Fair Trade E-Waste Quiz: Direct Your Dollar

If you want proper, legal assembly of computer monitors, you have two choices:

1) Use enforceable civil contracts with an Asian factory to do this, or 
2) Make them yourself in the USA

Most OEMs originally used Option #1 and contracted Asian manufacturers to assemble the CRT monitor - the one you now want to recycle.

When they "take back" (under a mandate to dis-assemble the monitor), they would allow themselves (under the Representative Green - TX E-Waste Recycling bill) to do the same.  Why then is it bad "stewardship" for USA Recyclers to follow the same legal methods?  

Try setting your own national "#ewaste" policy with this electronics exporting quiz.  It should take less than 2 minutes.  If you are filling this out from overseas,  consider it an "electronics importing quiz"... your opinion has equal weight around here.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.
"बदनेस एक्सिस्ट्स. ठेरेफोरे, एक्सिस्तेंस स बाद."

अक, थे परफेक्ट इस थे एनेमी ऑफ़ थे गुड.
इफ यू हवे थे राईट ब्रोव्सेर, यू शौल्ड सी आईटी बेलो.
सेंग पोपले फॉर वहत थे कैन दो, नोट फॉर वहत थे कान्नोत दो.

WR3A: Virtual E-Scrap Conference

The California Compromise "e-waste" policy meeting which WR3A is holding at the E-Scrap Conference in New Orleans this September has a lot of confirmations of attendence, and a couple of notable absentees.   In order to make the critical mass, we are now working on getting a v-conference going, perhaps using Skype orWebex or Oovoo to bring "virual participation".  Details coming.

For personal as well as virtual-attendees, we actually have an impressive list, and will probably have to turn people away based on room size.  Some requests to attend have been from people new to the debate, and we have to expect attendees to be fluent in basic concepts:

  • California SB20
  • California ARF
  • Vacuum 
  • Cathode Ray Gun
  • Cancellation
  • Redemption
  • Refurbishment
  • Contract Manufacturing
  • Stewardship
  • Digital Divide
  • Basel Convention
  • CRT Rule
If you are excited or curious about the meeting and will be at the E-Scrap Conference, get in touch with me via the blog and we can see if you can try out to join the august list of September attendees.

We have many notable "E-waste Celebrities" joining in person:  Jim Puckett and Jim Lynch, Willie Cade and Katie Sindig, Ramzy Khahat and WR3A board members, along with some CA SB20 processing companies (those who would prepare CRTs for reuse according to export for reuse standards to be agreed on unanimously by R2 and E-Stewards, for the purpose of CA which applies neither reuse standard.

Among international (demand side) buyers, I was ready to fund E-Scrap conference fees and even flights for others, including Allen Liu and Ow Young Su Fung (executives of the contract manufacturing program with legal import permit in Asia, which has gone through several ISO14001 and ISO9000 and WR3A audits), and the Egyptians who buy refurbished CRTs from the factory for sale to Cairo university students (former med school students who also set up hospitals and health agencies).  We had Paul Jhin, the former USA Peace Corps deputy administrator who has been our contact with Korean experts and the United Nations GAID "digital divide" project, who we hope to supply 20,000 working computers per year out of California if this is reformed.  Ed Brzytwa of USA Trade Office, formerly with Department of Commerce, is an expert in the refurbishing field and "cores" treaties... We could have had a big party.

Unfortunately, neither CalRecycles, California Dept. of Toxic Substance Control, nor outgoing term-out Governor Arnold Schwartznegger has offered any prospect of attending the meeting, and I cannot justify the expense of paying conference fees for 11 people (as I did in Glendale AZ) if the key decision makers are not present.  And I do not have confirmation from Columbian singer Shakira or Governor Arnold (see below).

What I can do is set up a video teleconference for the international attendees and California decision yet-to-makers.  I am exploring this today and tomorrow.  I have already used some of this technology, e.g. with Investors Circle (my company was a finalist for angel capital spending program a year ago).  With this technology, we can bring face to face "meet the exporters" system for Egyptian, Peruvian, Mexican, Malaysian, Indonesian and Taiwanese buyers of CRT display units.

The international buyers WR3A networks with don't want to buy from sham exporters, they REALLY don't!!!  But they see E-Steward companies putting in shredding equipment which destroys the repairable equipment they NEED.   They are coming to the conclusion that they have two choices:  accept "toxics along for the ride" from "sham recyclers" with some good stuff, or lay off their employees and leave their nations barefoot and pregnant until they can afford LCDs - with the money they don't have.

