Toe Tags - We Agree - Now Let's Communicate

Notwithstanding the "ND" label described last week, we should stand behind the top sentence in CA DTSC webpage, and come down on speculative accumulation and abandonment.

  Abandonment of e-waste constitutes illegal disposal
of hazardous waste and will be prosecuted

Abandonment adds value to the vocabulary discussion... the only time abandonment has ever added value to anything.  Disposal is clearly abandoning something on land, air or on water (e.g. at a landfill or incinerator or a ditch).  Speculative accumulation is gathering and storing something with no record of sales and no proof or evidence that it is not being abandoned.

However, the expansion of RCRA law (governing disposal) into the secondary sales market will dilute limited government resources.  The regulators of mortuaries do not belong in doctors' offices.  Attaching toe tags to healthy patients will not, in the long run, reduce the risk of an improper burial.  It will spread out the funeral regulators, creating a confusing inflation in the toe-tag economy, and no good will come of it if it is not standard practice and the hospital in New Hampshire doesn't require it.. people will resent being toe-tagged as a corpse and take their health care dollars elsewhere.

That means everybody?
Recently, discussions with some regulators have raised the claim that "TCLP" is a test which proves or defines something as "hazardous waste".  If a device that I sell contains a part or component that "fails TCLP", the reasoning goes, then government defines that transaction as hazardous waste discard.

All discarded bodies are human.  Therefore all humans should wear toe tags.  This definition of discard as transfer of locations is a logical fallacy - failing TCLP is necessary but not sufficient to render something "hazardous waste".

Vermont's original definition of "waste" clearly says that it is a material not useful for it's original intended purpose.  Here is the new definition "electronic waste" in the 2011 Vermont Statutes:
(10) "Electronic waste" means a: computer; computer monitor; computer peripheral; device containing a cathode ray tube; printer; or television sold to a covered entity. "Electronic waste" does not include: any motor vehicle or any part thereof; a camera or video camera; a portable or stationary radio; a wireless telephone; a household appliance, such as a clothes washer, clothes dryer, water heater, refrigerator, freezer, microwave oven, oven, range, or dishwasher; equipment that is functionally or physically part of a larger piece of equipment intended for use in an industrial, library, research and development, or commercial setting; security or antiterrorism equipment; monitoring and control instruments or systems; thermostats; handheld transceivers; a telephone of any type; a portable digital assistant or similar device; a calculator; a global positioning system receiver or similar navigation device; commercial medical equipment that contains a cathode ray tube, a cathode ray tube device, a flat panel display, or similar video display that is not separate from the larger piece of equipment; or other medical devices, as the term "device" is defined under 21 U.S.C. { 321(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as that section is amended from time to time.
UFB.  (A) contains circuit board, (B) is sold = WASTE.   They can arrest the entire parking lot in Best Buy.

No doubt they intended to close some loopholes.  Like the mortuary regulators closing the loophole .. "not dead yet".  While talking on your new cell phone, keep an eye out for seizure of device without proper "waste" labelling.

Expanding the language to "devices" is a mistake on two levels.  It's unfair to the personal property owner - This is being applied to a product which I buy and sell.  Does TCLP really erase property rights?  But as importantly, it dilutes the credible enforcement against actual dumping, toxic releases, etc.  Before an agency makes every recycling collector label every computer mouse and come up with cleanup plans for every broken printer they sweep up, there needs to be some burden of proof, some case somewhere, that a recycling depot or district that did NOT clean up the broken printer had effluent or pollution as a result.

The definitions of TCLP are crystal clear, and I wrote about it previously.  TCLP is a test which grinds a product up and exposes it to weak acids to replicate landfill leachate.  If you grind up CRT glass and expose it to these acids, it leaches lead.   This is the test that determines, WHEN disposed, whether the material may be disposed of in an ordinary municipal waste landfill, or must be disposed of in a more regulated subtitle hazardous waste landfill.  TCLP is not a chemical test that proves something not to be a commodity.  DOT and OSHA do not use TCLP because it does not indicate hazards to humans or the environment.  "Releases" of solid objects are remediated by picking them back up, and having special containers for the releases is laughable.  I had a "release" of canned goods in my kitchen, and picked the canned goods back up ... must I now bag them when putting them back in the cabinet?

The computer I am writing this blog on is well over a year old, it's used, it FAILS the Vermont definition of "electronic waste".   It may fail TCLP (If it had a CRT). But it is clearly in use, and if I sell it for positive revenue to you, I have not disposed of it.   The government cannot require you, the person who buys it from me, from obtaining a hazardous waste disposal permit.

