E-Waste Ghost Tonnage: A Vicious (re)Cycle

How Is End-of-Life E-Waste Tonnage Reincarnated in Neighboring States?

In 2009, I wrote a blog about e-waste "Ghost Tonnage" in state mandated CRT and e-Waste Recycling Programs.  A trade publication spotted it and asked to re-run it.   I declined, as the causes and effects were a little confused at that point.  This was not a simple case of Kramer driving New York deposit bottles to Michigan.

Unfortunately, "fraud" is not particularly rare in recycling businesses.  Yesterday's post about the conviction of the Colorado "Executive" company is not the largest.  The Sacramento Bee had a front page story about Arizona recyclers turning TVs into California for "redemption",using CA addresses "freed up" by exporting monitors for reuse against SB20 terms.  A new report by Lauren Roman of Transparent Planet (my company is one of ten sponsors) scratches the surface of ewaste funding conspiracy theories, about stockpiled CRT glass, and market capacity for the glass.  (I only had 48 hours to comment but Lauren has promised it's a "living document". I will make a separate blog to crib the report... it's good in a glasnosty way to start the discussion, but bears the fingerprints of agendas, and some of the people NOT interviewed in the report will need a chance to respond to "stockpiling" accusations).

A recycler who declares an abandoned car ("A-Waste") to be "covered electronics" in a state program (it may have a radio and electronics, after all) certainly gets a lot of pounds in a short time, and can sell those tons to an OEM rather cheaply.  And a recycler who turns a ton of TVs for reimbursement by two different OEM sponsors has doubled not just his profits, but his entire revenue.   Clearly, anyone getting paid twice for the same recycling, or claiming auto scrap as a "covered device", plays mumblety peg with mug shot photographers.

The OEM may appear complicit in accepting cheap tons to meet a state stewardship mandate.  Because the volumes are so high, recyclers are forced to partner with consolidators, takebacks, and haulers - no recycler can get 10 million pounds directly from consumers and residents.   My company cleaned up abandoned TVs from the sides of roads in Rhode Island, "green up" days in Vermont, and abandoned lots in Massachusetts... can we know for sure?

California is a state run program.  But in the Stewardship Programs discussed in Lauren's report (she omits Massachusetts because the law came from executive branch order rather than legislation, even though MA has stockpiled glass) the state has created the obligation for the OEM to pick up a specific number of devices from homeowners in the state - a numbe derived via... some kind of state employee number crunching...  the ouija board tells OEMs how many TVs and computers they need to fetch, or pay fines for.

So the manufacturer in faraway Asia is given a specific number of pounds of electronics they must "get recycled" in Minnesota.  A number that is not even in metrics.  And if they don't pick up that number, they pay a fine.   Which recycler do we expect them to choose - one who is cheap and has "lots" of pounds, or one who is expensive and struggles to avoid the fine?

Executed Recycling: Colorado Conviction

Claimed Chinks and Gooks were bad
While I'm still on the topic of Environmental Malpractice, let me make the comment that I've never defended the Colorado firm, Executive Recycling, which was nailed by CBS 60 Minutes.

It's called a "straw man" fallacy.  BAN accuses me of supporting a liar, in order to discredit my defense of the truthful person.  I never defended Richter, I did the opposite.  But I defended people buying the monitors that he didn't send, the ones BAN circled in Hong Kong.

What Brandon Richter of CBS Wasteland did was to claim that Chinese were filthy bad recyclers and that people who used his company would know that he didn't export their stuff to China.  He was on the BAN WAGON.  He advertised that he didn't export to China, and represented China as a primitive place.  He was found guilty of FRAUD.

The Economist Gets It: Modern Slum Nariobi

Early in 2012, I wrote about the "pixelized slums" in Lima Peru, from the inside, and showed the OECD slums (Mexico, Japan) from the satellite beside the non-OECD slums in Delhi (Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People).

In its expose on Nairobi (where Fair Trade Recycling sent 3 representatives to a UNEP conference last March), the Economist gives readers a taste of entrepreneurism, rich and salty, in the free markets of Africa's largest shantytown.  "Upwardly Mobile Africa: Boomtown Slum"has incredible photos by Piers Benatar/Panos, taking us inside "a day in the economic life of Africa's biggest shanty-town."

Piers Bneatar photo of private ambulance entrepreneurs in Nairobi (Economist.com) Fair Use/ description

It's easy to take a photo in a tough part of town and use it to simplify a continent.  The Economist takes lots of different photos, not seeking to prove an a priori angle, but to bring us closer to understanding the complex.

The Economist shows an exploding fresco of creativity, of nuance, of good-enough affordability, of people living so close side by side one another that they have a communal interest in peace.  And up close, we see the same seeds of economy that hatched in Franklin's Philadelphia, in Gou's Taipei, in Tokyo and Seoul...

Environmental Malpractice: Conclusion Prelude (?)

We covered a lot of ground (somewhat laboriously) during the past 4 weeks, basically making the case for two serious "environmental malpractice" cases.  Do the poorest people in emerging markets have all the tools and safety protections they need to recycle bad CRTs?  No.  That is the point of Fair Trade Recycling.   Use the value of the proven 85% good material to pay for the proper recycling - not just of the 15% accidental breakage and elective upgrade, but also the electronics being thrown out today in those nations.   Fair Trade Recycling depends on the use of the reuse market to finance these improvements.  But we must overcome an effective boycott on trade with poor people.

In the past few posts on Environmental Justice, I've shown current news stories (within the past 6 months) about technicians framed, outed, and defamed for their reuse and repair work in ICT industries.  Here's a synopsis of the first two cases (already posted) and a teaser on Environmental Malpractice 7.  This is not OLD NEWS.  This defamation is in the headlines today.

