Ethiopia "E-Waste": Good Video, Comment Hubris

I'm grateful today for comments from Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network, who rightly applauds the program toured by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in Ethiopia.  Here is a link to his comment.  A video was produced with the help of Cascades Asset's Niels Peters-Michaud.

I can applaud everything Jim says about the Ethiopia project.   The rub comes when Jim implies that our own "fair trade recycling" partners are somehow polluting, or taking "untested" product.    (What "untested"? I respond, do you think we are randomly selecting the 23% for export and randomly recycling the 77%... and randomly arriving at 90% reuse?  What exactly does he think we are doing which is worse than IBLF's program in Ethiopia?)  BAN clearly implies that they know better how to test for our factory purchase orders... but refused to put the time into the California Compromise which would have tested that assumption.

A young boy stands in front of a tremendous pile of ewaste in Lagos, Nigeria. He works for the Alba Market, scaveging through the junk.
Very poor, very few TVs in pile
It's a black and white E-Steward universe.  If not E-Stewards, it must be primitive and polluting.  If it isn't E-Steward accepted, then it must look... like this...?  The photo is an embed offered at SVTC of a famous "e-waste poster child".  There are how many TVs in the trash behind him... twelve?   And who knows how many years they worked before they were disposed?   The point is to point the camera at the child, not to do math, simply state "80%" and make people believe the money they donate will help the kid somehow.   

And so this factory below, which employs several hundred people more than the shop in Ethiopia, which processes more units per week than Ethiopia's shop does in a year, which is run by an engineering Ph.D who invented the system for cathode ray guns to show Chinese lettering, who oversaw the original manufacturing of the CRT monitors in the 1990s, who obtained ISO9000 and ISO14001 for his facility, who went through an R2 audit, and who takes back not only his OWN sold computers for recycling but also everyone else's... He's a primitive, wire burning.... EH?

I'm sorry, but the message I take away from Ethiopia is that the Basel Convention, Annex IX, B1110, which allows repair and refurbishment and does NOT say "fully functional" or "tested working" can work...  without E-Steward "enhancements".   If they can safely take back and recycle the product they once sold, then they can take and recycle parts they electively replace.

Right?  If they can safely take back their old product, then they can safely replace a capacitor.  Or upgrade a stick of RAM.  How is WR3A's activity, recycling a component the buyer electively upgrades, more polluting than properly recycling a return?

Jim knows NOTHING about our partners, but cannot help but to get this dig in...
"I know you like to describe your exports exports of untested equipment to developing country refurbishers as “fair trade,” but this is a different approach that will not allow any hazardous waste to be exported to a developing country.  " - Jim Puckett
Not to put too fine a point on it... Perhaps the big difference is that the WR3A (R2 eligible) facilities do not contribute to Jim's six figure salary.  The WR3A non-profit's facilities are NOT more primitive, illegal, polluting or ugly.  We are thrilled that BAN has found a Geek of Color that they like.  We hope they meet lots more of them.  But implying that the geeks that they have not met are engaged in "hazardous waste" is un-hopeful, at best.  I have no problem with E-Stewards paying a percentage of their gross income to BAN in Seattle, but they can do so without accusing the Techs in Cairo of being lesser people or more polluting than the techs supported by e-waste factories who pay them.   It's a matter of human decency.  How can I not be furious on behalf of my friends when Jim states they are polluting or participating in hazardous waste?

I am not questioning Jim Puckett's motives, I am just disappointed that in accepting our compliments, he sees fit to denigrate our partners.   I know he has seen ugly things in South China, and Africa - as have I.   But I chose to find the best things going there and to work with them, to find a win-win.  Jim's attitude can be summed up as "the Accidental Racist".   He does not intend to call my friends in Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Senegal, Peru, Mexico, Angola, Ghana... etc... lesser people.   He just can't help having an answer for everything, putting the black man and brown women into the poster child box.

We are excited that by setting foot into a factory run by smart Africans, that BAN and SVTC and NRDC may become a little more humble in assuming that other people's export partners are lowly, primitive, wire burning negroes.  They could do a lot worse than read posts at Shanghai scrap, and to review the videos from our WR3A partners uploaded to  Just resist the temptation to describe things (like testing and pollution) which you know nothing, absolutely nothing, about.  BAN proved that in their portrayal of the PT Imtech factory in Semarang, Indonesia, one a year ago today.

Don't hurt good people.


Jim Puckett said...

Dear Robin:

This will be the last time I try to engage you on your blog. You really are shameless. You have taken down your original post and now put up a new one which is not one I ever commented on. So my post is now seen in relation only to your very mean spirited rebuttal -- another one sided diatribe....far from being a fair debate. By the way I have never made 6 figures but would love to. I am not a racist, accidental or otherwise. We have a difference of opinion about what is good for the world. But Robin I am done. Not because I would not relish a fair debate but because you are not interested in one.


WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...
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WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

On reflection, the comment above by Jim Puckett is his excuse not to respond to the dozens of logical and factual challenges posted in this blog over the years. Over a year has gone by since we dissected the 60 Minutes episode. He has never responded to the dozens of photos of refurbishing in the same factories that manufactured the monitors. I've asked how one can support manufacturer takeback as a solution while banning manufacturers (all of which are in Asia) of buying back.

The point of Jim's accusation, I think, is to poison the well. He wants other readers to doubt my integrity and intellectual honesty. If I were crossing posts and deleting original articles, why should he attempt to respond? Why indeed. Perhaps he has already answered all my questions about Basel Convention Annex IX, or elective recycling, or numerators and denominators.

Yes, it's a pissing match, but I am not cheating and I'm not making ad hominem attacks. BAN is applauding itself for costing people in developing nations hundreds of thousands of dollars, as repair technicians of color defend themselves from false accusations of "poisoning people".

The cowardly thing is to accuse Geeks of Color of polluting when they have done everything to make sure they cannot be mistaken for a polluter. The shameful tactic is to run a ten year old photo of a child suffering in another context to justify a perverse boycott against the poor. That's far more important than the false accusation that I've somehow hacked google.

Jim has had years to comment intellectually on the questions I've raised. This attack on the integrity of this blog is a cheap shot. It's nothing more than an excuse not to respond to fair questions. I will prove that it's a completely false accusation... google comments and posts are dated, Mr. Puckett. I've never deleted a comment of yours, or switched posts you've commented on. I just hope your accusation against someone capable of defending himself causes people to wonder about your attacks on people who cannot defend themselves.

Computer Recycling Louisville KY said...
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