Madame Gasket E-Waste Tom Waits

"You know what I call robots that can't afford upgrades?  SCRAP METAL!"
- from "Robots", see trailer below.

Mutual Confirmation e-Waste Bias

Confirmation Bias [] ("a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true").

My bias is for global trade, interaction between people.  Having lived in and frequently visited the developing world, I am indelibly in favor of nice, smart, African/Latino/Asian geeks, who study their hearts out reading technical books.  When I trade and do business with people from foreign cultures, we take risks on each other, and achieve mutual benefits.  When trust is rewarded, "good karma" results.

BAN's bias is against globalization, against free trade on an uneven playing field, against externalization of value and cost.  Jim Puckett, their bloke spokesperson, is as honest in this bias as I am in mine.  He is distrustful of globalization and trade, so distrustful that he wants "repair and overhaul" to be considered "waste management".

BAN has signalled a willingness to compromise, in an attempt to reconcile the truth of existence of Geeks and Techs of Color with the bias against trade.  They have begun to acknowledge the refurbishing market... but would terminate, among other things, the Rolls Royce aircraft refurbishing factory in Singapore.

Jim has been polite to me, even gracious, and has offered other compromises.  

Photographer Pieter Hugo: Racist much?

Pieter Hugo spent a year taking photographs.

Photograph after photograph shows practically no volume at all of used electronics.  None of MELTWATER of Accra.  None of internet cafes.  He was out to make money.

Photo after photo shows heartbreaking eye shots of people scrounging and scavenging.

Pieter Hugo will make a lot of money on his photos of these people.  And then he'll leave.

Based on the ratio of his photos to the actual geek/scavenger ratio in Accra, Hugo apparently has no moral compunction about that major, detailed study which was released, specifically about Ghana, showing that 85% of used electric and electronics products imported were good, only 15% waste.  If he is advertising himself as someone with a year of experience in the field, and he does not fairly show what is happening, he loses the qualifier "accidental" in my book.  He will destroy people.

Confirmation bias
I urge you all to look at his slide show on Newsweek.  Have you never seen so few electronics and so many pictures of desperate black people?

Fareed Zakaria, stop this madness.   Please Fareed, I am BEGGING you.  Stop this madness.  I realize you are not editor there any longer, but you are one of the journalists I hoped would weigh how planned obsolescence in hindsight is trying to take the internet away from geeks of color, by taking a small percentage of the fallout and casting it, in racially charged photography, as indicative of the norm.

WR3A Plans Major Announcement at E-Scrap 2011

Are you planning to attend the 2011 E-Scrap / Resource Recycling Conference in Orlando this year?

If so, make time for WR3A's Annual Meeting for all members (date, time and room to come).  We are planning a major announcment at the show.

Here by the way is a powerpoint presentation WR3A gave to the California sustainability conference in Long Beach two weeks ago.  The layered photos aren't working (the last on the layer covers the others) but the text and ideas about Fair Trade Recycling look great.

"Green" Expert Certification

I was proofreading Monday's piece on the "green-ness" of flat TVs vs. older technology.

HypnoToad Certified
CEA claims that new electronics are more "environmentally friendly" than the ones they replace.   The post considered the history of "green claims" (using 1990s "packaging" claims as a starting point), and how "green experts" grab whatever measuring stick they have handy to propose a ruling... based on their "expert opinion".

EPEAT is one attempt at third party certification of these claims;  it is a little bit like "energy star".  Like R2, it's based on meetings, conference calls, and consensus.   E-Stewards is designed (behind closed doors) as a certification approved by another set of "experts".   Here is the big question:  Who is the "expert" and on the basis of what facts do they tell us about our best environmental choices?
  • See book vs. kindle.
  • See ROHS solder vs. (recycled content) lead solder.
  • See recycle vs. reuse.
  • See export vs. shredding.
  • See rare earth auto battery vs. improved gas mileage.
  • See "paper or plastic" bags.
On Monday, I discovered a flaw in my own "pro-CRT-refurb" philosophy, or at least a clarification to be made.  As it turns out, I've done a pretty good job of selecting partners, who were selecting the best and highest quality boards.  But in defending them, I've defended the entire refurbishing industry - including those who use the same cheapo boards that cause the fast-failing LCDs to grunt and die.  It may be time to roll the film and invite in the Monday morning quarterbacks.

