EPA and MIT Forum on Data

This links to the study released a couple of months ago.  It seems to back WR3A's analysis.

While the free market tends to keep the portion of "junk along  for the ride" under 20%, it is also indeed true that the 20% accumulates (and is eventually added to by the majority working product, someday).  Like a doctor, we must diagnose the balance between harm and good externalized through the trade of e-waste.  It is time for math, scientific method, measure, and analysis.  Enter MIT.

Personally, my environmentalism long ago abandoned political correctness in favor of truth.  I firmly believe that fair trade policy is a better solution to the problems of accumulated rejects.  We pay the partners to properly disassemble the "fallout" which is properly accounted for, load by load.

Prohibition, and enforcement by officials who don't understand what they are looking at when they open a sea container, tends to decrease the number of suppliers, which negatively impacts the buyers who set up the internet cafes etc. (they are forced to lower their standards).  This is the exact same economic dynamic which is documented in every other trade prohibition.  Driving a business which is 80% legitimate into a back alley is not good policy.

Yesterday, I got to make these points at the lovely Ronald Reagan Federal Building, EPA Conference Room, where a group from MIT is engaging with EPA and StEP to better diagnose the "e-waste export" problem by collecting data.  There were 25 invitees, including EPA, Commerce Department, MIT, WR3A, BAN, Refurbishers, ISRI.  The damage of CBS lazy reporting in Wasteland continues to deliver horrible dividends to my friends in emerging markets.  Too many people in the room, though not all, are convinced that the mirror opposition of the Ghana Study and Peru Study and WR3A records are true... that 80% of the material paid for, paid customs on, and transported turns out to be junk which is burned by poor people in outdoor yards.

But this discussion was about data.  The types of questions we discussed:

- How much "electronic" scrap goes out with scrap metal, e.g. as a very small percentage of scrap autos, desks, white goods, etc.?  1% of scrap ferrous would dwarf anything in "ewaste recycler" surveys.

- Do we define something as "waste" or "illicit" if it's to a nation, like China, which officially calls a tested working 1 week old Pentium 4 laptop "waste"?  Don't laws and treaties against protectionism trump the "competent authority" if they are using environmental authority to block non-hazardous trade?

- Do we accept BAN's position that a single tiny capacitor electively upgraded by a warranty repair shop means the entire containerload, including the working and refurbished product, is "illegal hazardous waste shipment?"

- Is surveillance more accurate than interiews?

It became clear that of the folks in the room, I had the best handle on where things go, because I trade.

Since we ship constantly, and know the buyers, it seems silly to me to attach RFID tags if the people who buy are not hiding who they are and where it is sent.  How did I learn where the end markets were?  Who made me an "expert"?  The customers.

I explained that what I did a decade ago was apply the 80/20 rule (80% of business tends to be controlled by 20% of companies) and flew over and met the importers of monitors - the ones importing 5,000 per DAY - EACH.  I had a frank discussion, and they said look, here are the Pledge Signers they buy from who don't admit it, here are the people who mix 30% junk into a load but are indispensible because of their high volumes (the 70%), and here-you-are-Robin you make people think you are bigger and more significant as a supplier than you really are, but at least you send quality stuff and treat us like adults.

Based on that kind of dialogue, I built my company and my fair trade recycling organization, learning by trading and by communicating frequently with the people who pay us.   The data I got from these interviews led me to learn independent verifying data.

I used to share that information with Jim and Sarah at BAN, but it was a one-way street.  They are completely isolated from importers in the business, who see them as sanctimonious racists.   They are not, but the did take the information which was negative and stayed silent about the information that was positive.  I can understand the accusations of racism, and know that they wound up deeply insulting the engineers and others who confided in me.  I was providing information to BAN from people in the business, and BAN did not respect the people who provided the info, bombing them with hateful accusations.  I felt like Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, trying to describe to Custer (BAN) who is threatening and who is excellent.