- Egypt:  The false statements by BAN (cited in EM5) give an excuse to a regime to seize computers more than 5 years after date of manufacture - including CRTs that last 25 years - as "e-waste".  The timing of enforcement, 2007, meant there were virtually no CRTs with assembly line dates of 2003 to be found, and 100% of CRTs were seized by Egyptian customs during the next few years.  This led to a 2011 Report on "E-Waste Disposal Problems" in Egypt, which is cited (temporally wrong) as support for BAN's original claim. But the report dealt exclusively with the "problem" of the pile of working CRTs seized by customs - a completely Ban-made problem.  It culminates with three things:  an end to sales by reputable USA suppliers, an arrest of USA suppliers willing to tape fake dates on the monitors, and the Egypt market finally accepting cheap new units made in China, the end of a decade when names like "IBM" and "HP" and "Dell" meant a quality, affordable, internet experience in Cairo.  A November 2012 Headline on Egypt shows a massive pile of mixed TVs and monitor "ewaste" dumped on the ground.   Egyptian Geeks are out of business.  #Hamdy.

- Nigeria and Ghana:  The false statements by BAN (cited in EM6), especially the "80%-90% of African = primitive" statistic completely made up off the top of someone's head, leads to a ban on exports by European WEEE standards.  Africans try buying, as they did the previous decade, newish and tested CRTs.  Greenpeace and the UK Independent sneak a sabotaged TV into Joseph Benson's container with a GPS, and track it.  Benson is arrested and goods are seized.  But a 2 year research by UNEP finds that 85% of the imports are working, and that a similar percentage of material at the Agbogbloshie and other dumps were trade ins and discards from African cities (which had TV since the 1980s).  December 2012 Headline:  Joseph Benson found guilty of exporting, implied to be a vindication of the 80% primitive African propaganda, and no mention of the UNEP 2011 studies discrediting the original accusation.  West African Geeks are out of business. #Benson.

In the final section, Indonesia (Environmental Malpractice 7, currently editing), we have the absolutely worst example of Environmental Malpractice and Injustice.   In the two cases above, rich corporations protected their new sales from "secondary markets" by funding an NGO who targets up and coming threats in emerging markets (which were growing in internet use at 10X the rate of the USA and Europe).  This week's headline repeats the fake, false, discredited, unsupported, undocumented, predjudiced statistic - in Science Daily, a magazine likely to be cited as a source by future "e-waste" researchers.

BAN's silence is complicit in the high tech lynching of technicians in developing markets.  I will show that decisively with photos of Jim Puckett in Indonesia, falsely describing people who had hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods seized, in Environmental Malpractice #7.   #Chiu

Environmental Malpractice 5.1: Egypt and USA Crimes

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. 
Winston Churchill

Aggravated against the profiling, arrest, and then defamation of 3 cases of Geeks of Color...   Just as I went to check on BAN.org's coverage of the Joseph Benson (Env Malpractice 7) case, I found this gem about similar USA arrest of "E-waste Criminals".  It's another digression from the Final Environmental Malpractice case study of the Indonesian reuse plant.

Here is the entire discussion between Mike Enberg of BAN and I, using their blog... assuming my comment below isn't "moderated" away.

Env Malpractice 6.1: Joseph Benson, BJ Electronics, Contends Innocence, Temporarily Settles Plea

Profiling 3.0, Green edition
Revised based on contact from Benson's associate, following the Vermont Fair Trade Recycling Summit 2013.04.16.

Subsequent to my last post, about the arrest of "Hurricane Carter" (Joseph Benson), the UK agency @EnvAgency and newspaper reporter, Cahal Milmo (@CahalMilmo), of the Independent @Independent, released this news that Benson has just settled his plea, three years later, after unsuccessful appeals taken through the court system.

The UK Independent reporter Milmo and UK Environmental Crimes units seem to absolutely crow over the Eleven thousand British pound settlement (about $23,000), sending tweets and photos.   If Benson was interviewed, they don't use it.

Anyone in business knows that the cost of hiring a lawyer and running appeals was far, far more than the 11K plea settlement.  I have not spoken to or dealt with Mr. Benson, but my suspicion is that it's evidence he wanted to clear his intentions and good name with this long appeal.  Should I be going out on a limb for someone who has just accepted a financial settlement guilty plea ?  Benson's associate insists this is not a "guilty" plea, and that they expect the funds to return when Benson is exonerated.

Hurricane Benson was publicly accused (@Guardian as well as @Independent) in 2009 of primarily exporting TVs and electronics for primitive wire burning;  David Fedele, Pieter Hugo, and others take film of African dumps and tie it primarily to men and women like Mr. Benson.   That is thanks to one person:  Jim Puckett of Seattle Washington, who has told everyone in the world that the scrap burned in Agbogbloshie and Guiyu is a "dirty little secret", that it comes from wealthy nations recycling programs.

Environmental Malpractice, Part 6: Free Joseph Benson

profile of anonymous negro
I put a lot of photos around the first false arrest - Medicom of Egypt, 2008 (prior post).  Jim Puckett's quotations framing the discussion of Egyptian imports, to the Arab magazine, put Basel Action Network's fingerprints on the smoking gun of "e-waste enforcement" to muzzle affordable electronics used by the students behind the Arab Spring.

The second framing victim is the Nigeria's "Hurricane Carter", Joseph Benson.  I don't have pictures.  But since Jim was kind enough to give me credit at the E-Waste Summit in Las Vegas three weeks ago, for having led him to Lagos, and since he was good enough to put the newspaper articles about the arrest of Mr. Benson into his presentation, and to quote Emile Lindemulder's Interpol report implying Mr. Benson's activities were "organized crime"...  I will use one of his, in "fair use".