"Green Expert" has a double meaning.  A lot of our experts are "a little green" in the field of environmentalism. And by that I mean, immature.
"In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know."  - Socrates in Plato's Apology

Paving the Road to E-Waste Decline

As TVs get thinner and wider, is that an environmental victory?  Consumer Electronics Association - the association that puts on the annual CES Show in Las Vegas ever January, thinks so.  Here's their 'release article' with the claim that "TVs are growing lighter and greener."  It's got the mandatory picture of a discarded, broken CRT on the side of a dirt road.

We have seen many different "green" claims, many times. In the early 1990s, industry and environmentalists argued how "plastic is lighter" and "tin cans have more recycled content" and "paper is recyclable" and "glass is less toxic" etc.  Blabbing to people who were discarding stuff about the superiority of different discards probably obfuscated environmental qualities.  Green labels may even have been inferior to price and free market when it was time to predict carbon generation (something not measured in the "1990s packaging debate").  In retrospect, much of the journalism about packaging amounted to puff pieces - Which lasts longer in a landfill, plastic or glass?  Which is more important to energy, weight of the container, or energy saved by recycling?  But they did create a soapbox for "green experts" to validate their status.

No surprise that the green posturing continues with electronics.  Ten years ago, when the LCDs were getting traction, we believed they used less energy.  They did, on an hour-use basis, but A) all the energy saved was spent on wider screens, and B) most of the energy (carbon) is in the mining, refining, making the devices, and devices that last fewer years flunk the "green" test because they aren't used long enough to pay off the manufacturers carbon investment.

Here's a few interesting facts about big flat screens replacing CRTs at our recycling plant today:

Fruit, Vegetable, Malaria, Quality, and Politicz

IBM runs commercials (embedded below)about how  they help other businesses.  The TV advertisement focuses on some other non-electronics related business, and then at the end of the ad, plugs IBM in as, "surprise", the brains behind the business.

Two IBM ads I saw recently had a bizarre angle.   They take something which has been in the press recently, and without directly acknowledging the controversy, seem to run a political ad in support of the client.   It is a general "pro IBM" message for the rest of us, but is probably particularly popular with the specific big business client.  It's kind of like "product placement" inside of a TV program.  The ad is for IBM, but the derivative product placed in the ad gets kind of a boost.

Two cases in point:  TASTELESS TOMATOES and COUNTERFEIT PHARMACEUTICALS.   Both have been featured in the press (the latter in a New Yorker article that I was reading sitting somewhere).

TSA As predicted

Another prediction many of you first read about here.  "Distort the Image Dudes!"

TSA figured out they can change the image coming out of the scan to distort the individual and address privacy concerns.

This is an obvious solution, like many we discuss here.  But there is not big image interest to fight it.  So a few people come up with an idea and it gets done 12 months later.

Against Something

You see residue in Guiyu.
You assume the residue is because the stuff doesn't work, and like you, they didn't know how to fix it.
You make rules to stop residue by banning trade.

You see banana peels in a zoo cage.
You assume the banana peels are there because they can't be eaten, someone threw them there.
You make rules to stop offers of bananas to monkeys.

A geek is filmed.  He knows what he's doing.

And now, build up your fatherland.

Like Germans who were held down after WWI, like the Chinese who were beaten down by Japan, Many geeks of color will hide and defer at first, but rebound like hellfire, furious at keystrokes.

E-Waste Export Ethics: Tropical Possibilities (Part II)

In Part I, I complained that whenever there is a "big story" about exports, no one talks to the people who paid to import the material.  When I talked to them, I learned a lot.  Why aren't they better at getting their own stories out?  They are scared to death.
Possibility 1:  There is not a single impressive better-than-USA facility in a non-OECD nation.  

Possibility 2:  There is a possibility of an impressive e-waste recycling facility, somewhere in the developing world... (likely an original manufacturing factory).