Based on the bad behavior by BAN, (and by that I mean arrogant and rude and obnoxious and insulting and racially divisive descriptions of people who are better human beings in all respects than most Americans I do business with), I was put into an awkward position.  I'm now forced to demonstrate to the people overseas where my loyalties are.  I have to attack BAN.   I invited BAN to the information party, and BAN peed in the punch bowl, and I'm not going to be invited back unless I distance myself from BAN.

The meeting in DC left all of that in deep background.  It was all about facts, surveys, denominators, numerators, measures, and accuracy.  But I was directly across the table from Jim Puckett of BAN, and the undercurrent was EXTERNALIZATION.  I am about externalizing value - giving a $20 bill to an African is "externalizing" it.   Jim is about externalizing pollution.   I agree with him about the pollution, but in my world, the real world, the NET VALUE matters.  For Jim there is no net, there is only a negative, and even if a single lead acid battery recycled saved 1,000 people from malaria, it must be illegal and must be stopped at all costs.  He is not a math person.

About the dialogue with Jim Puckett.  He is gracious, almost diplomatic, though still one of the most stubborn people I've ever met in my life.  He continues to drive the hostile image that the contract manufacturing factories, like the one in Semarang Indonesia, are somehow in violation of the Basel Convention because they have the skill to reuse perfectly - electively upgrading parts to make the PC better than "tested working" or "as is".  As an OEM contract assembly company turned remanufacturer of the display devices they originally assembled, they are the same factories OEMs reserve the right to ship back to.

He apparently thinks it's fine that they mined and manufactured the goods, and that they take back warantee product from the OEMS, but he objects to computer takeback - when their own company buys used PCs independently and remanufactures for themselves.   He completely resisted a discussion of "elective upgrade", where these factories remove worn but working parts and upgrade the device to be like new.  He says that is bad.  Perhaps I'm wrong, and in the end he'll bring manufacturing back to the USA by depriving overseas factories of refurbishment.   

But to make his point, and this is unforgiven, his organization continues to describe these engineers of color using pictures he took in Guiyu.  He appears to have no conscience, he cannot even bring himself to publicly distinguish between these engineers and wire burners.  If he found out he had accidentally cut the beating heart out of a baby, he seems able to deftly excuse himself, he has a kind of internal teflon.  The ayatollah, the pope, the inquisition.  In the course of a few letters and years, he has hurt more people than I have managed to help in my lifetime.  It is like using a picture of Sambo to describe Colin Powell or Barack Obama.  It is hideous, and I stand slack-jawed that Americans buy into it, eat it up, and nod.

His wish?  That all the hand disassembly, manufacturing, repair, and used product jobs come back to the USA.  USA does all the assembly, mining, disassembly.   Africa and China perhaps should be a park for Americans to take pictures unpolluted landscapes, children happily fishing in clean streams.  He's about a century late.  He wants the jobs in the USA.   Period.  It does not matter how good a job Fung does of recalibrating a monitor or replacing a capacitor.  She is Asian, and it's better to do a shitty shredding job in America than to send the unit for Asian fingers to work on.  NO EXPORTS is his goal, and he is willing to allow the factories which are brighter, cleaner, eat-off-the-floor safe, non-polluting, etc. to be branded as Guiyu, to parse his words carefully so that the impression of primitive wire burning heathens remains centermost in the consciousness of the American public.  He is about anti-globalization, and whatever Basel Convention or Ban Amendment or Annex IX says, the goal is stop trade.  Trade is bad.  As bad as interracial marriage was in Selma Alabama in 1960, that's how much he personally distrusts globalization.

I equate this with racism, which he considers an ad hominem attack on himself.  I try to explain in the blog that I'm just defending the Geeks of Color, the best hope for the developing world.

I gotta play this tape for him.  Push the Tempo, Fatboy Slim.  It's like I feel that meeting the Geeks of Power, seeing them in reality, is going to change peoples perceptions this damn FAST.  The cassette tape is not just an allegory for internet... in fact, Pakistan, India, Iran etc. circulated cassette tapes in the 1980s as a primary political tool.  Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran used cassette tapes to overthrow the Shah.   Push the tempo, push the tempo, internet is good.

No comments: