Legal in Mexico.

American Retroworks Inc. has 3 warehouses for receiving donations, surplus electronics, repairable material, e-scrap, and to separate those from a pile of "e-waste".  The headquarters is in Middlebury, Vermont, at a 50,000 s.f. warehouse known as Good Point Recycling.   This master warehouse can do everything, from repair and refurbishment to sorting for larger refurbishing operations to de-manufacturing (all unwiped PCs and hard drives are torn down in house) and processing into bales of raw material.  We also used it as a training facility for staff from Africa and Mexico.

In our warehouse in Douglas Arizona, the border fence with Mexico is literally a stone's throw from the parking lot.   This 25,000 s.f. facility receives material from the USA (including nicer TVs from Vermont and material from one-day events in Arizona).  Most of the operation in Douglas is for accountability - doing a proper reconciliation report of what has been received;.  In this process, each television is taken down by make, model and serial number for the purpose of calculating tariffs and taxes.   If the TV is to remain in Mexico, the Mexican government keeps the tariff and taxes the product.

Our third operation in Mexico is a maquiladora, which is a special status for a "USA warehouse in Mexico".  This legal status was created as an incentive for USA manufacturers to set up part of their assembly operation in Mexico. In fact, television manufacturers like Sony and Sharp were among the biggest maquiladora users in past decades.  CRTs and plastic and boards were sent into the maquiladora warehouses in Mexico without tax so long as the assembled finished goods were re-exported from Mexico.  This is the same way as our Retroworks de Mexico operates, except in reverse.  The TVs must be disassembled into commodities, and the commodities must be re-exported somewhere.  We re-export the scrap to the USA (e.g. anything with circuit boards goes to Sims Recycling in Tucson).  If the TVs work, we can re-export to another NTSC analog broadcast country such as Venezuela or Columbia.

If we are to keep the TVs in Mexico, it becomes a paperwork issue to re-calculate the taxes and tariffs originally avoided through the maquila import.   This is another reason we need the Douglas AZ warehouse, it can receive back working equipment.  But there is an easier management solution than re-transporting TVs back and forth to calculate tariffs.

In practical terms, most of the TVs and monitors sent from the USA work in the first place, and the only "refurbishing" required is plugging the TV into a wall and playing a DVD on it for a couple of hours.  The TV repair people who work on the ones that don't come on may replace a tuner or flywheel, but usually it is simply an unseated power cable that needs to be reattached or re-soldered.  Rarely, the repair involves circuit board level repair or capacitor replacement and by-pass, but those operations are still considered routine (as shown in the WR3A videos and slides from repair operations in Egypt, Senegal, Indonesia and Malaysia on and

It is easier for tax reasons to do a "triage" and to separate the TVs which are likely to be demanufactured and send them under the maquiladora paperwork, so that we can track all the CRTs and scrap coming back equals the weight of the materials sent to Mexico (minus steel scrap and other scrap we can verify weights of).  This makes the Douglas operation very valuable to us.   If a TV works or is very likely worth trying to repair, we can sell it in Douglas to Mexico NOT under the maquila.  That saves the women from re-transporting the TV to the USA and re-re-transporting it with the tariff paid (i.e. NOT under the maquiladora paperwork). 

When we were sent back questions by EPA in response to our Border 2012 grant award, they posed many questions which reflected genuine confusion over a genuinely confusing tax and tax-exempt process.  The problem is that we got the questions so long after the grant was awarded, and that they were not really stated as a question but as a resolution.  Since the USA Today article announced that the Border 2012 Grant program has been shorted from $100M per year to $17M per year, we kind of assume that the grant administrators have financial constraints and that finding the reason to disqualify a grant meets a budget need, and that is why they never picked up the phone to ask how we were legally going to accomplish recycling as a maquiladora and reuse operation per our USA export permit.

Actually its quite simple to track, because we MUST identify each and every TV and monitor by make, model and brand, whether it is sent to the maquiladora for demanufacturing or sold for reuse directly.

The fact we rent the warehouse in Douglas should show people who have questioned our status that we know whata the heck we are doing.  If our lawyers in Mexico have misinformed us, or my letters to EPA describing the process are not accurate, I think we could reasonably expect something from EPA which stated some form of objection.

I am writing this not just because I am stewing over our need for investment and the tantalizing close calls.

First Snakebite:  the City of Tucson RFP award in 2007 suddenly cancelled without explanation weeks later.  We did a FOIA and found that we were accused by the incumbent USA recycler - who shipped their TVs to California for redemption under SB20 - had accused us of burning the TVs in a primitive polluting operation which exploited the health of Mexican workers and polluted the environment.   The City cancelled the award to recycle the electronics for 12 cents with Retroworks and gave it back to the incumbent vendor and paid them 25 cents per pound.

Second Snakebite:  Investors Circle selected our operation as a finalist to do a 10 minute presentation (Shark Tank style) to a group of angel capital investors in Washington DC.  The investor most interested made a follow up call to BAN, who we heard said something negatively about our respect for international law, and the investor stopped returning calls.

Third Snakebite:   We got a permit to import the CRT glass to use at the local Mexico smelter to replace leaded silica from a local mine.  EPA gave us the status to export the CRTs for final recycling.  Then Mexico said we couldn't break or process the CRTs, so we had to go back to maquila re-transit to USA.

Fourth Snakebite:  The border 2012 grant award announced in 2009 and withdrawn (apparently if obliquely) last month.

We are now trying to arrange an SKD factory to relocate from Malaysia, so that we can create a higher level of reuse which Americans can easily visit and see for themselves the reuse jobs that are coveted in the developing world, and the affordable video display technology that results, in internet cafes and schools set up by the UN and in doctors offices and clinics.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been promised to the brave ladies of Retroworks de Mexico, and then snatched away,   Las Chicas Bravas only need a couple of dollars an hour to be happy and to create jobs locally in Mexico, and the entire facility could be made 21st century for a $150k investment.  By making the governance of Retroworks de Mexico the property of a women's coop, we hope to solve other problems in the area.

How can I afford to stay down there?

Morally, how can I POSSIBLY leave them?

The amount of red tape is incredible.  We have hired lawyers and I've spent hours that only a former regulator like myself could ever be expected to triangulate and address rationally.   I've read RCRA and read the Basel Convention and rented enough space and set up enough processes to do this by the book.  It's amateur hour in ewaste at the border, with enough CYA to eclipse the sun.

This whole thing stinks. Hearing my competitors whisper that I'm doing something wrong makes me madder than a wet rooster.  Where the hell are the leaders?  BAN says do it in the USA, what BS, their USA people just shred the TVs and monitors.   California says destroy everything and then creates a subsidized incentive to bring bad stuff in from Arizona, at a cost even Las Chicas cannot compete against.  EPA is going through a management transition where Lisa Jackson appears to be listening to BAN but still choosing a high school kid who repaired a few dozen computers for Cameroon as a model solution.

The whole thing really reeks of racism.  That is the common thread in all the snakebites.  Stereotypes of thong-wearing Chinese whacking a monitor apart, stereotypes of Mexican maquilas.   All right then, I'll go to hell.

How Other Environmentalists Self-Regulate

I'm watching my mother prepare Tilapia fish for dinner tonight.

A decade or so ago, I thought that if I bought "farm raised" fish, that I'd be doing something good.  It seemed logical that fish raised on a farm would involve less ocean fishing and less risk to dolphins, etc.

As it turns out, I had not done my homework.  Fish are carnivores, you see, and the fish raised on the farm are fed fish meal.  As the fish farms got bigger, fishing boats were sent out with nets that were less picky about what they caught.  If everything you catch is to be made into fish meal for the farmed fish, you care less about what you are catching.  The net effect of fish farming began to smell bad.

Still, fish farms are no doubt easier to regulate.  So now some of the fish farms are making strides towards sustainability.  The Marine Stewardship Council is an organization representing a partnership of commercial fisheries and government and non-profit agencies which certify whether a fishing practice is environmentally sound.

According to, the USA's tilapia fish farms are doing a pretty good job of keeping pollution from the environment and maintaining "low-risk" practices.  The other main sources of farm raised tilapia are China and Central and South America.

I am going to make an effort to buy tilapia raised on sustainable farms.  If the USA farms are better than the Chinese farms, that's good.  But the science needs to show that the lifecycle of these farms is truly better and that the USA farms are really creating practices which the foreign farms can and should emulate.

If the USA brand was actually promoting a wasteful practice (like destroying working video display units), it would severely damage not only the certification process and the brand.  It would be damaging to the environmentalist movement itself.  What I like about Blue Ocean Institute and MSC, from what I have read so far, is that they appear to be scientific in their approaches.  These are apparently good organizations for WR3A, ISRI, R2 and BAN E-Stewards to emulate.   If it turns out that the USA fisheries are promoting a USA practice they are stronger at and ignoring a beneficial practice which the Chinese fisheries are better at, of course, that would be horrible.  I believe that R2, by welcoming overseas electronic recyclers and refurbishers to get certified and come under the tent, is on much stronger footing than a standard which (mis) interprets Basel Convention to ban exports based on the country, regardless of how good the country is at what it does.

The E-Stewards is nation based first and practice-based second.   Countries are defined as ineligible based on "OECD" standards, even though some of the same countries manufacture the electronics and have most of the repair and refurbishing expertise, for warranty and non-warranty repair and reuse.  While the MSC does today recommend tilapia from USA fish farms, it does NOT do so based on the race, language, culture or national origin of the men and women raising the fish.  E-Stewards has created a standard which no African or Asian non-OECD businessperson or employee can ever have access to.  There is a glass wall erected.  If you are banned from recycling regardless of how good a job you do, why should you invest in a better practice?

Here's a smart question:  Which came first, the practice or the standard?  This is a problem of how you define stakeholders.  Both R2 and BAN E-Stewards were weak on this point in that they did not include consumers or anyone from overseas importing countries.  But BAN was weakest, in that they have defined a standard using stakeholders who already "on board".   This was profoundly flawed approach.

R2, the Responsible Recycling certification standard which has been embraced by EPA, WR3A, and ISRI is a smarter, better product because it sees people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.  It is less likely to become a tool of investors who are trying to promote their own company based on geographic, planned obsolescence, or protectionist standards.


We tend to talk about computers, and access to computers, as if we were talking about radios or cars.  Civilization has seen other devices go from luxury to commodity.   I liked to say during my time at Massachusetts DEP, when we were getting curbside recycling into every city, that when we were successful, our recycling jobs would be no more (or less) interesting than the men who established the first laundromats.

Access to clothes washing for the masses must have freed women for the workforce, or for teaching their children to read at an earlier age.  Where I lived in Africa, washing my own clothes or paying someone to wash them was a major decision every week.  I did both, and when I washed them myself I felt proud.  But the man, John, who came to my house to beg to wash them needed the money and was willing to iron and sew and fold every cuff, for he knew that washing the clothes of the only white man in Ngaoundal would lead to other referrals and other clothes washing jobs for others.  In the end I weighed the time it took me to wash my clothes, the time I saved, and the damage of the appearance of looking colonial by letting a black man wash my clothing for me.   In the end, I washed my own underwear, but let John keep the job.

I'm tempted to write quite a bit more about John and the clothes washing, and the reflections I had in the Peace Corps which shaped my philosophy and business practices today.  John was one of the first people to die within a year of my leaving Cameroon.  It seemed all the first letters bore bad news.  Ambiance, the jolly military father of three of my favorite students, fell dead of a heart attack in his early 40s.   Suzanne Ateh, my "African Mommy" who fed me one meal a day - so full I did not eat a second - died before I could plan how I'd continue my relationship with her, the mightiest of the anglophone women.   And John had started to get skinny and to have spots form on his face before I left... he was the first one to die.  When he started washing my clothes, he was a dapper image of a butler, right out of a movie.   When I left, he was worried he would lose the weekly income, but there was a graver and more immediate worry in his eyes.  I knew something was wrong, and John knew.   At the time, in the 1980s, many people would have questioned letting a man who was dying of AIDS wash their clothes by hand two or three times a week, beating the clothes in suds made hot by the sun, with a polished stone, which beat steadily but never hit a button or a finger.

The connection here is not only to the washing machine as a commodity, the laundromat as the internet cafe, but also to the reflection.  One of the longest running "top emailed stories" at the New York Times is "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price", which describes studies into the effects on the brain of the absence of boredom.  Constantly stimulated minds, with constant access to blackberries, palms, androids and iphones, are developing thinking patterns which are different.  A generation gap may be brewing between people like me who spent 30 months in Africa without TV and only spotty BBC shortwave radio when electricity was available.  Many of the  old symptoms of the generation gaps are "papered over" (so to speak) as I show my kids looney tunes and Led Zepplin songs on youtube.  We may  be preparing a generation of people who will be miserable in jobs that require routine, and incapable of jobs which require reflection, but able to do chemistry and architecture on a phone app which took our fathers and mothers months at the drafting board.

And that reference to apps is what makes this "commodity" - the internet capable computer or cell phone - different from a clothes washer.   The internet cafe we set up in Fronteras Mexico is a time machine, it's a portal, it's a place to the village kids that would have looked exotic in a 1970s episode of Dr. Who.  The computer programs and internet become more sophisticated every week.  As described in the NYTimes article "smarter than you think",   translation advances are close to making language skills optional.  The article "Speech Recognition's Early Days" describes rapidly advancing voice recognition which may make keyboards obsolete.  Ironically, I might begin to have more in common with the poor in Africa whose brains develop with boredom and whose grandfathers carved wood and grew subsistence crops, like my own grandfather.

The links made between internet and education are in some way superficial.  Porn searches still dominate internet traffic.   But that by itself says that the technology of communication and information is different from just a commodity.  It's a way to float.

As life preservers advance and become better, should we shred the old ones while people splash about and try not to drown?  If John was alive today, and there was an internet cafe in Ngaoundal, he would at least have had a chance to know what the AIDS virus was, to search about it, and find out what it was doing to him.  And he may have learned how not to infect someone else.   For all I knew then, the AIDS virus might have travelled in the soap bubbles through my clothes.  And for all I know now, John may have infected more people without intending to.  Someone else in Africa might be writing a blog today or meeting me through a search of the term "Ngaoundal".

The world is connecting.  We need to get recycling into the developing world and we need to do that right now.  We need to set up R2 programs and places like Retroworks de Mexico immediately, in many countries, and we cannot wait.  If those operations are more profitable by importing gently used equipment from rich countries, that will allow them to more quickly finance the recycling of scavenged material in their own home nations, which is most of the material at the dump in Africa and Asia.