My foreign friends are stung by events of the past year.  No matter what they invested, no matter what recordkeeping they undertook, no one asked them what their processes were or what their permits said;  they were accused of bringing containers of "hazardous waste" into the country.

They believe that E-Steward Certification position is #1, that their best aspirations cannot exist.    R2 at least holds open the possibility #2, that a good location overseas might exist, and it's worth checking the place out before hammering it with propaganda bombs.  BAN replied to this question this week, saying they have a right to exist - if they only refurbish and resell computers they buy from within places like Indonesia, or until they become OECD.

E-Waste Export Ethics: Topical Possibilities (Part I)

Possibility 1:  There is not a single impressive better-than-USA facility in a non-OECD nation.  
Possibility 2:  There is a possibility of an impressive e-waste recycling facility, somewhere.

In 2010, there was a computer reuse and refurbishing factory in Indonesia which created hundreds of sustainable jobs, took junk computers back from residents in the tsunami-ravaged country, and sold affordable refurbished units, not just in Indonesia, but exported them to places like Cairo and Damascus.   It might have taken a thousand Peace Corps volunteers ten years to create a success like that, and millions in USA AID.   But this factory paid for itself based on trade, and was responding to fair trade - offers to sell the used USA equipment for less if the factory got ISO14001 and put in CRT glass processing for incidental breakage and home-country scrap.  Or at least, based on my investigation, there was the Possibility of such a company.

The company used to buy from another Steward company, which "saw the light" and stopped shipping to them a couple of years ago.  When that company was accused of being an exporter (under the Pledge), they were criticized as hypocrites.  It was difficult for me to defend them as an exporter when they were distancing themselves from my friends, who are NOT wire burning monkeys.

These buyers were forced to buy from someone else, who was a competitor of the Steward.  An attack on the "e-waste export" ensued.  Basel Action Network of Seattle, Washington, led the charge, writing letters to the Indonesian deparyment of environmental protection.  I do not have a copy of the BAN correspondence, but I do have copy from Indonesia, which stated that they were returning the sea containers because they had been informed by BAN that they contained hazardous waste.   The containers arrived back in Boston - UNOPENED, seal still intact.

I have copies of letters from Indonesia which, on June 23 of that year, changed the importation policy for refurbishing.  The factory had had a permit, but it was revoked.  

Whatever the truth was, the collateral damage is done.  In corresponding with Jim Puckett about this recently, he raised questions about how could I know it was really a good facility.   Looking at the slide shows, it AIN'T Guiyu.  Still, there's the possibility the factory isn't good enough.  I have pretty nice photos of the place, I spoke to the USA engineer who put the CRT glass washing equipment in (moved from Behai China), and they had ISO14001.  But we hadn't completed our diligence.  So I cannot prove that it wasn't a front, as I can for other facilities we do ship to.

Still, I think they were treated like crap by the American press, by the E-Stewards, and by the environmental community.

This is the context in which I consider the accusations against another firm in the press last week, which appeared to us to pass the CRT glass test, and I've recently shipped several loads to them in Chicago (no PCs or monitors, just TVs, bald CRTs, and a sample of printers).  Like the steward before, this company made a lot of noise about never ever exporting.   I shake my head.  Why doesn't anybody ever ask the importer at the other end, find out who they are, treat them like a person?  By doing this, I found out all kinds of things about all kinds of companies in the E-Waste business.

But let's leave these cases, Brockton, ERI, and Intercon aside for a moment.  We need to start with a general point.  Is it POSSIBLE that overseas refurbishing, or indeed recycling, companies can do a BETTER job than the USA?  Without proving my specific suspicions, that there are cases of collateral damage to good Geeks of Color, we can explore the Ethics via the Hypothetical.
What about the POSSIBILITY that the exported container was going somewhere GOOD?   This is how we tease away the immediate competitive slant, the bias in all the USA stories.  Companies are spinning and interpreting next to no information in order to position themselves competitively.  Criticizing and attacking and s**t-mouthing the competition, its common in new fields, less common in mature industries.  Should we pass a law banning trade before we have eliminated this possibility?

