Ethical: Samaritan Transboundary Movement, Continued

This is a follow up to the "Ethical Samaritan" post.  I continue to think, as a former regulator, about how the identification of movement is attractive as a target.
  • Value:  e.g. $100 bill
  • Movement:  Discard, collection, or transfer of title
  • Release / pollution
In the "Samaritan" example, I used littering, a.k.a. primitive disposal, to define discard, and used a $100 bill as  an example of something of unquestionable value (beyond "tested working").   At the risk of sounding like a freshman philosophy student, I used the excercise to distinguish between "waste" declarations based separately on VALUE, TRANSIT, and "TOXICITY".   That post and this one will probably be more interesting to Ph.D students than ordinary policy makers, but I believe that this kind of exercise can pay dividends in creating fair laws.

Continuing from yesterday's post, we can all agree when a $100 bill has been "discarded", "become waste", "littered" ... it's pretty obvious, and involves intent and the level of care a person takes in getting the item of value into the hands of someone who will use it for its original intended purpose.  The case against calling it littering is only "muddied" by the donor's failure to make direct contact with the girl in the slum.

Now, imagine that there was a solid (not liquid or gas) with Pb/lead, say a $100 lead coin or $100 cell phone with a small amount of leaded solder.  Let's assume that the lead fails EPA's TCLP test.  Now, replacing the $100 bill (given to the slum child indirectly, by leaving it where she will find it), with a $100 cell phone, how do the ethics work?   Does the chemical property of the cell phone change its characterization?  What are the instances where a $100 bill would not be "waste", and the cell phone handled in the exact same way would be considered "waste"?

First, "tested working" and "functionality" are quaint, layperson ideas to define waste.  Three months ago, I posted my broken HTC Evo on Ebay, and blogged the entire "e-waste" transaction.  By the end of the auction, it had sold (with non-functionality fully disclosed) for $265.  And we got a happy positive review.   If I listed a fully functional, tested working Motorola V120, I'd get no bids.  The idea that "functionality" is a direct measure of value is ridiculous, and if environmental regulators tried such a stunt in the used automobile market, or the antiques market, they'd have a riot on their hands.   Market value is a better indicator that something is a commodity because it involves TWO PEOPLE, a buyer and a seller, in a civil agreement that something has value, and currency was exchanged.  The "tested working" and all the fancy pants Sencore testing equipment process requires only one person to "declare" the item to be a commodity (and requires us all to believe they tested the item).

If the recycling has value (as lead battery recycling does), but is still regulated, the price of the transaction should be more than the value of the commodity - though I still doubt that stopping recycling will do anything other than increasing mining, at a net environmental loss.   It's possible with math to deduce whether a cell phone was bid upon for scrap value or for reuse value.  There is not $265 in metals in my EVO.

Leaving a cell phone in the street of the slum is not acceptable, because no payment was made, and the relative risk of the $100 bill being lost in the mud is not an environmental risk, which the phone may be.  We keep records of what happens to the items we sell for reuse and repair.  It's a two party contract, and that's the key difference.

If you export 300,000 units of computers and monitors in a 5 year period, and you get detailed feedback (21" monitors were a commodity in 2005 and 2006, not accepted in 2008-2010), you will learn more.  You will learn less if you assume every buyer, even if willing to pay more for a non-working item than for a working item, must be an ignorant wire-burning savage, and only sell working items as a result.

The details of buyers accepting, upgrading, and downgrading the shipments tell us more about whether the items was a waste than a single party declaration.

The outcome of E-Stewards standards has been, in virtually every case, that the only affordable way to ship tested working is to buy an off-lease generator's declaration that the items were tested working.  If they are getting items which don't have the generator declaration, they are shredding them and employing "no intact unit".   If the ANR standard had been applied in 2003, I would have shipped 300,000 fewer units.  The Egyptians would have either A) gone without internet, or B) bought them from someone else - perhaps from someone who didn't remove all the 77% of CRTs we remove for recycling (though they could not have afforded taking all 77 bad to get 23 good).

What about the TCLP Test again?

It's true that street disposal was the medieval method of disposal and is clearly akin to discard.   Landfilling or "sanitary disposal" is the modern form of disposal and discard.   And almost everyone today would consider "sanitary disposal" to be a form of waste.   What RCRA did was to establish different definitions of Sanitary, creating a rank algorithm for land-fill as in putting rock to level wetland (no MSW allowed), separate from MSW lined landfill (subtitle D), and then further (using TCLP) tests to establish the most rigorous landfill lining for the most toxic discards - a subtitle C landfill.

Regulate from the bottom, not from the top:

When I was a regulator, my philosophy was to give grants the the very best recycling practices, the future of recycling.   We would do enforcement on the very worst.  I used to call this a normal curve or "inchworm" strategy, moving the standards forward in a way to prevent backlash against Massachusetts DEP program I administered.

I'm just doing my job
It occurs to me that this is the same role a predator plays in natural selection.

In the best environmental evolution, the recyclers are a herd of antelope, and the regulator is a lioness.  In the circle of life, the lioness' role is to cull the herd of sick, old, uncompetitive antelopes.  The herd becomes stronger and continues to have incentive to run fast and jump high.   The average performance of the average antelope increases because there is a lioness.  Without regulators, you can expect the average performance of the average recycler to lag.

But a lioness is different from a buffalo hunter with a gun, shooting antelope caged in a pen.   It's easier for a regulator to erect a pen and shoot the antelope they imagine may be slowest... but they may be mistaking the front antelope (the first to be slowed by the fence) for the weakest.  Plus, it's just not sporting.

Now, I'm going to be obtuse, and purposefully communicate above the heads of people who accuse me of being a bad communicator.  The trick is to say something profound which is difficult to catch, not to simply be obtuse.   It's harder to write like Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare than to write like James Joyce or Dennis Miller.  Here goes.

Think about the role of motion to a predator.  You don't want to eat something dead (that's a scavenger's role).  You want something vivacious. (Vive= to live).

So a regulator looking for weakness (loads with a lot of discarded waste inside) may initially just look for transboundary movement.   Transboundary movement is movement.

So how often to regulators simply respond to movement?  If the item is truly toxic and dangerous, how much enforcement is being concentrated on the garages, basements, attics, and barns where the TVs and old computers are largely sitting today?  Are they actually more toxic once they are taken out of the garage and placed in a recycling shed at the local solid waste district?  And once they are collected from the solid waste districts, do they require more and more functionality testing to prove they are not "hazardous waste"?

Bison skulls from 1800s over-hunting
Or is the regulator just responding to motion?  It was toxic before it moved... is the regulation of the toxic or of the movement?  With lamps and liquids, they are fragile in a stationary position, but TVs are more dangerous in use in our living rooms than they are on a pallet for the "e-waste" event.

The regulators in Vermont should make sure their role is not the white bison hunters with guns, killing the strongest animals for their skins.

Too many people have been told ANR has "no choice" but to adapt into law a procedure which is not the law in any other state, nor in Europe.  An environmental company is in a losing position if it protests an environmental requirement from a regulatory agency.   Laypeople will presume we have something we are doing wrong, a corner we wish to cut.  So the Perfect is in the position to put the Good out of commission.  There will be no more reuse.  We will meet the "e-Steward" requirment as every other NE steward has done, by no-intact-unit, no more sales to the Geeks of color.  We'll try to set the geeks up with buyers in other states, and the other states will get those jobs.

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