Enough nonsense and "ewaste recycling guilt".  Enough e-waste poster children posed in a fake staged tap of a copper yoke from a TV with a screwdriver (I have repeatedly publicly accused of staging that shot, it is ludicrous, and do not have an answer).  Let's do this now and let's do this right.  If you have someone better than me to do it, bring them on, but stop with the hand-wringing and red scare tactics.  I am not denying nor apologizing for the terribly polluting aqua regia practice which is the centerpiece of the poisonous activities filmed in Guiyu, China.  But stopping men from getting gold in China is harder than stopping crackheads from getting a fix.

Gold is really at the center of the bad activities, and trying to reform the scavenging for gold has impacted repair and refurbishing activity, which has been the stepping stone for cultures leaving raw material economies behind.  I began re-reading Jack London's "The Call of the Wild" this morning.  It's available online in the same serialized version that was published in the Saturday Evening Post.   The first paragraph is below.  The sad thing is that in the developing world, where jobs are so scarce, the vagueness of the reference to Buck's identity (spoken of as if a man, but your realize he is a husky dog), that a boy in Ghana with the name Buck could fit right in.  The question is what kind of working conditions he will find.

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

USA Today Headline: USA invests in Mexico's Environment

Here's the story according to this morning's USA Today (which I'm reading from a Charlotte NC airport hotel room.... left Vermont for Arkansas at 6AM.  Yesterday.  Arrggh.)

The article is about the USA and Mexican governments cooperating to clean up pollution on the border.
  • What about a proposal to take a brownfield factory in Mexico, a couple dozen kilometers from the western hemisphere's most modern copper smelter, getting a purchase order for 3000 tons of CRT glass from the smelter, getting the engineering reports from similar fluxing agent processes importing USA CRT glass in fellow NAFTA Canada?
  • How about using the maquila system for disassembly in Mexico for TVs which was used in the 1990s for assembling most TVs sold in the USA, assembled in Mexico?
  • How about achieving the highest reuse rates in the e-waste industry, using Latin America's analog TV broadcast standards (the same TV system USA just replaced with digital)?
  • How about bringing the CEO of an R2 qualified CRT monitor assembly company to co-invest in the operation, moving CRT refurbishing closer to the source of CRTs and eliminating the cross-ocean traffic?
  • How about even getting conditional agreement from that Mexico is OECD and this is a great idea?
  • How about finally addressing the concerns about "downcycling" by giving $5 off on every new TV sold if an old piece of e-waste from within Mexico is brought in return?  A cash-for-clunkers program for e-waste?
  • How about creating jobs for Mexicans, who are most of the staff in USA recycling plants, IN MEXICO?
  • How about addressing concerns about maquiladora treatment of women in Mexico by creating a maquiladora owned and operated by a women's collective?

  • How about having the project run by a former Peace Corps volunteer and regulator expert with an international relations degree?


Would you then mysteriously go silent and then send a letter 9 months after the award letter saying you have concerns about the project, but not meet with us to allow us to address concerns?

Would you leave emails and calls unanswered?

And having given the adminstrative consent order in 2009 and the grant award in 2009, would you walk away from the CRTs the women collected, neither funding the closure of the plant nor the maintenance of the plant?  You'd just tell them to expect the money, let the goods pass, then say no money no conditions nothing?

Just fund us and close us down.  You can continue the grant with a condition that we clean up, close shop, and leave. 

Ii understand that EPA neither wants to be blamed for killing the great ideas above, because they admit they are great ideas and even gave us a grant to pursue them, nor wants to be accused of exporting e-waste.  So they issue a letter creating a kind of limbo...

On review, they say, there is no evidence that the facility can repair or refurbish TVs, only take them apart.  Ahem, the project clearly names 2 techs who repair and refurbish computers, and a USA partner who is in charge of distributing and supporting them.  The TVs practically all work, Americans are replacing them with flat screens, how much technical skill does it take to plug it in and turn it on?   And guess what?  In the interim 9 months, we DID already distribute the refurbished PCs.  How about that?  But more to the point - EPA NEVER ASKED.   It is statea reason to reverse the grant, but you never once asked the question.  Now guess what, you have raised a question whether we are capable of doing something we already did.

Mexico's EPA (SEMARNAT) has some share of blame here, but the grant reversal, according to our Mexican counterparts, was directed to EPA Region IX by an enforcement officer in Washington DC.  

EPA in Washington knows how to reach me if they have a question.  I know RCRA and know the difference between TVs, monitors, cullet, and CRTs.  We did not break or process CRTs for disposal, we clearly identified the process to be used if the breaking permit was not in place (ship whole CRTs to Dlubak or TDM, bring commodity cullet back to the smelter).  We have a process for removing CRTs with cadmium.  I know what I'm doing.  I am not breaking any import laws. 

We see a complete lack of communication from EPA in the Border 2012 Grant program.  And that is the dynamic you create when an NGO attracts press attention by attacking the people we thought we could trust:

- The EPA
- The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
- WR3A
- Responsible Recyclers (R2)

I ran an $8M per year grant program inside a government agency for several years, I completely understand these dynamics.  BAN has attacked all the trusted people, and employees in government tend to be risk-averse.  By attracting press attention to the "man bites dog" stories of "exposing" recycling, BAN has succeeded in drawing national attention to a rather obscure international treaty, one which few people have read or understand.  This has created tremendous power for BAN, as the "ayatollah" interpreting the Basel Convention to people who haven't read it.  Through E-Stewards, BAN is actually trying to capitalize on that momentum monetarily, which may be their downfall.

EPA's grant agency goes on with three other objections, one of which is whether the USA can legally import dismantled scrap from Mexico back into the USA.   WOW.  The maquila requires us to reimport to USA generated material to the USA, and the USA does not require a permit to import Mexican commodity material back into the USA, and during the 9 months no one from EPA ever asked the question.  The USA does not issue permits to reimport scrap (all of which we deliver to places like SIMS, beyond reproach).   The fact we stipulated several legal entities in the grant demonstrates we know what can be done as a mqauila and what needs to be done by one of the other entities, e.g. the USA scrap company.

There are 2 more questions raised in the correspondence reversing the grant decision..  But the point is that there was never a question asked during the 9 months they have had the application.  The letter is clearly trying to find a way to say "no", and clearly the writer is afraid that if they ask the question, we may have an answer requiring them to say yes.  The letter is written to remove the yes, saying information was not provided which either was provided, is not necessary, or was never asked for.

And wonders why I get so angry at them?   The panic and fear of giving a grant to a group of Mexican women who want to clean up the CRTs in their depressed area of Mexico is BAN's legacy.  CA SB20 creates a rule breaking all the good equipment, EPA issues permits and take them away, issues grant announcements and take them away.  The watchdog that barks at everybody is freezing any good trade between anybody, from Samsung glass to SKD factories to the United Nations.  It is a logjam of BAN's creation, and the press has been too lazy to undo the harm.

This is a story which demands that a few people stand up and stop the McCarthy campaign against recycling.  The worse recycling is environmentally superior to the best mining.   We need to reform it, we need to monitor it, we need to stop disposal along for the ride, we need to expose sham recycling practices.

Michael Rey of CBS News interviewed me for over an hour.  Solly Granatstein texted me the night the CBS 60 Minutes story aired.   They got an award for a CBS 60 Minutes story which circled CRT monitors in Hong Kong and then told the world they went to Guiyu.  They were told before the story and afterwards that the monitors went to a CRT monitor re-manufacturing factory, like the Guangdong factory pictured to the left, one that originally made the monitors.  CBS was told they would not see a CRT in Guiyu.  They were given pictures, but allowed Scott Pelley to hold up a piece of plastic in Guiyu and call it proof of CRT recycling, and to film a tiny metal scrap shop and call it an example of a modern facility.  