People who compete in business with ERI assumed the worst about ERI's shipments to Advanced Global Recycling.  People who compete in business with Intercon naturally assume the worst about the end market in Hong Kong.   People who assume the worst about CRTR of Brockton assume the worst about shipments to PT Imtech.

My concern is that Basel Action Network is posing as a non-biased, non-profit.   But through the licensing fees on E-Stewards, they are financially rewarded by competitors of the people they attack.  Worse, they have absolutely no incentive to find out what was IN the container, of if the container went SOMEPLACE nice, to good geeks, who are doing something good.  Imagine BAN following the containers to Indonesia, and finding out that their supporter's biggest competitor was underpricing their benefactor by GOOD REUSE, or that, having shut the factory down, that they have done something environmentally wrong.  It takes courage to admit mistakes, I've been told (last night by email).

Competitors of my company criticize our exports (22%) to my colorful geek friends, who have lived in my home, and I've broken bread in theirs.  I will not say I 'saw the light' and I will not say 'it was someone else's stuff'.  If something goes wrong, I'm responsible.  Unfortunately, the most likely thing to go wrong is that someone will write a letter to their authorities accusing Geek Friends of importing hazardous waste for primitive wire burning.

My biggest contribution, through this blog, is probably giving voice to the buyers overseas, who never seem to get their views represented.  The Hong Kong Intercon case is the latest example.  No one talks to the buyers.  (Had CBS tried to do so in their 60 Minutes episode, they would have found out the CRTs in Hong Kong don't "follow the trail" to Guiyu.  They did not see a single CRT, but the journalistic faux pas was not trying to speak to the buyer.)

I must cut this post into at least two parts.  The goal is to define "E-Waste Ethics" not based on the accusations, topical gossip, propaganda or snapshots, which I've demonstrated can be politically or business motivated.   I want to ask whether the hypothetical possibility of INNOCENCE has a burden of proof.  Certification is intended to provide third party insight.  If the container is never opened, and the importer never questioned, how is this news?  We can ethically demand the Recycler provide that information truthfully, and if the Recycler insists that they have a no-interracial-marriage policy, then discovering an interracial tryst becomes a legitimate measure of character.

In Part II, I'll talk about legality under the Basel Convention, legality under civil contracts (including handshakes and verbal representations), and the ethics of accusations.  The factory I have photographed is gone.  I am angry, seething angry.   The CRT recycling line is closing.  The Island will no longer have a domestic end market for the electronics they themselves generate, as it was financed completely by reuse value, which is found in wealthy nations that discard new stuff, and not on the streets of Jakarta.  And they were never given a free trial, or a break of any kind.

Jim Puckett and I try to simply "agree to disagree" about Basel Convention Annex IX, and I hoped that opening a plant in Mexico would help with that (but our grant was cancelled by EPA).    But beyond the letter of the law, I want to make that case that it's unethical to shut down a factory like the one pictured via a campaign that shows much more primitive operations - at least if you later say it was a "technical disagreement in Basel".   One of the best sources of reseach on business and environmental ethics?  In none other than Santa Clara County, the latest "Americans Only" recycling law, there is an ethics think-tank.  The University of Santa Clara Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara Universit describes ethics this way:
Being ethical is also not the same as following the law. The law often incorporates ethical standards to which most citizens subscribe. But laws, like feelings, can deviate from what is ethical. Our own pre-Civil War slavery laws and the old apartheid laws of present-day South Africa are grotesquely obvious examples of laws that deviate from what is ethical.
I read this to mean that if the Basel Convention really does mean that good, environmentally sound, sustainable factories are  being "Clubbed to Death" by American Stewards, that the law deviates from ethics, and that failing to document when the law has resulted in injustice is a moral and ethical failure.  Fair Trade is about accountability.  This blog is about accounting for our own accountability.  Since I profiled the closure, lockdown, letters from Indonesia citing letters to BAN in August 2010, BAN has never responded.  There were no ad hominem attacks, no name calling.