In showing the photo below at the Vegas conference, and giving me credit for his being here, I have the right to rebut the "dirty little secret" Puckett says this photo is evidence of.

He thought his photo was evidence that Mr. Benson's arrest, which he showed news coverage of, was environmental justice.  Except for one thing - the only thing we see Mr. Benson was "guilty" of is recycling while black.

Take a closer look.

These are all uniform.  They are the type of small TV that are popular in slums, where people have electricity, have broadcast TV, but don't have big living rooms.  The market for this size of TV is so large that entire factories are devoted to transform used computer monitors to manufacture this specific size of television.   They represent less than 5% of the material that comes to Good Point Recycling.  This is not random as is television e-waste.

Jim said he took this photo himself.  He describes it as illegal, and shows photos in the same presentation of "Away is a Place", an Op-Editorial he published as the cover piece for Pieter Hugo's book:
This material made its arrival on African shores just some days earlier as cargo inside 40-foot intermodal corrugated containers — the shifting bricks of globalized trade turned techno-trash haulers. Around 400 of these, each containing about 600 computers or monitors arrive each month at the Port of Tema, Ghana, from the UK, USA, Canada and countless other rich and developed countries.  They may find a quick stay on the floors and shelves of hundreds of second-hand markets throughout Accra. But those that do not sell — about half, even if they work perfectly —are then picked up by small boys pushing heavy carts and hauled several miles to the outskirts of town, to be thrown away — to Agbogbloshie’s scavengers.  
About half... even if they work perfectly.  An amazing claim.  It means that even if Joseph Benson did test them, as he claimed, that the "crime" of exporting used TVs to be burned by dirty little children, is one Benson was guilty of.  No matter that Benson paid for transport, paid for TVs, paid for labor, he was willing to lose money, it seems, just to make e-waste recycling in England... fail.

Look, here's another container being unloaded, filmed by Greenpeace, which took Jim's 2005 visit and improved on it by tracking Joseph Benson's container to Lagos.  They sabotaged a black TV, put a GPS tracker in it, gave it to Benson's people, and PROVED that this was e-Waste!  [APPLAUSE]  This was the "sting" at the front and center of the UK Independent and Guardian articles Jim Puckett referred to in his Powerpoint.

Environmental Malpractice 5: Custody Case 1, Egypt

This is part 5 of a series on the impacts of "E-Stewardship" and "Watchdog" campaigns in support of a boycott of 6 billion people (the "non-OECD").

- Part 1:  Due Disclosures
- Part 2:  Accidental Racism
- Part 3:  "Collateral Damage"
- Part 4:  Poverty Porn

The hard work by the fixers, tinkerers, repairers and geeks in emerging markets, has been crushed underfoot by planned obsolescence, white guilt, and false data.  Three names should be "e-waste martyrs":

Hamdy of Medi-com (Egypt)
Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics (UK, Nigeria)
Gordon of Advanced Global (Indonesia, Taiwan, Peru)


Each of these companies suffered a massive trauma from seizures of used electronics they had purchased, tested for the specifications they gave the seller.   In each case, they accepted a narrow lot of material - TVs of a specific size with RCA plugs, working CRT monitors for direct reuse, or CRTs of a certain size and model which could be remanufactured by a factory which used to make them.  They paid and arranged shipping, and paid about 10 times the value the items would have as scrap.

In each case, they were tried and convicted in the western press based on the "primitive" associations made by Basel Action Network.   False assumptions abou exports from rich countries (the ones with nice stuff), and photos of the domestic generation of "e-waste" in their own nations, were enough for the western press to cover the story without interviewing any of these men about their own "crimes".  

The headline that the used electronics were "exported" made these men "e-waste criminals".  BANimplied that the junk on the ground was the same that these three men imported.  It was not. And Interpol believed BAN, and wrote that (because the sale was "organized") that this was evidence of "organized crime". And no American or European reporter has called ANY of these men to get their side of the "e-Waste" story.

Now universities, like University of Washington, are being asked to "sign up" and show pride in a boycott which would make Senator Joe McCarthy blush.  We need Bob Dylan to write another "Hurricane" song.

Defamation Case #1:  MediCom of Egypt

From Majella Magazine:   Here are the children of Egypt, photographed provocatively next to garbage.  Even the Egyptians are now in the act of "poverty porn" (this is not a BAN.org photo).  This is from an article, Egypt, E-Waste, and the Digital Divide, by Arwa Aburawa
Egyptian children stand in a doorway flanked by piles of waste. It is not uncommon for impoverished children in Egypt to mine waste for raw materials
"According to recent statistics, the number of Egyptians using the internet increased 39 percent to 13.5 million between 2008 and 2009, and the number of people who owned a mobile phone went from 30 million to 48 million in the same period. The repair industry has no doubt played an important role in making such technologies available to those Egyptians on the lowest wages."
Two paragraphs later, Jim Puckett of BAN warns the writer, that the repair business is fraught with problems:
Jim Puckett from BAN, however, argues that “a lot of nasty imports are justified by the repair pretext” which creates hazardous waste (all be it over the course of a few years) that cannot be dealt with safely or effectively in developing countries. Anyone stating that they want to help developing nations bridge the digital divide by sending them electronic cast-offs also need to be questioned, as “e-waste is a toxic waste that needs to be dealt with and not traded with—we need to stop exporting our problems to others to deal with.” 
Jim Puckett says "a lot".  In the past, he was more specific.   The BAN estimate peaked at "Eighty to ninety percent"...  Basel Action Network was circulating bad estimates to the press for a decade.  BAN knows next to nothing about Medi-Com or other importers in Egypt.