They did not see CRTs in Guiyu.  The CRTs go to the factory .  Jim Puckett at the Interpol meeting confirmed when asked that they did not see any evidence of the monitors they circled with 60 Minutes in Guiyu.

Now because 60 Minutes has neglected to set the story straight or to revisit it, EPA is afraid to fund the grant to clean up CRTs in Mexico. The most interested investor from Investors Circle, Josh Mailman, also dropped the project after discussing it with BAN (though BAN insists they had nothing to do with it).  Malaysia DOE stopped Samsung Corning from using recycled cullet, though Samsung still buys virgin material mined from Malaysian coral reefs.

Who is trying to do something?  Who is actually trying to do something?  I cannot believe the number of years it is taking to get this Retroworks de Mexico started.   Obviously, it is important for the CEO of a company like mine to channel his impatience and avoid throwing stones at EPA's house.   What is needed is for MIT, ASU, RIT, Middlebury College, Dartmouth College, etc. to collect data and use their base of native language exchange students to verify the story of American Retroworks Inc., identify improvements required, and to fund the proper recycling in all nations without becoming a tool of the AGMA (Anti Gray Market Alliance) to destroy repairable equipment or to exercise "planned obsolescence in hindsight".

The R2 (Responsible Recycler) practice at least recognizes that it is POSSIBLE for someone in another country to run a certified factory, and requires such a factory be certified.   I have shown that Africans can do it in Vermont and Mexicans can do it in Vermont and Americans can turn screws in Mexico.  Everyone else, from EPA to BAN to SEMARNAT ignores the question of whether such a factory CAN exist and ironically destroy the investment and funding, through shredding material prior to export or by raising rhetorical questions to cut funding.  They kill the funding to make the good factory exist.

I keep this blog not because "E-waste" or electronics scrap is the most important issue in the world.  All of us  are guilty of exaggerating the importance of this business when metal mining releases 45% of all toxics released by all USA industry.   I'm fascinated to tell this story in part because it is a textbook case of well meaning people trying to cover their asses, from BAN to EPA to SEMARNAT to CBS News.  I think this is a human condition that must exist in other realms.  If we are truly to make environmentalism an ethical and moral field, we must go through the same philosophical self-analysis that St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who blended Christian faith with Greek study of logic and truth.  

NGOs and governments and journalists basically allow young people to believe that their job is about getting selfish businesspeople to admit their mistakes, and to expose the mistakes they made.  They have made the truth the source of their moral and ethical authority.

In this case, through the blog, I am exposing everything I do.  I am most critical of the absence of dialectic from BAN, subtle implied requests (without actually asking) from EPA, and no follow-up from CBS News.  I film what I do.  I write detailed letters explaining the chain of custody of material that is legally imported into Mexico for disassembly and then can be either legally recycled as a commodity (if we have permit to break and process it, which is what is held up), OR left intact to re-transit to another legal place.  We have intact tubes in Mexico because we follow to the letter the proposals we submitted and the legal constraints on our operation. 

The pius is the enemy of the good.  I'm going to make a movie or a novel about this. The trick, my dad says, is to take your cause very seriously without taking yourself too seriously.  For most people, a blog like this violates the latter directive (and the latter directive can result in some very, very bad writing).  I am personally disappointed by the City of Tucson RFP award, the Investors Circle promotion, and EPA Border 2012 Grant experiences.  They were all great proposals, and all three resulted in initial awards followed by fearful backtracking.

The perfect continues to be the enemy of the good.  The Church of Environmentalism exposes itself to the same pius infections, ass covering, denial, double talk, and hypocrisy that Nathanial Hawthorne wrote about in Scarlett Letter and Mark Twain exposed in Huckleberry Finn.   If I can manage to write in a way which influences the discussion and blending of ecology and truth in the same way past heroes have exposed theology to truth, I may pull off the hat trick of loving my job for environmental, world travel, and philosophical reasons.   I can't quite tell people the secret of pulling off a career like mine, but it's the best man.  It totally rocks.  And it's a more interesting story thanks to the bad play of the enviros and journalists who simply create the same challenges for me that Huck Fiinn and Hester Prynne met.

Ok, that's sounding more like taking yourself too seriously again.  But if you are under the age of 30 and wonder if it's possible to have the perfect career, I'd say yes, and you can do more by being completely truthful than you can be by compromsing the truth.

Are all exporters good?

No.  I think some electronics recyclers are really lousy exporters.  Too many choose based on a penny a pound, and demonstrate absolutely no care for reducing toxics along for the ride, or for rewarding overseas importers who make strides to improve "ewaste" recycling practices.  

In emphasizing the positive, my intent is to correct the supply demand imbalance.

I've repeatedly called on good E-Steward companies, like WeRecycle and Total Reclaim and ERI, to export more, so that their supply will displace the supply sent by less reputable sellers.

Given more choice between recyclers to import from, who wins?  The overseas "victims".

Cost of a PC in Big Macs

For the first retail buyer, the cost of the computer is OS ($100) plus programs ($300) plus PC ($300) plus LCD display ($150).

He sells it to his son, without wiping the programs off, for $100. 

The son finishes up and pays someone to wipe it and recycle it for $5 cost.

The recycler resells the monitor for $15 and the wiped PC for $30.

The overseas buyer changes power (to 220 v) on the monitor to new for $10, adds RAM for $5 and reinstalls all the programs, and resell the PC for $60+ profit.

That's a month's salary in Senegal, Cameroon, and many other countries.  So the last guy in the chain actually paid the most for the PC.  In the "Big Mac Index" (cost of a Big Mac in different countries), relative to GDP, the PC actually increased in value at the end of the chain.

The cost of the display unit, incidently, went from  17% of the unit's value to 42%.  The software depreciated the most.

Which is "waste", the recycler who exported it, or the recycler who shredded it?

Ewaste Crisis is All Over Now

In today's NY Times and in several other sources it has been reported that China will allow its currency to rise.

In the long run, it's not a sure bet that the market will trust a central authoritarian government to manage its currency, and China's currency valuation will always reflect a certain degree of Orwellian distrust in the free market.  But is is commonly believed that the authoritarian regime has been pushing the currency down, and even if it is not a free and fair market, to have a force stop pushing down means you can expect something to rise.

If the Chinese yuan or RMB rises 10%, metal and plastic commodities will rebound.

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun.

Foxconn in Shenzhen, the Chinese factory with 279,000 employees which makes all the Ipods and Iphones and Androids and is contract manufacturer for most "brand names" has risen to face criticism - most recently, increasing employee pay to squelch reactions to a rash of suicides by employees.  When the currency revaluation causes $1 worth of copper (in RMB) to cost $0.75, China will have more money to put into making their recycling factories spic-and-span.

Does anyone remember USA auto union criticism of Japanese auto plants in the 1970s?

Take what you have gathered from coincidence.

Will anyone remember USA recycling factory criticism of Shenzhen electronics scrap processes given 2020 vision?

The empty handed painter on your streets is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.

It's over.  The Chinese who tried to buy Noranda will buy ERI (if they haven't already, I don't know the Korean owners money trail) and other E-stewards.  BAN will create a bunch of All-Star recyclers and the Chinese will buy them.

The carpet too is folding over you.

It's over.  It's all over now, baby red white and blue.

On the plus side, who cares.  Nationalism is dying.  The Hong Kong businesspeople I know have homes in Toronto and Vancouver.  My kids will have more allegiance to their dot com address than to their passports.  Just like favorite players getting traded from Red Sox to Yankees, and the players remain the same, we will see the end of nationalistic recycling certifications in our lifetimes.

