RED SCARE: Competent Authority Decision Trees

You have a practically new red laptop, which you brought from the USA on a visit to your friend in Shanghai.  Your friend admires it and asks where you got it.   You offer it to your friend in exchange for their hospitality.

You have just committed a crime in China.  China has protectionist trade barriers, designed to make people buy new stuff made in new Chinese factories.   The USA Commerce Department, the WTO, and customs agencies around the world are constantly haggling over trade barriers, tariffs, and non-tariff trade barriers all around the world.  NAFTA was formed in North America to try to ease them, but it hasn't really worked.  The USA has a history with these as well, and many point to the Smoot-Hawley Act (increasing tariffs to create USA jobs) as the most likely cause of the Great Depression.

A non-tariff barrier is something created to act like a tariff but not to look like a tariff under a non-tariff agreement between two countries.   Let's say China bans the color red.   Just doesn't like it.  It's a sovereign nation, can do this if it wants.

The question is whether if you sell a product that is banned in China, whether you have violated a USA law if someone from China buys your red product.  You say "of course not?"  Read on.

Chestnuts on E-Waste Exports

How did the E-Waste Debate get where we are today?  Containerloads of working Pentium 4s seized as "e-waste" by dictators, Technicians overseas forced to buy computers in back alleys, good USA E-waste recyclers withdrawing from international trade, under fear of being tarred as a polluter?  Legislation introduced, making it illegal to sell computers back to the same factory that made them, to be refurbished for hospitals in Africa?

Here are some links to articles I wrote for Recycling Today, going back to 2002.   Back then, I was disturbed by the idea of breaking off trade with recyclers overseas.   The urban recyclers of Cairo, Jakarta, Guangzhou, and Lima are poor.  But that doesn't make their top Geeks stupid, or their recycling worse.  When a poor person works for me, am I "externalizing?"  According to BAN, and Karl Marx, it is obviously so.   IF a rich person trades with a poor person, it is exploitative.  Ban, close the SBA.  [Postscript see 2010 interview with Adam Minter in Planet Green - not even about reuse, the recycling alone may be worth the cost of exports].

Newest Discovery:  Angola
What attracted me to electronics recycling was that the repair and reuse markets add multiple values - in other words, a win-win relationship which brings honest wealth, green good, and development to emerging markets.  A kid in Accra or Luanda or Douala can, with his education and willingness to replace a transistor, turn an "e-waste" laptop from a negative externality into a month's pay and an affordable internet appliance.

Over the years, I've been less successful in promoting the idea of fair trade recycling than anti-globalization activists (in Seattle) have been of promoting a ban on the trade.   I continue to write and promote my cooperative fair trade vision.  And of late I've been frustrated by what I see as the advantages of the adversaries.  And I'm proud to say that the most thoughtful people in the debate, if not the loudest, are listening.

The loudest, trying to all-capitalize the debate, and to drown out other prespectives with a scourge of dittos and re-tweets, have several advantages. (LIST)

Those Who Can't Fix, Protest 2: Live Response from Hong Kong

[__Postscript__]  In response to the eartlier morning's blog (below), I got the following contact by email today.
"My name is XX XX, from XXX HK Limited in Hong Kong. We learned about you from your company website. 
"We have friends who are working in the recycle business of electronic waste products in China in many years. Labour in China are using their bare hand to remove the useful component from electronic waste, and using the chemical liquid to filtering the useful material from waste without any protection. It is extremely bad for the labour and the environment. Therefore, we are looking for the technology that could help the recycle business in China to be more safe and more enviornmental. We hope the organisation as you, are able to introduce us any technology or company to improve it. We hope to make thing good. Hope you can give us the advise. Many thanks.

"We are looking forward for your reply. Thanks.
Best regards,

"E-Waste" Crimes: Those Who Can't Fix, Protest

Here, a polluting Pakistani suffers 
under the weight of used computers 
(publishing a newspaper).

Here, how used materials discarded 
by wealthy nations can be used 
to create internet for thousands.

Here, how Afghans built 
open source internet network 
TIME Covers Pakistani Hindu Newspaper-from-ewaste
from the trash.

Thankfully, all of these horrible e-waste crimes can be averted by building big metal shredders, passing Stewardship laws which subsidize the shredding, and then ban the export of used electronics.

Look, if they pollute, informal recycling practices need to be reformed.  Guiyu is apparently a pigsty. But a complete ban on trade?  Let's roll up our sleeves and study the problem, use Q method research, interview the importers, find out which of their practices are externalizing harm without fair benefits, find out which activities are "illicit" because they pollute and which are "illicit" because they allow the population to inform themselves about a dictatorship.

