Recycled Content Ju-ju Words

Recycling causes tuberculosis, and other nasty reporting...

The Independent, a reputable UK Newspaper, reports with fanfare how nations are a step closer to banning the trade of used electronics to "non-OECD" nations.  In the future, western nations will still be able to mine their coral islands and rain forests for the hard rock raw and rare earth materials rich nations need to manufacture electronics.  But the emerging markets will not be able repair, knock off, refurbish or remarket our used goods... the truth about what happens to exported cell phones, as reported by The Atlantic in an article with IFIXIT.

It's not about pollution.  We know that metal mining and refining, raw materials industries, produce 45% of all toxic pollution released by all industry.  We know that the coltan mining and gold mining bring the mercury and toxics, and creates the trafficked paths to bushmeat and rare species exploitation.  We know that recycling jobs are sustainable, lasting forever, but that veins of ores become dead ends and are abandoned to become the most toxic places on earth.

It's obvious that the free market prefers reuse and recycling.   If we are to maintain the marketing campaign of planned obsolescence, we need to convince these lesser developed nations that computer repair is bad.  We need to cover up the detailed data that shows 85% of the used electronics imported are reused and refurbished.  We need to convince them that they are hazardous waste.  The Independent Article takes a step in this direction, informing us that "tuberculosis" comes from "recycling".  I had always thought it was a contagious disease associated with poverty.  If poor people recycle, and poor people are more likely to have tuberculosis, that is "just enough information" to create an impression.

From the article, one would assume it's legal for Africans to stay barefoot and pregnant, mining coltan in rain forests for us to make brand new cell phones to sell them, but NOT to fix them for revolutions in Cairo.

How does our society, whose manufacturing system is sustained by exploiting rain forests, for metal for us to make into gadgets, market the word "Recycled"?  How do we let them manage the toxics from getting raw material, without letting them fix up our old product ("market cannabalization", another nasty term I learned for "reuse and repair", from the Obsolescence Class)?  We need a system to shred product prior to shipping it for recycling (shredded goods go to China), and to mine rare earths... something that doesn't get in the way of new product sales.   We find that dictators, afraid of the access to information the internet brings, and wealthy from sale of their nations raw material resources, are happy to classify used computers as "hazardous wastes", and bring the Basel Ban Amendment closer to passage.

Does it make any sense to define secondary material (reuse, repair, recycle) as a "waste"?  Waste is excrement... we have a natural revulsion...  good.  goooood.

How vocabulary prejudices the system against recycling:

Recycled content is at best "recovered" or "reformed", or "on probation" until it falls off the next wagon.  At worst, it's "hazardous waste".

Recycled leaded silica, or CRT glass... lead is toxic, and used is waste, therefore toxic waste.  Thus we make it "untouchable" for the smelters and furnaces which have been using the mined ore all along.  When it's mined from the ground, it is labelled "refined ore".  "Refined" is such a nice word.  Or "virgin".  Virgin raw material is called "primary".  Recycled raw material is "secondary".  Brand new, the same material is "technology" or "fine leaded glass crystal ware".

What next?  Make the mining of rain forests a COMMODITY, covered by WTO.  Make the recycling of the same materials WASTE, covered by the Basel Ban Amendment.  Obviously you don't "mine" waste out of the ground, you mine commodities.  You refine them by adding cyanide.  You create the real "most toxic places".  Then you convince journalists that the recycling yards are really where the toxics come from.   No one ever considers checking for smelters upstream from Guiyu, you take a water sample ( found arsenic - unknown in recycling processes but common in copper mine tailings).

Blow by blow... we make "organic" into a villain.  We make "vegetarian" into a false hope.  The man-bites-dog system of publishing turns a cute "recycling is bad" into an actual law to ban poor people from doing what they do best.

Today "Recycled Waste" sounds like "sex offender".  We don't want it near us.  "Refined material" sounds so much nicer.  We recognize the hard work to mine material from rocks, chemically treated, and processed for use, with "welcome" words like virgin, new, primary, raw, commodity.  But the same exact material is given a "waste" label when we harvest it from offices and homes.

Recycled content vs Refined ores.  e-Waste vs. commodity.  Tweedle dee and Tweedle dum, genetically and chemically identical.  But NIMBY activists have alarmed the public.  "Recycled CRT cullet" has "failed the TCLP test".  Toxicity Characteristic Leachate Procedure is the test to define whether a material may be buried in a Subtitle D landfill or Subtitle C landfill... how thick the rubber or clay membrane must be engineered.  IE, what kind of coffin the lad is to be buried in.

