Heavy Metal Toxic Farms in China

It's the Mining.  Not the Dumping.

In the USA, 45% of all toxics produced by all USA industries comes from non-ferrous metal or hard rock mining.   Copper, gold, silver, lead, tin, etc.  Whether or not the metal is toxic, the ores exude other toxics, and toxics are produced by treating them.  Gold mining, silver mining, and copper mining are three of the top 4 sources of mercury pollution in the USA.  The third on the list is defense industry.

Similarly, in China, this study shows that toxic on farms is not imported.  The bulk of the toxics come from the opposition of recycling - mining, refining, digging, smelting, virgin material industries.  These are the opposite of recycling.
Wan Bentai, the chief engineer for China's Ministry of Environmental Protection, said heavy metal from smelter chimneys, water run-offs and tailings has polluted in total about 10 percent of the country’s farmland, and the pollution levels have exceeded government limits, according to Southern Metropolitan Daily.
"In recent years, there have constantly been outbreaks of heavy metal pollution, and from January to February alone there were 11 incidents, nine involving lead," Wan said in All-China environmental NGOs sustainable development meeting in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.
The most toxic places on earth, including Africa and Asia, are from virgin mining, the same industry that creates "conflict metals" and leads to bushmeat trade.

Yet, whenever there is a story about "toxic lands" in China or Ghana, the environmental community jumps to the conclusion that it is A) recent, and B) imported.

Mexico is Family Visa Policy

My Insights into USA's Immigration and Guest Worker Policy with Mexico

American Retroworks Inc. has a sister company in Mexico, retroworks de mexico, nicknamed "Las Chicas Bravas".  It has been profiled on NPR Marketplace, Living On Earth, Associated Press, Sacramento Bee, and many other media.  My wife and children come with me to visit the ladies at the TV maquila in northern Mexico.  While our attorney was shot and killed, we never see any drugs or violence in the rural town of Fronteras, a few dozen kilometers from the mines and smelter of Nacozari.

We regularly cross-train workers from Mexico, like Mariano, Dolores, Vicki, Lydia, Panchito, Dominita, Don Chuco, etc. at our plant in Middlebury, and they cross-train our staff during regular visits to Arizona.  We recently sent Nate Hutnak, our collection partner in Rhode Island, to Arizona to help establish collections. My business partner and his wife visit us, and host us, and my kids are close with their godson Oscar, who spent a year with us in Vermont and Arizona.

Mexico is our Family
Mariano from Mexico tests and inspects and sells fully functional TVs, and occasionally brokers them to buyers in Peru, Venezuela, or Guatemala.  He cross trains Vermont staff, some of whom were born in El Salvador or Honduras or Guatemala.  In short, our fair trade company has partners in many countries, from Burkina Faso to Indonesia to Egypt and Senegal - but Mexico is family.

Our key policy is that manual disassembly creates more value in parts, and more jobs, than automated recycling.  We do manual disassembly in Vermont... but if you are going to create low wage demanufacturing jobs for Mexicans, it's wiser to make those jobs in Mexico.  Our competitors try to chop TVs up with machines, but believe me, running electronics and e-waste through hammermills and shredders is literally not all it is cracked up to be.

Having established my personal bias and credentials, what can I say about national USA policy on border enforcement, illegals, green cards, work visas, and immigration?  Here goes...

Basel Action Network Agrees: Ghana Is Good

The Report from Ghana showing 85% reuse - not "80% primitive dumping" has finally taken traction.  People are wondering what is going on.  Basel Action Network had previously, repeatedly, claimed that 80-90% of the used electronics imported into Ghana were "toxic junk".

Last week, BAN tried to "spin" the report in their blog.  They announce it as "just released" (I spoke to them about it when it was released in April).  But perhaps they've now had a chance to review it.  Mike at BAN describes the study as follows:


The Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana just published their “e-Waste Country Assessment,” based on actual data from Customs authorities, field visits and meetings with key stakeholders — that is, from credible, in-country, official sources...

Ghana reports that at least 35% (and perhaps much more) of imported, second-hand electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) is non-functioning, most of that coming from the EU and the USA. Some is repairable — but fails soon and adds to Ghana’s growing e-Waste crisis.
The functioning equipment does create opportunities. But the dumping and burning of the rest results in serious consequences on the environment and a threat to public health. “Even children, sometimes as young as 5 years old, were observed to be involved in the recovery of materials from WEEE recycling, earning less than US $20 per month.”
BAN tries to impugn the repair market by including material documented as being professionally repaired in the "unacceptable" category, boosting the bad export number to 35%.  It is still LESS than HALF what BAN has told reporters.  And the repaired material is not described as "fails soon"... and the report says nothing about "(and perhaps much more)".

This post from BAN completely agrees with everything I've said.  Exporting more than 1/3 "waste" to Africa is economically impossible.   While I disagree with including "successfully repaired" with "waste", and think 15% is the problem, I'll concede for the moment that one third may be bad.

This now puts BAN in my corner about "waste tourism".   I now invite BAN to agree with me that the Europol and Interpol reports which describe African screeners (who buy and source the equipment in Europe and the USA) as "waste tourists".    I now invite BAN to join me in declaring the Europol conclusion that "organized crime" is behind the exports to be racist, bigoted, hogwash.

