"I agree with BAN about the need to improve exports of e-waste. My company removes 78% of the material we receive, and domestically recycles it, before we export anything"
- Robin IngenthronFrom the very beginning, I've held the position that constructive argument brings us closer to the truth. Having spent time in Asia, Africa, the Mid-East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, investigating markets for used electronics, electronic scrap, and with an eye peeled for "dumping", I haven't declared myself an "expert", but I've questioned where the figure 80% came from (as in, the percent of e-waste dumped overseas into primitive conditions). Recently, I tried to bait responses in the November Blog "E-Waste Prediction: e-Watch for the e-Words "up to".
In restricting our exports of used and scrap electronics, we want to be recognized for the extra work we do, which another "sham recycler" or "blind exporter" does not do. Of course. We are angered when we are underbid by people who assume everything will be reused if you send it to a country poor enough, and I've written about how the non-availability of electricity eliminates the poorest people from the reuse equation. We are furious when someone mixes "toxics along for the ride" into legitimate shipments.
But I draw the line when people say that people overseas are not capable of properly recycling, and I am frustrated when overseas operations which have done everything possible to meet our standard are tossed out with the bathwater. If we cannot distinguish between good and bad operations overseas, then we can only proceed based on stereotypes.
Adam Minter of ShanghaiScrap read the "Prediction" post, and left a comment on the blog that the source he found for BAN was Mike Magliaro, at one time of DMC in New Hampshire. Mike, Gary Russo and Lauren Roman (who is now employed at BAN) ran DMC with a shredder - I think it was an Andela machine, not sure - and their main client was Department of Defense. It was the first large electronics operation I visited when I worked at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
By questioning whether Mike Magliaro (a non-exporter) was in any position to have created this export statistic, Adam (who lives in Shanghai and is an expert himself) may bring us all a step forward. I've never succeeded in getting BAN to defend it or present detail. (Sarah Westervelt told me that her source was an African journalist. I met him, and he said the source was BAN).
In a new comment, someone with first hand information about the source of the statistic, Elaine Magliaro, has responded in the November blog post, "E-Waste Prediction: e-Watch for the e-Words "Up To":
"I'd like to know how Adam can be sure that Mike Magliaro was not in a position to "make that kind of claim." Lauren Roman, an industry expert--like Mike--collaborated with him on that estimate."Fair enough. Neither Adam or I can be sure. But this does appear to confirm that executives at DMC were the source of the statistic. This may be a great opportunity to find out if I've been wrong. DMC was, in the 1990s, one of the largest e-scrap processors in the USA.
We have the more recent study from ASU stating that 85% of the exports they looked at were working or repaired and reused. We have the statistics from WR3A exports (which BAN will not endorse) showing exactly how many of 300,000 units were unsuited for reuse and were properly recycled. We have recent statistics from two sources, the United Nations and from ASU, that say the majority of "ewaste" disposed of in China was originally consumed and generated in China, not imported.
If the statement was carefully researched, I know Lauren Roman and like her, and can collaborate in teasing out details. Do we consider ABS plastic exported to China as part of the 80% (most recyclers do that, and BAN was on film defending a Colorado recycler who defended the practice)? Is steel considered in the 80% or in the 20% good? Or, once the steel and plastic are separated, exported or not, is that considered completely outside the denominator, and we are only looking at the intact units (20% of the intact units are fine, 80% are shameful and toxic?). Is there an estimate of how much was generated by China, versus imported, in the original estimate, and has that changed over time?
For now, we have confirmation that Mike and Lauren (both of the same USA shredding company) are the experts behind this decade's statistic. I've estimated that 30-40% of e-waste exports are a problem that need to be fixed, but that curtailing the other 60-70% just creates shortages and exacerbates the problem. I'm just trying to defend the youts overseas. Does the defense's theory hold water?
Maybe Lauren and I can share our data with a University researcher at Memorial University, at ASU, at Rochester Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, or MIT. With better data, we can break the data out as follows:
- Percentage exported as non-intact commodity
- Percentage exported as tested working product
- Percentage exported as repairable (under Annex IX of the Basel Convention) legally
- Percentage exported as repairable (under Annex IX) illegally
- Percentage recycled overseas, but in unfair working conditions (acid baths)
- Percentage shipped overseas which is dumped and not recycled (like the bad CRTs in the BAN photos)