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 R2Solutions.org.

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".