"Eighty percent of interracial marriages end in abuse and divorce".    Imagine that totally fictious, alarmist, made up statisic...  It would be an outrage.

In 2008, as the demand for used PCs and displays was at its peak, BAN got its way.  Hosni Mubarak's government passed a law that defined any PC less than 5 years old (from date of manufacturer - which itself is usually 9-12 months prior to distribution - was "#ewaste".   For display devices like monitors, which last 25 years, and may not be sold off the shelf in the USA for a year after manufacture, that is like banning cars which are two years old... and for Egyptians, who earn

Orange Laws: Illegal Recycling?

Front CoverI've written already about "orange laws", so I will make this quick.

China can ban the color orange.    They can arrest people for wearing orange.  There was a threat to silently protest Tianaman Square during the Olympics in 2008 by telling everyone in the crowd to wear orange.  People honestly thought they'd be arrested...

China is a sovereign, they can make laws and we cannot change them.  However, it's a mistake to incorporate a CHINA law into USA export law.  

R2 Draft 2013 commits this error, by saying that any export must be legal in both countries.   They should say any WASTE product.  China can (and does) outlaw tested working Pentium 4, 2 week old, laptops to be imported used.  It's a protectionist law which is actually illegal under the WTO (China agreed to the Doha Round eliminating protectionism against fully functional and cores).

If the USA simply says "if it's illegal in China, it's not allowed", and then a state like Vermont incorporates (mandates) R2, then it becomes a criminal act for me in Vermont to sell an orange shirt to China... or a fully functional laptop.

Or used books...

Exporting for Dummies
Or printed recycled paper.

Because China bans distribution of a lot of things in writing.

And I cannot go through every book in this lot, sold on Alibaba, to see if there's a copy of the Dalai Lama's book in there.   Its a 43,000 lb. lot.  If His Holiness the Dalai Lama's book is in there, I have violated China's laws, and therefore can be arrested for violating R2, which is Vermont law...

Another "Poverty Porn" Parody

These are coming out so quickly now.   I think this is a movement.  As the NPR article reports, the reactions against "poverty porn", "parasites of the poor", "accidental racism" and "boycotts of geeks of color" are not something I'm making up.

I have heard the frustrating cries from the technicians in Asia, Africa, and South America for over a decade.

This video parody shows Africans coming together, a la "We are the World", to donate radiators to poor freezing Norwegian children.   The way Norway is presented does have a grain of truth... it is indeed cold there, and the cold is something that would really seem frightening to Africans.  But they hit the out-of-context, Onion-esque, clueless notes that anti-export organizations don't seem aware of...

At FastCoExist.com, Ariel Schwartz and Nathaniel Whittenmore describe some of the same lessons I thought we learned in the 1960s, about "poster child syndrome" (the UNICEF campaign).  From Ariel's article:
"Guilt-tripping is still a commonly used tactic in trying to get people to donate money for the impoverished, though it is slowly being replaced by more hopeful messages from organizations like Mama Hope and Pencils of Promise. Nathaniel Whittemore explains in a Co.Exist post from earlier this year that this is strategic: "It supposes that after decades of being battered over the head by relief organizations flaunting horror images, there’s not much left but table scraps in the guilt bucket," he writes.
Fair Trade Recycling is a movement to recognize the crazy good things about repair and trade and even recycling in the emerging markets.   I could never have predicted the animosity directed towards technicians and recyclers in emerging markets, promoted by the very people I hung out with in college.  Remember the "boycott" of Fair Trade Cotton at Victoria's secret?

E-Waste Poster Children are everywhere.

I'm still working on the individual examples for the "legal malpractice" case.  It's just something I want to be very careful with, something that has to be done right.

More from the NPR article about the video, below.
"The video is humorous, but there is a serious message.  The point is that images of helpless Africans are just as inaccurate as the idea of helpless freezing Norwegians.   A lot of Africans cannot relate to the patronizing videos and development initiatives."
"The organization says it has certain goals with the video. "
"Among them that fundraising "should not be based on exploiting stereotypes" and that media should have more respect in portraying suffering children."

BREAKING NEWS: E-Stewards Recognizes Mexico!


Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!


Mexican Electronics Recycler, Achieves the "Gold Standard"

Grupo Ecologico MAC become e-Stewards Certified
Seattle, Washington. November 28, 2012 – The Basel Action Network ( BAN ), a global toxic trade watchdog organization, announced today thatMexico-based Grupo Ecologico MAC ( GEMAC ) has become a certified e-Stewards® recycler. GEMAC boasts 20 years of experience in the recycling industry. Its facility in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico has received the e-Stewards certification, and an additional facility in the state of QuerĂ©taro is on track to be certified soon. GEMAC offers electronic and appliance recycling, IT asset management, metal processing, refurbishment, shredding, and data wiping. It caters to electronic equipment manufacturers, retailers, public institutions, private agencies, and government agencies. GEMAC offers world-class service to its customers and suppliers, providing the best management of industrial and electronic waste. It renders its services through a quality integrated management system, with focus on environmental conservation and health and safety of its employees.

GEMAC intends to also become ISO 9001 Certified in 2013, to complement its current ISO 14001, OHSAS18001, R2/RIOS, and now e-Stewards Certification.

We are a responsible recycler in this region, and it is our priority to meet or exceed the highest standards in the industry,” said Jorge Macias, CEO of GEMAC. “e-Stewards Certification is an important and necessary step because it represents our company's philosophy and vision. These certifications reflect our commitment to proper management of commodities, which ultimately assures our customers that we operate our company with integrity and concern for citizens, our employees and the environment.”