The proposal to "ban all trade" is a wolf in sheeps clothing.   The Green-Thompson "E-waste Export Ban" Bill will be applauded by dictators and ayatollahs worldwide.   Fair Trade Recycling is a simpler and better solution.  The only people opposed to Fair Trade are people making money out of shredding solutions.  And by that, I mean principally, the non-profit organizations who get payola from shredding companies.  They use poor kids pictures to make people think they are doing good things, but do nothing but take away jobs and internet from the poor countries.  Oh, and the manufacturers, they still get to export to the third party refurbishing and warranty repair factories in the Green Thompson bill.

Blog Reads Down: Externalizing Value

The steady growth of access to this blog has taken a dip since April.  Part of that was a correction from a record high April and Earth Day showing (hard to live up to the Motherboard article).   But part of it may also be the Laundromat-Mode of e-waste recycling.  We will not always be interesting.  The Nestle Boycott was fading away before it was settled. One way or another, e-waste 15 minutes of infame will end, by bang or by whimper.  All sides of this debate are mortal.

Discarded electronics are something that most people have, by definition, lost all interest in...   It's a challenge for both sides of the Digital Divide / Digital Dump debate.  We are all headed for a sober and mundane landing.  I remember when "plastics recycling" was a buzzy topic, and "post consumer recycled content" was on everyone's lips in the 1990s.  "E-waste" and "exports" are going to normalize, after a ten year stroll along the red carpet.  Singapore can join OECD at any time, they are virtually pre-qualified.

Electronics recycling will remain environmentally important, just as all recycling is important - for sustainable materials management on a finite planet.   It will just lose its "hard rock star" chic.  Environmentalists of my generation remember the alarm over copper, silver and lead mining in the 1970s and 80s. We discovered that our metal mines were moving into countries like Peru and Zambia and Indonesia, recycling earned our attention.  The challenge will be to reform and improve e-waste recycling, like the professionals (Bruce Babbitt and Dale Bumpers) who brought positive changes to hard rock metal mining two decades ago.

Planned Obsolescence in Hindsight: Green-Thompson E-Waste Bill

Press release today.   The Gene Green (TX) anti-reuse, anti-export bill is back in Committee.

"(Washington, DC,  June 23, 2011)  U.S. Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) yesterday introduced new legislation – the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act - to stop sham U.S. “recyclers” from dumping electronic waste on developing countries and to promote recycling jobs at home. The bill is supported by environmental groups as well as electronic manufacturers (Dell, HP, Samsung, Apple, and Best Buy), all of which already have policies that prohibit the export of e-waste to developing nations. The bill also has bipartisan support, including sponsors Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and Lee Terry (R-NE)."

As pointed out in previous posts, to earlier versions of the bill:

1)  The OEMs [Original Equipment Manufacturers] reserve the right to export to the Contract Re-manufacturers (Proview, BenQ, Wistron, Foxconn, etc.) who buy and refurbish PCs.   The bill bans anyone else BUT them from doing so.  The contract refurbishers are independent factories, not owned by HP, Dell, Samsung,  or other corporate supporters.  Today I can sell to them directly.  Under the legislation, I can only send through the OEMs!  No change in anything except control of used product.  Imagine if you could only re-sell your Ford via a Ford dealership, according to USA law.

2)  They say this creates jobs in the USA.  That's a cynical lie.   The OEMs do not repair the devices before sending them for repair.  The other supporters are companies who shred 100% of the used electronics.  My company has proven that we create more jobs with a two-stream process, testing items for refurbishment, and dismantling those which don't qualify.  Every study shows that jobs are created by VALUE, and destroying value - through shredding or through restraint of trade - destroys jobs.

3)  The press release calls Geeks of Color "Guiyu".   The repeated, tired, racist depictions of repair and refurbishers overseas makes one wonder why two standards?  If Asia really is that way, then why do we allow Dell, Apple, and HP to contract out their manufacturing there?  If it isn't that way, why do we allow only big corporations to control that trade?   If this had been passed five years ago, would we have had the Arab Spring revolution 2.0?  People who can only afford a $50 PC are using our CRT display devices, and using them to change the world for the better.

Fair Trade Recycling is partnering with "white box" re-manufacturing companies, to create a good enough market for Egyptians to hold meetings by Facebook and Twitter.  The Green-Thompson bill is cynical and wrong.  No one in the USA is repairing CRT monitors as well as the factories which originally made the CRT monitors, under contract to Dell, HP, etc.  The people buying them cannot afford brand new flat screens.