Mercury from Gold mines

Did you know that gold mining is the number one source of mercury release into the environment?  

Did you know that increased regulation of gold mines in the USA in the 1990s captured so much mercury that it glutted the hg market?

Did you know that most recovered mercury is sold to primitive mine panning operations in the Amazon and Congo river basins?  (USA pays billions to divert lamps from lined regulated landfills, then sells it for burning in the rain forest... don't get me started).

14 of the 15 largest Superfund sites are hard rock non-ferrous mines.

45% of all toxics released by all USA industry comes from raw material metal mining and smelting!!

This simple graph shows mercury releases by gold and silver, they make hazwaste and coal look irrelevant in the lifecycle of production (you have to put gold on its own page or the others are indistinguishable). And more importantly, this is NEW mercury, which was entombed in rock, vs. disposal of previously mined/existing/surplus hg.

Most gold purchases are driven by people, not by industry. If you really want to do something for the environment, buy recycled content gold, or 9 carat gold, or avoid gold altogether. The more something costs, the deeper into the earth they will dig, and the deeper they dig, the more mercury comes pouring out. It's simple.

We can do more to reduce mercury pollution by improving womens rights. In countries where women's rights to own land are curtailed (India, China, etc.), gold purchases per capita are higher, because the women require dowry. If women are educated and empowered, they will spend less resources on hard rock mined metals. (This is my theory... if they buy more cell phones, it's possible that tantalum mining will increase... we need students to research this and go out and win a nobel prize for linking green policy with human rights).

We have had a major opportunity to reform the General Mining Act of 1872, which passed the House last  year, and it is being squandered.  If the price of harvesting the metals from circuit boards is corrected and mines are put onto a level playing field, no one will need "e-waste" legislation, companies will be paying for e-scrap.

And here is a message about it from Earthworks, the nation's premier mining subsidy watchdog group.
Urge the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce mercury pollution from gold mines

Newmont's Gold Quarry is one of a group of gold mines that make Nevada one of America's toxic mercury hotspots.
Credit: Bonnie Gestring/EARTHWORKS
Dear Robin,
EPA is drafting new mercury regulations.
Many gold mines are significant sources of mercury air pollution, yet there are no federal regulations that require gold mines to control their emissions.
The EPA has finally drafted regulations, which are currently available for public comment.
EPA's mercury regs need strengthening.
These regulations are an important step in reducing mercury pollution. But the draft regulations need to be strengthened.
The proposed regulations will allow an unacceptable amount of mercury to be released by new mines.
ONE Alaska mine could release THOUSANDS of pounds of mercury!
For example, the Donlin Creek mine proposed in Alaska could release as much as 3,000 pounds of mercury air pollution each year under the new regulations. This is 40 times the amount of mercury currently released by all industries in Alaska.
  1. Significantly reduce the mercury emission limits for new mines.
  2. Require quarterly compliance testing to make sure mines are using the control technology.
  3. Improve the long-term storage requirements for mercury.
Bonnie Gestring, EARTHWORKS
  • Go to the action page
  • Read the sample letter at page bottom that appears and edit it if possible. Customized letters have greater impact.
  • Click "Send My Message" to send your letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • For more information, visit the action page.

Irrelevant fact

01010010 01101111 01100010 01101001 01101110 00100000 01001001 01101110 01100111 01100101 01101110 01110100 01101000 01110010 01101111 01101110 

That is my name in binary code.   Those are the electrons which are entered onto my hard disk whenever I type my name.

I call on everyone to shorten their names, their sentences, and their blogs. We are wasting electrons and creating unnecessary hard disk production.

CA Computer Reuse Proposal

  • I've had the meetings with the UN reps, with Rick Anthony in person and other CRRA folks via phone and email, and we have the best possible refurbisher in CA, OR and WA this week.
  • I met with Jim Puckett and Sarah W. in Washington, and we laid down our swords and they are even willing to back us on this (with conditions).
  • The world is starving for $20 display units.  LCDs are not being made in that category, new CRTs are not made there.  But the USA is breaking millions of them, and glutting the CRT glass market in the business.
  • We want to pay CA for these and let BAN and anyone you want audit every part of the process.
  • There is zero possibility of multiple payments if the audit includes verification at the contract manufacturer (Malaysia, Mexico, etc.).  I would argue that the verification can be done in the USA in a way that is equal to or better than the recordkeeping today.
  • We can do this in a way that results in a bare tube according to the instructions below, if the yoke is not removed.
  • I've helped explain/uncover that it happens anyway, when Global Comp One rents space at ARC, and the CA addresses from refurbishable units are used to recycle bad CRTs from UT and AZ after the good ones are exported
  • We have brought press pressure to bear
  • We have introduced new ideas (pounds per unit) to help CA uncover where abuse occurs (the bad units tend to be 100 lb TVs, the refurbishable tend to be 37 lb monitors, the data is there)
  • When the factories cannot get the repairable CRTs from good people, they buy them from middlemen who get them anyway they can.  This is how the e-waste gets over there.  California, with its SB20 system, is in the perfect place to supply these in perfect quality and take the market away from less careful "ewaste" exporters.
SB20 Recycling Proposal  

Berendina of WR3A, we salute you

Berendina aka
Brenda Wijnen

Intern from Amersterdam, 2009-10

Spoke to us in Spanish, English, Dutch, French and German so fluently at 21 that I think she'll be inventing brand new languages by the time she's my age.

She was one of the favorite interns of Las Chicas Bravas in Mexico.

She studied Fair Trade Coffee and wrote a paper making comparisons between the history of the fairtrade coffee movement and the WR3A efforts we are embarking on.  She noted that WR3A has not get gotten a certifying body, and could become self serving if commercial conflicts of interest prevail.  But she also noted that historically, fairtrade coffee began the same way, with the coffee businesses who feared a boycott and began making improvements.

The people who do it know where the bodies area buried.

She also believes that ancient races of humans had just as much scientific knowledge as humans have today, and actually maybe we were stupider now... as I understand the theory, people knew more in the past and they didn't threaten the world, and while we think we know more now, we are proving we know less.   That was a manifesto that caught me by complete surprise.

It reminded me of the discussions I had in high school, when I saved my money and travelled to Europe to work at an IBG Youth Workcamp.  Kind of like a YCC for international students, about 20 of us lived in a Swiss hostel, from about 12 different countries.  In the mornings we'd hike up the mountain behind Murren (Schilthorn, I think) in full view of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, and we'd argue and debate Karl Marx etc.  I had never been exposed to anything like it, intellectually or linguistically.

Brenda reminded me of those days on the mountain, my four friends crowded under a single yellow raincoat as the rain poured down.  Gitte, Kirsten from Denmark, Alli from Germany, so close we could feel each others warm breath on our faces.   And Alli started singing "Yellow Submarine", and we all joined in.

The point for me is that when my friends from High School in Arkansas were getting into drugs, I found that a real "trip" to somewhere was something I could be equally proud of.  When my friends boasted of the lines they had crossed, or done, I could always talk about train trips through the Alps, discoing with friends from Morocco and Greece, etc., and I didn't feel ashamed or cowardly for taking a pass on the illegal drug of the day.  Over time, spending more time overseas helped me to quietly establish a distance without disrespecting the high school chums, who slowly began turning up in cemetaries and prisons.   Exposing yourself, and your kids, to excitement (like my kids back of the pickup ride through the desert in Mexico, or the camel rides with my business partner in Cairo) is a great antibody to the temptation to get high just out of boredom or peer pressure.  None of this has anything at all to do with Brenda, except that she is from the same hometown, Appeldoorn, in the Netherlands where I spent the night with my high school hiking partner and Monty Python enthusiast Wim Roskam, who I have still stayed in touch with thanks to the internet.  He does this spiritual jewelry stuff now, I want to get him some recycled content gold and get him into ethical mineralsmithing... Maybe Brenda can tell him about it.