The allegation is that used products are not really being used or recycled, but are really being disposed.  To combat this, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources requires a toe tag in case they get disposed.  Our industry is responding with data, reconciliations, mass balance, and certifications such as R2 that prove we are not secret polluters.   [In addition, I have seriously questioned the credibility of the statistic in the press that variously states that 75% or 80% or 90% of e-waste is exported to places which burn it informally in primitive conditions.   In the instances of trans-boundary waste movement that I have chronicled (the Senegal WR3A video, e.g.) the problem was that the goods did not work and were not as advertised, or were damaged in transit.  Stating that our trade in the 25%  of intact product we sell is "waste", or "80%" waste, is insulting, illogical, and unfounded.]

But I'll go ahead and be regulated, rather than leave the state.  We'll meet the standards and be compliant if we possibly can, and sell off the accounts from out of state we cannot afford to manage (we pay for certain monitors).   Bringing client material into a state which calls them waste even though they are 80% working and we are just testing them... well, that should be done elsewhere, those jobs leave Vermont.  

Meanwhile, though, district managers are doing the right thing to push back against Vermont's regulatory mission creep.  Here's my nominee for Canary in a Coal Mine.   Calling clothing donated to Salvation Army or Goodwill "waste" because someone has donated it.  Talk about something that is also "mission creep".  Goodwill has never "disposed" of the clothing on land, air or water unless (like in the Senegal video) the persona donating it has messed up and donated trash, or the material is damaged (made wet) in the course of collection or shipping.  If I abandon a computer at the Montpelier State House, that does not mean the Vermont Senate needs a "hazardous waste license".    People have tried to stand up for my company, I think it's too late, the die is cast.  But calling Charities waste management facilities is like putting toe tags on healthy children - the problem is in the head of the person reading the title on the toe tag.

[ I added some clarifications above, but no deletions, above ]
--- blog_end- - - - stream of consciousness, borderline ranting, philosphy and perspective _ - _ -]

Philosophic footnotes on communication strategies....  I've written on this topic previously, and many times on the general topic (recycling and reuse is waste diversion.  Diversion FROM something is not the same as the Something.  Recycling is no more a form of waste management than healing is a form of killing or funeral management).  I'm a bit on the fence about posting (publishing) the post above, uncertain whether I'm saying anything new or creative here.  

What it brings to mind again is a big difference between the 1990s and the 2010s.  In the 90s, if I was trying to explain a concept - such as the distinction between secondary markets and disposal - to a group of people who disagreed with me, I was taking a risk that the people may just shake their heads and say they couldn't understand what I was saying.  I had to learn the hard way whether to hit "send" on an email that went to dozen people.

I get the same feeling hitting "publish post" as I sometimes get poised to hit "send" on a long email.   But there's a key difference.  A blog allows you to open up to everyone on the planet.  You simultaneously find out just how insignificant your opinions are (by the number of readers drawn to read it, compared to reading a blog devoted to CEFAD - see footnote).   At the same time locate other critical thinkers, globally, in places like Angola and Denmark and Egypt and India and China, who just might be taking the time to read and listen and write back to you.

The danger in a 12 person email exchange, or a conference call or consensus group, is that the group must narrow its focus in order to hope to accomplish consensus.  This is called "groupthink" or "mindset", and is studied in political science (my field at Carleton) and psychology.  When a group of peers defines something incorrectly, someone else using the terminology correctly can become isolated or misunderstood by the group.
Groupthink is a type of thought within a deeply cohesive in-group whose members try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas. It is a second potential negative consequence of group cohesion. [wikipedia]
I think the Stewardship folks are serving a lot of this kool-aid.  But they are not the first, and I have dealt with it a lot, especially during my years in state government.

In the 1990s, before blogging, if I tried to explain something somewhat technical, like the difference between recycling plastic which has a scale of collection and an equally recyclable plastic which lacks a scale of material to finance processing equipment, it was a risk.   In the current recurring example, I am trying to explain that TCLP is a test that describes where a substance can be DISPOSED and is not a determination that the substance is hazardous to accumulate, haZardous to use, hazardous to own, or hazardous to sell, and a group of people had been misapplying the TCLP test as some kind of "volatility" or "ownership" (waste not property) determination.  This is a long sentence. An idea which required a long sentence like this one is potentially confusing.  People at the meeting might have formed a concensus that Robin is just a poor communicator.  Add a typo here or there, and all my ideas might get 'tagged' as gibberish.  And why waste time understanding a complex idea if someone you trust says it was gibberish to begin with?

Poisoning the well of ideas with bad labels...

