and I liked, and to think that if they were to be at the funeral, that they'd like me back as much as I like them.

Maybe someday we'll write a book on the history of recycling, which notes dates like this HistoryPlace timeline of the Pacific War theater.  Right.  Like what I'm doing is as important as what Nimitz and Eisenhower were doing.  Environmentalists take themselves soooo seriously.  But then again, this is the kind of facts and truths which serious recyclers NEED to be taking, if the study of environmental health is to eventually get out of the scatalogical stage.  Captain John Gregory Burke contributed to both military and study of scatology.  To compare sacrifice in war to steady contributions to sustainability in the environment is tricky. 

You know what's cool?  There are a lot of other people writing blogs like this.  Check out the James King article about Chinese counterfeit condom factory enforcement - it's a lot like the intended counterfeit printer cartridge enforcement in Foshan (which I saw the aftereffects of in my visit to Nanhai) which was funded by an OEM to crack down on counterfeit cartridges, but (as long as they were there anyway) also led to the arrest of printer repair, copier refurbishing, and normal non-counterfeit cartridge refurbishing.  It led to pictures of cartridges being burned on the street, which were afterwards peddled on the web as the Chinese recyclers activity.   These were the cartridges SEIZED by the police and burned, and then it's shown as what the Chinese cartridge refurbishers do with the cartridges they paid us $2 for?  Pay $2000 for shipping, then set them on fire in the street?  Ok, now I'm back to the old stuff, time to log out.  I was led to King's blog by the photos of World War II, he has some terrific ones there.  This craft sunk at Normandy moments after this photo was taken, notice the helmets and backpacks of soldiers all standing to starboard, trying to right the ship.   That's kind of what fair trade recycling exports feels like most days when I go to work.

My dad always says, "Take your cause seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously."

EPA Interpol Meeting

Is the Export of used electronics glass 80% full or 80% empty?

The lack of data has reached a critical mass.   Despite independent research (ASU) and documented shipping records from Fair Trade (WR3A efforts), site visits to distinguished factories in China and Indonesia, film of fair trade operations in Africa, South America, and Asia, NPR coverage of win-win programs in Mexico, and complete exposure of fraud in CBS News reporting (not a SINGLE monitor from the Hong Kong shot can be seen in Guiyu, and I have an email from Jim Puckett from 2007 saying he knows there are no CRTs in Guiyu)... despite R2 stakeholders and ISRI stakeholders in detailed meetings working out which exports are legal under Basel Convention, etc... despite all this, the export for repair and refurbishing business is on the ropes.
The single critical flaw is false data.  BAN cites an African expert for their 80% waste statistic, the expert cites BAN as his source.  Even the "worst" operators cannot export that much junk (unless there are drugs, arms, or financial laundering involved, in which case they could be exporting anything - cheese and crackers or oak leaves). If the outcome of the meeting below is a standard of "fully functional" and "tested working", or that all computers must be repaired or readied for repair in the USA, the effect on repair employment and internet access will be devastating. I am ready to export a repairable P4 laptop (taking full responsibility for documenting responsible recycling of any replaced parts) as an act of civil disobedience (if I can continue to write from prison ;)
Will Fair Trade be embraced, or will this remain a case of unintended consequences, and environmentalism going freakishly wrong? Read below:

25 May 2010 - DAY 1
Open Meeting
Registration of Participants
Welcoming Remarks
Ms. Cynthia Giles - Invited
Assistant Administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, US Environmental Protection Agency
Strategic overview of the INTERPOL Global E-Waste Crime Group

Long term aims, ambitions and potential benefits of the project

Mr Emile Lindemulder
Project Manager
INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme
Tactical overview of the Global E-Waste Crime Group

The practicalities of the group. What it will look like how will it work?

Mr. Chris Smith
Project Leader
Environment Agency England and Wales
Introduction of Participants
Participants state their name, job title, and organisation
 All participants

Country reports on e-waste investigations addressing these topics:

  •  What techniques or strategies have been used in your country to investigate and prosecute e-waste violations?  Have they worked?
  • Has your enforcement program developed any valuable source of leads or contacts for investigating e-waste offenses?
  • What have been your country's major challenges in investigating and enforcing e-waste violations: e.g.,
    • resources,
    • cooperation from necessary partner governmental departments or foreign countries,
    • laws that are either weak or difficult to enforce, anything else?

Running order to be determined

Chris Smith, Environment Agency England & Wales

Input From Stakeholders

Reaction to project plan, suggestions for effective operational approach

Running order to be determined


Open discussion: reactions on project plan and how to move forward

Chris Smith and Emile Lindemulder

Closing Remarks - Keynote

The Honourable Lisa P. Jackson
Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency

Reception hosted by The Honourable Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator, US Environmental Protection Agency

The INTERPOL General Secretariat is pleased to announce its Global E-Waste Crime Group Meeting which will be held in Alexandria, Virginia from 25 to 27 May 2010. This meeting will be co-hosted with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The General Secretariat would like to thank the Director of the Office of Criminal  Enforcement, Forensics and Training of the U.S. EPA for agreeing to co-host this important gathering.

The illegal trafficking of electronic waste (e-waste) is considered a serious crime and a growing international problem by INTERPOL General Secretariat and its Environmental Crime Programme. It poses an unacceptable environmental and health risk, in particular in developing countries in Africa and in Asia. INTERPOL established a project under the name the Global E-Waste Crime Group in order to develop a multi-national enforcement strategy to control the illegal trade of e-waste. Managed by the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme, the Global E-Waste Crime Group is comprised of many INTERPOL member nations. The Environment Agency of England and Wales is the project leader of this group.

The first day (25 May) of the meeting will be open to the public, including stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, business, government and law enforcement. The overall purpose of this day will be to exchange information and develop a sustainable information network which will assist environmental law enforcement from both exporting and importing countries concerning e-waste export and disposal.

The law enforcement agencies and stakeholders will also have the opportunity to provide the project group members with valuable advice for the implementation phase. Members of the INTERPOL Global E-Waste Crime Group will report on the goals and strategy of the project. Representatives of participating nations will present their respective country’s strategic efforts to control the problem.

During days two and three of the meeting (26-27 May), in a closed session, the members of the INTERPOL Global EWaste Crime Group will incorporate the outcomes of the first day in their working plan towards implementing multi-national enforcement operations aimed at controlling and deterring the illegal traffic of e-waste. To enable the exchange of confidential case-sensitive information, the gathering will be held in closed session. Only government employees having environmental law enforcement responsibility are therefore invited to attend all three days of the conference. Delegates should be prepared to be asked how their countries could practically participate and supply necessary intelligence to the project.

All other participants (i.e. members of the public, non-governmental organizations, business, academe, the press, and government employees not having law enforcement responsibility) are cordially invited to attend the first day only.


An agenda is being developed and will be disseminated to participants in advance of the meeting’s commencement. 


The conference is scheduled to take place at the Hilton in Alexandria, Virginia, which is just across the state border with Washington D.C.

Address: 1767 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone: +1 703-647-2007.


The meeting will be conducted in English.