Since "virgin raw material" has never been buried, it has just emerged from the ground, we never mention a "TCLP" test.  When it moves on the road, does it need a hazmat cargo label, the same as recycled material?

The social activists who use protest and publicity to achieve "reform" have found all the right words to make electronics, or "e-waste", material non grata.

If you were a CRT furnace, smelter, or metal mill, would you want to put "waste" on the dinner plate, or "virgin material"?  You like the environmentalists friendly fire turned away from the mining.  The farther away from you they focus, the better.  Do you want to open a pandora's box by starting to use "secondary" material?

Thus, the myth is born that there are no "markets for CRT cullet".  The markets are there.  They just won't return calls, don't want us to come near them with our bandwagon of do-gooders and EPA enforcement.  For a raw material industry, the word "WASTE" on a label could just as well say "RADIOACTIVE".

So to complete the process, California recyclers propose landfilling the CRT glass that was diverted by the recycling programs.  This would be comical if it were not so serious.

The fault is with the press.  Instead of turning to geologists and engineers, they took the press releases saying "80% of e-waste is dumped", paired it with photos of doe-eyed poster children... and report that recycling causes tuberculosis.

It isn't just Scott Pelley and Solly Granatstein.  Remember, they received a POLK award for circling computer monitors in Hong Kong, and then following the trail to a place without a SINGLE computer monitor.  Whether it was liberal bias, or addiction to the reporter heroin of having a struggle with cameras, or just lazy easy lay-up of the "man bites dog" anecdote, they have set fire to peoples houses with their newspapers.   They have labelled fly-and-buy (pre-inspection) buyers from Africa as "waste tourists".  They never ever interview someone who buys the product, and they don't report the actual statistic, that 85% of the used electronics imported into Ghana from 2009-2010 were actually reused and repaired.

A few journalists are trying to correct the story.  But I'm also shocked and sadded how many are afraid of the truth.

Meanwhile, industrial growth, supply and demand, is ultimately calling the shots.  They have succeeded in defining the vocabulary we use, and in so doing, have directed regulators and environmentalists to blast the reuse market... doing the "planned obsolescence" for them, in hindsight, by criminalizing reuse.

Of course, the manufacturing industry does need the metals.   Recycling will be supported where it is not being reused.  China is experimenting with a new category of "green waste", to make raw materials they need flow better across borders, while still retaining the right to invoke Basel Convention as a non-tariff barrier to goods they want to control markets for.

Mined from the ground, a non-toxic like "aluminum bauxite" is completely inert.  But "used beverage containers" or scrap aluminum may be labelled a "waste".  What China is really concerned about is unshredded material which may be directly reused... especially display devices, which the Communist Party owns manufacturing of.  Like the black hatted Waste Makers in Vance Packard's book, they have a goal of making more money, and they think they will make more money keeping people hungry.

Scientists and engineers know that a pile of leaded silica freshly dug or mixed in mining yards on the ground is the same material as the leaded funnel glass from the back of old TV sets and monitors.   But when it comes time to fill out the paperwork, one pile is "refined, virgin, raw".   The other is "waste, hazmat, regulated".

Recyclers have given their product a "sex offender" label as a barrier to entry into our competitive field.  We called the material "dangerous" and "hazardous" so that ordinary landfills would not be able to accept it, and so new recycling competitors would require closure plans and insurance and other barriers to entry.

The TV in your living room, or the laptop beside your bed, is more hazardous than the "e-waste" in your basement.  It's plugged into current, a live charge, and it emits information and signals that could either launch you into a revolutionary crowd, or turn you into a couch potato.  The TV or computer which is non-functional, retired, has none of that power.  But working, it is "property".  As a surplus, used, or repairable good, it's given a TCLP label and becomes "hazardous waste".

And we wonder why there are no markets for our material.  As metal refineries gulp thousands of tons per day of virgin mined silicate for flux processes, we prepare a coffin for our own progeny.  Toe tagged with a "waste label", our recycled product is the sex offender, the scarlet lettered tart, the excrement to be dumped as red bag toxic shit.  Like a ban on fertilizer for farms, we are creating a drain on rain forests, a subsidy for pollution, using nothing but concepts and words and language.  We have used thought to create a "ju ju" category for raw materials.

To market to market to buy a fat pig.  Home again home again jiggedy jig.

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