Meeting between BAN and WR3A results in common approach to SB20 reuse and recycling recommendation! Details to follow. Thanks to E-Scrap 2010 for bringing us together!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.5.9

UPDATE: WR3A Meetings in New Orleans

E-Scrap 2010 Conference, New Orleans

Wednesday, September 29, "Prince of Whales" Room
New Orleans Riverside Hilton

Meetings Agenda

3-4  General Meeting, All WR3A Members and Guests.  Open Discussion on California Compromise and other debated standards with academics, advocates, and industry professionals.  Our goal is to get a lot of opinion etc. out in the open, and to hold to a tight schedule at 4PM.  Since this part of the meeting overlaps with some concurrent sessions, it is not necessary to attend in order to participate in the California Compromise Business Meeting at 4PM.

  • Invited via Skype:   Technicians, lawyers and Recyclers from Burkina Faso, Mexico, Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, Peru.
4:    Business Meeting:   California Compromise.   WR3A, BAN, and others will attempt to put forth a proposal which all sides can support for CalRecycles to allow reuse of CRTs if it neither compromises double-redemption of ARF fees or illegal exports.  WR3A will present a proposal based on Basel Action Network / E-Stewards export-for-reuse standards as a compromise for a system which currently has zero legal reuse.
  • A copy of the proposal will be uploaded via Scribd to this blog during the weekend.

5:   WR3A Board Meeting:   Should WR3A continue to try to cooperate with purchase orders, or act as a business advocacy organization, letting our members find their own markets?   2009 proved it was very difficult to match supply and demand;  the changes in CRT glass markets increased demand for access to a limited number of buyers, and our attempts to get a larger buyer to become certified were frustrated when anti-export groups criticized the new buyer (based on distrust of that buyer's current suppliers).

This meeting is co-sponsored by Resource Recycling, publisher of E-Scrap News, and American Retroworks Inc.

"E-Waste" History: Capacitor Heroes

(See prelude yesterday)   This is a longer post than usual.  But I think that understanding the issue of capacitor repairs is vital to understanding the policy debate around "e-waste" and "ewaste exports".  It's a story about a type of repair of a very small electronic component, a type of repair Americans once did but no longer bother with.  It's about how a faulty little piece on brand new computers led to a rush of disposal, recycling, warranty returns, exports to refurbishers, and an anti-competitive response by original manufacturers.  In the end, a whole class of technically savvy, green and sustainable business was attacked, insulted, and thrown together with sham recyclers.  And two separate electronics recycling certifications emerged based on which description of the overseas technicians (or overseas wire burners) you believed in.

I visited PC and monitor manufacturing operations in several countries.  Some were PC Clone makers, some were contract manufacturers for major brands. I observed takeback of electronics both in and out of factory warranty.

The biggest "recall" of products in the USA computer industry has been Pentium 4 computers which had faulty little capacitors, produced at a Chinese plant which tried to "paint over" the overheating problem.   The capacitors began to overheat and bulge, and the circuit boards failed.  Reportedly, the recalls of Optiplex computers alone cost Dell $300M;  IBM, HP and others who used capacitors made by China's LTE Company were also affected.

What is a Capacitor?

The capacitor is about the size of an insect.  It's function is similar to a battery;  its electrolytes slow or govern electrical flows.  Forty years ago, it was common for USA electronics repairment to replace these (my company still salvages rare ones for ham radio operators).   Techs in most developing countries still take time to replace "passive components".   In the past decade, thousands and thousands of the PCs with the defective capacitor were replaced at colleges, universities, government and commercial office buildings in what technical journals call the decade's "capacitor plague".

The repair and refurbishment companies overseas, like the one in Egypt (film posted of an actual capacitor bypass on the blog 3 days ago) would much prefer a working PC with a good set of caps, but if Americans are willing to sell these cheap, they are more than willing to fix them.  The market for affordable computers is huge in countries where the median income is about $3000 per year;  internet use is growing at 10 times the rate over the decade of growth in the USA.  Smart people who want to get online cannot afford a $700 computer... but they can afford $40 and a new capacitor.

"Gray" Market: 

Overheated capacitors swell and l
A hungry market is also an invitation for carpetbaggers and opportunists.  The "gray market" refers to unregulated commerce, where second-hand material may be sold as new, warranty's violated, off-spec material resold rather than recycled, etc.   "Spray and pray" operators paint over the badcaps and sell them without repairing them.  Stolen (black market) goods are sold side by side with honest goods.

The replacement caps don't cost much, and the repair is so inexpensive to do, so legitimate factories had little incentive to cheat.  Still, the buyer-beware market poses risks to the brand names of the major manufacturers.   And along the way, millions of dollars in serial numbers may have been phoned in for illegitimate refunds.  One can see why OEMs would want to just shred these rather than look at the PC again... and if they paid for that, they should be guaranteed it. Dell came to legal blows with Tiger Direct for resale of out of date product in 2009.

Contract Manufacturers and the White Box PC:

Of course, the OEMs also had a less noble motive for governing sales of PC Clones.   According to Gartner Research, off-brand and "white box" PCs were the fastest growing market share for PCs worldwide during this time (the generic or "good enough" market even takes a big bite from USA sales).   Used goods have always been looked at as "market cannabalization" by some manufacturers.   Just because a brand name says that a generic brand is no good, illegal, or illegitimate doesn't make it so.  In fact, some factories making the white box PC clones were also contracted to make the same item for a brand name!   The exact same facility, making the exact same product, can sell its own brand of goods in the "contract manufacturing" sector.

Our attitude was that we should see if the buyer really had the capacity to replace the capacitors.   In that case, a developing country could get a thousand dollar PC with a practically new hard drive and RAM for the cost of a tiny new capacitor.  WR3A was formed so that USA recyclers could cooperatively audit overseas repair and recycling markets.   There were very legitimate operations out there, as well as operations willing to "go legit" if given the "fair trade" incentive.    The importing buyers tire of being audited by everybody, and USA recyclers are weary of "fly and buy" visits (where a foreign buyer demands pre-inspection to keep from getting burned with a bad load).   In the very beginning, Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network called and spoke words of encouragement to me, wishing WR3A the best of luck, and said he hoped BAN could support it.

Negotiations between Responsible Recyclers

I had asked BAN about the factories we sold the Pentium computers to which could replace the capacitors, and raised this practice again while a stakeholder in the EPA's Responsible Recyclers (R2) Certification meetings.  BAN was calling for "fully functional", stating that they also object to foreign factories which remove a couple of one-millimeter faulty capacitors from a Pentium 4 computer and replacing them with a new capacitor.  I thought a repaired Pentium 4 was a lot better deal than a tested working Pentium 3.

Basel Convention Annex IX specifically states that export for repair was legal in the Basel Convention.  I cited language on List B1110, and BAN acknowledged that the Convention did indeed allow export for repair.  But they said that what the Convention meant was that the bad capacitor had to be removed from the board prior to the export.  That's like removing your old muffler in your driveway before driving to the auto garage.    Jim explained that the repair was legal, but maintained a crime was committed when the bad capacitor was shipped as "transboundary movement" of (eventual) waste.  I said we'd make sure it was recycled - but Jim said the damage had been done during the trans-boundary movement, and said even sending the part back to the USA would not undo the crime.