We simply pointed out that they did not see in the containers, they went to the press, they informed the Indonesian government that the containers had hazardous waste (according to the Indonesia letter, BAN denies having said it that way), and the containers came back to the USA with the seals still on.  From my conversations with the factory owners, I know what they think of the shipper and I know what they think of BAN.  They'd prefer to buy even nicer product, for less money, from more people.  It has been 12 months since the California Compromise, and one year later BAN is accusing someone of exporting three containers somewhere without telling us what's inside them.  I don't know what's inside Intercon's containers.  I do know what was inside the containers reported on route to Semarang.  I do know the ethics of calling my friends, technicians and geeks, primitive, and the ethics of a Willie Horton campaign which burns into American and European minds a savage Sambo-image of technicians and geeks in emerging markets.

If BAN's defense of their role in closing down Samsung Corning, PT Imptech, and others is the "letter of the law", then they should say so.  They should publicly state that this may or may not have been a good, fair trade facility, but that their interpretation of the Convention does not allow for the possibility.  Jim made this case actually, in the Frontline documentary, following the interview with R. Gupta (the Indian engineer planning a state of the art e-waste facility in India).  More on that tomorrow.

Journalism Idea: Rewards

Briefly:  Newspapers and magazines are struggling with "free content".   Competition is out there, and if you don't make your webpage free, people will go elsewhere.  If you give yours away for free, how do you pay your reporters?

First, marketplace basics.   If a story you are publishing is already out there for free, then it isn't "premium content".   If you have an exclusive, that's what to pay for.

Second, reward people who buy.   When I click on a paid link, or use up my "free" allotment, I want some kind of good deed credit recognition, I want to be treated like the hotel or airline treats me, with reward membership. Give me credits each time I read one of your stories, with which I can buy free access to other stories.

This recipe will increase readership, which is how you really make your money anyway.

I am not a professional journalist, by the way.  But I play one on the internet.

More BAN vs. Intercon News: Part III, The Glass Test

Accountability for Bad CRT Glass:  Here's the beef.
BAN issued a press release [below] answering questions, some of which came out of this blog, about their public "outing" of a Chicago Recycler.  The reads on "Intercon" were high, but not the highest of the week... more people were actually interested in cell phone cancer panic than in E-Stewards vs. Steward.

Two key questions remain after reading BAN's long explanation: 

1)  what was in the containers?  
2)  what was Intercon's declared destination for bad CRT glass?

BAN deflects the first question, and says that the Hong Kong authorities had the containers returned.   BAN curiously does not reveal CRT Glass Test records, even though BAN knows that domestic recycling of BAD CRT Glass is the most important indicator of whether Good Product is being shipped.   BAN... Did Intercon Pass the CRT Glass Test, or didn't they?

Women and Children: Moral Panic About "Gadgets"

Uterus flying around at train car near you
The study of “Cognitive Risk” tells how emotions (fight or flight) come out when something is unfamiliar. From e-waste to condoms, the Churches and Enviros play a role in making sure we are safe from “witches brews” of technology.  

Genevieve Bell, the director of Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research, has written some intriguing things about how society digests new gadgets and equates them to risk of our most vulnerable.  She makes the point that sometimes society tries to leverage it's internal distrust of new gadgets by invoking imagined risks to vulnerable and innocent people (Per the Simpsons, "Won't someone think of the children?"), and perhaps use morality to leverage society to react to their own fight or flight fears.

Here is an excellent (and funny!) column by Ben Rooney of Wall St. Journal "Tech Europe" where I learned about Ms. Bell, titled: 
Women And Children First: Technology And Moral Panic

Rooney and Bell take one of the themes of this blog a bit further, back into history.  Religious fears and environmentalist-moral panic over "e-waste uncertainties" is nothing new.   