Thanks for all the memories from then, and the new ones you created while working as an intern for WR3A, Berendina.

Here is a random person doing environmental research in Taipei.   I have not read this but post it as a reminder just how crude and stereotypical the anti-export photographs are.  WR3A is about making connections between people in the trenches and in the fields, making sue that the imaginary perfect does not remain an enemy of the good.

To Connecticut

A meeting of recycling companies wishing to become Covered Electronics Recyclers in accordance with Connecticut’s Ewaste Recycling law will be held Wednesday, June 16 at 10:00.  The meeting will be held in the Russell Hearing Room at DEP offices at 79 Elm Street, Hartford.

The Connecticut program is run by Tom Metzner, a counterpart of mine from my days back at Massachusetts DEP. In the 1990s, Connecticut was towing the universal waste / EPA Region I line, and I was working for a commissioner who was not wanting to give EPA Region I any hints.   

I was a little worried that Connecticut would follow the California "crush-kill-destroy" method, but I think that just as I have matured in the past ten years, that the views of reuse and recycling of computers in Connecticut are in line with Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. 

(L) for CEDs to be exported, a description of how the applicant will comply with the
requirements of this section, including, but not limited to, whether and how the
CEDs will be reused, refurbished or recycled once exported, a disclosure of all of
the countries to which CEDs are to be exported, the countries through which CEDs
will travel, the import and export requirements for all such countries, and the
disposition of off-specification CEDs, CEDs that may break in transit or CEDs that
are not reused, refurbished or recycled for other reasons;

I'm on my way...    We are also running an electronics recycling event in another state this Saturday, I'll return and try to get a feel for how residents want their used electronics 'donations' to be  treated there.  What I have seen compared to 2001 is that most residents still would prefer to pay $5 to see their device reused and repaired for some good than to see it destroyed for free, but that it is a smaller percentage today.  More and more people today are really, really concerned about their hard drive data.  There is concern and awareness of the 60 Minutes / BAN story about e-waste exports... but most people assume that is burning stuff and that their own unit would probably be reused... but then they get all confused and start to panic and I have to assure them we'll take care of it all... because they worry what if someone sets fire to their computer, are they to blame?  Now they don't know whether to feel guilty about throwing away something someone else needed, or that their device will be set on fire, and cognitive dissonance vibrates almost visibly from their faces.

"We need to pass a law" seems to be the consensus.   So what we need to do is make sure the laws, like the one in Connecticut, are not written by people with the same cognitive dissonance confusion... or who are influenced by "obsolescence in hindsight" advocates.  For the regulator, "we need to have certification" seems to be the consensus.

The certifying bodies - including BAN itself - are charging money to do it and that seems to restore some calm. 

I take personal pleasure and pride in thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'm having a positive effect with my life.  So far without reading the book "Changing Minds in detail" by David Straker (I like the cover).

But gotta get on the road.  As Woody Allen said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up".

Recycling My Morning Morale

I woke up this AM feeling a strong need for stronger coffee.

My morale was a little down from a disappointing investment offer on my business.  It may be a fair offer, I think a third party has to look at it, but it's disappointing.  Good Point Recycling has grown used to enormous growth and positive rewards from the risks we've taken, and I believe in our business model of "fair trade" recycling.

Now we have huge opportunities in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and a need to store nuts for winter - we expect a lot of Vermont material to dry up in the months before "free recycling" begins.  All in all, it looks like a promising investment...

We have a purchase order for the largest smelter in North America, which wants to use our CRT glass.

We have positive coverage of our fair trade operations in Mexico by major media.

We had a wonderful write up on our investment opporutnity by a major Forbes columnist.

We were selected as a showcase company at Investors Circle.

But there are a lot of dings and scratches.  Our EBIDTA doesn't show which recent investments are going to pay off in the near future.  And an announced and expected $85k EPA grant has been taken away, and we need to hire lawyers in Mexico to find out why our permit renewal is taking 8 months.  We have a great lead on trailers for a new program in another state.  We need to buy $20k in additional pollution insurance for an expansion of our coupon program.

I put down $230k on this 50,000 s.f. building in Vermont, and now I can't seem to raise money for a new tractor trailer.  We are not distressed by our bills, but it's distressing to let go of the opportunities we are missing.   Figuring out which bills to pay without sacrificing opportunities is a full time job.  

At times, I feel like we are harvesting tomorrow as an organ donor for yesterday.

That seems to be the American Way.   We tax young people to pay for health care for old people.  We tax new ipods to pay for recycling of wood console televisions.   We tax recycling to pay for old mining cleanups.  We pollute tomorrow's gulf to get cheaper gasoline yesterday.  We send our kids to colleges and tell them they should feel normal that they have a $50k bank loan.

In my 20s, I had high hopes about saving the world.  I wanted to save coral reefs and new species, I felt I can make a difference.  I still believe that, but now I see myself as more of a corps captain on a larger battlefield, and my main task is to avoid friendly fire.   I'm trying to keep fellow environmentalists from doing more harm than good, and trying to do it without OPM (other peoples money), and now I need a stronger cup of coffee.

This morning I'm going to put my steel toed dress shoes on and come in ready for battle.  I'm going to feel good about myself and good about our recycling enterprise, and we are going to survive another week, despite the heart-breaking EPA grant retraction.  There may be a right partner out there who can see the difference between a slower rate of growth in a green field investment and a company under such duress that it sells itself for credit card relief, and so I'll dress well for a trip to the bank.

My great grandfather, William Freeland, was a contemporary of John Niehardt (author of Black Elk Speaks) who worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for decades, trying to bring sustainable development to the Sioux, Navajo and Hopi nations.  He came back at my age, having spent his pre-middle age in public service, and started a newspaper and became a congressman.  His family had come to Kansas from New England to vote it as a free state (following the Missouri compromise), and it was natural for him to work in the native American community.

On the other side of the family is equally stubborn ornery intelligence.   Grandpa Fisher was a subsistence farmer who never took money from the state (except for social security), learned to paint signs when his leg was crippled in an accident, and by fixing everything and making do, he saved up more money than I have saved with an MBA and a large business.

The Youngbloods, Ingenthrons, Freelands and Fishers passed down too way too much spit and crackle for this boy to phone it in today.  I wake up every day, thinking how I'm going to turn this deflect another stupid environmentalist blow, and to avoid another self-inflicted wound to sustainability.  I see momentum swinging Chinese investments away from their natural reuse and recycling talents, towards more virgin mining.  I see product stewardship legislation, with anti-reuse language, as the latest soul-sell to planned obsolescence markets, a million dollar solution to a fifty thousand dollar problem.  I'm going to try to make a difference today on both fronts, and if I can't put the financing together, then I'm going to cockroach my way, or Pete Seeger my way, or Bruce Willis my way into the next decade.  I have to do this without mortgaging my kids farm for living standard consumption, and must remain able to look employees and creditors in the eye.