At the R2 discussion (where Sarah was representing BAN), I stated that this appeared to block warranty repairs at factories which made these boards. And I brought up other tricky questions.  Does export require a working power supply if the importing nation is 220v and is going to replace the power supply?  What about  voluntary upgrades - exporting a computer with 256 RAM to a nation which commonly replaces that RAM with 512 to 1gig?   In either case a greater "trans-boundary" movement had occurred than in the case of the replaced capacitor on a 6 month old computer.

R2 says "must be legal":

At this point, there was a very clear and honest difference of opinion: 1) about what the Basel Convention says, and 2) source of authority to resolve difference of interpretation.  Annex IX B1110 has a footnote saying Parties may consider these repairable units "commodities, and not wastes".  The importing and exporting nations make the legal determination. Those countries may even be restricted against banning the import by WTO agreements.  A nation could ban "the color orange", but that is not an environmental law, and I didn't think a ban on imports of tested working Pentium 4 dual core laptops by China needed to become part of an environmental certification.

John Lingelbach, the EPA's hired moderator, suggested we adapt language that the export "must be legal" in the receiving country (I kind of objected to this, but conceded to the majority).  BAN later said that some soon-to-be-published paper on cell phones would provide a decision tree making their case (implying that an international appointed body, not the court system, would decide... not the way international law works).

Environmentalists are pulled into the fray:

As time has passed, the subtle differences in international law and the fate of tiny capacitors (recycled by the importer under WR3A and R2, supposed removed prior to export under BAN certification) were forgotten in the media.   Instead, the highly functioning refurbishing factories overseas have been roundly denigrated in presentations to the press, and to Interpol.  The technicians replacing capacitors are described with pictures of primitive operations in Guiyu and at landfills in Ghana.  Pictures of burning monitors, tales of hard drives being scoured for personal information, tales of poisoned rivers... the attack on the technicians was shrill and relentless. 

During the past year, I have become obsessed with defending the technicians overseas against the "red scare" defamation by protectionists in China, obsolescence patrons in the USA, and well meaning environmentalists.

The technicians who buy the Pentium 4s and replace the capacitors are not "primitive".  This is like linking Pete Seeger to Stalin, or Mike Dukakis to Willie Horton, or Obama to Kenyan muslims.   It's dirty and shameful way to argue your case, and environmental organizations should really look in the mirror and ask themselves why they haven't distanced themselves from the racial profiling used to describe factories like PT Imtech, which they attacked and severely wounded in Semarang Indonesia.  

When the technician overseas is arrested and his family loses their bread, and the internet cafes go empty, and dictators strike deals with manufacturers to tax used and useful products, BAN should try to make the case that enforcement of the Convention will make this worth it in the long run.

Common sense and economics dictate that when an importer pays $40 for a dual core Pentium 4, refusing to accept a Pentium 2 (which has more gold), that the trade is not based on a primitive metal recuperation. The tiny removed capacitor, recycled in Indonesia, does not "poison" people (unless it's made before 1975, capacitors  no longer contains PCBs).  The pictures of landfills in Guiyu and Ghana,which motivated my industry to improve itself ten years ago, are not moving the developing world forward.

BAN has a reputation for moral leadership.   If they publicly state their legitimate concerns, that these reuse and repair clauses could indeed be misused as a loophole to dump unscreened, end of life product, we may be able to address them.  This way the discussion moves forward and we all improve.  BAN should however explain that the break between E-Stewards Certification and Responsible Recyclers interpretation was over a tiny capacitor and how an arcane footnote in a treaty should be interpreted and resolved - not over poisoning people.  False and defamatory descriptions of the best and brightest kids in Africa, Asia and Latin America is noticed by our peers oversas. 

Perhaps BAN can succeed in getting USA recyclers to actually repair the P4s, replace the capacitors, and supply the developing world with computers.  Perhaps not.  More likely cell phone technology will develop in a way which leapfrogs the PC, though that will cost 15 years of internet access before it's widespread in the developing world.  But whatever happens, the techs overseas are neither polluters nor impoverished victims of free and fair trade.

Telling the Boston Globe that a major Indonesian re-manufacturer is a "primitive, wire-burning" operation is wrong.   Telling CBS 60 Minutes that the thousands of CRTs in Hong Kong are being burned in Guiyu is wrong.  In the same way my industry can thank BAN for pointing out our errors, I write with the hope that someday BAN may see past their anger and thank me for speaking the truth to their newfound power.

Enemy of the Good?

I have made several allusions to the anti-communist campaign of Senator Joe McCarthy, to the ayatollah-like pronouncements of what the Basel Convention Annex IX "means".  That makes people mad.  But their use of pictures of primitive operations to describe contract manufacturing plays on latent racism.    "Sham recycler", "reuse excuse", "digital dump", and "primitive" don't describe the techies I have visited in person, and who are being described as criminals to Interpol.

My friends have questioned whether this has become a distracting "pissing match", and what I get out of the campaign for fair trade recycling.

I have friends who have been run off the road.  They are still in the ditch.  And environmentalists are not slowing down or apologizing or offering to help for their reckless driving.   A "pissing match" implies that the answer doesn't really matter as much as the ego.

I think that the opportunity to repair Pentium 4s by replacing capacitors is more than just an affordable recycling practice.  It is an important opportunity for the developing world, more important than anything I did in Peace Corps.  $300 Million is a lot of money.  It's a big risk for OEMs, but also a huge opportunity to create wealth and assist the developing world get internet access.  Maybe the OEMs can come up with the equivalent of a MAR license - a license to repair their goods, if they are donated to schools, or sold in areas that don't buy new PCs?

There are many ways that wealthy nations and developing nations could have cooperated, to "punt" the computers into schools which would never realistically have otherwise bought a new PC (and the OEMs would not have lost a sale).  There are many ways which good geek jobs could have been supported in Cairo and Ghan and turned into tomorrow's technically skilled recyclers.

I think David Bowie's "Heroes" has more "accoustic cover versions" than anything on Youtube.   If there is a hero in this story, it is not the American exporters who shipped junky Pentium Is and TVs on top of the P4s.   It is not the American companies who shredded the P4s and claimed they were not repairable.  It was not the NGOs who accepted cash for Pledges, or business generators who demanded "no intact units" in their recycling contracts.  It is not the "spray and pray" companies who resold PCs with bad caps to unsuspecting buyers.

The only heroes in this story are the people who took the time to repair the capacitors, or to get the PCs with repairable capacitors into the hands of people who could  repair them.  They are not "perfect", only "good".  But American Recyclers aren't perfect either.  Can't we all just get along?

Basel Action Network: How to Debate Policy

A decade ago, a small organization in Seattle Washington used pictures to embarrass the scrap recycling industry.  The result was positive.   Our recycling industries have vastly improved our accountability because of the constructive criticism from Basel Action Network.

