Happy Cultural Lobotomy, E-Waste Export Ban

Lobotomy is still a frightening word.  It's a cultural relic, a footnote in western medical history. It represents a procedure which was for a period prescribed by our most august and respected Western Medical experts.  You could only get a lobotomy in the wealthiest, most advanced hospitals.

If someone had a behavioral problem, putting them under anesthesia and cutting out a piece of their brain was, at the time, considered one of the highest forms of medicine.

  This journal is not about defending the behavior of primitive and polluting recycling operations in the USA or overseas.  I've never defended bad behavior, be it burning, aqua regia, or toxics along for the ride.  I published "Setting a Higher Standard" nine years ago, worked with BAN.org in setting up CRT glass test measures, and argued strongly that EPA should insist on 3 years of record keeping to prove that computers exported for reuse were truly reused.  WR3A was established to make sure that incidental breakage etc. was recycled properly.

In the process of establishing fair trade civil agreements with Geeks of Color, we discovered that the pure art, joy, democratic revolution, hope, and cooperation was bubbling.  Even if none of the computers were reused at all, this was arguably a fantastic cultural exchange.  Of course they were reused, and also properly recycled... but my point is that stopping the trade amounts to a cultural lobotomy, and both sides are the loser.

Shredding equipment which could have been reused is, in my view, a lazy standard.  E-Stewards has the choice to test more product to compete (with higher quality and lower prices) against people who export into rapidly developing markets.  Instead, they have taken a shortcut - accusing all exporters of automatically being bad actors, and shredding equipment which could have provided a $10 display unit... and are attacking the R2 Standards, a second medical opinion, ferociously.

If the export market is taken away, for me it's like a cultural lobotomy.  Gone is the leverage to incentivize proper e-waste management in nations like Indonesia (the largest muslim democracy in the world).  Gone are the visits between Malaysians and Egyptians and Mexicans and Peruvians here in Middlebury.  I was a paper recycler for many years, and bottles and cans and metal recycling is still a bit interesting - but the past decade has been a spiritual and cultural experience I never dreamed of when I started this recycling company.

It's just my opinion, and I'm an interested party.  Perhaps Vermont will be the first state to prove that E-Steward standards and universal waste rules will succeed where they have failed in every other state, dragging California, Maine, Connecticut to cut their reuse rates by over 95%.  Perhaps compromise is the answer, and I should experiment with then next $6M we could have brought into Addison County.

Perhaps Vincent Van Gogh could have had a lobotomy and still produced great works of art..

Here's a video I never would have enjoyed if I hadn't sold computers to a Techie in North Africa.  Tomorrow I'll show another hilarious vid produced with someone's repaired PC... It's like the old Peanuts comic of Linus having too much fun with a rubber band.

The question is, was the lobotomy ever more than an experiment?  And is the shredding of working equipment actually producing any environmental benefit whatsoever?  It has been postulated that shredding equipment in CA, ME, CT etc. reduces the amount of e-waste burned in primitive conditions overseas.

What actually happened is the demand overseas remains, and they buy crappier stuff to replace the good stuff that the UWR states destroyed.  This had the effect of widening the gap in costs between Steward and Exporter.  To compete in the market, the Steward must therefore support laws which make the export illegal, or to run an ad campaign that the exporter is exploiting and polluting.

The world gets worse.  So if you were me, would you try to adapt to perform better lobotomies, or would you pack your bags and get a job at a different hospital?

What you should do first is write a blog, and hopefully convince other people that the "behavioral problem" which the cultural lobotomy is designed to abate can be safely and effectively treated holistically.   Through fair trade recycling, you introduce your clients to real people overseas who are buying the product.  And hopefully, taxing Americans to shred working product and forcing Egyptians to spend 30% of their annual income on brand new "stuff " can be put into lobotomy's historical context... it was an environmental health practice which belongs in the alchemy file.

BAN has publicly implied that they would have supported WR3A's call for reform of California planned obsolescence in hindsight law, but that I was not diplomatic enough.  I was on bended knee for two or three months.  They can certainly pursue it without me.   But they kept performing digital lobotomies every day and never circulated the compromise letter to any of the e-stewards, and in the meantime continued to lobby for Indonesia to destroy the most modern CRT recycling and refurbishing infrastructure on the planet.  So I'm not diplomatic enough, had I just managed to say something a little differently, they'd have stopped the skull hackery. 

I don't want my blog to be mistaken for a lack of humor.  References to John Brown aside, our company will always follow the environmental laws.  Our company has invested a lot of money to follow the law set by EPA in 2007.  We will follow whatever law Vermont tells us to follow.  My entreaties for best practices, support for R2 and fair trade, etc. don't mean that we cannot survive as a business, if a bland business, by losing an argument.  The nice thing about having a lobotomy is that you don't even recall having it.

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