Now, there are several possibities, one of which is that I communicated poorly.  I may have worked all night, I may have had infant twins waking me in the early hours, I may have been speaking French for the past 3 days.   I may have presumed I was talking to someone I had previously explained A to and was adding B and C, but the person never got information A.

Back at Massachusetts DEP, I had grown a department from 6 staff to 20 in a short period, hiring a lot of people with no regulatory experience, who did not know what TCLP stood for.  It was a different excercise than when I had the same discussion in a room of regulators at EPA in Washington, who understood exactly what I meant and later designed a web tool which explains  it.  As staff were constantly being added, many of them joined a department in a kind of "mid conversation" of ABCD... we may have been discussing JKLM, and the new person had to catch up.

Someone without a staff, according to my boss Hank, was circulating a story that I simply spoke nonsense, that I was simply hard to understand.  Hank told me it was a dangerous label in a bureaucracy, because it hampered you in explaining DEFG in a group of people who might tune you out if something you were saying was difficult to digest or understand.  He explained that a voice in the back of the listener's head may be saying "I can't understand this guy, either".  It was a poison, he said, and could damage a person's career advancement.   Most people, he said, simply stopped attempting to explain difficult topics in a groupthink environment, protecting their jobs.

My problem, he said, was not really a problem, but that I obviously cared passionately about the positions I was taking or defending, and I was obviously willing to obsessively study them in order to be right.  This would put me into a vocabulary territory which would expose me to risk of the "bad communication" label.  

What he advised me was to come up with simple working explanations, and to attempt to build consensus more slowly, brick by brick, and not to take a risk of damaging my reputation (let my well be poisoned) in a hostile environment.  If I had intended on being a lifer at state government, or of accumulating staff and power, he'd have been correct, and it was excellent advice.  Also I did have infant twins that I was raising bi-lingually, and was exhausted, and was in an environment when I might quite clearly start at point B or C and confuse the living hell out of an intelligent person listening to me.  Or so  my wife says.

So anyway, the empowering thing about blogging is a fewfold.

First, I have a record of what I've said.  Except by email, I never had a record of what I'd said to a group of people who were debating whether "fail TCLP" meant "discarded" (Best Buy and IBM warranty returns would disagree).  Sometimes I reread what I've written and clearly need to edit it down, cull excess information, refine the message, and can see so myself.

Second, using Google analytics, I can compare posts to see which are being read, re-read, forwarded, tweeted, buzzed - and which ones have 12 second average page reads and obviously are not as effective.  This is tremendous information.   You can see what buzzes in India but may be getting blank stares and rolled eyes in the USA.   With the power of google analytics, you can almost read your audience's mind.

Third, it is much more difficult for someone who disagrees with me to "poison the well" by telling people in their group that I'm a bad communicator (if you don't understand what he's saying, 'its not just you').  If it's in writing on the blog, and they are telling people what I said to them makes no sense, they cannot be as certain that the person won't come to the blog and read it for themselves and perhaps come to a different conclusion.

As an example - The latter was used by a staffer of mine who I was getting ready to fire at DEP - he was lobbying state office buildings to combine office paper recycling with their garbage disposal contracts, saying it was "simplifying" their work and therefore increasing recycling.  He was a recently former employee of a garbage company. I was a former waste paper non-profit director.  We knew exactly what we were talking about, but he was telling people he did not know.  That was a big problem for me, when a garbage hauling company employee was on my staff doing sales work for garbage companies, and I still think I did the right thing by taking him on.  But it cost me, he poisoned the well with a lot of people.

What I have really enjoyed about opening my own company is that if I'm right, the company succeeds and grows, and if I'm wrong, we lose money and fail.   There was SOME of that in state government - I was obviously succeeding in winning budget allocations (struggles over recycling grant money vs. UMass cost me some bad bruises, they had quite a lobby on the Ways and Means committee).  But it was very easy for someone to assume I'd just been given the money and not to realize the amount of effort and skill it took to triple the size of the department during a hiring freeze, set up systems to control other programs funds during the "use it or lose it" period before the fiscal year changes, amend contracts with a government legal office which didn't appreciate the extra work, etc.

In a private sector job, failing to achieve consensus is not as costly a label as it is in state government.  It is a competitive free market system.  The Boston Celtics do not need to win over the fans of the Los Angeles Lakers.