“I like the fact that moral panic is remarkably stable and it is always played out in the bodies of children and women,” [Bell] said.
There was, she says, an initial pushback about electrifying homes in the U.S.: “If you electrify homes you will make women and children and vulnerable. Predators will be able to tell if they are home because the light will be on, and you will be able to see them. So electricity is going to make women vulnerable. Oh and children will be visible too and it will be predators, who seem to be lurking everywhere, who will attack.
“There was some wonderful stuff about [railway trains] too in the U.S., that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour. Our uteruses would fly out of our bodies as they were accelerated to that speed.
Bell has a theory about how society judges which technologies to react fearfully of.   I am not sure the fear of plastic packaging and fear of "e-waste" exports pass her test, but I'll give it some more thought.  According to Rooney's column, to trigger "panic", the gadgetry must meet all three fear  points:
  • It has to change your relationship to time.
  • It has to change your relationship to space.
  • It has to change your relationship to other people.
For recycling, if you have a focus group of people rank their anxiety or social concern over the following phrases, I think people would have more anxiety over some than others.
  • Electronics recycling
  • Plastic recycling
  • "Hazardous waste" recycling
  • Composting
  • Metal recycling
  • Paper recycling
No one freaks out over compost.   Of course, the last is not recycling.  And that last one, metal mining, impacts forests, toxics, health, species diversity, etc. all disproportionately.   How do environmentalists choose which of our own recycling solutions to distrust?

Flying to California Higher Education Sustainability Conference

My family flew the other direction this weekend (to France).   I'm meandering (mentally and physically) somewhere over Geneva, Nebraska.  A little less than halfway to LAX airport.  I'm presenting on "fair trade recycling" at a conference of California sustainability coordinators (recycling coordinators job definitions have been broadened since the 1990s).   Will be on a panel with BAN, playing nice.

I like university audiences.  If they don't understand something, or something sounds not right, they ask.  They have access to professors and international students and the idea of flying to Singapore to visit refurbishing factories sounds good, not far fetched or worthy of eye-rolling.

Fair trade coffee was incubated by universities which rejected the idea of the "coffee boycott" to help poor coffee farmers.  It played a roll in the development of one of Vermont's biggest companies - Green Mountain Coffee.

Could the California Compromise be reborn at universities?  Perhaps.  But none of the technicians of color WR3A works with wants to pay a dime to Basel Action Network to be E-Steward qualified.  Basic distrust, but beyond that they are aghast that they'd have to pay BAN money to see the rules BAN wants them to follow.   I won't pick on BAN at the conference, however, I'll try to look smart and sound upbeat.

Circuit Playdough Geek Proof

I ran into an old friend, Paul Sturtz, who mysteriously appeared in South Royalton VT the same day I had to cover for a one-day event in Tunbridge, Vermont.

When I was introducing the concept of "geeks of color" to Paul, the example I used was when I went to Egypt to visit our fair trade partner there, and I brought two "broken" laptops.  They were screened as non-working but not broken screen etc.  I arrived at Hamdy's office, gave him the two laptops.  He gave them both to a tech (now a facebook buddy of mine) and we chatted some more.  45 minutes later, his tech came back with two working laptops.  I gave one to Hamdy and the other I kept and worked on for the remaining ten days.

This activity, which produced zero waste, two laptops, and a job, is not considered legal by but is explicitly defined as legal by the Basel Convention, which Basel Action Network promotes at times and opposes at times.

Fahrenheit 1346: The Kindle-ing

Earlier this week, (below) I couldn't resist posting action video of Brian Brundage of Intercon Solutions.   I was kind of defending Brian and Intercon, if having a bit of fun with his predicament.  We will continue to send junk CRTs to companies like Intercon Solutions and ERI, because they have convinced us they will NOT export them.  We export the good ones ourselves, and use the "no export" companies to manage our junk.  It's a symbiotic relationship.  They criticize "exporters" like me, and I use them to avoid exporting "toxics along for the ride".

ERI and Intercon Solutions are some of the best places to go with non-repairable, non-reuse equipment, because of their insistance that they are zero-export, no-intact-unit.  Not that anyone one would want to import the junk CRTs we send them.  No intact unit - wrong policy, but for our purposes that's fine.  When states, led by California, have spent and wasted Five Billion Dollars destroying working computer equipment, you want that money to go to a nice and reputable company.

Fahrenheit 451Both companies have now been publicly accused of being "exporters in secret".  To the degree they export anything, it's probably a very small amount.  Not enough exports, that's my diagnosis.   But some in the community feel they kind of bring this attack on themselves by playing into the parternalistic, black and white, "NO EXPORT" story.