Hazardous e-waste unfortunately is all too often not recycled by so-called“recyclers but rather is shipped to developing countries that lack the capacity to regulate these imports or to appropriately handle the toxic e-waste. The e-Stewards Standard not only prevents exportation to developing countries and assures compliance with international law in this regard, but also ensures that the toxic e-waste is not dumped in landfills or incinerators.  Further, the standard safeguards against release of private data on computers or wireless devices.

Companies like Grupo Ecologico MAC should be applauded as they have joined the ranks of true electronics recyclers that have achieved the highest marks for social and environmental sustainability,” said Jim Puckett, BAN's Executive Director. “Leaders lead, and GEMAC is leading Mexico to truly sustainable solutions.”

Now, all in good fun.  I applaud BAN bringing a Mexican company under the tent.  I hope they will go on and certify companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt... the ones I've been sharing stories with.  

But why is it Seattle's "Gold" Standard?  Ka-ching.  At Fair Trade Recycling, the money goes from north to south.  To "earn" E-Stewards, Retroworks de Mexico would have to pay money north... to Seattle.

GEMAC is great.  They are in Guadelajara, a big university city, which is where we have recruited some great staff for Retroworks de Mexico.  Our plant in the cruel desert and mining area of Sonora, by contrast, is still struggling.

And let's recognize BAN for an important breakthrough, too.  No, not "recognizing" terrific programs like GEMACs...

WE NOW HAVE THE COMPLETE RETREAT FROM "80-90%".  BAN IS NO LONGER EVEN CLAIMING "UP TO".   NOW THEY ARE WAGING A WAR AGAINST "ALL TOO OFTEN".  I told you "80%" was a lie.  They never defended it, they just parsed the words away.  Recognizing good companies in countries with low per capita incomes is progress, just as abandoning false numbers is progress.

But... This is, after all, Still Sparta...

I would praise BAN rather than mock them, except for one thing.   Mocking them (or Intercon suing them, perhaps) seems to be the only thing that produces this kind of progress.  Would E-Stewards be in Mexico if not for Fair Trade Recycling's defense of Retroworks de Mexico and others?

Some will call this immature.  But Hurricane Joseph Benson of Nigeria, Hurricane PT Imtech of Indonesia, and Hurricane Medi-com of Egypt remain the Hurricane Katrinas of this "anti-export" campaign.  And I mean "Hurricane" in the sense of the Bob Dylan ballad.

I look forward to BAN and E-Stewards making more concrete steps to work with Geeks of Other Tongues.  The more companies they work with in Mexico, the more they will have to continue to moderate their use of "poverty porn".   And maybe we'll be friends one day.  Meanwhile, a job applicant at my plant yesterday brought up what they read about me personally in Slaparoo and in the Chicago Patch article...  So like the Lovings of Loving Vs. Virginia, the only thing I can do is kiss my partners overseas right on the lips in front of the cameras... not because I want to be in the papers, but because I must show I'm not ashamed of companies I work with, and not demanding they pay me money in order to announce they are "ok" to work with, like GEMAC pays E-Stewards.  

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
We run a good plant in Mexico too.  We don't try to advance it by insulting or denigrating competitors (like GEMAC).

But we don't pay a percentage of earnings to the jokers in Seattle, either.


We didn't pick this fight, but...

Joseph Benson does not deserve to be in jail.  And if we paid e-Stewards the licensing fees for Retroworks de Mexico, we'd be financing the media campaign which put him there, and tore down good sustainable operations in Indonesia and Egypt as well.

Environmental Malpractice Part 4: Poverty Porn

Born in:   Mexico, Mexico, USA, Palestine, USA, Taiwan, USA, Malaysia

So at our meeting in Vegas, Jim Puckett made the case that the world will be better if we all obey "international law", and that defamation of technicians, and closure of sustainable repair and reuse factories, is acceptable "collateral damage".  Jim presents himself, again and again, as an authority on Basel Convention.

The use of international treaties to simultaneously protect the 6 billion people in "non-OECD" nations from ... bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...  and the same time generate millions of well-intentioned dollars for a Seattle non-profit... This is not BAN.org's invention.  Poverty Porn has been around for decades.

Since my days studying international development at Carleton College, and as both a volunteer and employee (cross-culture trainer) for Peace Corps Africa, we've been aware of the "poster child" syndrome.  Here's a recent editorial on "Poverty Porn" by Nathaniel Whittemore at Co.Exist  (and here's a film from an admittedly donation-based organization in Africa, MamaHope.org, which does at least give hope for a different message).

The Hollywood and not-for-profit-Guilt-Industrial-Complex are really nice people to hang around with, as Jim and Mike both were in Vegas.  They are nicer people than I am.   Calling them accidental racists or ayatollahs of #ewaste was a decent into frustration.    If we are to turn them around, we need to first get their attention (which I've done) but then to find an alternative to the touchy word "racism".

Environmental Malpractice, Part III: Facing Collateral Damages

Born in:   Mexico, Mexico, USA, Palestine, USA, Taiwan, USA, Malaysia

This is the third part of a blog I wrote after a very busy week.  We gave the opening tour of the Fair Trade Recycling Research Grant at Retworks de Mexico (see our FTR Facebook Group), presented at ICRS, met with students from Net Impact, and I flew to present at the E-Waste Summit in Vegas -- where I came face to face with Jim Puckett and Mike Enberg of BAN/E-Stewards.

When I met with BAN... Kissinger-China?  Not really.  I used to work very closely with Jim and Sarah at BAN.  In Vegas, Jim made polite and peaceful references during his presentation, alluding to my help bringing them to showcase the worst practices in Africa.
HR2284 View of the World

When Basel Action Network talks about the "worst practices" in Africa, they aren't talking about the Kabwe lead mine (perhaps the most polluted place on earth).   When they describe horrible environmental practices in Indonesia, they aren't talking about the tin mining in the coral islands (focus of today's Guardian newspaper).

