Malthus e-waste Commentary: Certainty Trade Offs

I believe that certainty is best achieved with enforceable civil law contracts, purchase orders, and audits.  The post below was clipped out of a previous post, as someone thought it was about a paper it had nothing to do with and which I hadn't even read yet.

This is about what might be sacrificed if you increase certainty by decreasing trade with poor nations.

There is more uncertainty about the outcome of exporting mixed loads.  A single Mercedes Benz or Harley Davidson hidden under piles of junk TVs can go a long way to paying for a load.  But using materials to hide other materials from customs is not a problem unique to recycling - it exists in food aid, malaria medicine, school books, and corn shipments.  The Egyptian market was virtually shut down in 2008 by discovery of an operation in Toronto area which was putting generic viagra into used computer monitors.

There are 3 tragedies in the continued simplification, and denigration, of the refurbishing complex...

California Compromise Sopranos "e-Waste" Episode

Ok, I blew the California Compromise.  
Here is the dialogue I was middleman to.  What should I say?


In fairness, Jim Puckett of BAN was the most engaged of anyone in the discussions, and put the most time into making it work.  But it's hard to convince the partners overseas that the men who created the stereotype about their technical abilities can be trusted to change message.  At this point, I think, too much money has been invested in the fake story, which is that all, not some, Asians use primitive practices.


California:  Exports are bad.  We require breaking stuff.

Export Market:  We used to buy the good stuff from you guys.  Now we buy from Sopranos. Let's talk.

Basel Action Network - Power and Responsibility

UPDATE:  Phone conversation with Jim Puckett says not to give up on this yet.  Overseas factories remain skeptical, but if the monitors show up, I think they will buy them.  If BAN can provide them from E-Stewards, in quantity, WR3A is willing to give first refusal (first priority) to these.  We shall see..

The Pledge of True Stewardship RIP post could be read by some as as return to pot-shots and pissing matches with BAN.org.  After a promising set of agreements over the "California Compromise" - where BAN and WR3A agreed to support an export-for-reuse regime in California which would meet BAN's narrow interpretation of Basel Convention Annex IX - some may wonder why take the risk of a setback?

Source of Narcissus flowers...How we see ourselves
In all fairness, Jim Puckett at BAN.org did make a legitimate effort to get the California Compromise off of the ground, and did more to move it forward than the Californians who would benefit from it.  But given the amount of criticism which has been heaped upon legitimate electronics refurbishers, it would take more than encouraging emails to change the distrustful dynamic between the Pacific coasts.  Below is the blow-by-blow explaining why I'm giving up.  Willing to carry water if someone calls me... but I'm signing my own contracts now, California can do what it wants. 

Blind Kids Singing

I was humbled on Slashdot for using analogies which some folks didn't get.  And I also saw people drawing conclusions about the RIP story which questioned environmentalism altogether, certainly not my point.

Some folks do see the beauty I see in Techs of Color, people in poor countries with nothing but their knowledge creating value from what someone else threw away.  Perhaps it comes down to a taste for bittersweet.  I like the video embedded below, from the Sibonile School for the Blind in Africa.

RIP: The Pledge of True Stewardship 2002-2010

[Middlebury, Vermont  12/2/2010]  The Pledge of True Environmental Stewardship, conceived in Seattle Washington in 2002, was laid to rest today.  The Pledge was designed to create a list of good, green companies which "promised" to do the right thing with "e-waste". After fighting a fierce battle with skeptics and true believers, too many good companies refused to sign, and too many eager companies signed (good or not).  The Pledge wasted away.
In 2002, the Pledge was released by Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition as a vehicle to shame electronics recyclers into abandoning bad exports.  It is recognized as the primary force stopping all kinds of exports from some companies, bad or not.   Other companies did whatever they wanted after signing the Pledge, and it eventually became meaningless.  Death was pronounced when the largest Pledge company admitted to being the largest exporter... to the same export avenue BAN accused in 2010.  
Certification services are being offered to the survivors.  The (estranged) family members are R2, E-Stewards, and people  you trust to do the right thing with your used electronics.  Enforceable civil contracts have accepted all outstanding liabilities.
For more information, visit 
"Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo"

Mutual Admiration Society - DiaBlogs

Well gosh, I was as close as I come to "speechless" when a friend forwarded me Adam Minter's post in "ShanghaiScrap" yesterday.  I  posted a link to Shanghai Scrap after reading it last winter.

His post yesterday was titled, "The best scrap blogger in the world", and it directed... Here!

Truth about "E-Waste" Globalization

1)  What do developed countries do better than emerging economies?

They have a population which cares immediately about the environment, and which reacts politically when the environment is harmed or their health is endangered.  This creates a stronger regulatory environment.  A point I have made in past academic blogs is that regulatory enforcement is proportionate to property values, which is the actual key to "environmental justice" (low income populations generate low property values, which demand less civil law focus, which is an indicator of other law focus).