This bill is not about bringing recycling jobs back to the USA.  It is about taking working equipment and breaking it prior to exporting it so that it does not compete with the sale of brand new "stuff".

See the real story behind CBS 60 Minutes "Wasteland"

See the real story behind the ban on exports of E-waste.

If used computer exports are outlawed, only outlaws will export used computers.  Give the Geeks in emerging nations more choices than Planned Obsolescence Manufacturers and Back-Alley Sham Recyclers.  Prohibition will only take out Fair Trade Recycling, it won't affect cheaters and doesn't affect the big corporations.  Research the recycling jobs before you claim to improve them.  We can sooner bring coffee growing jobs back to the USA than reuse, repair and recycling.

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:

China Rare Earth Mineral Cartel vs Manual Disassembly

On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper ran a story by Tom Bawden (The Observer) which updates us on how China's stinginess with Rare Earth elements - needed in high tech gadgets - is causing the price to spike.

This is good for two groups:  Recyclers who dismantle by hand (and are able to recover magnets and other board level components), and the alleged African blood metals cartels who harvest tantalum from coltan in the mountains and rain forests of Congo, using the rare earths to fund their weapons and wars.  Remember?  The decline in gorilla population is tied to electronics rare metals demand.

The shortage may be of no use at all to the big USA shredders which shred up the hard drives.  The magnets are difficult to recover - in fact they can cause jamming of the shredding gears (which are usually steel - and attractive to magnets).

As journalist Adam Minter noted in his Shanghai Scrap blog in January, removing rare earth magnets by hand disassembly actually can cut out the remelting and refining step altogether.   Hard drives are manufactured in Singapore (a city-state, once part of Malaysia, now locked within it), and Singapore hard drive manufacturers will buy back magnets and reuse them directly.

That's right, they can glue the magnet right back into a new hard drive, it if's the right model etc.   Or if it doesn't fit, there's the extra step of refining.  But that is much easier than trying to get the Europium oxide, dysprosium oxide, etc.

Globalization and Child Labor: Good Study, Wrong Headline

The study is from Osmangazi University, "The effects of globalization on child labor in developing countries"  I was initially drawn to the July 2010 study by a link at "The Environment Site", titled "Official:  Globalisation causes child labour."

Aside from the opening mis-attribution of the paper to the University of Minnesota (!!), the Environment Site blog headline is disasterously wrong.  The study includes "resource curse" (paradox of plenty) nations and shows that when the income or increased GDP derives from resource exploitation (oil, mining) rather than employment, that child labor rates go up rather than down.

Here's an actual quote from page one of the report:
"In some studies such as Tesfay (2003), Kak (2004), Kambhampati and Ranjan (2005), it is emphasized that child labor participation rates decrease with the progressive stage of economic development. Tesfay (2003) finds significant results about child labor participation rates which initially increase with economic growth but decrease in the following stages in the developing countries that have 1000 USD or more PCGDP. Kak (2004) determines that the level of economic development is the only factor explaining the magnitude of child labor participation rates and there is a non linear relationship between each other. Kambhampati and Ranjan (2005) indicates a balance between the effect of economic growth that increase child labor demand and the effect of economic growth that decrease the child labor supply."
The report does hold out that nations which have GDP under $1000 per year react initially to brand new foreign direct investment (FDI) by increasing child labor.  Perhaps that's the point on the graph which blogger Chris Milton is thinking supports the claim that Globalization increases child labor.  But the report clearly shows that this is a reaction by economically backward nations when the door is first open, and that in 3B3K nations - the ones where the E-Waste imports go - that child labor shows strong decline.

Robinism: Laundramat Recycling Analogy

If recycling is successful, it will stop being coffee table party discussion, it will lose its environmental cool.  What we want is for recycling to be as boring as laundromats.   Laundrymats were "cutting edge" technology at some point in our recent history, and the men and women who were spreading them were the "internet cafe entrepreneurs" of their day.  They freed women to join the workplace, they stimulated an industry, they represented "co-op" use of technology to make it affordable.  They were the "light rail" of close washing.  And today, I can think of nothing as boring as to say I own a string of laundromats.  But if I'm successful at recycling, that is the image my grandchildren will have of me.   "Kids, e-waste recycling trade was cutting edge, it was popular, it was green, it was activist..."  Sure grandfather, sure.  The important thing is the accomplishment itself, not recognition.

Ancient American Chinese Secret
That was one of my odd "pep talks" when I was recycling director at Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s.  One of the perks of my job was that we'd have a staff meeting every week or two.  And since the gears of bureaucracy churn updates more slowly than weekly staff meetings, it was a chance to chew the stick with the staff and get to know the (rapidly growing) pool of staffers at MA DEP.   And we didn't have blogs then, so a perk for me was to have a chance to wax philosophic with other adults.