I will also invite the Columbian singer Shakira to attend the conference in New Orleans personally, on behalf of her Barefoot Foundation and "Flagship School" program.  I would like to link this with UNGAID (which is already met with WR3A) and CCDs (California Compromise Dudes).  She brings amazing insight into developing world issues (she has her own foundation on the subject), she understands MY audience of soccer fans in port cities, and she is incredibly attractive.   As long as I am requesting California to take seriously the fact that the state is destroying 9,000 CRTs per DAY with ZERO TESTING and ZERO REUSE and then calculating the fair cost of recycling (SB20 reimbursement) based on the fact they had ZERO REUSE in the past years, they will always calculate that they must pay enough to break the CRT and always make the rule you must break it to be paid.

So we have agreement (in principle) between BAN and ISRI and R2 and WR3A and NRDC that reuse can be done legally and in a fair trade, non-polluting way.  That is major.   We have willing buyers and willing sellers.  We have economists who studied this and agree that breaking good stuff creates a vacuum which suck bad stuff.  There are only two challenges remaining:

1)  Getting one simple definition changed in CA SB20 ("cancellation" definition)
2)  Getting Shakira to open my email and confirm she will attend the meeting in person in New Orleans

After 4 years working on the first, I am not taking bets which is more likely to occur between now and September 29.  But if I can get Shakira to offer a lap dance to Schwartzenegger at the meeting, it will be standing room only, which seems about as likely to resolve as any of this other BS and posturing.

Man, I love love love African guitar.   I was so damn hooked on the stuff, I didn't realize it until I returned from Peace Corps and found myself out desperately seeking a Soukouss Fix.

- - - - - - - - -

Weird Public Policy: Rhode Island and the Holy Grail

I am in Rhode Island, witnessing a major environmental fraud.  I don't even know what to do with the information I have.  Which is a bigger crime:
  1. Making up manufacturer collection "goals" which are completely unrelated to past collection?  The more TVs were collected in the past, the fewer the OEM can collect in the present, in what I call the "lawnmower effect" of measuring legislation effectiveness.
  2. Charging the OEMs (and they pass on the charges to consumers) for the "missing tonnage"?
  3. Closing one eye to "ghost tonnage" collected to meet those arbitrary goals?
  4. Taking out of state TVs (reminiscent of the Seinfeld "Bottle Deposit" episode)?
  5. Staying quiet and making a profit?

This set of "conflicts of interest" doesn't even approach the "reuse" vs. destruction e-waste policy debate.  The Northeast has been pretty good at allowing reuse which does not result in double counting.  But even here, crimes are happening. 

At the end of the day, CRTs are not going to be around for ever, and none of this is worth sacrificing your integrity for.  This e-waste thing is a flash in the pan.  I think people outside must laugh at someone who creates pages and pages, blog after blog, about "Cathode Ray Tubes" policy.  But this is an incredibly interesting way to study the public policy of an "e-waste emergency", seeing how the legislation passes, how people start to make money or protect their markets with it, and how mistaken ideas then calcify in cynical protection of vested interests.  China protects their virgin CRT manufacturing industry.   Haz Mat companies get a "universal waste" label to get into a new and attractive business.   OEMs insert "cancellation" language on ink cartridges, cell phones, and other strong secondary markets.   A case goes to the Supreme Court to argue that refurbishing a product is a patent violation.... Next we will need a "Right to Repair Act" for CRTs.

Hazardous waste, universal waste, waste disposal ban, deposits, free market, fair trade... there is an incredible amount of noise around what's a pretty inert form of lead (vitrified in CRT glass), and (in CRTs newer than 40 years old) no "cadmium phosphors" at all.

I think it has been a relatively interesting field compared to other recycling fields... It involves software, digital divide, secondary markets, international trade agreements, and the most environmetally destructive and toxic activity on the planet - hard rock metal mining.  But CRTs will eventually be buggy whips.

Danny DeVito's character, Lawrence Garfield, has some great lines of dialogue in the 1991 film "Other People's Money."  His speech to the shareholders comes to mind as I try to salvage, fix and refurbish cathode ray tubes.

"And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure. You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let's have the intelligence, let's have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future."
But there's another famous quote from an equally interesting movie, which is even closer to the story of the Cathode Ray Tube "e-waste recycling" business.  From Monty Python and the Holy Grail... "I'm not dead yet!"

Someone in bootlegging or in law enforcement should have been writing a blog during the proposal, enactment, enforcement and repeal of the Prohibition, the 18th and 21st Amendments to our USA Constitution.  Banning alcohol was pretty simple, in retrospect, compared to defining repairable and unrepairable computers.

Mark Murray, a good guy from Californians Against Waste (CAW), suggested that fraud in CA results in more recycling, and I have pondered whether it's a "victimless crime".  But I see the state officials making new goals based on fraudulent recovery numbers... they set even higher goals, creating even more fraud.   Next thing you know, good stuff is getting taken out of the secondary market.