Refurbishing Technician in Singapore
This year I decided to return the favor.   The BAN organization has taken on more responsibility, and has more clout.  But it needs to mature, and take account of the unintended consequences of simplistic, cartoonish portrayals of the scrap and reuse industry.   Simply scolding people like Robert Tonetti, Eric Harris of ISRI, or Eric Williams of Arizona State University won't do. 

BAN has done well, and should be comfortable with their role as "certifier" or judge of proposed processes.  It is very different from the role of "advocate".   Unintended consequences are building up.   Kenya is banning used computers, Egypt is intercepting working monitors intended for hospitals, and the best and brightest of contract manufacturing takeback programs in Indonesia were sent letters to stop imports (to refurbish only monitors generated in Indonesia - far lower quality than those they had purchased from the USA).  

A Refurbishing Technician in Tatooine
When I first met Donald Summers, BAN's consultant (and Middlebury College alum), he said his most important advice was not to let "the perfect become the enemy of the good".  That was two years ago. It would be a step forward for BAN to publicly admit that the majority of the CRT monitors circled in China were not headed for Guiyu.  They were purchased by factories which I sent BAN pictures of several years ago.  The Chinese government has now banned their import, it is true, but not for environmental reasons - China bans the import of week-old Pentium 4 dual core laptops.   It is a protectionist ploy, more pertinent to the Doha round of the WTO negotiations than any waste disposal covered by Basel Convention.

At times my discussions with (or around) BAN have been cordial, at times less so.  The organization needs to recognize that protectionist and censorship and planned obsolescence are riding their good intentions.  Tomorrow's post is a concrete example of an "export for repair" which BAN and I could not come to terms with 5 years ago.   What the discussion of the tiny capacitor says about interpreting Basel Convention Annex IX (legal exports), about BAN's interpretation of the Convention, and what BAN is willing to do to win their argument, is cause for study by policy makers at the UN, at EPA, and at Interpol.

Tomorrow's post also unveils the breakdown between R2 Standards and E-Stewards Certification. BAN and WR3A had argued the rules governing a very small component which has led to millions of dollars of opportunities, warranty returns, outrageous claims of pollution, and a breakdown in civil discussion between well-meaning organizations:  The Clone Wars is one suggested title, but really its (Factory) Return of the Capacitors.  It looks a bit dry, which is why I'm going to set it aside for further editing tonight.  But it tells a tale of people who do repair and refurbishment, people a lot like a young Anakin Skywalker repairing droids and sky racers in Episode I of Star Wars.   In Episode I, you have a combination of images which are both sophisticated and primitive... That sums up the developing world today, where the most modern Cities may be found in non-OECD nations.  The bigger the national boundary, the more jarring the city-state juxtaposition.
Next:  The Capacitor Wars

Boston Globe: Jeff Jacoby Disses Recycling

When I was forwarded a link to the Boston Globe's skeptical and sarcastic piece by columnist Jeff Jacoby about recycling, I was expecting something worse.   Jacoby admits that industrial and commercial recycling are good for the environment and economical.   And I smiled with him at the exaggerated enthusiasm of some recycling fliers, which seem to want everybody to be as thrilled as I am about making recycling commonplace.

Towards the end of the article, however, Jacoby makes a couple of mistakes which do need correction, regarding curbside residential recycling.  The economics he uses were considered decades ago and put to rest.   To fairly consider municipal recycling economics, you need to weigh three important facts:
  1. Virgin materials are subsidized.  The General Mining Act of 1872 set the cost of mining and forestry on federal lands at $5 per acre.  That was considered a development incentive / subsidy 138 years ago.  Today it's a ridiculous subsidy of virgin extraction in Western states.  Massachusetts paper mills turned to using recycled paper almost a century ago.  Recycling is good for Massachusetts.  It is the subsidies of virgin material in Western states that hurts our recycling industry's competitiveness.
  2. As recycling increases, dumping cost go down.    The red line of the MBTA runs for awhile right along the expressway.  At certain times of day, the expressway is moving faster than the T.  But if you close the T, and everyone on it now gets on the expressway, the traffic changes.  In the same way, solid waste landfill and disposal costs were increasing dramatically before municipal recycling started.  Recycling blunted the cost of solid waste, and the state no longer issues the multi-million dollar bonds to support incinerators.
  3. Recycling creates jobs.  My company employs 20 people, salvaging and recycling 6 million pounds of stuff diverted from the dump - per YEAR.   That same 6 million pounds would employ our guys at the landfill for one eight-hour day.   The jobs are NOT created by the recycling bills, they are created by the added value of the materials we are recycling.  

Shutting down the recycling economy might benefit the state for about a week.  Then the Massachusetts mills would close, the mining from federal lands would increase, the cost of dumping would go back to where it was in the 1980s, and we'd lay off thousands of people employed by the recycling industry.

Whenever someone has the bright idea that eliminating the recycling trucks is good for the environment, we have to remind them of the logging truck (to go cut down trees to make paper) and the additional trip to the landfill.

The worst of all economies is to run a recycling program which people don't participate in.  When the recycling truck drives by Mr. Jacoby's house, I hope his bin will be out.  Running two trucks to pick up recyclables separated from trash only works when people participate.

Computer Repair Jobs in Egypt: Clubbed to Death

(note:  the flickering on the screen is caused by the film, the repaired monitor works perfectly)

We have spent a lot of time and collected a lot of film, standing with our friends in a lot of different countries.  We stood and filmed repair and reuse in Egypt.  We filmed in Senegal.  We filmed a trainee from Burkina Faso, we filmed in Mexico.  We filmed in Indonesia, we filmed in China, we filmed in Malaysia, we filmed in Peru.

These people universally dislike dealing with sham recyclers.  If enough good operations join together and ship to them in a fair trade manner, they will drop the sham shippers in a heartbet.  They are scared to death of environmental organizations that seek to make their operations illegal.  They enthusiastically agree to proper recycling methods when given the tools and the incentives to use them.

This repair and reuse industry is larger and more significant than the "smash and burn" operations which are receiving most - correction ALL - of the press attention.  In a recent press advisory by Interpol, there is no mention at all of any legitimate reuse of used electronics, the entire export industry is apparently considered illegal.   Having seen very reputable and clean operations closed down - including the one above - during the past 5 years, I feel forced to defend innocent entrepreneurs, geeks, engineers and techies who have been given a label of "waste" because of the minority who burn residue at landfills.

The World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association is established to create "fair trade" between rich nations and nations which need the repair and reuse industry.   Like "fair trade coffee" companies, the WR3A recognizes that a boycott of this industry does more harm than good.    PLEASE support WR3A.  We don't want to make excuses for sham recyclers, but we do want to see people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.

New Orleans Meeting on CA Compromise

Last month, we broadcast an appeal to the state of California:  "Dudes!  Legalize reuse!"  Now is the time to define what goes into the peace pipe.

WR3A, BAN, NRDC, CRRA and other environmental organizations are now, in principle, "on board" for the proposal to allow SB20 Approved Recyclers to propose allowing Manufacturer Takeback (the contract manufacturing factories which buy back working CRT monitors).  We will be setting a meeting sometime between 3PM and 5PM to take place at the "Prince of Wales" meeting room of the New Orleans Hilton on September 29.  The cost of the meeting room has been generously donated by E-Scrap News;  teleconference charges are donated by American Retroworks Inc.