I'm told that some folks thought the "Robinisms" were obtuse analogies.  And when the ratio of staff who have been in your department 5+ years to the ratio of staff who have been there <2 years is 1:4, the learning curve may demand more simple explanations, less TMI (that's "too much information", not "Three Mile Island").

For rival managers and people trying to influence my staff from outside, in dotted - - line resource struggles with a growing department, complicated explanations were a chink in my armour.  Hank Southworth, my boss, warned me that the label of "bad communicator" was a "poisoning of the well" which would keep someone in government from being promoted, since the more they did the more they had to explain, and the more they explained the more the upper management had to digest.  I didn't mind, however, because the "top of the class", the really smart folks like David B. Struhs (Commissioner) and my own best and brightest staff learned to digest the analogies, and to see them as road maps, or hand sketched pirate maps.  The best compliments I got were "vision" and "direction", and the smart people learned to eventually see the "laundromat" analogy to recycling as a form of humility.  I had also told my young wife I would not be a "lifer" working for state government, and was willing to burn all my chits, career schmareer.  I had a future in pioneering something as important as self service laundry laundrette divide.

Internet cafe, visit to Singapore 2005
Humility is an necessary antidote/anecdote to distinguish promotion of your goals from "self promotion".  Promoting a new vision demands rallying people and being enthusiastic about the agenda shift you are presenting.  I honestly believed in the laundrymat analogy, and it brought a Siddhartha moment when "Recycling" was front-page Boston Globe news.  Today, in promoting Fair Trade Recycling, I still think "laundromat advocate" works as an analogy to the relative importance of e-waste recycling and reuse.  It works very well for computer reuse and the development of internet cafes in the developing world, for the amount of freedom and equality it brings, but there is no sense of "immortality" around the Ingenthron household.  I'm a chubby junk dealer in addition to being a recycler and promoter of affordable revolution 2.0

January 2011 Al-Jazeera E-waste Story

Constantly reminding myself not to be an "apologist" for bad e-waste export practices. is an "export reform" organization, not promoting the status quo.

However, the export of e-waste is made worse by a propaganda campaign which promotes shredding (and in this video, incineration) in the USA as the "noble solution".   While the video, in places, attests to reuse and recycling in Asia, and makes (our) point that protective clothing and reformed practices are what's missing, it's done under the constant backdrop of images of Chinese as "primitives".  Not a single image of reuse, it's all acid and gases and fires.

Here's what I find interesting about this video.  It was released on Al-Jazeera English in January, 2011.  It shows pictures taken in China in 2001.  And it is oblivious to the Arab Spring, to the revolution about to Facebook out and Twitter out of Cairo.

Compare the January 2011 story from Al-Jazeera to the German 3Sat news story on "e-waste" role in the Arab revolution (and the conspiracy between dictators, new manufacturers, and ecologists to take Al-Jazeera away from the populace).
The I-phone and Flip cameras may have been the cameras for the revolution 2.0 in Cairo.  The reused and refurbished Cathode Ray Tubes are the eyeballs.  People bother to film because other people can see it.  The audience in the Arab and African world are using "good enough" technology to access the film.

Emerging Market Destination: Korea

A recurring theme of this "e-waste ethics" blog is the history of emerging markets, with specific emphasis on the "Asian Tiger" economies.   Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, many parts of China, and now Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, hold a lot of hope for Africa.

In a crude general retelling, the Japanese copied American goods and made knock off products 60 years ago for the "Good Enough" market.  Japan became economically the model for Asia (if also a menace).  The the Taiwanese and the Koreans started refurbishing, reselling, repairing and knocking off Japanese and USA electronics.  And we are taking about radios and stereos here, and ultimately television.

When Japan started its own CRT tube manufacturing, that was a major milestone.   That meant, in the 1970s, that Japan had "arrived", was fully functional, and had shed its wartime recovery.  The question is why we want to deny this path to progress to the Southern Hemisphere.  The reuse, refurbishing, knock-off, assembly, disassembly and recycling jobs are all far less polluting and toxic than the mining, monoculture, and timber harvesting jobs we are giving them World Bank loans for - i.e. paying them to pursue.  Refurbishing is a non-polluting, intellectually rewarding, and resource conserving path to a healthy economy, the "reverse" of the resource curse.

History shows it, and we must film our current event recycling for tomorrow's history books.