Today, we are going to recycle in a way we can be proud of, and this decade is going to wind up an improvement on the last.  The walking wounded of the recycling industry may not get a memorial day parade, or a purple heart medal, but we will tell our kids that when other people were mowing down rain forests, or mining tin from Indonesian coral reefs, or collecting mercury to sell into the Amazon mining towns, we had a measurable effect against insanity and opened doors of partnership between America and the best and brightest technicians in the world.

Ok, yikes, maybe two cups of strong coffee was a bit much.  But I'm psyched up and ready to go to work, and it's only 6:22AM.    Yippee kay yay.

Regulating Paradinha Kicks

My family, who spent a year in Paris, is big time into soccer.   My son Morgan (13) knows all the player names from Real Madrid, Manchester United, Lyon etc.   So I took time to read an article last March in Wall Street Journal about the controversy over a soccer penalty kick maneuver from Brazil, called the paradinha (think parade=step, in=little, ha=stop, pronounced par-a-JEEN-ya).

Not as noisy a controversy as the droning, vuvuzelas in South African football, but a this is a rules-issue that affects scores.

In 1997, an official soccer rule was changed to improve goalies chances of blocking the soccer penalty kicks.   FIFA removed the restriction against the goalie moving laterally before the kick.   This was supposed to increase the chance that a goal would be blocked, adding a little excitement to the (ahem) unique resolution mechanism of tied soccer games.

So it was intended to give the goalkeeper a slight head start.  But what happened was an unintended consequence.  Since 1997, the WSJ writes, penalty kickers have increasingly turned to an old Brazilian Didi and Pele's kicking technique.  They recycled the paradinha (stutter or little stop) kick, which fakes the kick and uses the goalkeepers head start against them.

They make a big run as if they are going to whale on the ball, but stutter the move, throwing the goalie at the fake direction.  The result is that the goals are now more imbalanced in favor of the kickers than they were in 1997.  In the spring, FIFA was debating how to enforce a rule about just how much you can stutter your run before a penalty kick.

Here in the 2010 World Cup, it has been outlawed.  We'll see if the goalies now have the edge, and if the scores fall too too far for TV ratings, what the next rule change will be.

The foremost authority on world cup soccer, vuvuzelas, paradinhas, and California computer monitor destruction is now Richard Athony of CRRA and GRRN.  I met with him in San Diego at ISRI and we had a terrific breakfast burrito on the beach, discussing ways to pay cash strapped CA not to smash working equipment.   But now Rick's in Johannesburg South Africa, enjoying the World Cup live. 

The parallel to California SB20 paying to break good monitors in order to reduce junk exports?  CA creates a shortage, and exporters in other states can mix more junk monitors into loads than they did before.  Now I am trying to buy good monitors in CA - or perhaps just from areas where they ship the junk monitors into CA for the subsidy, ie buy good monitors from AZ and NV and close one eye if the recycler is shipping the bad ones into CA to break at CA's expense.

I hope Rick Anthony remembered his earplugs, they seem to be in shortage.   I think there must be a glut of earplugs in California, I think I run into them everywhere. Maybe they can export some to South Africa (after poking little holes in them so they won't work).

"E-waste" Quiz: Is it legal?

Here is a quiz about what's legal in the used and second-hand electronics export business.

The largest factory pictured below produced 5,000 brand new monitors per day in 1998, as a subcontractor to big name OEMs.  In 2006, it continued to produce 5,000 monitors per day, having switched to using refurbished CRT monitor tubes from surplus repairable and working CRTs.

  1. Was it legal for the factory to import brand new CRTs and assemble them in Indonesia in 1998?
  2. Is it legal for the factory to recycle (glass to glass) breakage from that assembly line (est. at 2% per day x 5000 = 100 CRTs per day)
  3. Is it legal for the factory to take back and refurbish CRTs sent back under warranty for diagnosis, repair or recycling from the USA
  4. Is it legal for the factory to take back and refurbish CRTs it did not originally assemble, on behalf of the same OEMs it subcontracted assembly for, under the OEM's warranty?
  5. Is it legal for the factory to take back and repair CRT monitors whose warranty has expired for repair and refurbishment from within Indonesia?
  6. Is it legal for the factory to recycle the monitors sent back for warranty repairs which were not repairable?
  7. Is it legal for the factory to unilaterally extend its limited warranty to "lifetime takeback"?
  8. Is it legal for the factory to accept monitors for repair and refurbishment which it did not manufacture, but which are newer and better than the ones they did manufacture?
  9. Is it legal for the factory to take back monitors from within Indonesia and repair or recycle them?
  10. Is it legal for the factory to take back monitors from within Indonesia and set them on fire and dump the material in a landfill?
  11. Is it legal for the factory to take monitors from the USA and set them on fire and dump the material?

Under international law, only #11 is illegal.  Never practiced by this company, completely a myth that it's a significant number of exports, almost no monitors go to Guiyu ...  but we do concede that while it never happens at this place, that if it did happen, that it would be illegal.  But why was the factory above wrongly accused of being a primitive wire burning operation in a BAN / NRDC press release in the first place?  I continue to ask BAN and NRDC to withdraw the tone-deaf and insulting depiction of this end market.   We may differ which of the above are legal, but we can do it in a civilized manner which does not "willie horton" the contract manufacturing sector that brings sustainable wealth and development and affordable computers to countries which cannot otherwise afford them.

BAN led 60 Minutes to Guiyu and said the monitors go there.  The monitors never go there.  It is a lie and I'm going to keep writing about it and someday history will tell a completely different story than the one circulating.

Why do I keep harping on this?  Go back and take the quiz again, then read SB20 (California law).  R2 (Responsible Recycler) Standards leave the door open for factories like these to invest in better and better repair and refurbishing operations, and cleaner technologies, growing capacity not just for CRTs from America, but capacity for the junk electronics which is actually generated within these rapidly developing countries.  They can become R2 Certified. The E-Stewards standard pretends these factories don't exist, and if they don't exist, then BAN can solicit money from people who refuse to sell to them.  Both R2 and BAN E-Stewards cost a lot of money, but the main difference is how much of the money goes into the pockets of the people who insult the best and brightest people in the developing world.  With R2, more of your money can go to growing sustainable operations that solve the problem, instead of into propaganda films that ignore these talented people.

When I give a presentation at Cornell University to several hundred grad students, 20 young people from a half dozen countries line up to shake my hand.  Brown faces, brown eyes, black hair...
"Thank you Mr. Ingenthron.  We are so tired of seeing depictions of primitive operations from our country.  My (cousin / sister / dad / friend ) works in one of those factories.  Thank you for telling the truth about my home country."
And then they give me their names and ask me to come to their countries and set up Las Chicas Bravas operations in the "informal sectors" and clean the places up.

How articulate.  It's a storybook, man.

What would you do?  I think if you are reading this far, whatever your position, it's because you'd do the same as me.  I love smart good people no matter what their country, and geeks and techies in Egypt and Senegal and Peru and Malaysia and India are the same as enviros in those countries, they speak the same language and the brilliant skill and intelligence screams from their fingers and faces like a supernova of truth.  The world is hot, flat, and crowded, but there are smart techies sprinkled all over the place, like stars in the night.  Mariano Huchim Campos of Mexico, Souleymane Sao or Senegal, Hamdy Moussa of Egypt, Ow Young Su Fung of Malaysia, Jinexx Mindeval of Peru... They could be immigrants in New York City who fix your cell phone when you drop it.  But they are home, working in their own countries, bringing sustainable environmental jobs to the front line.

Atlas isn't shrugging, he's wincing.

