e-Waste Watchdogs: The Last Thing On My Mind

We disagreed about whether the glass was 80% good or 20% good.   I provided data to describe how in MY experience, the friends I was working with, was 80% good (with room we could improve on with better choice of supply).

Re-reading this post, it seems to repeat many of the points I made in "E-Waste Soccer and the Accidental Racists".  But that's another reason to cue the Doc Watson signing Tom Paxton's song.

I was hurt (but cannot say surprised) when four very specific friends of mine overseas were accused of being bad actors.  I was devastated to see loads of Pentium 4s diverted from hospitals and medical students in Egypt, and to see remanufacturing plants which had gotten ISO14001 and to put in CRT glass processing (for de minimus, accidental breakage, etc.) have their own nation's environmental agencies informed that they were importing "hazardous waste".

NRDC's quote to the Boston Globe, 11 months ago, has been rewritten (brackets now appearing within quotation marks).  But it wasn't enough.  We needed an olive branch.  We needed to BAN, ETBC, SVTC, Greenpeace or NRDC to say that someone might not be all bad.

“There is enough documented evidence indicating that monitors and other types of electronics shipped under the guise of resale or reuse winds up being disassembled in dangerous conditions,’’ said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is so much documentation consumers should assume that unless the material is going abroad [to be repaired under warranty] it will be disassembled.’’
Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based nonprofit, staked out CRT Recycling and took photographs of a container it says was being filled with computer monitors. Using container numbers and online shipping company databases, the group tracked the container and its ship to the port of Semarang, in Indonesia, in November. The group alerted the Indonesian government, which sent it back to the United States on Dec. 13, according to a letter from the Indonesian company slated to receive the material.
Look, words like "enough documentation" demand some documentation.  The fact that the numbers change from news story to news story, and the documentation is ZERO, is messed up.

This description of "enough evidence" doesn't describe the specific factory in Semarang, Indonesia.  The bracketed insert was in response to my disclosure that this was an OEM manufacturing factory (if they were banned from taking back product under warranty, it would trigger legal WTO issues).  So the late correction shows they now knew who was receiving it.  But to state that the factory does one thing with the units it manufactured under warranty, and something more primitive with the one whose warranty expired, is ludacris!  I smell payola.

BAN's quote was also covering ass.   Later in the article, when the exporter describes "97%" good (a number I cannot achieve and therefore was surprised at), Jim responded:
But Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network said those assertions defy belief. Research his group has done shows that 75 percent of CRT tubes sent overseas do not work. Testing should be done on each one, he said.
This is hair splitting.  But "do not work" is not the same as not repairable.  Hershkowitz has been informed that this is a refurbishing factory, and inserts the "warranty" caveat.  Jim cites "research" (??? PLEASE!! PROVIDE IT!!! I"LL PAY YOU!!!) that 75% of CRT tubes sent overseas do not work.  Well, 75% is different from 80% (the number in other articles), and different than 90% (the wikipedia e-cycling entry), but whatever... Doesn't work does not mean WASTE.  If it is inspected for repairability (a simple test that eliminates many units) then hypothetically both the accused exporter and the accuser could be right.  The important thing - Basel Convention Annex IX, which allows export for repair and never says "tested working" - is what percent was legal.  Jim appears to avoid the legality question by presuming that some percent requires repair, and if he says "weren't working", he is probably going to easily smokescreen a reporter like Beth Daley (or Scott Pelley).  Now this is an instance where I could be accused of attacking BAN... but listen.  I am defending SEMARANG, INDONESIA, not attacking BAN.

Jim came close to saying something nice in the Frontline piece (clip of the description of the Indian investor who was building a state of the art recycling plant).   I would prefer to be working hand in hand with NRDC and BAN on the California Compromise.   But we need better responses than NRDC's and BAN's to the discovery that the "primitive" operation they accused (in written correspondence to the national environmental agency) of importing hazardous waste was in fact a nice refurbishing factory.  We need better.  As badly as we need Glenn Beck to say that Congresswomen from Tucson Arizona are not trying to take away the Constitution, we need pictures from the Watchdogs showing something other than 10 year old slum photos.  If we deal with this like grown-ups, we can address the percentage, whether it is 3% (according to the exporter) or 75% (according to BAN) or 80% (according to BAN) or... since I get my data from the buyers... something somewhat closer to the exporter claim but definitely worth improving.

WR3A was formed in recognition that primitive, wire burning operations exists.  We sought to use "fair trade" to make sure the reuse baby wasn't thrown out with the bath water.   Will they concede that proper refurbishing and recycling also exists?  A standard that calls for "tested working" and "fully functional" does not appear to acknowledge that warranty repairs and out-of-warranty repairs are done in the same place, by the same techs.

Once we both admit the problem the other is concerned about, it won't matter as much which is 80% and which is 20%, we can work together to promote more exports to the good one, and fair trade recycling will have a chance.  The Perfect should not be the enemy of the Good.

After the California Compromise meeting, the owners of the fair trade refurbishing factories overseas strained their ears.  They were listening for a change in message from the people who have nearly destroyed them.   I hate to see them rely more on more on suppliers who care less.

It's a lesson too late for the learnin'
Made of sand, made of sand
in the wink of an eye my soul is turnin'
In your hand, in your hand. 
[Cho:]Are you going away with no word of farewell?  Will there be not a trace left behind?  Well, I could have loved you better,  Didn't mean to be unkind.    You know that was the last thing on my mind.

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