BAN did refer to cases covered by the Guardian newspaper in 2009... the arrest of Joseph Benson.  Benson was exporting used televisions to Nigeria for reuse or repair.  Someone at Greenpeace told Benson a TV was working, but rigged it to fail, and then did a bit of "waste tourism" to follow the TV to Lagos.  
British investigators have arrested 12 people this year in swoops on suspected illegal exporters after inquiries by The Independent found that waste electronic and electrical equipment (Weee), much of which is deposited by householders at municipal dumps, was being bought by middlemen and sent abroad rather than being safely recycled in the UK.
The problem is, that when Basel Convention (the real international body, not the small Seattle NGO) investigated the exports to Nigeria and Ghana, they found 85% of the goods were reused, and most of the "e-waste" filmed at the dumps was generated by Africans, in use for years, and traded in for newer used equipment.  The twelve people arrested were innocent.  But Puckett was still waving the 2009 article in his presentation, and referencing the infamous Interpol report which called African used electronics dealers "organized crime".

I spoke to Jim after his presentation about his use of Joseph Benson (and I do mean "used" him), the PT Imtech refurbishing factory in Indonesia (another scam, false report sent to Indonesia officials saying their imported CRTs were "hazardous waste" when they were for refurbishing at contract manufacturer), and the seizure of "e-waste computers" in Cairo in 2008 - which were all fully functional, tested working, Pentium 4s.

His description:  collateral damage.

I'm offering Jim a chance to make good on what he calls "collateral damage" in the war on e-waste exports.  These are three cases of high skilled techical repair teams, who buy stuff from rich people because it's nicer than buying stuff from poor people.  That isn't "exploitation", it's the most basic simple principle in the secondary market.  Goodwill and Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul stores don't collect from poor people to give to other poor people.   Jim's response to me in Vegas, "let the technicians repair the stuff from their own countries", was utterly and completely clueless about the emerging world.  He's in his own little Truman Show, where segregation of rich and poor makes the poor healthy and wealthy.


Forget the defamation of Intercon Solutions, or me personally.  When is BAN going to get around to apologizing to Benson, PT Imtech, or Medicom?  Professional technicians were described as "primitive" operations by BAN and Greenpeace, and the UK Independent believed them ... why?

In the zeal to remedy problems the Anti-globalists fear, they are willing to kill the successes.

Environmental Malpractice, Part II: Accidental Racism

In Part I, "Due Disclosure", I asked BAN to come out on the record about the exaggerated mathematics about "e-waste exports".  Those fake numbers create false perceptions about importers, and wreck the reputations and finances of many "Geeks of Color" in the developing world.

PT Imtech, Medi-Com, and Joseph Benson are three solid examples of people who were doing fantastic things with "discarded" electronics they purchased from wealthy countries for elective upgrade and refurbishment.  They were arrested, or their goods seized.  In Vegas, Jim Puckett described this as "collateral damage."

In Part III, I will go into specific cases of this "collateral damage", where an importer or a market was unfairly characterized in the Western Press. 

"Recycling Safari" has become a perverse form of "waste eco-tourism".  Liberal activists go straight to the "source" of poverty, and declare "I was there".  It impresses millions who are at a comfortable distance from poverty.  But if you live near poverty for a long time, your eyes adjust.  Some things associated with poverty include hope.  You will find poverty aggregating around reuse, repair, resale, and recycling the way people in a deep well are gathered around a ladder.  Proximity of a solution to a problem... it's a crazy weird thing to raise money to attack.

Let's attack something we all agree about, anti-globalists, alter-globalists, and globalists alike.


TIME OUT: Free the Geeks! Release E-Stewards Rules!

In reviewing Parts 2 and 3 of the essay "Environmental Malpractice", I'm a bit stumped... because I don't know what the "Practice" E-Stewards requires actually IS.

E-Stewards markets itself as being superior to R2.  But R2, the Responsible Recycling standard developed by environmental organizations and EPA, is PUBLIC.  They have their document up for 2013 compliance changes, and are soliciting comments this month.

There is no similar public comment period for the E-Stewards Standards, and in fact you have to pay them money to see the rules, and agree not to republish them.   "Licensing" the path to goodness, it's a remarkable cause.  It's kinda now, kinda wow, kinda 1400 AD.  Just which "Madonna" are we talking about?

If there is a way to heaven, and you demand donations to tell the secrets that will free me from hell, just how noble is your cause?

FREE THE GEEKS!!!!!!!!!!

UPDATE:  Following this publication, we received news that Joseph Benson settled his case, after 3 years defending himself in court, for 11,000 British pounds.  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/owners-and-employees-of-a-string-of-waste-disposal-companies-fined-over-200000-for-exporting-dumped-electronics-to-the-developing-world-8386688.html

Environmental Malpractice, Part I: Due Disclosures

[Note:  Last week I had initial meetings at the IQPC "E-Waste Summit" at Caesar's Palace with Jim Puckett and Mike Enberg of BAN.  We had a chance to try to clear the air a bit following the infamous Donald Summers blistering of "fair trade recycling" at Chicago Patch, Jim's equivocation of fair trade recycling and "poisoning people" in E-Scrap News, the effect of fake math on real people in the developing world, and the collapse of the California Compromise.    They in turn shared their genuine hurt over insinuations of racial profiling and accusations of financial motives, via my blog.   I need to treat that carefully, but have already cut this post into 3 parts after writing on the redeye from Phoenix.  It is hard to find the time to write this as carefully as it demands, but also vital to strike while the iron is hot... ]

First things first: The study of holistic environmental health parallels the evolution of the human health sciences.   Species diversity, carbon, toxics, ecosystems, sustainable consumption, over-population, etc. connect in ways we must study in order to understand them.  Western medicine has made monumental strides, but on the way to discovering a cure for AIDS and smallpox, we went through waste-centric periods of giving tapeworms for weight control, and liquid mercury as a laxative.