Gates, Coke, and IMF Support Fair Trade Recycling Reform

From Recycling International 

Boost for Latin America’s informal collectors

ParaguayThe Coca-Cola Company, together with the AVINA foundation, the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the IDB Water and Sanitation Division and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched the first Latin American programme to support informal ‘waste’ collectors.
The objective is to help more than four million informal recyclers who earn their living collecting recyclable materials to assimilate into local chains and formal organisations with better working conditions.
The programme, launched late last month in Paraguay during the VIII Inter-American Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, will make use of the lessons learned from projects under way in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other developing countries, taking these experiences as models for educational institutions, civil society organisations and other participants.
‘This programme provides us with the opportunity to contribute to the development of sustainable communities in two areas of particular relevance: social and economic inclusion of people living under very adverse conditions; and environmental protection,’ said Jose Octavio Reyes, President of Coca-Cola Latin America. ‘This programme also contributes to our vision of “zero waste” for our packaging, where increased use of recycled materials in our bottles constitutes a central part of this vision.’
Coca-Cola, which has ploughed US$ 2 million into the programme, has been involved in initiating ‘green’ projects worldwide that draw attention to environmental issues, including the necessity of recycling.

End of Times? Support Fair Trade Recycling

If it's all over now...

Would you feel better about having exported whatever e-waste you wanted whenever you wanted?  Or would you feel better about locking the door on the Geeks of Color, refusing to acknowledge them, to keep your own reputation shiny in this brief period they were being impugned?  Or would you feel best at having tried, having lived and eaten with technicians bringing sustainable recycling, online revolution, and harmonizing the trade?

The Fair Trade Recycling position is going to win because it is a no-brainer.  Geeks of Color will prefer trading with good people who re-invest in them over those who take advantage of their hunger and desperation.  And the people who won't trade with them at all have built their business model on a lie (that 80% of importers are primitives burning wires in a polluting cauldron of hopeless toxic), and have taken themselves out of the picture.

It's all over now, Baby Blue.  The Grateful Dead were (are) one of my favorite bands.  One of the initial attractions was the way they let deadhead fans record their concerts with tape recorders.  They were like jamming minstrels from another century.  They realized that this blip in time, when a single artist might become a millionaire because of a combination of copyright enforcement and recording distribution, was... a blip.

If I die tomorrow, its just early, a smaller numerator over an infinite denominator.  I'm already the happiest man in the world.  I look out my window an realize there is literally no one on earth I'd change places with, unless doing so would bring something more to the people I care about.

Print Vs. Pixels: Environmental E-Scorecard

An old colleague sent word that a Vermont writer took very strong exception to my position in Margot Harrison's Vermont Seven Days article about the environmental benefits of books vs. e-readers (kindles, Ipads, etc).  The interview was about 15-20 minutes, and it all got boiled down to a couple of sentence quotes from yours truly:
“If you buy a book that’s already been read once,” says Ingenthron, “then probably your footprint is zero.” His best advice for preserving paper? "Buy somebody a library card."
Waste Expert Bliss [wiki commons]
Mr. Bliss (a cartoonist) responded with a letter to the editor:
"In Margot Harrison’s story, “Print Versus Pixels” [April 13], Robin Ingenthron states that “hard-rock metal mining is by far the most horrible polluting activity by man on the planet.” Is Robin high? That’s an outright lie. The “academic scrutiny” he’s missing here is the devastating pollutants generated by the meat industry! Christ, that takes five minutes to fact-check on Google. Is hard-rock mining worse than oil spills?.." 
First things first.  Yes, hard rock metal mining is worse than oil spills etc...  Yesterday, Associated Press ran a story on gold mining in Peru, part of which is to satisfy need for gold in new electronics.  See also the OK Tedi Mining Disaster (Borneo). ... that mine has now been reopened to satisfy metals demand in China's electric and electronic industry. The mining of metals for electronics is indeed the most polluting activity on the planet.  That is not an "outright lie".  The Ok Tedi River, Danube River, and Pearl River metals spills were indeed worse than oil spills.  Here's a recent article about how much mining waste is dumped at sea near Indonesia - that's not a spill, that's normal production, par for the course.  Hard rock mining (mining of non-ferrous metals, gold, tin, lead, palladium, silver, copper, etc.) is completely underrated.  Google "earths most toxic places".   Ask EPA, ask USGS, ask Superfund (14 of the 15 largest Superfund sites are hard-rock metal mining or smelting related)... etc., etc.,

However, to save Harry Bliss a heart attack, I thought I'd qualify my statements...  It was not about getting people to read Mr. Bliss' comics at the library, which I understand might be upsetting to someone living on royalties.  This was about environmental impact of print vs. electronic displays in the context of a gift. If you do buy an e-reader, for yourself, use it by all means.  My wife bought one and loves it, has read 3-4 books in a few weeks since she got it.