The environmental organizations will formalize agreement on a definition of refurbishment which they believe to allow proper repair and refurbishment under the Basel Convention. While not every NGO agrees with every refurbishing practice, we have agreed that there are certainly SOME refurbishing practices which California could take advantage of, using the factories shown in this WR3A slide show. For example, if any monitor boards which might be replaced in an upgrade are removed prior to shipment, CRTs can be pulse-tested and exported to a CRT re-manufacturer, a compromise which appears compliant with either R2 or E-Steward Certifications.

Public awareness has grown that CA SB20 pays MORE to break the good units than these factories pay for working units, and that it has the following perverse consequences:

From Contract CRT Manufacturers Album
  1. The factories cannot get vacuum-ok CRTs from "good" companies so they buy lower quality CRTs from cheaters.
  2. Organizations like the UN are not able to get display units affordably (LCD prices still too high)
  3. SB20 factories need to wait too long for the approval of their CRT glass disposition
  4. California loses money.
Misunderstanding of Basel Convention rules has led to a "no intact unit" policy at many recycling companies, and at SB20.  Basel Action Network has been unfairly cited as the source of these rules, and is cooperating with WR3A to get the word out that reuse is not only legitimate, but that good recycling companies need to take advantage of the market rather than leave shortages which are filled by less scrupulous sellers.

DTSC has been one of the sources of confusion about Basel Convention and the requirement that CRT tubes must be "ruined" prior to export (through cancellation of the vacuum).    DTSC has also raised other obstacles, which we have put to rest one-by-one:
  1. The revised cancellation language would require legislative authorization (FALSE - the legislation does not get into details and definitions of "vacuum")
  2. The export for refurbishment would be opposed by BAN and other NGOs (FALSE - NGO's agree that "prohibition" is not good policy, and good companies should fill the demand)
  3. The refurbished CRTs will be "double redeemed" for CA SB20 (FALSE - the factories overseas put the refurbished monitors into new boxes which, if ever resold in the USA, would go through retail outlets for ARF)

The WR3A's California Compromise meeting will introduce (via Skype) monitor refurbishing factory owners, UN officials, buyers in countries with demand for the refurbished CRTs, etc.   We hope to have language which can unanimously be submitted for recommendation by all SB20 companies plus the NGOs.  We will recommend an audit procedure to maintain very strict controls over what CRTs can be exported.  Then we will deliver this to the Governor, the head of DTSC, and the Sacramento Bee.

The language in California relative to the "cancellation requirement" can be found here (thanks to Jeff Hunts at CalRecycles for his assistance and good natured response to the "monkeys running the environmental zoo" post).

14 CCR 18660.32  (  Those rules clearly lay out a method by which an approved recycler in the program may submit proposals for alternative cancellation methods.  See 18660.32(d)…

California Compromise: Upcoming Vote

Whether you are conservative (mostly against) used computer exports, or liberal (free trade, mostly for) computer exports, you will want to see the vote at E-Scrap 2010 - whether to support or not the "California Compromise".

California SB20 currently destroys 9,000 (nine thousand) CRTs (computer monitors and TVs) per DAY.

Should California continue to destroy all 9,000 CRTs per day, spending taxpayer dollars to break and recycle good working units?

Or should California allow some CRT monitors and TVs to be qualified as "tested working" for the export market (to countries which can never "double redeem" the deposits on the CRTs)?

We have a vacancy.  We are looking for an advocate for the current system, destroying all 9,000 monitors, with no reuse.   We  have 14 people lined up to vote for the California Compromise.  We would like all sides to be represented, so if you are against this compromise, please come forward.

We dare ya.  Come kick over our sandcastle.

We will eliminate excuses:

1) That Basel Convention bans export of working and refurbishable CRTs.
2) That California legislature banned the export of working and refurbishable CRTs.
3) That any disagreement exists between BAN E-Stewards, R2, or other certifications on export of working or refurbishable CRTs.

So far, everyone is in favor, with one notable "abstension" from CalRecycles (formerly CIWMB).

A more likely possibiltiy?  We will fill out all the forms and do everything asked of us, and time will pass.  The tide of the bureaucracy will slowly erase any evidence of our sandcastle.

Exports of Books and Used Clothing / Textiles

Good Ideas come from somewhere.   Usually from obvious experiences applied through analogy or cross-seeding between disciplines.

A couple of decades or so ago I was researching recycling exports generally and had not landed up to my antennaes in "e-waste" (I still dislike that term because of the way its misused).  I actually ran a thrift shop in Middlebury Vermont before opening Good Point Recycling... but there was no "cloth-waste" stigma around how we exported used clothing for the African market.

I had done research at Masschusetts DEP and found that Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent de Paul's and other charities were simply baling most of the clothes and sending them to third party sorting houses.  They would sell what they had local demand for, but most of the donations went in the baler.

The baled clothes were broken apart, usually in an immigrant-owned warehouse in Detroit, Canada, or Texas.   Women there further sorted the bags into super nice "vintage" stuff they could resell in boutique used clothing stores (cowboy boots were HOT) in NY or Hollywood... less than 5% of the goods but a healthy chunk of the income.  Then they sorted cottons and summer clothing for export to Africa - a trade I was familiar with from my years there in Peace Corps.

The winter stuff did not go into Africa bales, it was sorted as "industrial wiping rags" or shredded into filler for automobile seats or other upholstery (with fire retardant poured into the shredder), or the inside of baseballs - you know, the grey anonymous fluff stuff.

What they threw away mostly was single shoes (not much of a market for one-legged people) and this horrible western invention called "high heels" which the developing world thinks cause "hammertoes", is associated with prostitution, the sizes too small for African women's feet, and generally are b****t.

So the math was:

10-20%      Local thrift stores, vintage clothing boutique   = 80% income
40-50%      Export of wearable clothes, needing buttons or wacko t-shirt lettering, used paired shoes
10-30%      Upholstery, shop rags
10-20%      Trash, residue, high heels

Now sometimes I'd be contacted with an offer to ship directly overseas.  I found Haiti had a pretty decent sorting market, and Africa, but that used clothing had largely been banned in South America by the 1990s (they claimed it was to prevent "AIDS", but it was really a protectionist move created by the domestic textile industry that had moved there from the SE USA).

There is nothing toxic I know of in these used clothes, and no cases of "AIDS" virus transmitted by washed clothing, but if you ship directly, some of the stuff will be discarded overseas.  That's not a violation of Basel Convention if there's nothing toxic.  I was particularly open to selling used shoes overseas, if the women's shoes were removed - but I could only do that afford-ably if I used volunteers and "court diversion" labor (the stepsister of prison labor).

My questions:

1) What about books?  some get read, most get recycled.  Covers and bindings wind up as residue which gets burned or put in an unlined dump.   Should we shred or burn the books domestically?

2) What would be the opinion in the environmental community of shipping used shoes to Africa as compared to Nike's "reuse a shoe" program, where the nicest, highest demand sports shoes are shredded up and made into athletic tracks?