2)  What do emerging nations do better than developed countries?

The lifecycle of most devices is much longer, because it is worth it to maintain and repair and reuse an item when its value represents a high percentage of your income.   This is also true of parts (chips, capacitors, RAM sticks) and also recyclables, which are typically sorted and graded into higher [reuse] value categories.  This spreads the carbon and other pollution impacts over a greater usage and benefit, and should be recognized as a positive environmental contribution by Geeks of Color.

3)  What are the practical limits of reuse exports?

For direct reuse, there is a point where the value of the item is worth the repair labor, but the user at that level does not have electricity... there are diminishing (bummer) returns.  Eventually black and white, 40 year old TVs may still be fully functioning ---  but dudes the used 10 year old color TVs will be so cheap that there won't be a market for the black and white even.   People who are in need of food, medicines, and tools will not spend any portion of their income on a device which they cannot aspire to use. 

4)  What are the practical limits of e-scrap recycling exports?

The practical limits of recycling copper, aluminum, and other value items is limited only by the unemployment level.  Compared to mining the same amount of "hard rock" metal, it's practically, like, limitless.  Because it's not limited by electricity, fuel, etc... A human scavenger is competing with a huge frickin' machine.

Proper dismantling and recycling jobs could be open to the poorest people, if they were paid well and trained - at least, the idea should not be dismissed.  The point is that the recycling value added is not bound by the same "electricity" and other practical limits of reuse.  If you export a copper bearing item, even working, to a region without electricity in homes, they may well cash out the raw material value by recycling it.  Functionality does not bring value to a community without electricity. 

The issue with export-for-recycling is to compensate the factories to allow for transport of difficult-to-manage materials (CRTs and other "focus materials) to a place where they will get recycled. This is why I chose a place in Mexico close to a mine and smelter, and our reuse factory is close to a CRT glass furnace.  It's not that hand disassembly is bad, or that shipping CRT glass to an African lead mine is impossible, it's just that those costs need to be covered. We have demonstrated that in many cases, they can be covered by the value of the repairable items, but only if the ratio of repairable/working is at around 70%.  Below that, the materials can still be managed well, but may need to be paid for if the trade is to be "fair".

5)  Who is most likely to be a good trading partner to an African entrepreneur?

Certainly not someone who refuses to trade with the African entrepreneur, or who calls for it to be illegal for anyone at all to trade with him/her.  That person is worse than worthless.

6) What does Adam Smith have to do with this?

Adam Smith demonstrated that if there are two tribes, and one makes arrowheads twice as well as the other, and the same one makes arrow shanks THREE times as well as the other, that more wealth is created if the faster tribe stops making arrowheads and only makes shafts.  Even though the slower trip is half as fast at making the arrowheads, more wealth is created if the first society does what it does BEST and leaves the poorer tribe to do what the first tribe does second best.

This is pretty mathematically sound.  If you watch History channel, you can also see how the copper mines of Eritrea demonstrated this 3000 years ago.

Emerging nations repair, reuse, and recycle well.   Allowing them to build on that is not abusing them unless you underpay them and fail to give them financial incentives to do as much as should be done.  Shutting down a factory in Indonesia because it replaces capacitors, making a computer look and work like new, without mining or remelting or refining, because the factory PROPERLY recycles the removed capacitor, and you have defined proper recycling as a "form of disposal".... ugghhh.  

A serious crime was committed last February, when someone at a "no export" e-waste company told BAN that the Indonesian factory was importing hazardous E-Waste, and BAN informed the Indonesian government that the containers contained "waste" and "hazardous waste".

A serious crime was committed when BAN and NRDC and ETB publicly led people to believe the factory was primitive and backwards and polluting.   But this week something new came to light.  The exact same export container shipper to the SKD factory, Gordon Chui, is the same one that ERI exported 6.9M pounds of 'breakage' to.


Yes, it's the same guy.  And if I defended  him in February as someone who was being wrongly accused of dumping purely because of his ethnicity, I don't see how I can now accuse Fresno of doing something wrong by exporting through the same guy.

What I can object to is the way they abandoned him, just like they abandoned the glass pile in Yuma.  If it was my container that was held up to my face, I would not say "I've seen the light".  I would say that my export partner is a good man.  "Touche Pas a Mon Pote."

The most avid followers of this messed up, perfect is the enemy of the good, anti-export philosophy are people who have never even been out of the USA and who think laptops and tablets are being made in Silicon Valley, and who have never even heard of "Shenzhen".  I am not saying that all recycling overseas is clean and wonderful.  I'm just saying it is not that complicated, and given a few simple fair trade incentives, we can build R2 recycling factories with friends in other countries which we can be proud of.  I dream that my grandchildren will have more loyalty to their dot-com address than to their passports, and that national boundaries will mean little because the standard of living will be no more different crossing from USA to Mexico than it is crossing from Switzerland to Austria.