They got too close to the Ayatollah of E-Waste.  The Ayatollahs are the past.  Fair trade, democracy, and kiva are the future.

Why Geeks Succeed

The New York Times book review column by Jessica Bruder covers a new bestseller by Alexandra Robbins.  The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is, according to the review, a profile of “students who are overlooked, disparaged or completely dismissed” in high school.

My focus on the "geeks of color" is based on my own time as a teacher, in Ngaoundal, Cameroon.  The equivalent of 7th-10th graders (College en francais) was somewhat different from high school in the USA.   Some of the classes were packed with 55 students, 3 to a bench.  They all wore uniforms, which kept any class distinctions out of the classroom.

In Africa, the Geeks, or best nerdy students, were respected by their peers, evidently much more so than their nerdy equivalents in the USA.  But they share something with USA nerds.   The rest of USA society looks down on the Geeks from Africa, Asia, and Latin America... not because they are geeks, but because we consider all people from southern hemisphere countries to be equivalent.  Equivalently poor, equivalently informal, equivalently primitive.   Trading with an African is "externalizing", even if the African knows how to fix the Toshiba laptop and clearly prefers it to the older Gateway, despite the fact that the Toshiba has a power adapter plug problem and the Gateway is "fully functional".

OUTED? Or Scarlet Lettered?

He has a video of himself kick-boxing, or Kung-fu or Jujitsu or something.  The CEO of the recycling company chooses to show videos of himself, on his own website, beating people up.  A "Purple belt".  And now a Scarlet Letter. Talk about "bully pulpit"....

Today, it's his company, Intercon Solutions, who is getting "beaten up" in press releases from BAN and R2 Solutions.  BAN was first... in failing to QUALIFY a company who offered them money, they didn't do it silently.  They loudly threw the applicant to the wolves, basically accusing them of illegal exports based on two containerloads to Hong Kong.  Offer to be E-Steward?  Watch out, the "no" isn't silent.

Intercon had also gotten R2 Status.  R2 Solutions issued a press release, putting Intercon at arms length, removing them from the list of R2 Certified companies listed on

Long-time readers will remember this as a prediction I made in a post after E-Scrap 2009.  [e.g. That a single violator will poison the well for everyone else's certifications in R2, that TV recyclers like Intercon will not be recognized for the heavy lifting, and that BAN would refuse people in a way that drove away applicants].  I said then that I would not be an "early adapter" to either certification, [though we are in the R2 process now].

BAN has signaled that if you offer to pay them and apply to them, that they will not politely decline you.  They may crucify you in a press release based on two containerloads of... THEY DON'T SAY.  It doesn't seem to matter, in their press release, whether these were FULLY FUNCTIONAL, working Pentium 4 laptops which are illegally illegal* to export to Hong Kong, or whether this was circuit boards for burning, or aluminum heat sinks and copper cable.

30 Scary E-Scrap Films Leaked

As posted last week in the blog "Chestnuts", I've always been critical of "toxics along for the ride", and have never advocated exports based on price alone.   WR3A has four tests to qualify exporters under our purchase orders, to show accountability for CRT glass, Printed Wiring Boards, Employee Capacity, and Sea Containers as ratios of electronic scrap being managed.

Recently this blog has been very defensive of operations which do a good job of hand disassembly or repair, but are portrayed as primitive primarily because of the nationality of the techs.  Part of my defense has been to show film and photos of "big secret factories" which refurbish used American "e-waste" in clean processes that add value account for reuse.

YESTERDAY our blog was leaked 30 clips of "e-waste" film which I find scary.  It doesn't look right.  It doesn't show the end use, and I don't want to commit the same sin of assuming badness based on nationality, but it gives me pause. It is purportedly sent by a Hong Kong company "Glorybase", and shows sea containerloads being emptied which clearly contain electronic scrap or "ewaste" of several mixed sources.
  • - Printer scrap (pallets)
  • - LCD scrap (screens only, in boxes)
  • - Printed wiring board (super-sacks)
  • - Surplus breakage
  • - Cords, cables, lenses
  • - Demanufactured computer power supplies (TCNU7000414)
  • - No residential (TV, VCR) visible, only commercial and demanufactured scrap
  • - No CRT monitors
(Italics do not make this a clean load, but they do demonstrate that loads like this do not, cannot, represent 80% of all USA e-waste.  This is an economically shippable load, but it does not appear to be fairly traded).