BAN and NRDC, I beg you to stop insulting foreign repair factories.  We can disagree on Basel Convention Annex IX without racist and bigoted descriptions of the technicians.  I eat, sleep, live and work with these people, and it breaks my heart to see how many Americans think they work like orangutans in the forest.   They made the monitor on your desk, for heaven's sake.  Please, take the time to say something nice about some of the people who are being arrested and shut down for importing things they can fix and sell or donate to feed their children.  R2 is better because it sees people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.  If your paid Certification requires you to denigrate good people, look in the mirror and ask yourselves, is the money worth it?  Is the money from the shredding companies (you know, I know) really worth it?   Are you selling Mariano down the river for coin?

Electronics Recycling Legislation Evolves

There has been (as David Thompson of Panansonic warned in a meeting in 1998 with David B. Struhs at Mass DEP) a "patchwork quilt" of different legislative solutions to the electronics waste recycling opportunity.  Many different states have made many different tweaks.  The latest version is New York's, which calls on the manufacturers to set up systems faster and to pay more.

The "producer responsibility" model is winning more ground, compared to Massachusetts first in the nation waste ban and California's second in the nation advanced recycling fee (kind of a deposit system).  

West Coast kills reuse.  East Coast reinserts reuse.   Vermont and New York have deliberately written reuse back into the allowed system for recycling, as we have reminded people that no one knows put in California's "cancellation" (destroy prior to export) rule and no one seems to defend it.

I would have preferred a brand new clean sheet of paper, to have drafted a law which shares financial responsibility with media (OS producers, cell phone airwave auctions) and reform of the General Mining Act of 1872.  I couldn't stop the hardware producer responsibility train.   Will the future cassette player manufacturer now anticipate the arrival of the CD and change their production?  Hardly.  But the OEMs did not see what was happening to them... they were becoming like a cigarette tax and alcohol tax and gasoline tax, something which mainly serves to increase the local government revenue base.

But we will take as consolation that reuse is still allowed in the east.  Refilling ink cartridges is ok.   Legal monitor refurbishing is ok.  TV repair is ok.  The amount of money from reuse is as important as the money from OEMs who opposed reuse (and most did not, just a few are hard core about it).

What should alarm the OEMs most is the trend to mandate more and more tonnage and to impose more and more penalties.  The state ewaste legislation advocates make up a number... three pounds per resident, five pounds per resident, seven pounds per resident... New York is 8.  It keep going up.  Then they charge the OEM a penalty - again, increasing each version - for every pound they come up short.

I have a response for the OEMs on this one.  I'm reminded that in 1998 I told them that a waste ban was not painful (white goods and tires and auto batteries were already doing it) and was a cheap trade for the removal of CRTs from Universal and Hazardous Waste rules (which we did through reuse precedents).  Some of them could not see that.

Guest Blog from Fred Somda of Africa, WR3A Intern

Just a few days ago, I posted a blog reminiscing about one of our favorite WR3A Interns, Fred Somda of Burkina Faso.  In response, Fred has just sent a "guest blog" below (in French).   He describes the legal work he did researching the Basel Convention, and his opinions of a "fair trade" approach to used electronics exports. 

Mon stage de recyclage à Good Point Recycling, une expérience inédite!

Avant juin 2007, je n’avais qu’une vague idée du sort réservé aux matériels électroniques qui étaient en fin de vie ou inutilisables. Habituellement, ces biens usagés comme beaucoup d’autres, sont jetés dans des décharges publiques ou débarras, ce qui constitue toujours à terme, un problème environnemental auquel sont confrontés les êtres qui vivront à proximité.

De juin à novembre 2007, j’ai suivi le stage de recyclage de matériels électroniques, particulièrement des ordinateurs, au sein de la société de recyclage « Good Point Recycling » à Middlebury, dans l’Ètat du Vermont, aux États-Unis d’Amérique. Mon stage a été supervisé par le fondateur et directeur de cette société, Monsieur Robin F. Ingenthron. Ce stage bien planifié, a été structuré en plusieurs étapes qui sont :

  • La présentation de l’organisation générale de l’entreprise
  • La collecte des matériels auprès des services, institutions et familles
  • Le tri et le classement des matériels selon leur état
  • Le démontage pièce par pièce des matériels non fonctionnels
  • L’identification des composantes de ces matériels qui sont nocifs à la santé ou à l’environnement.
  • L’organisation des relations de partenariat à l’intérieur des États-Unis d’Amérique et hors des États-Unis d’Amérique .
  • La mise en conformité de ces activités de recyclage avec la Convention de Bâle sur le Contrôle des Mouvements Transfrontalières des Déchets Dangereux et de leur Élimination, du 22 mars 1989.

Ce stage m’a permis de comprendre la portée et l’importance du recyclage de ces matériels dont la production augmente considérablement alors même que ceux dont on se débarrasse pour des raisons de compétitivité sont souvent en très bon état de fonctionnement.

J’ai pu me rendre compte que les États industrialisés tels que les États-Unis d’Amérique ont construit des usines de recyclage qui font de la récupération de certaines composantes des matériels électroniques qui sont réutilisées. Les autres composantes nocives sont détruites ou mis en lieu sûr par enfouissement.
Les matériels qui sont classés bons après avoir été testés par Good point Recycling sont vendus à des partenaires étrangers qui en expriment le besoin tels que la Malaisie,  l’Égypte, Sénégal etc.…

Les pays en développement ont un besoin crucial en matériels électroniques, particulièrement les ordinateurs, pour les universités, les établissements secondaires et primaires, les hôpitaux mais n’ont pas les moyens d’acheter les matériels de pointe, ils peuvent accéder aux matériels de seconde main en bon état à des prix intéressants.

Pour ce faire, ces États, de concert avec ceux industrialisés doivent négocier des partenariats gagnants-gagnants qui favoriseraient dans un premier temps la formation de personnels des pays défavorisés aux techniques de recyclage et dans un deuxième temps, la construction d’unités de recyclage dans ces dits pays, mais à terme le transfert de technologie sera nécessaire pour réduire les disparités si l’on tient à préserver l’environnement dans son ensemble.
Les projets et programmes de recyclage doivent être vulgarisés au niveau des producteurs et surtout des consommateurs. Leur financement devra être assuré par les gouvernements, les institutions et les organismes de défense de l’Environnement.

Pour éviter que les États en développement ne soient des dépotoirs des matériels usagés des États développés, l’observation des dispositions de la Convention de Bâle que la quasi-totalité de ces États ont signée et ratifiée, s’avère indispensable. Le recyclage doit être le maître mot des gouvernements et acteurs des transactions commerciales au niveau planétaire.

Ce stage m’a également permis de me frotter au sympathique personnel de la société et à d’autres stagiaires tels que Tito, Oscar, Mariano, Dolores et Lidia.

Mon souhait est de mener cette activité en Afrique, à commencer par le Ghana.

Je remercie le personnel de Good Point Recycling pour sa très bonne collaboration.

Mes sincères remerciements à Robin pour m’avoir permis de suivre ce stage qui sera à jamais gravé dans ma mémoire.

Jean Frederic Somda is a former Attorney General for the African nation of Burkina Faso.  He has since gained status as a political asylum refugee in Quebec, Canada.  He is a lawyer and former seminary student who has been the head of a military and police training academy.  His dream, as expressed in this blog, is to open his own "fair trade recycling" company in Ghana, following the example of the Retroworks de Mexico ("Las Chicas Bravas") reuse, repair and recycling endeavor in Sonora, Mexico.