Indian Graveyards and PC Hospitals

I wrote this at JFK airport, with a 5.5 hour delay for a flight overseas.  I was consciously thinking about slowing down my posts.  I had already stepped on my own headline with E-Scrap News and the WR3A annual meeting which will now be held there.  But darn, this is a good article I found on Boingo. Travellers know, Boingo is a "hotspot" not a publication - the article from India I found in ThinkDigit.com:  Computer Graveyards, a walk through the 'e-slums" of Mumbai.

The photos capture a lot like things I have seen.  You have to spend some time, let your eyes adjust.  You begin to recognize that two photos are embarrassing messes, and two photos show bootstrapping techies creating wealth they can be proud of.  Yes, proud, even though they are poor.

This text too looks at first glance like another anti-export diatribe.  But read it closely.  The author, Sriram Sharma, gets to know Harshit Patel of the Indian place "Techshop", an e-commerce website that resells computer hardware.  The Indian company has an e-cycle takeback program, similar to our "cash for clunkers" project with Retroworks de Mexico.    
Even though the zone here doesn’t exactly meet environmental standards; there is one good thing about this place, said Harshit. “The people here help reduce e-waste by working and identifying which parts are working. They take it and reassemble it into a working computer and sell it.”
What's not so great about the article is the repeated anecdote substituted for data  
According to SVTC, only 10 % of e-waste is recycled responsibly. “The rest are openly burned, soaked in acid baths, and dumped into rivers or piled into mountains of e-waste for scrap recovery.”
Ok, great, I thought it was 80%,  or 75%, or "fifty-fifty", or 15% bad, or 30% bad... all stats I've profiled on this blog from different sources.  I think "e-waste" represents the most journalism ever posted about the least amount of scientific data.   Ok, now it's 90% bad, (the source - SVTC) but the author is also talking to an Indian technician who does this and clearly he has a brain and experience, but fails to ask him his own opinion.

When I talk to techies overseas, they tell me the crap they get is domestic.  Sometimes it was western reuse by origin, but it wore out years ago and was returned.  If you gauge their enthusiasm, they want the stuff from wealthy countries - that's where (as Ms Fang said) "the candy is".

Harshit is the kid in class, if you were a Peace Corps teacher like me, you'd be really excited to follow in his later years.  He is totally able to do this, like the women in Mexico or our contract manufacturing partners. The environmental savings are much greater than recycling in the USA.  Every time he fixes something that was "good enough" for someone to get online, but which did not require new manufacturing, he scores mega sustainability points.  From the article:
The Earth from Above exhibition quotes a 2004 UNU report which states that it takes 1.8 tonnes of materials to make a desktop computer and a monitor. This includes 240 kg of fossil fuels, and 22 kg of chemicals. Pound for pound, it is a lot more energy intensive than the automobile industry. The same report gives readers a good reason to support durable products with a good servicing ethic, and platforms with a lesser number of upgrade lifecycles: “The energy savings potential of reselling or upgrading is some 5-20 times greater than recycling.” says Eric Williams, author of the paper.
And by trading with him - fairly, and accurately, and with full accounting - you are building up a guy named Harshit, who will become the recycling infrastructure founder India needs, to boot.  I would like to talk to the author, and to Harshit Patel, about what they think of the Fair Trade Recycling approach, compared to boycotts and shredding.

Graveyards, yes, but hospitals too.  You don't close the hospital when you find dead people there.

Here is someone making the same point from TED... TED fellow Dominic Muren says what I've been trying to say about prioritizing e-waste, and the perfect becoming the enemy of the good. Not sure who is saying it better, but two advocates are better than one. 

His monologue "RECYCING IS STUPID" is specifically about shredding electronics which could have been reused, and why on a global warming basis that is bad. I don't like the headline but have rewritten it for this blog.  I don't like headlines that mimic the #1 Myth about E-Waste, even when they nail several other Myths on the way.
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MIA Paper Planes and e-Waste Recycling

wwwJust a reminder, if you did not see academy award winner Slumdog Millionaire, it was about a scrap recycler from India who makes good because he is smart and learned stuff.  It was from the breakage and scrap side of the business, not the shiny "big secret factories".

This is so damn important.   Cleaning up the operations in the poor countries through fair trade is critical.  Just shutting these people off leaves them nothing but war and drugs. Bang, bang.  Play the video below.



The basic idea in Slumdog Millionaire is that at the beginning, he defies all probability by answering every question in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" de India.  To the authorities, obviously he must have cheated, as the odds of a kid from the scrapyards knowing answers to questions about obscure London historic sites is next to zero.  The movie then goes back in time, telling the kid's story, stitching together the anecdotal opportunities through which he learns certain things as a fluke.  The conclusion of authorities:  if it's unlikely a poor kid can do it, the conclusion is that he cannot do it.

That's the difference between WR3A and our critics.   If its statistically unlikely that an overseas recycling company is doing it correctly, and we try to certify which ones ARE doing it correctly, do you go check on us, or declare that we are cheating?

The families we work with in Sonora Mexico want these jobs and will do everything, every R2 practice, and every environmental audit, to keep them.  Their percussion is the same: bang, bang.  Thanks to Maya Arulpragasam, daughtor of immigrants to UK from Sri Lanka, who sings in the track above.

Good Point Recycling and Retroworks de Mexico 2010

Good Point Recycling continues to partner with Retroworks de Mexico, both in cross training and shipping.  Because the SEMARNAT has not yet re-approved our permit to recycle the CRT glass in Mexico, we must re-transit the intact CRTs back to the USA for final recycling... this has made us more careful to send refurbishable, repairable and working equipment from Vermont, which RDM can use as a good unit to exchange for a clunker generated by Mexicans in Mexico.

The EPA Border 2012 program was going to give us $84,750 for this project, but it got put on ice.  Communication with EPA has been awkward.  I'd like to get someone to look at the diagram of how the work can still be done legally without Mexico smelter being the final destination, but everyone is afraid to be caught nodding, as e-waste at the agency has been kind of transferred to a new "environmental justice" department... I kind of have faith the RPCVs in that department are going to see the light, that we WANT fair trade programs to be developing in poor areas, and that the export of relatively nicer stuff in return NOT for top dollar but in return for environmental efforts and improved standards is the best idea out there.  Damn, it's the ONLY idea out there besides boycott-and-pretend-we-are-repairing-in-USA, and telling the poor people in Mexico to 'leapfrog' us.  "Because we no longer distribute computers for your internet cafes, you will more quickly get laptops".  Oh sure, that follows. Cowardly ass covering is not my style, I'm going to get my hands dirty and be a "Recycler Without Borders".


Anyway, here in the trenches of Vermont, our friends are working hard and playing hard.  In the second half of this slide show are some of the fun weekends we have had, bringing Mariano, Panchito, and Dominita to Boston, Cambridge, Stowe, Quechee Gorge, and wrapping up at the Bristol-Lincoln waterfalls.  Mariano and I played a hilarious prank on Domi and Panchito today - I had emptied my pockets and was standing fully clothed with my back to the cliff over the water, and Mariano, camera in hand, was motioning me with his other hand, "back farther"... until I screamed and fell backwards off the bluff into the 9' deep pool under the waterfall.  Poor Domi didn't see it was a setup and was imploring Mariano to jump in and rescue me.   We laughed so hard all the way home.  And kept laughing spontaneously through dinner.

This is fair trade.  These Mexicans are our friends, and they are just as good, and at some things better at what they do, as the gringo staff.  This partnership with a women's coop, in charge of all the activity in Mexico, is nothing but good and legal for everyone.   The grant would have been really nice.  EPA?  Talk to me baby.  Our paperwork with the smelter was set back when our attorney, Marco Antonio Armendariz, was assassinated (a crime covered by NPR).  But with the maquila re-transiting the intact Crts back to the USA for processing, we could have still held the one-day events in Mexico and handed out the refurbished computers which our partner CCLAC has ready.  BAN would like us to make Retroworks de Mexico an E-Steward, we'd like to get R2 certified... but our credit card interest has been jacked up over 20% because of the recession.

The Mexico smelter will be awesome when it begins using CRT cullet to replace the 220 tons per day of leaded cullet it now mines from mountainsides, but that would indeed be final recycling of the CRT in Mexico, something we cannot again legally do.  But we ARE permitted to test and repair TVs and computers, and we ARE permitted to demanufacture them to return the CRT to the USA.  The Mexico Ibarrola or customs office does not consider those CRTs to have been imported.  And to our credit, when we DID have the permit from the USA to end-of-life the CRT glass, we did NOT break any of it while completing the legal paperwork for Mexico.  We have been wearing suspenders and a belt.

This is mostly the fault of the person who shot our lawyer, for who knows what reason, and the fault of communications between EPA and Mexico SEMARNAT being so bad that we cannot distinguish between re-transit to USA and recycling / final disposal.  The Border 2012 guy even wrote that he saw a picture of Ms. Vicki and she wasn't repairing, she was demanufacturing.  She demans the bad ones we collect in Mexico, we have 30 employees, only 5 are in the video... the refurbishing people (mostly plugging in and gee, it works) are not in that film!  And you never called me to ask, I just get an apparent rejection email...

I know the history of the Border2012 grant program.  This could have been one of the best stories EPA has ever had to tell.  PBS, NPR Marketplace, Living on Earth, Sacramento Bee, and AP have all been down and checked it out; we were a finalist for Investors Circle.  BAN's biggest donor, Joshua Mailman, even called to check out whether we were investable. This is the real McCoy.   I'm trying to do the right thing here, both by people and by the environment.  I cannot pull the plug on these ladies, but financing this e-waste thing is getting pretty near impossible.