I find the second "shred a shoe" program to be an obnoxious, hostile to the poor, messed up invention subsidized by planned obsolescence in hindsight and nothing more.   I was so furious about the program in the 1990s that it no doubt colored my view of used electronics exports.   I tried to get onto the NRC (National Recycling Coalition) Board of Directors primarily to complain about the NRC's participation in the "reuse" a shoe program.  The year I ran, a mysterious accident occurred and an entire state delegation's votes were disqualified.  I am not suggesting a conspiracy, but I was told that my positions on Nike's grant to NRC were particularly unwelcome.

I have been branded ever since as a potential troublemaker to OEMs.   But really, I want them to see that the developing world is a way to "punt" the used product outside of their market.  They only lose sales if the used product is sold to someone in the "boutique" sphere, that people in Africa who buy used Nike's are not otherwise going to buy new Nikes.   And if you are going to put in a shoe shredder, why not locate it in Haiti, where the baseball-innerds, clothing shredders are?  There has to be a fair trade recycling method where diverting the "womens-shoes-along-for-the-ride" doesn't come at a cost of affordable shoes to people.

Burning all books or shredding all books is not a solution to the portion of unwanted, out of date textbooks, library books without covers, etc.  Let's set people up overseas to take our books and save the ones we are shredding up for tissue paper.  We can fair trade with them, offering them a discount on the good books if they will properly recycle the ones they cannot move, and give them the Amazon-bar-code-scanners so they can set aside the ones which still move on the used book market.

I'm writing this for the academics out there who may be attracted to the used electronics export business, the Basel Convention debate, and environmental policy.  Students of environmental policy don't have enough good hard academic stuff to read from.   I strongly suggest that the universities take on the controversy.  By studying the movement of used and second-hand articles which have no "toxics" associated with them, and studying how false "AIDS" labels have been attached to used and second hand clothing, we can start to tease out what is real and what is BS in the debate about "ewaste".

So that's a little background on Robin's history in the used goods exports to Africa business.  When I ran the thrift shop, I did everything I could to remove the single shoes.  We paired the high heels and tried to keep them separated just in case someone did want them... we got paid more for men's and childrens, but then no one wanted the high heels.

What makes me mad is when someone refuses to discuss the correct policy, circulates dogmas, and then finally after years they say they don't discuss it because I've written something when I was mad.  This is no chicken-or-egg debate, I am mad because people are using their soapbox to injure poor people.  The worker in the photo at left is not going to "leapfrog" into a new pair of Adidas.   If you ban the export of used shoes, or you applaud the shredding of perfectly decent shoes, you are robbing the USA of export commerce which is important to us, and hurting the buyers who cannot afford new.   If you call me names and say my position is self-serving, you piss me off because I invested in the market because I want to work with the export market, not because I want to make money.  Touche Pas a Mon Pote, dudes.

NYTimes: Boy Collecting Cans at Venezuela Landfill

Visiting the Venezuela Landfill Scavenger Recycling slide show, and the front page photo of the NYTimes this Sunday ... The cover photo shows a young Warao man at Cambalache with a bag of cans, climbing through the landfill, scavenging for steel value (photos by Meridith Kohut).

This same guy, without doubt, would be happy to find a computer with copper wire and coils to pull off.  The copper value would be higher than the steel and aluminum can value.

So, the questions is, did the West dump the steel cans there?  Should Del Monte, Goya and Budweiser face a call to take back the cans?  And if they did, presuming the optimal effect would be a Venezuela landfill with no metals or cans or copper wires, would the Warao boy's life improve?  In one photo a child eats a discarded orange.   If you take away the orange, will the kid "leapfrog" to a turkey dinner?

The mix of emotions over poverty and pollution can create a cognitive dissonance which results in bad solutions.  The environment is too precious, there is too little time to waste on environmental alchemy.  The E-waste advocates brought national attention and guilt to bear with photos of impoverished people in Africa and Asia scavenging metals and parts from added-value electronics.   Well and good so far, and we can all support less "toxics along for the ride".  But in the limelight, they concocted "solutions" to problems without data or study.   The solution is basically to tax orange growers and take oranges out of landfills which Warao children would eat. 

"We shouldn't have to make that choice."

It is aggravating that so much of my time this past decade has been spent stemming "friendly fire" by allies.  As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I assure you that the poor are the biggest scavenger-recyclers.  They are actually better off scavenging from rich people than poor people, but the free market is not enough.  Attacking their incomes does not reduce their poverty.   Fair trade, improving the living standards and recycling standards overseas, is the right approach.  

It is morally wrong to tell people you are sending cleaner scrap if all you are doing is sending less scrap.

Fair trade is morally and environmentally better than a boycott.  And the excuse that it is somehow, sadly, illegal is false.  The Basel Convention specficially established Annex IX in order to create a refuge for legal recycling trades, which though imperfect, are clearly different than disposal.

They say they don't respond to my fair trade entreaties because I am attacking them.  But the response to my reasoned posts has been, and I quote, "Stop directing people to Basel Convention Annex IX".   Stop people from reading the text of the convention????   I am feeling like Colin Powell must feel in the Republican Party (listening to him on Meet The Press right now, speaking in defense of immigration).

When environmentalists propose solutions they have not thought out, it can result in things like Kenya and China banning tested working used computers, or Egyptians shutting down the scavenging Zabaleen, the Coptic Christian recyclers I wrote about in 2009.

Are E-Waste Advocates Racist?

I love my wife.  But if she is about to unintentionally overdose my kids with a double shot of cold medicine, I'm going to intervene - fast, furiously, forcefully.  She might get mad at me.  But even if I'm wrong, and she's insulted that I thought she'd misread the directions, she wouldn't accuse me of depriving my kids of medicine for selfish reasons.  And I would not accuse her of intending to harm our children.   In life we have to show courage to get positive outcomes, communicating our concerns and moving forward.

Whether racism is seeping into the "e-waste export" debate is extremely sensitive.  Merely asking the question aloud may draw a furious response.  But this was first posed to me by a Chinese government official in Guangzhou... it was after dinner, and she asked with genuine curiosity.  She was reacting to the photos of Guiyu, which she was very concerned about, but she was also asking me if Americans thought China was basically more like Guiyu than it was like Hong Kong?

I do not think for a moment that the environmentalists at Greenpeace, Basel Action Network, SVTC, NRDC etc. are racist, and would accept their outrage as I would the glare from my wife.  The people who oppose electronics pollution overseas are not racist.  But when you see techs overseas who know more about making and fixing electronics than Americans do, you can feel their resentment at being called "primitive wire burning" operations, and seeing pictures of the kids at dumps who set fire to fewer computers than the techs are fixing.

The environmental activists don't intend to offend.   But in marketing the "harm" of exports through photos of children on piles of waste, they are deliberately aiming to stir emotions.  In order to get the public to respond viscerally to their anti-dumping proposals, they go for the poster child.   If they show pictures of good operations overseas, they could compromise their political message.

My point?  By repeatedly steering the cameras away from Wistron, Acer, Foxconn, Mag, Proview, BenQ and other contract manufacturing companies, they will eventually trigger resentment by the people they ignore, while wearing out the emotions of their target audience.