Assuming that what is printed is worth reading...   The environmental math ultimately depends on two calculations:

1) The number of works read on the Kindle during its life
2) The number of people who read on the printed book

It's all about the energy and resources per human read.   An e-reader will win if the download (reads) per brain is higher.  But a single unread book is better than an under-used or obsoleted kindle.

Continuing with Mr. Bliss' letter:
Ingenthron goes on “...if you have an e-reader and you don’t read...” WTF! Who has an e-reader who doesn’t read?! I don’t know many people who buy $300 devices for no reason at all; that is a ridiculous argument."
The specific question asked by Ms. Harrison was about gifting of an electronic device.  For that, I said the electronic-reading device is most suitable for reading lots of works - especially works (like in a foreign language) which are specialized and not likely to be re-read again.  It's difficult to compare that to a single book, with lots of readers.  A book that never gets read is a wasted tree.  But an electronic device which gets "obsoleted" by a change in software, media, or damage is a waste of hard rock metals.

SLAPP Lawsuits or Patent Defense?

The SLAPP lawsuit is a suit brought by a big corporation or lobby against someone who, right or wrong, will exhaust their legal fees defending it.

While it was comforting to see ReUse and Refurbishing win one of the only UNANIMOUS Supreme Court decisions (Lexmark vs. Arizona Ink Cartridge Remanufacturers), the reality is more sobering.  The very weakness of the case against  ownership and reuse makes it all the more frightening that OEMs were willing to spend legal costs on APPEAL after APPEAL after APPEAL.  The contributions of "friends of the court" shows that patent extension is not just about ink, it is about winning a precedent against a financially weak adversary.

The OEM's chances of winning on the basis of LAW were somewhere north of a snowball's fate in hell.  But there was the hope that the small group of refurbishers could stumble, if they lack a good lawyer, succumb to bad advice, and LOSES the case, setting a new precedent.
"strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.[1]
The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. The difficulty, of course, is that plaintiffs do not present themselves to the Court admitting that their intent is to censor, intimidate or silence their critics. Hence, the difficulty in drafting SLAPP legislation, and in applying it, is to craft an approach which affords an early termination to invalid abusive suits, without denying a legitimate day in court to valid good faith claims."

'E-Waste' Highlights: Find 7 Differences

Below are pictures of people in less affluent countries who are managing used electronic devices.   Can you find the seven differences in each pair of photos?

Here are two Asian people.  Which is likely to account for 80% of exports?

The first photo has been circulating since 2002, no data about the number or origin of CRTs she manages.  There was not a single CRT visible in the CBS News visit to Guiyu in 2008.

The second photo was taken in a factory in Indonesia, which was recently forced to close and lay off its employees, following an accusation by Basel Action Network that "skd" (elective upgrade of working monitors to make better, warranty monitors) was "hazardous waste treatment".

Yes, BAN's position is that it you sell the computer to an uneducated, ignorant person, that it's legal.  But if the person you sell it to knows how to upgrade the unit to make it do more, faster, longer, that they are polluting, etc. because the part they replace was hazardous waste.  This, they say, is "True Stewardship". It characterizes people as "primitive" based on where they live, not based on what they do or can do.

This obscene position, which is directly refuted by none other than the Basel Convention text (Annex IX, B1110) was elevated and amplified by the Natural Resources Defense Council in a press release to the Boston Globe (possibly influenced by a millionaire NRDC board member who owns a shredding factory for e-waste).

I have tried to discuss this civilly with them for almost a decade, was friendly up until the point they destroyed smart, good jobs in one of the most devastated nations (Indonesia).

Find the differences...

Annual Environmental Audit at Good Point Recycling Today

As of July 1, Vermont will officially have the strictest regulations of e-waste facilities in the USA.  In Vermont, R2 compliance is not a "carrot" you need to do to win a contract - it's a mandatory regime which you must certify to in order to do business in Vermont.  And Vermont has added some bells and whistles "Vermont rules".  But whatever your standard, it's not very meaningful without an annual 3rd Party audit.  Ours is today.

