Do Disposal Costs Increase Export Incentives?

Do the costs of USA environmental regulations trigger exports of "e-waste" overseas?  It is a factor, but not the major factor.   This 2010 report cites it as a major factor, but the economics don't hold up.  A good enough study to post a link, but I give it a C-.   The author, Linda Luther, has several relevant citations and good data, but appears swayed in her conclusions by poster children.  The observation that "the theoretical damage of disposal of e-waste in the USA translates to actual harm overseas" is trite and fails to look closely at the importing and exporting data.
"An unintended consequence of avoiding potential negative impacts of domestic e-waste disposal has been a contribution to actual environmental contamination and human health impacts to some communities in developing countries. If environmentally preferable management of e-waste is the goal, is recycling it preferable to landfill disposal if recycling means exporting the waste to developing countries? Determining how to address this issue—that is, take into consideration concerns regarding domestic e-waste disposal and the negative impacts of recycling abroad—involves many factors."
This is easy to say.  The caution is that we will actually see supply which is not correlated to idemand.  It's easy to say "it involves many factors", that's a given.  But it is equally true that "concerns regarding overseas e-waste recycling may neglect to consider the positive impacts of reuse, repair and recycling abroad" - which also "involve many factors".  A ban on exports is no more obvious a solution than a ban on domestic disposal.  The writer, in revealing virtually nothing, feels more comfortable posing by the barefoot poster child.   If used electronics are being diverted to avoid environmental fees, they are blended into scrap steel, not separated and shipped as sorted product.

Some people think the default is to stop global trade.  Some people think that world trade is better than the absence of world trade.  Alter-globalism and "fair trade" recognize the best result is trade without exploitation.  I like good people trading with good people.

Photo from Hard Rain Project
We don't see much supply that is not correlated to demand.  The goods imported into Cairo or Accra are distinctly different than the used electronics goods imported into Jakarta or Hong Kong.  Extremely different. If the underlying cause of the exports is avoided disposal, one would expect that California supply would dictate Hong Kong imports, and New York supply would dictate Ghana imports.  Instead, you have African buyers in CA buying very different product from Asian buyers in New Jersey.

If avoided disposal cost was the primary driver for the exports, why would the purchase orders for the goods vary so dramatically from nation to nation?
  • Destination X imports commodity A from country USA.
  • Destination Y imports commodity B from country USA.

The recent study of imports into Ghana is notable in part for the way it completely dovetails with WR3A projections and completely refutes thesis about e-waste exports.   But it is also fascinating because the type of "e-waste" imported into Accra is so completely different, downright alien to, the scrap in demand in south China.

South China needs raw materials - plastic scrap from used printers and PCs, copper wire.   Accra wants nice black TV sets and low-P4, even high P3 computers.  The bandwidth in Accra makes demand for "quad core" or very fast PCs less important.  The "sweet spot" in Africa is PCs that are at the top end of the scrap heap... they want to buy functional or repairable Pentiums, but to pay scrap price.  But they don't accept P1 or P2, which are actually much higher scrap value than P3-P4.

3,000 cars above, 1 car here.  Which do you remember?
In China, it's about raw materials for recycling into new products, and some refurbishable goods which are re-manufactured and then re-exported (to Africa largely) as "white box" product.

Sorry, no one is paying $5 for products plus $8 in shipping to break and burn the item in primitive conditions.  It's a boldfaced lie.   The "watchdogs" lied to you.   The burned hulls are the "along for the ride" product, exactly as I explained in 2001.  And I never charged you money for my advice.

It's a lot like scrap cars.  If you study used car sales, you will find that Cuba imports different used cars than Syria does, and that neither nation sets used cars on fire for scrap metal.   If the story is really about fires for scrap, who the hell cares what brand they are burning?

I love my geek friends.  I don't mind writing about them non-stop.  If watchdogs stop insulting them and racially profiling them, I could stop my crusade.  But if you tell a boldfaced lie, I'll wrap it around your neck every single day.  Oz has spoken?  Here's your broom.

 There's a new version of this Neil Young (CSNY) "Ohio" song coming, which I'm kind of sponsoring.  I'm excited to see and hear it.  Mellow Yellow of Vermont meets Khaled Said.

Sale of working and repairable computers to developing nations, branded "e-waste", has become to this generation what "interracial marriage" was in the 1950s and 60s.  Environmental justice is good, exporting toxic waste to poor countries is bad.  Got it.   But although Domestic abuse is bad, and bad "ewaste" dumping is bad - Race has nothing to do with either problem. 

Repeatedly insinuating that interracial marriage correlates with domestic abuse, or that technicians in Senegal, Ghana, Egypt and Angola are "primitive" may get press, but it is not something to be proud of.  The Accidental Racists are creating a war on internet with the same outcomes as other prohibitionist policies.  We can differ in opinion, but stating as fact that the Geeks of Color are importing 80% waste is like stating that 80% of interacial marriages wind up in domestic abuse.   It's a galling statistic because it's a complete lie, it is made up from whole cloth, there is nothing behind it, and CBS and USA Today and other major publications should look in the mirror and ask themselves how many times they have printed it.

Your opinion is that my friends in Africa, Asia and Latin America and I should not do recycling and reuse business together.  Stop creating myths about "e-waste".   Touche pas a mon pote.

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