Next, if we can agree that the "problem" is somewhere between 15% and 35%, and that most of the waste being burned in Ghana's dumps was imported decades ago and was in active use for years, can we not also agree that the good part of the imports - 65-85% - should be continued?  Can we not use the economics to generate fair trade solutions, giving incentives for the repair markets (like the one EPA Lisa Jackson visited in Ethiopia) to become take-back and recycling programs, like our WR3A partners in Mexico and Malaysia?

Thank you to BAN for addressing this important study, and for admitting that MOST exports to Africa are good people trading good things with other good people.  Now, can BAN take the next step. and publicly denounce "no intact unit" as an export standard?  The percentage of "waste" in shredded equipment is higher than the percentage of waste in repaired equipment.   E-Stewards should not be allowed to destroy working equipment?

I'm going to invite BAN representatives to present with me at a Sustainability Forum here at Middlebury College.   They can meet geeks of color like Wahab of Accra Ghana, Oslo of Egypt, Ow Fung of Malaysia, and Jinex of Peru.  Looking the Technicians in the eye, and saying you now understand they are not about "80%" e-waste, that they are not "primitives"... Maybe BAN can help my friends to source even BETTER material, and more of it, and to join us in Fair Trade Recycling.  Maybe they can donate equipment to our UN partners, or to Meltwater Academy?  Neil of Cascades, a fellow RPCV, could moderate.

Join me?

Plan Do Check Act


Poster Child, Toxic E-waste
At the California Sustainability Directors conference last summer, I was pinch hitting as a representative of R2 - Responsible Recyclers standards for "e-waste" recycling.  I was hastily invited by someone as a counterweight to what was originally a purely E-Stewards presentation on certification.

When certifications compete, it's a bit like warring doctors or feuding priests.   Both certifications were set up less than 18 months ago, neither has really been tested in the field.  Either may have unintended consequences.  It's only the second inning.

Both certifications are overseen by professional auditing bodies - ANAB and ANSI, the same which authenticate ISO, RIOS, and other standards and practices.  These bodies are designed to check on whether the standard is independently verifiable, legal, and can be implmented via PDCA - Plan, Do, Check, Act.  The standards are so similar in many respects that the auditors can use the same pages of verification interchangeably to ensure that the companies applying for the standards meet the same environmental, health and safety laws.   None of the standards have an in-house auditor playing Catcher in the Rye, catching children from falling into toxic fields.  PDCA is better than nothing, but it is weaker than a civil law contract.

How then do the certification advocates differentiate between them?  Marketing.

The groups which are invested in the term "e-waste crisis", the ones who would use prohibition in trade with techs of color as a solution, are using drama, guilt, innuendo and poster children to attack the other groups best efforts to promote best practices.   They treat companies seeking R2 as the new evil exporters.   Seeking to do good without the ayatollah's blessing leads to ayatollah cursing.

In describing "responsible recycler" practices in their Wikipedia article on "E-Stewards", Basel Action Network tries to poison the well on the term:
Jim Puckett, director and founder of BAN, said: "Sadly not all of those companies that call themselves responsible recyclers are truly responsible and many are not recyclers at all, but are just exporters. We have been to the techno-trash dumping grounds of Africa and Asia and seen the children being poisoned. This is why we created the e-Stewards Certification in the first place."[3]
Jim made a similar accusation, in an editorial he published in 2009 E-Scrap News, that "fair trade" recyclers were "poisoning people".  He claimed to have knowledge that containers of refurbishable equipment imported into Indonesia was "hazardous waste" (same claim we are still waiting to shake out from his accusation against Intercon Solutions of Chicago Heights).

The marketing against a standard developed to improve e-waste trade is obnoxious at best.  The R2 "Responsible Recyclers" program represents a two-year consensus document approved by regulators, NGOs, and industry, not "just exporters".  It is the association with possible exporters which poisons all the other R2 certifications, according to BAN.   "Exporting" according to BAN, simply means poisoning children, not creating internet cafes in Africa.

Poisoning the well for alternative certification standards does not just affect the exporters or users of a particular practice.   Consider the effect on R2 companies which do not even export.   If you are R2 certified, even if you do not export, you may share a certification with someone who does export.  And that exporter, while they have been certified for proper and legal exports, BAN implies may be poisoning children...   You may be R2 certified and use no prison labor (most do not), but because a prison program can seek R2 certification, wham!  You are not the same as a prison program.    Someone who goes to a church which allows gay marriage is the same as someone married to a gay person... at least, that's the same logical thread.... Joe McCarthy reincarnate.

Just how big is the risk that an exporter "among" the R2 may be poisoning innocent little babies?   BAN is silent about the major study released on Ghana's imports of used computers, showing 85% reuse.  Why?  Why do professional AID workers, Peace Corps volunteers, and development officials applaud the same fair trade recycling importers in Africa which BAN says are poisoning children?  Why would stakeholders from NGOs, EPA, and industry "collude" on an R2 standard which kills children with e-waste?   Nevermind the fact that almost all the exports come from Europe and not the USA (BAN applauds the EU's higher standards).

When someone is promoting something, marketing it in this way, there's one common denominator.

Follow the money...  the difference between R2 and E-Stewards is payola to BAN... not a dime of which goes to help a single African baby.