What I'd like to do is wax philosophically on what parts of an environmental audit add value to the environment, what parts are a "snapshot" which means nothing a month earlier or a month later, and what parts of an audit are really valuable for sharpening the tools in the drawer.  As a result of the environmental audit (scheduled today from 9AM-2PM), we tended to a number of "wilting flowers" at Good Point Recycling:  Scheduled an overdue team safety meeting, replaced locks, reviewed our voluntary OSHA audit paperwork (from a year ago), and moved some lamps which were, shall we say, nearing their expiration date (lamps we collect and don't get paid for - stiffed on - we naturally tag for return to the client en principe, but that can put you beyond the 365 day storage limit).

It's here already. Today. Anti-ewaste-export curveball

Panasonic, Hangzhou Dadi, Dowa and Sumitomo Corp. jointly forming company to process electronics.

Four Asian companies, Japan-based Panasonic Corp., Dowa Holdings Co. and Sumitomo Corp., and China-based Hangzhou DADI Environmental Protection Engineering Co. Ltd., have reached an agreement to form a jointly-held company in China called Panasonic DADI DOWA Summit Recycling Hangzhou Co., Ltd. The company will process home appliances and electronics.
The decision to open an electronics recycling firm follows the enforcement of an ordinance in China, which began Jan. 1, 2011, on the collection, processing, and management of waste electrical and electronic products. The aim of the ordinance, which applies to five types of electrical and electronic products, is to promote environmentally safe processing of obsolete electronics. The five types of electronics include televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and personal computers.
The new recycling company will collect and disassemble used home appliances and electronics and sell recovered materials in compliance with the Chinese ordinance and aims to be a model company for China with advanced recycling technologies. The new facility is expected to be operational by spring 2012. According to Panasonic will be the first Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer to enter the Chinese recycling market.
Under the plan worked out among the four companies, the companies will have the following roles:
Panasonic Group will provide its recycling technologies and equipment developed through its recycling business in Japan. In addition, the company will be responsible for gathering information on equipment procurement, production management and improvement of working environment including implementation of so-called "Five S" concept for workplace organization: Sort, Set in order, Shine or Clean, Standardize and Sustain or Discipline.
Hangzhou DADI, which has been engaged in collection, processing and general utilization of solid industrial waste, will cover information gathering on the related laws and regulations and the recycling market including collection and recycling-related companies, as well as negotiations with the government authorities to obtain approvals and permits. The company will also build systems and routes enabling to collect enough volume of waste home appliances to ensure business viability.
DOWA Group, which supplies materials and services in a broad range of businesses including environmental management and recycling, will operate the new recycling plant. The company will also gather information on equipment procurement.
Sumitomo Corp. will collect information on the global recycling industry as well as market trends and prices that will help sell recycled materials.

Fair Trade E-Waste Story in German

VERMONT - TONIGHT ON 3SAT.DE   The "Fair Trade Recycling" story, in apparently fair and balanced reporting of both the pollution danger and the danger of paternalistic censorship.  (Video takes awhile to load, but it is exceptional quality).

Translation to English -

MAN!  I want to know how to speak German and I want to know how to speak German NOW!  Here is a text translation, courtesy of Karin Hanta of Middlebury College.

This is the program running this evening.  Has a lot of footage of our Vermont retroworks reuse computers, the 23% we allow for export, the ones destroyed in "no intact unit" programs.

Postscript... the video is in high resolution above, its available in lower (flash) resolution on Youtube.  More importantly, thanks to videographer Ken French I just realized the two people interviewed as experts are(Muharrem) Batman and Robin (Ingenthron)... bringing freedom and democracy to Cairo.

Hopefully, the youtube embed of the flash version will appear soon.  فاير ترد ريسيسلينج إس نت وسط أر بولتون.

Cognitive Risk: Ewaste Cell Phone Cancer

Reading about which makes and models of cell phones may "correlate" to risk of brain cancer (on Slashdot).

I speak on my cell phone while warming coffee in a microwave oven.  This is exposing me to two technologies.  I wish to assume the microwave oven is not cooking me, and to assume the cell phone is not giving me cancer.  I'll never be around long enough to learn whether the two in combination have some effect, or whether either, in a small dose, is beneficial.  Most things in life are actually beneficial in small doses but harmful in large (red wine, iron, water, solar radiation).   There may be a "correct dose" of cell phone use which, in combination with microwave oven use, actually reduces brain cancer...

Too late - my cognitive risk assessment lobe has been tripped.

It's part of the human industrial cycle...  Use of the word "cancer" in conjunction with any common household appliance (cell phone, microwave, "e-waste", etc) will generate headlines and readership, due to human cognitive bias which equates change (technology) with risk.

"Cognitive bias is a general term that is used to describe many observer effects in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation." [wikipedia]

Local News: Interracial E-Waste Civil Union

Good Point Recycling made the front of the local Addison County newspaper yesterday.  I was shocked to immediately get congratulations from Mexicali Mexico, Rhode Island, etc.  It's a small world.