So anyway... about the blog.  It's obviously a kind of journal, a kind of catharsis.   People are accusing my friends in Egypt of poisoning people.  People who know perfectly well that the Basel Convention does not say "tested working" (they lobbied for that, wrote letters requesting it, and failed) are telling uninformed people that repair is illegal.  People who are using a CRT glass smelter in a country which considers the lead cullet "hazardous waste" are telling people in our government that ONLY a country which defines smelter cullet as "hazardous waste" should be allowed to import USA CRT cullet.  The USA does not consider CRT cullet going to a smelter for recycling to be "waste", and other nations - like those which have glass to glass CRT furnaces - do not give "hazardous waste facility permits" to their smelters.   So getting our state government to write a specification which allows your "hazardous waste faciity" smelter to manage the material but bans me from using a more modern, cleaner, facility which is not considered a "waste disposal facility" at all in its country - that's using the regulatory system to your advantage.

And it's difficult to explain my case, that a smelter in Canada which got a haz mat license is not "more legal" than a CRT glass furnace in Malaysia which considers leaded cullet to be feedstock.   Hell, I spent ten years making the case that we should not make mining easier than recycling, and that classifying a chemically identical material collected from a city as "hazardous waste" while classifying mined lead from a superfund site as a "commodity" is an environmentalist's self-inflicted wound.

People made fun of me for writing emails as long as this post when I was in my 20s and 30s.   I get made fun of at good point if I go two paragraphs.  It's a faster paced, private, get-er-done environment.

What some people don't understand about the blog is that I'm getting a lot of encouragement.  People are telling me to keep writing.  People are telling me that they do get the points I'm making, and that no one else is making them, and that my efforts to communicate complex environmental theses are unlikely to change minds that are made up, but fairly likely to influence academics and policy people whose minds are not made up.  Eventually, the theory goes, someone else is going to either respond to the blog in a way that changes Robin's opinion - the wonderful dialectic elixir of Platonic dialogue.  Or they are going to incorporate some part of the thought into a student's college thesis, or book, or law case.

And that's reason number 5.  Dialectic.   The theme of this blog is philosophical.   Life is fairly short, and I have devoted my life to helping the environment.   It is my karma yoga to recycle, not because I'm a recycling groupie thinker, but because I prayed and meditated and came up with the biggest threat to the environment - extinctions - and the biggest cause of extinction is habitat loss, and the most sensitive habitat loss is from rain forest and coral reef mining.  It is easier to redirect consumption (to "wasted" material) than to reduce consumption in a growing population.   But having chosen this path to karma, I want the philosophy of environmentalism to grow.  We need the study and practice of environmental health to evolve much more quickly than the evolution of human health progressed from alchemy to leeches to snake oil to medicine to nutrition and excercise - and in certain specific cases, back to leeches. 

I think it is a little bit harder to say to people that if they don't understand the blog, it's not just you.  The people who agree with me are, by and large, smarter than the people who disagree with me, and that is very empowering.  What I've written in the blog is certainly shorter than legislation and regulations, and certainly less impactful.

What regulation is about is making sure people don't do something bad.  But regulation needs to be conserved, like fuel, there is a finite number of things you can regulated.  If the number of regulations exceeds the number of regulators, enforcement suffers.  If the number of regulators is disproportionate to the number of recycling practitioners, recycling investment suffers.  The USA has 30 times as many lawyers per capita than Japan.  There is a special place for government lawyers, who tend to be more risk averse than private practice lawyers.  If government cannot come up with a single 888ing example of a single Salvation Army or Goodwill ever polluting or damaging the environment in any possible way by baling clothes, then government is ****ed up for trying to regulate the baling of clothes.  The salary and time spent regulating clothes baling is wasted, it's an opportunity lost.  Environmentalists, this is your friend speaking.   Don't make Goodwill Industries, Saint Vincent de Paul, and Salvation Army get waste permits to clothe the poor or bale textiles.  Don't exclude half of the world's CRT glass cullet furnaces, don't make them use leaded mined ore from a rain forest, don't make them mine tin ore from a coral reef.   Get your priorities straight and don't blame the communication skills of your diagnosticator. 

Hopefully some witty grad student will weave some of these points into witty Churchill or Twain quotes.  Or better yet, prove ME wrong so that I don't waste my time, the way I sometimes did tearing up draft regulations on good people when I was recycling director at Mass DEP.  I am proudest of the forms I tore up and never allowed Masschusetts to mail.  If my staff could not come up with a single incident of environmental harm from a recycling activity, I told them to go back and find something else to regulate.  Delete keys and recycling bins are sometimes a bureaucrat's most powerful weapons.

CEFAD - CRap Email From a Dude.  I love the Jezebel website blog, but the number of people reading that stuff daily scares me.  It's completely inexhaustible.  Dudes write crap all day.

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