Coexist 2: Coopting Recycling Vocabulary

Late Post 2.  It may be #3, I think I saved one to draft limbo.  I'll look for it, and it may belong in front of this one.   But elective upgrade, aka "semiknockdown", is the way Egypt got it's groove back.  If the export prohibitionists had their way, Mubarak would still be in power today.

(The Cat Stevens Post doesn't seem to be streaming nicely... Feel free to come back later).

The Prohibitionists were friends for about 8 years.  But they crossed a line. They took information I gave to them, and misused it to try to take away the jobs of the fair trade recycling factories we were working with.

In trying to explain to them that "tested working" and "fully functional" were laymen's terms which would fail, I taught them a term, "semiknockdown". Semi-knockdown is the process of electively upgrading parts to make the electronic device function better or longer, because these were factories which warranty the items.

The purpose of sharing that information was to explain to BAN why the term "tested working" was not in the Basel Convention, and why it didn't work when most of the reused monitors were refurbished anyway, tested or not.  Even "fully functional" parts are upgraded in the largest white box operations.  The point, I tried to explain, was to work with reputable companies who were willing and able to properly recycle not only the parts they removed, but the growing supply of "ewaste" which we all knew was mostly not imported, but was being generated in the poor nations themselves.

It is therefore almost apparently sinister that BAN took the information I provided them, and then told states and certification bodies that the people with the most knowledge and skill (the ones capable of upgrading product for warranty status) were illegal.   

Specifically, they took my email, and made the process of refurbishing into a villain.  The gave E-Steward Certifiers a term, "semiknockdown factory" - making it a place rather than a process.  They said that shipment to "semiknockdown factories" could only be done through a process that no one in the USA was doing, creating a fictitious recipe, and then led people to believe their E-Steward factories were doing this - rather than destroying reuse value with "no intact unit" policies.

None of their recycling partners is pre-repairing monitors, removing capacitors, or upgrading RAM. It's not even possible for a device to be "fully functional" if the parts are removed, is it?   Then they wrote an op-ed that the factories were "poisoning people" in a direct reference to "fair trade recycling."

Finally, they specifically targeted a single factory in Semarang, Indonesia, in March 2010, in a blatantly racist press escapade which depicted one of the best refurbishing factories in the world as "primitive".   And the American press, shockingly, ran the story without looking into it.  It was enough, it appears, that the sale was to slanty eyed Asians.  Even though it was a factory which may well have originally made the monitor on BAN's desk, BAN could focus on nothing but the factory's geography and get the American press to run with the story.

Cartman supplies stereotype.  No, He didn't.
I met the exporter last Friday, here in Middlebury.  The same man who purchased CRT monitors from Brockton, MA.  The same man who purchased from the Pledge Company.

Yes, one of the E-Stewards was found to have been shipping to the exact same buyer, a Taiwanese man in his 50s.  Rather than defend their past trade with this Geek of Color, they claimed to "see the light" and let the poor Geeks be further accosted.   It was, in my view, a shockingly paternalistic and racist assumption that the factory which takes back warranty repairs from a retailer is a "primitive polluter" when they take the same computer back from an fair trade recycler.  (The Pledge Company asked why I was criticizing them - if they read what I wrote, I was defending the people they distanced themselves from... I was  not calling them a polluter.  By distancing themselves from Rosie Parks, they alienated themselves from me).

At some point, if your acquaintance repeatedly conveys a racist message, you have to give up on them.  This man sat in my conference room, and we talked frankly together, about our competition, about our likenesses, and about our future in the trade.   He walked away a competitor, who may take clients of mine tomorrow.  But I will not attack him for being Chinese, and I still call BAN an "accidental racist".  

The outing of the CRT refurbishing company last year was a bizarre and perverse attack on poor people in emerging nations, the very people who are converting the factories you and I once purchased products from into environmentally sustainable reuse facilities.  I write about it frequently because I know it leads people to ask BAN how to explain their position.  Their E-Stewards tell my clients that the "export no intact units" and tell my clients that is what the Basel Convention says.   Here I am.  Where is BAN's response?

What fuels this?  Planned obsolescence.  A war on the seccondary market by OEMs who make more profit if 10 Egyptians buy a new flat screen than if 100 Egyptians buy a warrantied, fully functional CRT monitor upgraded in the same factory that originally made the monitor.  They have friends who put in big shredders, who want laws which make reuse illegal so they have more material to shred.

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