IFIXIT, ISRI: Waste Recycling Sanity

Pelts:  Non toxic, recyclable, organic, and not "waste"
Two important efforts are underway to defend sustainable consumption, vis a vis the Solid Waste Hierarchy.
  1. Reduce 
  2. Reuse 
  3. Recycle

Today's heroes are IFIXIT.com and ISRI.org.  The first is a reuse via repair organization, the second is a recycling association.  Both get it.  The worst recycling is better than the best mining.

This is environmentalism 101, going back to the first Earth Day (1970), and it is central to the definition of "waste".  Waste is defined as discarded by a consumer, ie post consumption.

Simply, the hierarchy is based on the central, undisputed fact, that mining-consumption-disposal is non-sustainable and carbon-belching.

However much a recycled paper mill might be improved, it is never worse for the environment than sending trucks up mountains to cut down trees and bleach them into pulp.   However cranky a scrap metal or junk dealer may seem, he never does as much harm to the environment or rain forest as the most polished metal mining company.   No matter how many photos you take of a barefoot child, repairing a cell phone beats the hell out of making a brand new one.

IFIXIT is picking up where WR3A left off.  I'm exhausted, happy to pass the ball.  We were trying to document reuse and refurbishment in developing nations via cheap cameras, with film uploaded to www.viddler.com (search term WR3A).   IFIXIT is going to do what we couldn't, which is to get professional filmmakers to study the reuse market overseas, and give voice to the parents of the shoeless children obnoxiously photographed, like harp seals, by watchdogs who give nary a penny to improve the kids lives.  Like a Greenpeace ship that burns harp seals as fuel, the watchdogs have done immeasurable harm to sustainability, democracy, environment, and law.  IFIXIT has heard the debate between us, and is sending journalists to see for themselves whether the Good picked the fight with the Perfect.  IFIXIT is the voice of sanity.

ISRI, meanwhile, is defending Recycling on the Waste Definition Front.   ISRI has the history and legal skill to counter-define the mission creep of EPA into raw material Commerce.  ISRI. Defending. Basic. Recycling. Good!   The war against the hierarchy is the definition of "waste".   If "hazardous waste" regulations apply to recycling, but do not apply to mining, then the perfect is the enemy of the good.  The mission creep is based on well-meaning "environmental justice" advocates, who respond to the momentum caused by real estate interest and property values.  I don't care if your recycling process saves baby seals, I don't want it in my neighborhood... AKA NIMBY, or "Not In My Backyard".  This was the conservative-anti-recycling barrier of the 1970s.  It led to a compromise of recycling going into less affluent real estate.  That seemed unfair to poor urban people.  The compromise - kill baby seals, who are in proximity to neither the wealthy nor the urban depressed sites.   The total pollution or hazard is divisible by property definitions.  Use waste law to kick the mining back into the rain forest.   ISRI is the voice of sanity.  From their recent call:

Regarding Proposed Definition of Solid Waste
Using its authority under federal hazardous waste laws, EPA has proposed to start regulating recyclers of scrap metal, shredded computer boards, and possibly other similar non hazardous materials. This proposal, if it becomes final, is likely to have very serious impacts on our industry, and on recycling generally. It will not only increase costs considerably, but it will also make people think that recycling scrap metal is the same as disposing of hazardous waste. ISRI needs your help to convince EPA that this is the wrong thing to do. Attachment A contains suggested questions and comments for you to send to EPA as a comment to this proposal by OCTOBER 20. Please do not simply copy these comments and send them in. To be most effective, please read them and, if you can, tailor them to your operations. You can fax, email or upload your comments directly to EPA at the following addresses:
The information in this message is intended to help you write a comment letter and talk about this issue with your suppliers and customers. Please encourage your suppliers and consumers to send similar comments to the EPA as your suppliers and consumers may be adversely affected if the materials you handle are suddenly deemed to be wastes or hazardous wastes.

I will try to spend more than the 30 minutes I spent on this blog and follow up on both the ISRI and the IFIXIT efforts.  The point is, it's not just me.   After 5 years of playing nice with the Watchdogs, esp. Basel Action Network, I believe they have become corrupted, much like a church, by a combination of their holiness and blindness to the interests of shredding and planned obsolescence.  They have in the end increased carbon emissions, lost working devices needed by democracy movements, and wasted rare earth metals, and their response is "we are a small non-profit and we mean well".  ISRI and I are branded "business", and many people in environmental justice, journalism, and jurisprudence are leaning towards stopping trade.  "Trade is bad" trumps free and fair trade and alter-globalization.

By taking my gloves off, I have not strenthened myself or my own organization.   But I believe we have empowered organizations like TechSoup, IFixit, and World Computer Exchange to go about their business. If Malcom X is not getting locked up, Martin is emboldened.

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