It was kind of a coincidence that the local paper came in during a walk-through with the Angolan electronics buyer.   Would they see this as evidence that we are "an exporter?"   Actually, I think the paper did a very good job, for a non-trade journal, of distinguishing between the 23% we export for reuse and recycling and the 77% of computers and TVs ("e-waste") we process domestically.

Compared to the articles I would have been a part of ten years ago... I'm doing the same thing... exporting a small percentage of used electronics, paying people to test and de-manufacture the junk.   But back then, the emphasis of any article was "look! look!  I'm NOT exporting 77%!  Look at us destroy!"  Yesterday's article, in a way, gingerly put, was about a local inter-racial marriage.

Conclusion: Bad Recycling Can Happen Anywhere

US News and World Report, among others, reports on a new study published May 31, in Environmental Research Letters.  Its a paper on the effects of toxics on human health, observed in a dirty recycling village where the recycling had been shut down because of the problems it was causing.

Environmentalists are already tweeting about the study's descriptions of toxics on the human body.  Those are all true, and no one doubts that the operation from Taizhou (shut down in 2004) is a mess.

But the researchers also clearly, very clearly, identify the problem as the standards for recycling at the plant.  It is not a call to ban imports of electronics or "e-waste".  And the researcher, Dr. Yang, is careful to note that recycling is better than smelting and refining, and that the culprit is the 2004 Taizhu process, not "recycling" or "imports and exports".   He calls for better trade, and reform of practices. It's a good foundation for fair trade or alter-globalization solutions.

Incidentally, my new HTC Evo 4G is completely unacceptable!  It is a total failure!  I missed the "30 day" warranty and do not out of principle buy the $80 annual warranty on cell phones (which would reflect an acceptance of 40% failure rate based on cost of the phone).  There is some "touchscreen" sensitivity issue which causes it to be unresponsive to touch at certain times - and not at others.  I can't get a clear answer whether it is a software or hardware issue, and I don't want to pay $400 for another damn Sprint phone.

HTC, Android, Sprint... I liked my first EVO, the one I broke accidentally, and was anxious to replace it.  I would maintain that the resale and export of that working one with a broken screen and a full return warranty and happy buyer feedback is NOT waste, and that THIS BRAND NEW ONE is e-waste.  I am mad enough to consider dumping Sprint after 10 years, or turning to Waste-o-Matic.  Totally and completely unacceptable that the phone is unresponsive to touch and I cannot answer calls.

It was made in China.  And any replacement phone I buy will likely be made in China.  It is not the fact that the phone is Chinese or made in Shenzhen.   I focus my anger on Sprint and HTC for the quality of this particular phone.  If I buy an IPhone replacement, it will also be made in the same factory, Foxconn, probably in Shenzhen, and if I am pleased with it, I will applaud it.  It is the quality of the device and the quality of the work which is the focus, not the nationality or ethnicity of the cell phone workers.

The same lesson - the exact same lesson - should be applied to recycling.  The fact that one Chinese process fails does not mean "China fails".  Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, we don't boycott Dallas.  Duh.


African Geeks and Free Geeks Everywhere

No sooner had Miguel reboarded the plane, with his sample laptops (sans hard drive), than we got another call from Wahab, and his friend Dada, of Ghana.  Wahab came to my plant to share photos and do an interview, and to meet the founder of Free Geek and IndieCycle, Nate Hutnak, who's also visiting Middlebury.

From Ghana Wahab 2011

Wahab's sharing photos of the wonderful genius "e-waste" technicians he hired (that means created jobs for) with the load from Vermont.  Here's a picture of the copy machine guru, who Wahab was delightfully describing an hour ago, using his hands and gestures to show how cool this guys work is.  He will also share some photos of a 15 year old he hired for circuit board repair (bad capacitor replacement included), who fixed the LCDs.

From Ghana Wahab 2011

I'll also share photos of the mistakes and lessons.  Wahab, you'll remember, tested the equipment at our site, but took them by truck to load himself in New York (closer to port).  Though he packed them himself, the container was "inspected" and either in shipping or in inspection, some LCDs got busted.

That's one example of how busted equipment winds up in Ghana.  Did you know that 11% of all  new display devices sold in the USA are non-working returns? 
From Ghana Wahab 2011

I'm trying people.   I'm trying so hard.  These are the jobs I dreamed of for my students in Cameroon.  Egypt's Tahir Square is the result I dreamed of.  More people are writing about alter-globalization, fair trade, and trying to do the right thing.