'E-Waste' Highlights: Find 7 Differences

Below are pictures of people in less affluent countries who are managing used electronic devices.   Can you find the seven differences in each pair of photos?

Here are two Asian people.  Which is likely to account for 80% of exports?

The first photo has been circulating since 2002, no data about the number or origin of CRTs she manages.  There was not a single CRT visible in the CBS News visit to Guiyu in 2008.

The second photo was taken in a factory in Indonesia, which was recently forced to close and lay off its employees, following an accusation by Basel Action Network that "skd" (elective upgrade of working monitors to make better, warranty monitors) was "hazardous waste treatment".

Yes, BAN's position is that it you sell the computer to an uneducated, ignorant person, that it's legal.  But if the person you sell it to knows how to upgrade the unit to make it do more, faster, longer, that they are polluting, etc. because the part they replace was hazardous waste.  This, they say, is "True Stewardship". It characterizes people as "primitive" based on where they live, not based on what they do or can do.

This obscene position, which is directly refuted by none other than the Basel Convention text (Annex IX, B1110) was elevated and amplified by the Natural Resources Defense Council in a press release to the Boston Globe (possibly influenced by a millionaire NRDC board member who owns a shredding factory for e-waste).

I have tried to discuss this civilly with them for almost a decade, was friendly up until the point they destroyed smart, good jobs in one of the most devastated nations (Indonesia).

Find the differences...

2)  Which is likely to create well paid, environmentally sustainable jobs?

3)  Which is likely to provide affordable internet to the 3 billion people earning $3K per year, who got onto the internet at 10X the rate of access of rich nations?

4) Which photo is used by USA companies with 0% export ("intact unit") policies to portray companies like mine, who inspect and reuse 23% of our units, mostly sold overseas to places like Egypt?

5)  Which photo is used by frightened dictators banning imports of working used computers to African and Arab emerging markets?

6)  Which photo has been used to help, economically, in any possible way, the well being of the person used in the photo?  

7)  Which is an insulting, racist stereotype, using 15% of an impoverished, tsunami racked nation most desperate recyclers to target the best and brightest (and most threatening) white box computer re-manufacturing factories?

"Find the differences" is my theme.  Dozens of photos of African kids standing in barren pieces of ground, burning a few scattered items, are circulated by "watchdog" groups.   Wider distribution is funded by OEMs who sell brand new product. NGOs raise money on the images without sharing a dime with the Africans.   Investors of big black box shredding machines which tear the computers into tiny chunks to be sorted (in some cases - the cheap shredders - by the Chinese women in the scrap metal industry).  It's an E-Waste Obsolescence Troika.

This has been a propaganda war.   The statistics on exports, published by the United Nations and Basel Secretariat and EPA funded research, clearly show that the origins of junk computers shown in poor countries are the result of a percentage of incidental computers - estimated to be 15% of loads otherwise properly and legally reused and recycled.  The statistics on internet growth show an astounding, famished demand coming out of emerging economies who have for decades relied on state-controlled newspapers for their information and edification.

The "ewaste" pollution story has been about planned obsolescence in hindsight, anti-reuse, dictatorial reactions to internet access, white Euro-guilt, fear of growth of "white box" (good enough) computer refurbishment, and recyclers trying to protect million dollar investments into first generation shredders.  The saddest thing, perhaps, is that I like virtually every American e-waste steward company who has invested in those shredders... I think they were sold the same bill of goods by NGOs who make money on pictures and produce only more pictures.
Basel Action Network released its funding publicly this week.  It is notable that they have virtually posed as a 501-c3 non-profit for ten years, and even now have "pending" status.   Perhaps they "Pledge" to be a non-profit organization (which also means not lobbying for legislation...).
The number of donations from individuals is absolutely paltry.  Most of the money is from OEMs seeking to destroy working product and shredding companies who destroy that product.  As I've said many times, that's like trying to sell more new cars by taking away used cars - Ford studied that and said it won't work because people learn to drive on used cars.  The same argument against planned obsolescence (in hindsight) makes it stupid for OEMs to oppose reuse and refurbishment in developing markets.   

BAN has bemoaned my posts for the last year as "attack blogging".  OK - Let me be clear:  They are liars, they are promoting a racist storyline, and they never admit their mistakes unless the mistake confesses first.  They should not have decorated their saloon with my friend.

My friends, the technicians and now recyclers overseas, benefit from fair trade recycling.  They benefit from alter-globalization, from small business-to-business partnerships with USA recyclers.   It is one thing to be an "accidental racist", to mean well and be so certain of your intentions that you inadvertently mistake a good operation for a polluter.  It is quite another to demand cover up of your mistake as a condition of working together on a compromise.

The "watchdog" organizations who murder my friends' jobs have personally benefitted from a massive environmental fraud, which has victimized the poorest and hardest working people, and it happened during the past decade.  They have distracted environmental community leaders from tin mining (for lead free solder) on Indonesian coral islands, they have distracted people from spills at virgin lead-zinc smelters in Guangdong (poisoning hundreds of thousands of people with "non-recycled" lead ore).  But all of this would be forgivable if they would admit one thing:  The Geeks of Color are good people doing good things, prefer to repair stuff from rich nations (for obvious reasons), and are compliant with BASEL CONVENTION ANNEX IX.  

Complete silence about the negative effects of your efforts - I think the Catholic Church has tried that a few times.  Pope Puckett, the only environmentalist with a direct line to E-Waste Truth, attempted to engage us in dialogue during the California Compromise, but stopped just where the Church always stops - he wanted me to delete criticism before joining with me to change the law.  The doctrine of infallibility was more precious than doing the right thing to real people who have slept in my home and shared their food with me in their countries.  He objects to ad hominem attacks, but this is criticism of his role in destroying PT Imtech, PT Mag, and other white box refurbishing factories, which were once contract manufacturers for OEMs, and which have now grown uncomfortably close to becoming another Acer, Lenovo, Foxconn, or Wistron.  This is about killing the competition in its crib, and ecologist and environmentalists certainly don't have a dog in that fight.

That is the story of the attack on the formal refurbishing market.   BAN is also attacking younger companies, in the less formal market (Africa), using the collapsing weakness of the American journalism to compound silly theories as to why a Tech like Wahab Muhammed would pay $9000 to ship a containerload of computers. (They say he would spend his money in order to save me the cost of dismantling them). 

Real stories of real people doing real things, it's harder and more expensive for a journalist to verify.  It may be easier to report about stick figures from Annie Leonard and cartoons like Futurama.  People I really like, like NPR's Terry Gross, have been sucked in.  Good news programs like Frontline and 60 Minutes have fallen into the trap of velvet paintings of doe eyed children to defined environmental policy.

I want to take time to find the links and to be careful here.   NRDC is basically filled with good and honorable environmentalists.  They, like too many journalists reporting on repair and recycling in Africa and Asia, are just caught in the "infallibility undertow".  So long as the "Watchdogs" call my Geek of Color friends sinners, I will call the Watchdogs Ayatollahs.  Ball is in their court:  Publicly recognize Basel Convention Annex IX, B1110, and publicly distinguish between the Convention and the "Basel Ban Amendment".  Stop calling my friends primitives, let them fix laptops, get online, and free their future.

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