"Poster child syndrome" is a real risk in the "non-profit sector".  In the 1960s, posters of starving children caused Unicef donations to initially spike for several months, but the "syndrome" name was coined to describe the eventual effect... people eventually become calloused to an image that never seems to go away or improve, despite their efforts.  But there is something else bothersome about poster-child images.  An article by California public transport consultant Dennis Cannon sums it up:
The "poster child syndrome" is used to great effect by charities to separate you from your money.  This is not to say the money is not put to good use - it is.   But the campaign relies on making children with disabilities the object of pity, and thus promotes unfortunate stereotypes.

Cannon offers guidance on how to comfortably talk to people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities, who do not have your advantages, but are your equals.  I think it applies as well to entrepreneurs and recyclers overseas.  (I like his line "You are not Professor Henry Higgins and she is not Eliza Doolittle.")

Electronics technicians, repairpeople, and recyclers overseas want to improve their lives, but don't see how to do that with an export boycott.  They would also appreciate some recognition that many of them know MORE about electronics recycling than the American "ewaste experts".  Henry Higgins is speaking cockney, but has the same attitude.

When ewaste NGOs show the same picture of the same poor people in the same spot, over and over... it begins to grate.  Even if the photo is true, it's like describing an appetite for watermelon.   At some point, the legitimate markets overseas cannot help but suspect a racial stereotype. 

I think the NGOs avoid representations of the beneficial recycling trade simply to maintain a clear political message, promoting honorable goals.  But in so doing, the NGOs have created the impression among technicians in Africa, Asia and Latin America that we think we are better than they are.  That we think USA repair and testing and recycling is superior because our country is superior.

The fact is, we are not at all superior at testing and repair.  In fact, we suck at repair.  That's why used equipment from the USA is so valuable on the secondary market.  Bad capacitor in a brand new dual core Pentium 4?  There were tens of thousands of P4s recalled for bad "caps" in the past 18 months.  USA Response?  Smash the (new) hard drive, yank the RAM, and shred the board.   What does an Egyptian, Peruvian or Malaysian do?  Replace the tiny 2 gram capacitor!!  In Egypt I saw techs simply bypassing bad capacitors without removing them, as they were not even serving a critical function.

From Cairo Tour 2008

The best and brightest people in rapidly developing countries - the same countries which make the sold-out HTC Evo android smart phones, or newest Apple products, or the CRTs themselves - are creating enormous value out of second-hand goods.  In some cases, the "white box" market that emerges becomes an actual competitive threat to new products, like ink cartridges, cameras, and computers.  We agree they should not have to do that at a cost of poisoning their environment.  We believe in training them to do the same work that many American recyclers do... And remember, many employees in American recycling facilities do not speak English, and may even be cousins of the importer.

Several different interests, from planned obsolescence to sellers of anti-pollution to processing equipment sales, have for their own reasons posted and re-post the photos from Basel Action Network.  The picture of the same woman in China hitting the same CRT yoke with the same hammer has become emblematic, even though it's atypical in China, and anecdotal everywhere (I photographed a guy doing it in Paris in the 15e arrondissement!).  And like the campaigners who pinned "Willie Horton" onto Michael Dukakis, they are leveraging a certain ignorance inside America about what people in the rest of the world really live like.

Perhaps some NGOs have a natural distrust of profit-motives, and they legitimately want to see themselves as the advocates for the poorest workers.  In creating labels like "the Reuse Excuse" and "Digital Dump" (a play on "digital divide"), they probably see a defensive reaction to what they anticipate will be fraudulent reuse exports.  In an thinly veiled response to my own posts last winter, Jim Puckett said that "poisoning people" can hardly be called "fair trade".

Jim doesn't want to say that Robin Ingenthron is poisoning people, and I don't want to say that Jim's depictions of technicians overseas resemble racial profiling.  But Jim is afraid our fair trade efforts will give people an excuse to export "toxics along for the ride".   And I am afraid that BAN is giving OEMs an excuse to shred up working equipment, taking away the secondary market.   In a way, we both share a similar distrust.  We were raised in the generation reading Silent Spring and The Waste Makers.

I decided to climb into the machine and get my hands dirty.  I cut my hair, got an MBA, flew overseas.  I am frantically trying to fix the trade using the same practices that saved "fair trade coffee farmers" from the well-intentioned disaster of the 1980s coffee boycott.

Reuse and refurbishment is the opposite of the "resource curse", they represent value added by pure education.   I believe that government in many of these countries use export bans primarily to keep their people off the internet.    Out of concern, I try to post in equal amounts articles which address the pollution, articles which praise environmental activism, but also articles about unintended consequences. 

I chose my work because of my philosophy, I did not choose my philosophy because of my work.  In that way, I believe I have more in common with BAN and other environmental organizations than anyone else. But they need to go meet the good people overseas and acknowledge them and deal with the fact that recycling IS being done well outside of the USA and we need it to be done well there.

My family watched the 1982 Gandhi movie last weekend.  I was cruising around the internet on my laptop during the film, and ran across several posts that accused Gandhi of being a racist.  The accusations were almost exclusively from the period in his 20s when he was working on behalf of Muslim and Hindu "coloureds" in South Africa, as a paid lawyer.  I didn't see much evidence of racism during the next 50 years of his life, and would probably attribute even his legal writings in South Africa as being amoral lawyer maneuvers on behalf of his (Muslim) client.

I'm more sure that BAN is not racist than I am that Gandhi was not racist, and I consider that pretty praiseworthy.  But I am more sure that the net effect of Gandhi's politics was anti-racist.   In defending my friends in Egypt and Senegal and Peru and Mexico and Indonesia, I do not gloss over the poverty and pollution I have seen in those countries, but to imply they are harming their homelands by importing electronics is like accusing a surgeon of stabbing his patient on the operating table.   Too many of us electronics recyclers are cowards who are willing to either 1) buy into racist slogans to pay off our shredding machines, or 2) to "take a dump" with junk on the reuse market in order to avoid the same shredding costs.   The momentum overseas is positive.  If the good USA recyclers don't engage with the positive overseas markets, they will get from supplier #2, clean it right, and the "sham recyclers" will be like the Kennedy after the repeal of prohibition.   Certified recyclers will be hearing from their clients "Oh yeah, I remember they used to do something bad with that exported stuff.  But that's all cleaned up now, right?"   

This is happening right now.

The challenge to all environmentalists is to take our causes seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.  References to Gandhi, Twain, and Einstein are a bit tongue in cheek.  But I have to say to both nothing-exporters and everything-exporters, this truth about the extreme depictions of dumping and reuse:   this "e-waste" business is going to be forgotten in the next decade, and we'll have white-marble-floor recycling overseas 20 times faster than America elected a black president.  In the meantime, my favorite quote is still from Huckleberry Finn, as he acknowledged that by helping "nigger Jim" to escape that he was "stealing" the Widow Douglas's property.

All right then, I'll go to hell.

