E-Scrap News, WEEE Dog BBQs, Geeks in Cribs

Las Chicas Bravas Retroworks Internet Cafe
[This is the first blog written in new googlese blogjava.]

I had a brief email discussion with Henry L. at E-Scrap / Resource Recycling.  I opened with something stupid, then I tried to make a point, which is that the Europeans have studied African "E-Waste" Imports, and yet don't get it.

The comprehensive studies the EU releases show that black Africans in Europe tend to carefully buy and screen electronics before importing them, and that only 15% are destined for disposal.  In principle, the reuse trade benefits symbiotically with shredding, because the buyers are less pressured to accept questionable material.  But in practice, the shredders see whole exporters as "competition", and drive them into the arms of people who do not remove the junk.  It's a vicious cycle.

Without stopping to catch their breath, European Greenpeace issues film of containers being unloaded in Accra.  Pristine, all shiny black and silver TVs, stretch wrapped.  Not a brown or broken TV in sight.  In other words, exactly as described in the Ghana study.  But the narrative tells you they go to a landfill to be burned.... stupid, stupid Africans paying $7000 to import TVs which no one wants, and burning them.  Tsk Tsk.

Then, the EU Police (Europol) release a report that Africans are indeed behind these exports to Africa, and describes them as "criminal" and "illegal" without a single piece of data, but a flippant description of "murky" relationships.

There is no reference to the Ghana study in the Europol report.  I guess "murky" means they are leaving open the possibility that blacks might reuse something, but they don't actually want to follow it too closely.  It's a circular argument - criminalize reuse, then declare that criminals have cornered the reuse market.

Look, I know Africa.  I have film of Congo reuse of refrigerators - using them as barbeque pits for dog meat.  I swam in the lake at Bukavu - and was horrified to see on the news, corpses floating in it a decade later.  I hesitate to defend a continent which is abhorrent in its leadership and shocking in its backward treatment of women.  I hate their dictators, I cry over the state of their corruption.

But strangling the techs of color in their cribs is a step too far.  Boycotting telecom and internet cafe entrepreneurs is a shockingly abhorrent reaction to recycling while black.

This is exactly how Vietnam is developing.  It is how Taiwan (Foshan) developed, and Singapore and Penang and South Korea.  The serious academic study of repair and refurbishment (Tinkerers of Japan) is sophisticated.  In comparison, Greenpeace and BAN videos are basically a money magnet for NGOs which share nothing with the children the put on their posters.

Neither Jake nor Henry at E-Scrap is deserving of a bitch-slap.  They are only conveying the messages of planned obsolescence in hindsight, the same as Scott Pelley of CBS and Terry Gross of Fresh Air.

But Henry and Jake are publishing a trade journal, and should listen to all experts in the field.  It is a boldfaced lie that 80% of e-waste undergoes "primitive" recycling.  Out with it.

Here is unedited video of Geeks from Rhode Island (Nate of FreeGeek and Indiecycle), Ghana, and El Salvador working together on a typical morning in Middlebury Vermont.  It's very "MURKY", isn't it Europol?  Best is to kill these Techs in the crib, Europol (link to another story by Jake Thomas of E-Scrap).

"Italy, according to Europol, has become a hub for the transportation of e-waste sent to Africa and Asia, while northwest Europe has an active part in sending obsolete electronics to West Africa through its ports. Much of the e-waste is trafficked by small groups ranging from five to 10 people with ethnic links to the destination countries, according to the agency." - Jake Thomas, E-Scrap News article
Based on the video above, I guess Vermont is now the USA's "Italy of E-Waste".  The interview with Wahab, above, fits exactly with the Europol description.  He is describing his friend, a 15 year old boy, who is a computer genius in Accra, one of his associates and employees.  Oh dear, child labor.

Again, I admit that I am capable of romanticizing the export of used computers.  I have purchase orders which are incomprehensible.  I have been in negotiations where I realized the buyer was "accepting" junk along for the ride because he didn't want to disclose the value of other items he was buying and really needed.  Did you read the part about video of dogs being barbequed in European refrigerators?  Seriously, if I give that video to BAN or Greenpeace, this export trade is over.

But none of this is a case for "criminalization".  Exaggerate the risks of used computers, then Ban the Sale, and next thing you know it's like abortion, interracial sex, marijuana and alcohol prohibition.  What we are seeing, as eyewitnesses, is the same trade that made Japan the king of transistors, and South Korea the king of cars... importing for refurbishment is how the young economy makes savvy people rich, and these savvy people become the Wangs of their developing nations.

There is a major problem with e-waste exports, and it is that not enough people are willing to export e-waste.  The more people export, the more Ghana Tech will be empowered to negotiate better prices for better loads, and the faster he will establish proper e-scrap recycling infrastructure in his home country for the takebacks he's in the best position to manage.

History will show export bans to be the equivalent of banning "scraps to japs" exports (the trade with Japan after WW2 which made Hugo Neu corporation rich, some people wanted to boycott Japan following the war).  African geek imports today are the exact same baby steps that Singapore, Japan, Penang, Guangzhou, South Korea and others took.  Resale - leads to; Repair -leads to; Refurb -leads to; Contract Assembly -leads to; Buyback.

Just feel alone on this issue.  I have a degree in international relations from Carleton College, an MBA, was an e-waste regulator for liberal Massachusetts, ran a couple of non-profits, as well as my time in the Peace Corps.  But there is nothing more important that I have done than trade with the Geek in this video, and admit my friendship.  Touche Pas a Mon Pote, Europol.  80% primitive is a lie passed on too long.  Get real.  If used computer exports are defined as criminal, then of course criminals cornered the market - it's circular argument.  If used computer exports are outlawed, of course, only outlaws will export used computers.  Thus the trade will get "murkier and murkier".

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