Western medicine grew up by making mistakes, discovering them, and admitting to them.  It has developed certain principles, like primum non nocere "first, do no harm".   But when well-meaning doctors accidentally do harm their patients, we don't call accuse them of "racism" or "poisoning people".  We have another more professional term.
"In lawmalpractice is a type of negligence in which the professional under a duty to act fails to follow generally accepted professional standards, and that breach of duty is the proximate cause of injury to a plaintiff who suffers harm. It is committed by a professional or her/his subordinates or agents on behalf of a client or patient that causes damages to the client or patient."
-wikipedia 2012.11.16

Basel Action Network and Fair Trade Recycling offer different remedies to imbalances in the trade of used electronics.   Junk exports, or "toxics along for the ride", can happen either because a shortage is created (California SB20) or because of over-supply, or changes in prices of new product.  It is not the intention of the "E-Steward" to create a shortage, nor the intention of ISRI's overseas clients to pay for shipping of useless material.  We both agree that improvements can be made which will help the people in the developing world, emerging world, or non-OECD.

It's not a major concession on my part to swap the word "malpractice" for "accidental racism".  E-Stewards / BAN really want to be treated deferentially, as environmentalists, as watchdogs, as protectors of the poor, not "parasites of the poor".   But here is why I think it's a step forward:  Malpractice insurance is something well-intentioned health professionals need in case of an accident.

One of the first tests in court to differentiate accidental malpractice (unintentional harm) from criminal malpractice is how quickly the do-gooder responds to the mistake.   If a doctor takes a follow up X-Ray and sees she left a surgical tool in your belly and has to re-open the abdomen to fetch it, it's a lot worse if she pretends not to see it or refuses to review the x-ray.

Facts is facts.   It is time for BAN to give Due Disclosure about their "export statistics".

BAN may be excused for using the statistics "80%" a few years ago, and could say there wasn't good information.  They may have missed their own 2006 researcher's paper from Kenya, estimating 90% reuse.  They may have been skeptical of the paper by Williams and Kahhat, showing 87% reuse in Peru imports.  They may not accept my experience in estimating acceptable fallout when the cost of shipping to African ports is over $7000 - In Monkeys Running Environmental Zoo article, we calculated 85% reuse based on prices paid for product and shipping.  And they have loudly objected to the reports by ISRI and IDC that over 80% of used electronics are treated in the USA prior to export.

But a year ago, in 2011, the United Nations Environmental Program and the Basel Secretariat issued studies from in depth research (279 sea containers, following exports from Nigerian Joseph Benson from London to Lagos), and found - again - that 70% of the imports were fully functional, and half of the rest (15%) were repaired and reused.   That makes FIVE reports which estimate that between 80-90% of the used electronics purchased by Africans were legitimate.

Distracted from the Real Environmental Criminals

On my way to Retroworks de Mexico, I happened on a Discovery Channel show (#trivia - on the back of the middle seat on JetBlue, the only unoccupied seat on the plane, I was at window 20F, which doesn't have a working TV on JetBlue flight 179, flier beware.  But I could watch Discovery Channel on the middle seat).  Jungle Gold. its finally captured the ugliness which e-waste recycling debate distracts our environmental community away from.

In Ghana Africa, we see "the real criminals", or the bad environmental activity we export.   Bankrupt California boys, Catepillar tractors, Mercury, guns, and a toxic extraction process allowed by the mineral policies we exported, policies developed during the Apache Indian wars in the western USA... all in an easy to watch "Survivor-like" reality documentary.

At the end of the Jungle Gold episode (different from the one linked above, I couldn't find it), the two American lads  George Wright and Scott Lomu are deep in debt.  The last scene focuses on the worst environmental act performed in Ghana.  Gold mining, and the extraction of the gold from clay (not the same as panning for specks) with highly toxic liquid mercury.

The Americans don't do the dangerous part themselves, they let an African man use the mercury to soak up the gold into a ball, wrapped in a cloth, and burned off (mercury vaporizes) into the atmosphere.  One of the Americans actually talks about how difficult it is, watching his coworker posion himself, and says that someday he hopes to buy a centrifuge for the guy.  Right.

The mercury itself comes from America.    It is imported from Recycling Programs for mercury lamps in places like Vermont, where lamps are sent for retort and the mercury is exported to miners in Africa.  Recycled mercury is virtually the onlly source of mercury, it's almost impossible to find a mercury mine, because the environmental net on waste disposal is so efficient.

Export Bans and  Reducing Mercury Consumption in Artisanal and Small Scale Gold Mining

is a presentation by Kevin Telmer, University of Victoria
GEF/UNDP/UNIDO Global Mercury Project

An export ban that actually makes sense.  While we are at it, let's ban the export of dumbasses.

Fair Trade Recycling Challenge to University of Washington

Nailing shut the case for fair trade recycling of used electronics ("e-Waste").

We finally got this translated, thanks to Middlebury College faculty and alumns.

I'm working on getting a better quality copy.  It's nice to finally see the subtitles of the interviews with 'Batman and Robin'.
"...This combination of white guilt, and white paternalism...  And that the more I got to know these "Geeks of Color", these technicians, the more I realized - these guys are not only 'not doing anything wrong' - but they are actually the very best hope that these countries have."
MIT, Memorial University, Arizona State, Middlebury College, UVM, Champlain College, University of Arizona, University of Peru PC, University of Amsterdam, Universite Paul Cezanne, Cornell, Boston College...   Everyone looking into this finds that we are telling the truth, and that Basel Action Network is the one "dumping" (false accusations and defamation) on the poor.