Nigeria Evening News: "Fairly Used" electronics not "E-waste"

Home Run.  WR3A's visit to the Interpol/EPA meeting in Washington DC leads to revelations about "fairly traded" electronics.

See this story on Africacast TV if you want to understand used electronics exports to Africa, and how "e-waste" gets over there as "toxics along for the ride", and how it represents an opportunity for Africa to manage with "fair trade".

Nigeria's EPA director is interviewed, and he and the Nigerian TV station skillfully describe the actual trade in used electronics, both the problem and the opportunity.  If you are not accustomed to the African English accents, you may need to play it over again.  But this is the best coverage of the trade I have seen from African sources.

"If they are fairly used or working, they are not waste.  But the problem is that they bleed non-working electronics into it"."   Another African I met at the DC meeting also recently contacted us and said he had finally gotten around to watching the PBS story on ewaste recycling with Las Chicas Bravas and that he found it an inspiring model for Africa.

By the way, one alternative to this blog is our "Fair Trade Recycling" site on Facebook.    The FTR site was set up so that I would not monopolize the discussion, anyone with an opinion on e-waste exports can post there and dialogue.  About half of the members are from outside of the USA.

We can now have a core of competent young people who can properly refurbish, and properly recycle the ones they could not refurbish.  Speaking of which, our first "Recycling to Africa" video about "e-waste" has passed 10,000 views on youtube... much of the traffic is from Africa... probably not being watched on brand new monitors.

FCC Releases Bandwidth. E-Recyclers Miss Boat.

Over ten years ago I made a presentation (while Recycling Director for Massachusetts DEP) that the best way to pay for "e-waste" recycling would be one of three methods - none of them directly involving OEM takeback.

This week, there's a story in the New York Times about the release of the television analog bandwidth for new tech uses ("wifi on steroids" seems to be the favorite description of what the airwaves will be used for).  This was what made the rabbit ear TVs obsolete (though the falling price of LCDs probably stirred more of the "wave" of "ewaste" disposal).

In my opinion, the "solutions" which the recycling community rushed to were less of an opportunity than the bandwidth auction.   Making RCA responsible for the old RCAs took over as the message.  RCA was bankrupt in the 1990s and desolved - the brand name was sold at auction, and the new brand name holder must collect old RCA TVs in Maine.

The bandwidth auction will be worth billions... part of which might have paid for the recycling of the devices made obsolete by the change.  This would have avoided the entangling conflict of interest when OEMs accused of "planned obsolescence" are put in charge of the secondary market. 

The silent response to the bandwidth transition in the recycling community echos the lost opportunity from nearly-passed mining reform legislation.  Income from the royalties on metals from hard rock mining, proposed in the 2008 reform legislation of the General Mining Act of 1872, could have funded the recycling processes to preserve those metals already mined.  The mining reform legislation passed the USA House of Representatives and was killed in the Senate (probably by Nevada Senator Harry Reid), and the recycling press and trade organizations - even ISRI - missed the funeral and did not report on the story.

I imagine that the engineers, inventors, marketers and scientists who invented and produced yesterday's high tech devices were so fascinated to see their ideas coming to fruition and changing society that they never really questioned the future of obsolescence or e-waste generation, or the mining and extraction of things like coltan in Africa (used for cell phones, it's taken from the same mountainsides where lowland gorillas live).

Do we environmentalists do better than those engineers and high-tech scientists at "precautionary principles"?  Do we do a better job of considering every unintended consequence?  Are we more like doctors seeking second opinions than engineers of technology?  Or are social activism and legislation somewhere behind road construction and landfill engineering when it comes to checking our work?

The precautionary principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.
It might turn out ok.   I don't want to be a doom and gloom parrot.  The greater desire of consumers to enact environmental change, to the point of passing legislation, however shallowly debated, may itself signal to corporations that they should be more cautious and aware of their environmental footprints.  Meanwhile, however, the \bandwidth transfer being discussed is like a ship passing in the night.   It was a huge "e-waste" story, and the silence of recycling industry regulators and leaders is as notable as the National Recycling Coalition's refusal to take up discussion of the reform of the General Mining Act.   At my last NRC conference, in Pittsburgh PA, I stood a the general assembly meeting and asked whether NRC would consider taking a position on the General Mining Act reform legislation, and if not, why not.  The room was eerily silent.   The answer from the policy representative was meaningless.  There was no outrage.  At that moment, NRC died for me, I remember thinking I'd never go to another conference and never embarrass myself again with a question on the reform of mineral extraction laws.

The GMA legislation passed the House that year.  NRC never had another conference, they imploded.  When I was asked to join a "save the NRC" campaign, I asked "why?"

The CBS program "Survivor" returns for another season.   I never thought it would last as a series.  But I feel like I'm on an environmentalist "tribe" which keeps losing key rewards challenges, and that griping about them afterwards is just getting me closer to being voted off the island.

Simple E-Waste Disagreement Dialogue

'I’m afraid.'

'That’s nothing to be ashamed of,' Major Major counseled him kindly. 'We’re all afraid.'

'I’m not ashamed,’ Yossarian said. ‘I’m just afraid.'

I'm not ashamed of techies in the developing world, but I'm kind of afraid of BAN.  Not that they have bad intentions.  During the past 4 years, while debating and defending the potential for fair trade in the "e-waste" export market, I have repeatedly been caught in a kind of Clevinger's Trial or Catch-22 (that novel by Joseph Heller was my favorite book in 9th grade, and I performed in Clevinger's Trial as the Colonel at Fayetteville High School).

Catch-33, the "ewaste" dialogue, is not as funny.

Robin:  We have visited and audited the reuse end market, and we have complete assurance that the WR3A partner is repairing 90% and the 10% they cannot repair is being completely recycled in a glass-to-glass manner.  Any parts replaced or upgraded are properly recycled, the same as when they had incidental breakage as an original equipment manufacturer.

Sarah:  You say that.  But we don't know that.  You won't submit any data, or let us audit you.  How can we know this is a good arrangement?

Robin:  Well, if I provide you with all of the data, and prove what I just said, will you accept us as a non-polluter, Pledge Signer, or E-Steward?

Jim:  No.  Because even if you have a proper recycling facility in a non-OECD country, we disagree with your interpretation of Basel Convention Annex IX, and do not like the fact that your importing country agreed with you.  We would prefer to see the equipment tested and working before its exported, or all non-working parts removed.

Robin:  So, if I provide the audit to Sarah, and demonstrate that no pollution results, you will protest to the host government and try to have the fair trade recycling factory shut down?

Jim:  Yes.
RobinAnd if I do not provide the information to Sarah, she will cast doubt that we have a properly audited, fair trade recycling arrangement?  She will maintain that we may be shipping to a primitive, wire-burning operation?

Sarah:  Yes.

Robin:  So if I do provide it...

Jim:  Damned if you do.

Robin And if I do not provide it...

Sarah:  Damned if you don't.
More from my favorite Joseph Heller novel....
"I didn't say to Yossarian that you cant punish me."
"When didn't you say that"
"Last night, sir"
"Is that the only time you didn't say it?"
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Goddamnit! Now you're asking me questions again!"
"I didn't understand your question sir"
"When didn't you tell Yossarian we couldn't punish you?"
"*sigh* I always didn't tell Yossarian you couldn't punish me."
"Thats very good, Clevinger, even though it is a barefaced lie..."
"I told Yossarain that..."
"I understand, sir."
"Now, where were we?..Read me back the last line."
" 'Read me back the last line,' " read back the corporal who could take shorthand.
"Not MY last line, stupid!" The colonel shouted. "Somebody else's."
" 'Read me back the last line,' " read back the corporal.
"That's my last line again!" shrieked the colonel, turning purple with anger.
"Oh, no, sir," corrected the corporal. "That's my last line. I read it to you just a moment ago. Don't you remember, sir? It was only a moment ago."
"...Oh, my God! ...Read me back his last line, stupid. Say, what the hell's your name, anyway?"  
"Popinjay, sir."

"Well, you're next, Popinjay. As soon as this trial ends, your trial begins. Get it?"

"Yes, sir. What will he be charged with?"

"What the hell difference does that make? Did you hear what he asked me? You're going to learn, Popinjay - the minute we finish with Clevinger you're going to learn. Cadet Clevinger, what did - You are Cadet Clevinger, aren't you, and not Popinjay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. What did-"

"I'm Popinjay, sir."

"Popinjay. Is your father a millionaire, or a member of the Senate?"

"No, sir."

"Then you're up shit creek, Popinjay, without a paddle.He's not a general or a high-ranking member of the Administration, is he?"

"No, sir."

"That's good. What does your father do?"

"He's dead, sir."

"That's very good. You really are up the creek, Popinjay. Is Popinjay really your name? Just what the hell kind of name is Popinjay, anyway? I don't like it."

"It's Popinjay''s name, sir," Lieutenant Scheisskopf explained.

Certify Specialization? Or Support Recyclers who work hard?

The Parable of the Country Doctor:

Let's say your community has two doctors.  One of the doctors, Dr. Atticus, has been there for two decades.  He treats children, old people, men and women of all ages.  He bought the county's first x-ray machine and got a loan for a CAT Scanner.   Dr. Atticus' reputation is that he's humble, he refers people to the best option available, but that he will treat anyone in need who comes to him...  and hope to get paid somehow, with vegetables if necessary.   But he mostly pays for his small business with radiology and treatment of the folks who can pay.  For major surgery, he prefers to send people to the hospital at the capital, but he has been known to remove an arrow from a dog, and has been around for more than a few events of emergency appendectomies.

Along comes a new doctor, his name is Poindexter.  Poindexter is a sports surgeon - he doesn't treat the older generation.  Really, he only serves insured people with sports related injuries.

No one accused either Atticus or Poindexter of doing anything wrong, but imagine there are a lot of stories about quack doctors ripping people off with snake oil and fake medicine - and harmful x-ray machines.  Imagine there's an outrage over the practice of bad medical practice.  People want a higher standard.

Along comes a non-profit-organization, one which helped expose the problem of sham x-ray machines and bad medical practices.  The NGO got a lot of applause for exposing quack physicians and in raising the bar on radioactive poisoning from X-rays.  Initially, both Atticus and Poindexter applaud the NGO (known as "Bad Antidote Network").

Bad Antidote Network decides to raise the bar on medical practice by starting a certification program.  Only the very, very best doctors will be certified as a medical Steward.  They announce that if you need an x-ray, only an M-Steward can promise certified health management.

Atticus is pretty busy and doesn't have a lot of time to chase after this standard, because his office is always full.  Poindexter, on the other hand, is only treating a few healthy professional athletes right now, and he spends a lot of time learning about the standard and preparing for certification.   He convinces Bad Antidote Network that any physician worth his salt must own and operate a Ortho Stabilizer Pro 6000 x-ray machine, as it is the only one which can detect pitcher's elbow stress to the 1,000th degree.  The OSP 6000 is acknowledged by all to be the highest and best x-ray equipment.

Atticus actually likes the OSP 6000.  He refers his high school pitchers over to Poindexter's if they have a sore arm, and recommends Poindexter for other sports injury patients as well.   It doesn't make sense for your community to finance TWO Ortho Stabilizer 6000s.

Then BAN (Bad Antidote Network) and Dr. Poindexter hold a press conference.  They state that people should only use a certified doctor.  The only certified doctor in your town is Poindexter, because BAN will certify only the best x-ray equipment as "certified medicine".

Poindexter did work hard, but he only had to certify one type of treatment for one kind of injury.  It is going to take Atticus months or years to certify everything from child tonsillectomy to stroke treatments to high blood pressure... there are dozens of types of treatment he prescribes.

Then BAN kind of implies that their M-Stewards program is the only way to make sure you are not using a quack...  They say that you cannot be sure that Atticus is not a quack if he is not an M-Steward.  They charge Poindexter money to maintain his certification, but imply that he will benefit from their advertising against his competitors.

Two questions:

1)  Can Dr. Poindexter treat appendicitis?

2)  How many of the current certified E-Stewards on the website recycle televisions? 

My blog-debate back and forth with and NRDC unfortunately starts to resemble an attack, from both directions, when we are treating defensive wounds.  I am defending the "Dr. Atticus" - proper exports, R2 Standards, etc.  I use E-Steward end markets for the 50% of our electronics that has no hope of repair or recycling - we ship vast quanities of CRTs to ERI, one of the E-Steward Founders (I used to be an executive of the Massachusetts facility ERI took over, and know they are capable of destroying bad stuff... I just don't use them for the repairable stuff).  I do not mean to imply that Poindexter or E-Stewards are bad, just that they are best for a specfic type of used electronics - the unrepairable focus materials.

On the other hand, it seems to me that criticizes R2 standards, and for that matter, many recyclers with neither certification, especially recyclers in rural areas who have to meet a lot of different needs.  Good Point takes stuff and outsources some of it to people we think do a pretty good job... but by accepting it, we are creating another trail to certify.    If we never accept a typewriter or a lamp, if we only take in Pentium computers, gaining certification would be a lot less work, but our community would be without the "general medicine" meeds that the Dr. Atticus meets, even if he doesn't have time or money to certify his practice for removing splinters.

Companies like Newport Computers Recycling and Redemtech are not bad companies, not at all!   They no doubt do many things better than Good Point does, just as Poindexter is a better doctor for pitchers' elbows.  They have deliberately chosen to enter a field of recycling - higher end, off-lease, corporate PCs without many TVs - which has very high margins and relatively low difficulty.  Staples and Goodwill Industries of Northern New England are good companies, but they have done the same, managing only the "aluminum cans" in the blue box.

Good Point Recycling can recycle used PCs to the same standard that they do, but we also handle tons and tons of residential equipment like huge projection televisions and consoles with lots of regulated CRT glass.   I'm not saying we are better than them.  I'm just saying if we had less activity to certify, we'd be faster at certifying than we are now.  I think R2 will have this problem as well.   If all the recyclers who specialize in hard drives or cell phones or laptops sprinkle the map as "certified recyclers", how does it look for the companies who do the heavy lifting?

Open your mouth and say, "Ohhh!"