Sorry to be a crybaby.  Enjoy the slides.  We sort out the working TVs by type and upgrade small hotels owned by people from India who cannot afford LCDs in the hotel rooms.  The Vermonters and Mexicans and Indians and Malaysians and Egyptians are going to get together.

Beads. Pottery. Rings.
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WR3A Annual Meeting 2010 - E-Scrap New Orleans

Dear WR3A Members and Friends,

The World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association (WR3A) will hold its annual meeting at this fall's E-Scrap Conference, sponsored by E-Scrap News and Resource Recycling.   The annual meeting will take place Wednesday, September 29 at 5:30PM (at the Evening Reception).  We will be reintroducing members, voting board members, and providing data on WR3A's end market audits of overseas processors.   


We will present data on one of the most significant challenges in our industry - CRT Glass.  In 2009, the largest end markets for bad CRT glass (Mexico) was cut off.  At the same time, diversion of CRT monitors from Chinese enforcement caused a flood of CRT monitors into the port cities of our legal, certified factories (WR3A does not ship CRTs to China,  or to brokers who ship overland from Viet Nam and Hong Kong to  Chinese CRT factories).   


How did active WR3A members survive the market disruption?  How did membership save us thousands of dollars?  How did the WR3A contracts suffer as a result of these disruptions?  How will the potential for a United Nations purchase order, or a "California SB20 Compromise" change next year's markets?  When you join WR3A, you will benefit from the knowledge and data from those actively participating in the export market has been a boon.  Come to the annual meeting and find out the gross numbers of trade in repair and refurbishment.

We also need your input on WR3A's future directions.  Will ISRI and R2 take over the "fair trade" functions WR3A was founded to achieve?  Can we find more common ground with Basel Action Network?  Who should WR3A cooperate with?

We especially want to invite our University and College members.  If you are responsible for surplus property, recycling, or just interested in studying the positive and negative results of free and fair trade in used electronics, THIS is the conference to meet the domestic and foreign processors.

Don't wait to reserve your place at the table!   R2 Standards and E-Steward Standards will be running face to face dueling standards.   Come and learn how and whether the export market can fit into your own certification, whether through audited repair or by testing units to BAN standards, or finding OECD markets for repair and refurbishment.



Click Here for Registration for Attendance and Workshops held by ISRI and BAN at the E-Scrap 2010 Conference.  


Write "WR3A" in the special requests line for a chance at a free WR3A membership drawing to be held at the annual meeting.


Here is the schedule for planning your trip.  Check out the training sessions held by ISRI and BAN.  If you need certification and still want to export to the legitiate reuse and recycling markets, you will benefit from WR3A membership.

E-Scrap 2010 Schedule-at-a-Glance

_________________Monday, September 27th
  • 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm    Registration  
_________________Tuesday, September 28th
This is the day before the actual E-Scrap Conference, when several organizations such as ISRI, BAN, and ERCC hold workshops for a separate fee, not included in the E-Scrap Registration.
  • 6:45 am - 1:30 pm    Golf Scramble
  • 7:30 am – 7:30 pm    Registration (also open Wed and Thu AM)
  • 8:00 am – 12:00 pm   ISRI Education Program:  Certification..
  • 12:30pm - 3:00 pm    BAN Workshop:  E-Stewards Certification..
  • 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm     ISRI Education Program:  Downstream Due Diligence and Risk Mgt..
  • 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm    ERCC Workshop:  Harmonizing State Programs...
  • 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm    BAN E-Stewards Face-to-Face Meeting
  • 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm    ISRI Reception
_________________Wednesday, September 29th
  • 8:00 am – 8:30 am   Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30 am – 10:00 am   Plenary Session I
  • 10:00 am – 10:45 am  Opening of Tradeshow / WR3A Booth / Exhibit Hall
  • 10:45 am – 12:15 pm   Plenary Session II
  • 12:15 pm – 1:15 pm   Networking Lunch / WR3A table
  • 1:15 pm – 1:30 pm    Break in Exhibit Hall
  • 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm   Concurrent Session A, Session B
  • 3:00 pm -3:30 pm   Break in Exhibit Hall
  • 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm  Concurrent Session C, Session D
  • 5:15 pm – 7:00 pm   Evening Reception:  WR3A Annual Membership Meeting
_____________ Thursday, September 30th
  • 8:00 am – 8:30 am   Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30 am – 10:00 am   Plenary Session III
  • 10:00 am – 10:30 am   Exhibit Hall Refreshments
  • 10:30 am – 12:00 pm   Concurrent Session E, F
  • 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm    Networking Lunch
  • 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm   Plenary Session I
*Schedule is subject to change without notice. All conference sessions will be held between 8:00 am – 7:00 pm on September 29th and 8:00 am – 2:30 pm on September 30th.