The person who sent me the links to the e-waste footage asked if I wanted to ship to them. No.

The 30 films are taken with a mobile cell phone camera (telltale vertical shots).  In one shot, a shadow of the camera holder appears to show a man holding the camera to his ear as he walks to a live unload of a scrap containerload.   The videos were uploaded very recently, and may still be in the process of loading (newest one was hours old, with 3 views).

What do we make of this footage?  As a professional e-waste recycler, I noticed European plugs, a fairly new forklift, and cement block walls, and a retaining wall.  There are about 4 employees visible.  The loads are managed outdoors, not under cover.  Nothing is being broken down or sorted on the site, these pallet loads will be transferred to someplace like Nanhai or Foshan.  If typical of loads I've visited, the Hong Kong recycler will consolidate a whole load of laser printers for one buyer, of power supplies for another, and add value by importing, by cannonballing, and shipping more uniform loads to specialists in country.  There is one strange closeup of a small hydraulic leak from the forklift mast... the only conclusion I can draw from that is that this person was gunning for bad impressions... similar leaks are all over parking lots all over the world.

Keeping Recycling Jobs in the USA

This is the new drumbeat from the supporters of the Green-Thompson ban on exports [See article in Miller-Mccune].  If the USA bans export, that creates more jobs, right?   I've explained why sorting 30% of our goods out for refurbishing and 70% for shredding/dismantling creates more jobs here in the USA than shredding/dismantling 100%.   The value alone from the 30% allows us to pay our dismantlers better.

From wikipedia commons, who reported this to google as property?
But what about this idea that we can bring the actual computer monitor refurbishing jobs back to the USA?  Instead of using the factories which made the monitors in the 1990s, who take back and completely overhaul and refurbish them for resale in India, Egypt, and other "good enough" markets, why not take this opportunity to bring monitor factories back to the USA?

Well ok.   Is a single E-Steward doing that?  A single one?  NO.

This is bull****.  Setting aside that a huge percentage of the recycling workforce are immigrants from Mexico...   There is a tiny percentage of E-Stewards (by tonnage or volume) who is doing anything other than taking off lease (working when collected) and reselling it as "refurbished".  Not to denigrate that, it's fine, but there is "no fur on that meat" - it didn't create a hunting or refurb job out of ewaste.

Japan and Korea started to outsource computer monitor assembly and refurbishing more than ten years ago.  It's normal, its the way the economy works.  You don't fight unemployment by banning exports of cotton, thinking it will bring the textile jobs back.

People Who Export E-Waste Are...

A) Bad people

Sometimes this is true.

B) Good people

Sometimes this is true, too.

People who refuse to export e-waste are:

A)  Good people

This is usually true.

The generators, like the County of Santa Clara, CA, who side with anti-export people are arriving at their conclusions based on not having enough time to fly overseas and meet people and see what they are doing.  Since e-waste is not the center of their universe (they have lost interest in the discarded electronics - that's why they are discarding them), they need to make a quick decision.

Based the simple statements above, 2/3 of the time you would agree with the anti-export crusade.  (A+C > B) You don't want to ship to bad people.  The people who are refusing to export seem to be good people.  It seems simple, you give your e-waste to people who refuse to export, shortening the decision tree.  The stuff is shredded and there seems little chance it got shipped to bad people.

Unfortunately for me, I flew overseas several times and looked around, and met some really good people who were importing e-waste.  They reminded me of people I met in Africa in my 20s, who were handy and smart and created better lives for the people around them, people I now call "Geeks of Color".

So most people who have not time to spend are going to be attracted to zero export.  The thing that exporters (good and bad) have going for them are finances - the free market rewards shipping good stuff to good people - so much so that it leave money on the table to ship bad stuff as "toxics along for the ride".