It is not a "victimless crime" to take repair and reuse away from human beings who cannot afford new products, and who are willing to go to great lengths to repair equipment.   In fact, I believe the best case for a "victimless crime" argument can be made for legitimate export-for-reuse when the monitors have been claimed to be "cancelled" under SB20.

What makes all this worth writing about is to document how people think, how they do the things they do, and how government policies evolve around specific perceptions and invested interests.  The critically important point I try to make is that environmentalists must NOT believe we are immune to this kind of unintended consequence and perversion of our policies.  It is not a victory to pass an environmental law.  It is a victory to pass a GOOD environmental law.  "Ewaste recycling" is just an example of regulating an economy with a lot of moving parts.  I don't recommend it as the first law for product stewardship activists to cut their teeth on.   Try picking up carpets for awhile. 

Simpler Ideas: Cookie Camouflage, Digital Haystacks

For the past decade, software engineers have been peddling identity protection soft wares to people who want more privacy, who want to "erase their tracks".  "Anonymizer.com" sells a subscription for safe searching, which I tried out a decade ago.  But paying a monthly fee to someone who promises not to resell your data or to allow cookies to be installed on your drive is an "invisibility" technology.  In nature, invisibility is rare.

Camouflage, however, is pretty common (leopards and squids and zerbras ADD digital pixels, they don't "erase" them).  What I'd like to see is a digital haystack on my hard drive, one that would make it harder to find the needle of my personal data. 

I don't want to bother running a program to wipe off my search engine trail, I don't even trust that program is effective.  What I want is to "pollute" my personal data with disinformation.  I want false positives and false negatives about me, online and on my hard drive.  I'd like to see a program which auto-surfs random phrases in the background, so that the sites I actually decided to visit are thrown in a temp file alongside other modern random keywords.

In the "ewaste" recycling business, fear of over data theft has been good and bad.  The good:  fear allows us to charge for proper management of hard drives.   We have more and more orders to destroy rather than wipe hard drives.  When personal data is stolen, or financial data or social security number fraud occurs, hard drives are suspected (even if waiters, online phishing, and other still-in-use hardware is usually the culprit).

What's bad about this fear in the e-waste business?  Loss of expensive, valuable programs, that get wiped off the drives along with the personal information.   The main beneficiaries of wiping are people who dislike the secondary market intensely.   Hard drive manufacturers, but even more so, software companies whose Quickbooks or Adobe programs, worth thousands of dollars, are deleted or shredded up in a machine.  If people are afraid enough about their hard drive, they provide planned obsolescence to softare manufacturers, and paid for by the consumer themselves. 

Think about it... what if you were convinced that liability for use of your car followed you after it you resold it?   If Ford or Toyota could get you to PAY them to DESTROY your car, instead of buying it back from you, how sweet would that be?

That economy of worry has had a big impact on the recycling business - bigger, perhaps, than the actual risk of data theft.   I'm not saying that leaving info on a hard drive is not a risk... if it gets in the wrong hands, it's like losing a wallet.   But if I were a thief, would I really invest in five year old computer drives?  I guess I could buy a containerload of hard drives and start booting them up and seeing if current, unexpired data was still on them.  I kind of doubt it would pay the electricity bills and labor, but for sure it's possible.   But there are easier ways to get more current data, like hacking and phishing spam, bribes, or walking into an office and sitting down at a computer as if I work there.    Former employees get hired by competing firms, and the "non-compete" and "non-disclosure" agreements are pretty difficult to monitor or enforce.

If I specifically had it out for one person - or wanted data that only one person had - then getting their hard drive would be very worthwhile.   But if that person's computer is buried in a trailer with hundreds of other PCs, I better want their data pretty badly, cause it's going to be a needle in a heckofa haystack if their data has been wiped and the hard drive is mixed with hard drives that are also wiped.

Don't get me wrong - we take hard drives seriously.  We have accomplished 100% hard drive management in-house.  A few years ago, Good Point relied on places like Electronicycle and Colt for some of our hard drive management (larger recyclers who I trusted the standards of more than I trusted the competence of our one newbie employees).  Now we have a secure facility with a routine for positive-sort for wiping, meaning if the guy who rebuilds PCs for reuse doesn't specifically take a hard drive for department-of-defense standard erasure, the hard drive is going to get removed, and the board dismantled, and the information destroyed anyway.

Having set up all that, I still don't really enjoy selling "safety and security" when I really believe that most of the risk, most of the lost data, is stolen from PCs still in use, from dual core laptops that are stolen from cars, or fake bank websites that trick you into logging in with your real banking password.   If you express any kind of honesty about the real risks, you might give the impression you don't care, and you can lose clients to someone else that is out there selling fear.  More and more of the PCs we get come from people who have taken crowbar to removing their own hard drive, and many experts advertise that as the safest way to be sure...

We want a programmer to write a very small app which runs searches in the background, perhaps while the PC is idle, and creates a haystack of information on our hard drive, one which only the true owner would recognize his/her data amongst.  It would be cheap and easy.   If you have time, you can do it yourself, just start randomly searching dictionary terms in google.   It would be easy for a program to do.  Very effective.

I'd call this program a "digital haystack" (for my personal information on the hard drive) or "cookie camouflage" (for my advertiser data in the cloud).  Instead of trying to erase or encrypt all the identity data on my hard drive, this program would run in the background and created a "haystack" on my PC, and on the servers which track our movements remotely.   I'd worry a lot less about "making sure I wipe my social security number off my hard drive"... and if my laptop or PC gets stolen or hacked while still in use, or "human error" occurs at the NAID certified shop you ship to, I could sleep easier.

It could run in the background, or possibly be a simple download of random data.   Imagine 10,000 fake and mismatched social security numbers right here on my computer.  I'd feel safer with a PDF of my tax return if I had a thousand other randomly generated PDFs all over the hard drive.  And if my browser is doing inquiries for random words and phrases, like "overweight kitty cat", it would confuse the heck out of advertising programs.

Such a program would also give me online privacy - the program would run in the background, doing searches of random terms on Google and Yahoo and Bing.    It would visit random websites all over the web, making sure the sites were "safe" of course (that technology is already established).  If someone wanted to claim I had visited porn sites, which perhaps I have, they would not know just which ones I've visited because the background program would have provided cookies from random places all over.  If my sexual fetish is "cookie dough", I wouldn't worry about Google selling me cookie dild-oughs in the advertising space, because they'd have just as many records of ramen noodle fetishes and fruit fly sex searches as anything else.

Who develops software?  The same people who make money on our searches?  The companies who want software removed from the secondary computer reuse market?

Apple and Microsoft and Google and Bing are all in the business of selling our personal data to advertising firms.   What I am describing is "dumping" counterfeit data in such high volumes that the same thing as currency inflation would occur with data.  Digital data inflation would be cheaper and more effective at protecting everyone's privacy.

But the people who develop software may not get much management support for developing that program.  They will try to sell you a program which tracks, erases, and encrypts your data.  But they won't develop something that camouflages everyone's data for free.

In nature, invisibility has never evolved as quickly as camouflage, because camouflage is cheaper and "good enough" for the marketplace of predators and prey.  Camouflage is sexy.

Maybe someone can develop this kind of a software app in the Linux community.  Maybe the FBI can develop fake lists of credit card numbers with names that don't work, and start circulating the lists in such volumes that real lists of real stolen Visa and Mastercard and Discover numbers get lost in the haystack.  If everyone had a haystack of false information on their hard drive, we'd still wipe it and clean the e-waste drives, but in the meantime, they'd be safer from all the other ways data really gets stolen.

Hey, check out more of these "urban camouflage" pictures by French performance artist Laurent La Gamba.  I think this guy is amazing.  He's a good guitarist, too.  Images are copyrighted, I will contact him and ask s'ils vous plaites.


I was at a pre-wedding party Saturday, the bride (29) is the daughter of my wife's colleague at Middlebury College.  We are their neighbors, it was a nice little get together of 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60-somethings.

Tony, the father of the bride, said something to me about what his daughter and very-near-future son-in-law had to look forward to.  He said that in our generation, our parents really believed that the lives of their kids was going to get better and better.  He said he didn't know if parents today can feel that way.  The economy has been bleak, jobs have been scarce.

I thought about that the next day.  On the one hand, I agreed with Tony.  I think this recession is different.  I think that America does not have that certain look of Yankee Pennant in its eye.  And watching Bill McKibben of Middlebury speak on Dave Letterman, it is hard not to side with Dave's cynical laughter.

But I also think that most of the enviro- losses are from neighbors catching up to us who had been held down.  There was no "race" in the past with China.  We won every game.

Pretty often, in retrowspect, something nice happens to be cheap - like Youtube, or Pandora, or a cell phone.  That does not make it less of a life standard increase.  What did our grandparents hope for?  A lusher green lawn?  A bigger - no, even BIGGER car?

All I need is some music, a view, friends, and a game of Risk (oops, as soon as I wrote this, Shockwave or Habro took the Risk game away online, sorrow!) , which I used to be able to play free from Hasbro on Shockwave.   I don't enjoy those things less because more people can enjoy them.  Humanity is learning to increase access to things that we enjoy more and which consume fewer resources.