They are parasites of the poor, and cowards for not responding to any of this.  The universities will be calling and asking questions about the 80%.  We have opened our doors.  We have nothing to hide, we have made mistakes and we are going to show them.  We do not pretend to be what we are not, and do not pretend to do things we cannot do.  If we take the pictures of Africans, we give them a name and a say.  Primitive?  You disgust me for using that term to describe A+ technicians replacing faulty capacitors, or original design manufacturers who own the patent on your touchscreen device.

DISGUST.   Basel Action Network is taking down reputable environmental organizations like Greenpeace and NRDC in their black hole of niggardly defamation.  They have had more than three years to respond to the false arrests/accusations of PT Imtech and Joseph Benson.

For the opinion to the contrary, I urge you to contact the University of Washington, and ask why they have joined a boycott of the Geeks of Color, and why they did not get a peer review from universities on the East and West Coasts who have listened to both sides and chosen Fair Trade Recycling as a standard.

Alex Credgington
University of Washington, Communications Manager

Alex, if you want to meet the Chicas and tour our plant in Mexico, give me a jingle. For more background on the case why exports should not be defamed, read this piece in Motherboard, "Why We Should Ship our Electronic "Waste" to China and Africa".

We would love to have University of Washington's best scholars join the team, look inside, and tell us why we are wrong.   I challenge you to take your surplus materials, divide them into two equal piles, and we will draw straws.  Send one half to Total Reclaim (a friend and E-Steward), and one half to our Fair Trade Recycling partners at InterConnection in Seattle, allowing product to go to Retroworks de Mexico.

I have nothing to hide.  And I trust Charles at Interconnection and Jeff and Craig at Total Reclaim.  Do a whole mass balance, and see where the monitors, TVs, PCs, and hard drives wind up.   Memorial University may have funding to film the entire process, film the two loads, and escort them.  Oh, and Retroworks de Mexico, while it's in the poorest area of Sonora, IS IN AN OECD COUNTRY.   So no, it will not violate "international law" and whoever told you that... well, like I said, let's have a little "PEER REVIEW".

In 2013 I will close the case.  E-Stewards will either change, change management, change message, or go down in history as a racist, xenophobic period of environmentalist history.

My mom in the Ozarks described the first interracial marriage I heard about this way.

"She's very brave."

She must love him very much to marry despite the southern recoil that surrounded interacial marriage in the 1960s.    I am only brave enough to trade.

I don't want to speak on behalf of any of the researchers from any of the universities.  I just want to change the presumption of guilt, and protesting innocence and opening doors seems like the best way to go about that.   If the University of Washington wants to bring a camera and ask BAN what they should be aiming the camera at, that's fine by us.   We dropped our bucket where it was, and will lift as we climb.

Status of Retroworks de Mexico

Can E-Stewards identify these parts in a computer?  Hand dis-assembly of CDROM drives yields motors, lasers


I opened the partnership in Sonora Mexico in 2007, establishing a "maquila dora" company, managed by a women's collective.  Next week I will be travelling there to meet with researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland, who have won a $469,000 five year grant to vet "fair trade recycling", using RDM as a model.

We will also have a WR3A Board meeting in Phoenix at the Refurbishers Summit, I will post a link.  In the past I was able to edit and post drafts waiting in the draft box during my early hotel mornings, and I have several that I enjoy despite awkward interruptions in the writing process.

The November issue of Scrap Magazine will have some photos of our first trial of CRT cullet (generated in Mexico) used as a fluxing agent at the local mining smelter; we have shipped two loads, and it looks promising.

Legalize it + Tax it + Regulate it = Profit!

My pick last year was 2018 for a nationwide reform of marijuana  laws.   I don't smoke it, I just don't want to pay the taxes to fund a war on it.  I would rather see it sold like liquor, regulated, and taxed for revenues.  We can help end the deficit by taxing cannabis sales.

Colorado, Washington are ahead of the slow and stupid curve.

Who is the biggest loser if we do that?  Drug cartels.  Just like Capone was the biggest loser at the end of prohibition.

{Postscript:  CNN published the editorial by Roger A. Roffman the same hours that I published this.   Great minds think alike.  My role in the topic is based on my affiliation with our plant in Mexico.  As the Economist notes, America's Prohibition 2.0 on Marijuana costs lives there.}

"E-Waste" Policy: NGOs Living in an RCA World

"A broken calendar is not as good as a broken clock." - Robin Ingenthron
RCA Emblem - Nipper ponders Obsoete Victrola Waste Stream
Catching up with electronics trade publication reading.  In Slashdot, I saw this article about the possible deathbed watch for Sharp Electronics.  Sharp is still a big producer in the display device field.   From ComputerWorld:
"Japan's Sharp, a major supplier of LCD displays to Apple and other manufacturers, has warned that it may not survive if it can't turn around its business, an admission that caught few off guard.
"The Osaka-based manufacture said there is "material doubt" about its ability to continue operating in its earnings report filed Thursday. Sharp added, however, that it still believes it can cut costs and secure enough credit to survive. Its IGZO technology for mobile displays is likely to be a key element of its business strategy.
"Companies with credit trouble must warn about possible concerns over their survival as part of their disclosure requirements."
Intelligent observers generalize on the decline of Japanese "Big E" - Sony, LG, Sharp, Panasonic, etc., and the rise of Samsung and Korea.  Korea is feeling its oats, in car production and electronics and music.  But how significant is this?  Time for a history lesson on Japanese and American transistor manufacturing.

My Life In Footnotes: Value Added Recycling Jobs '92

"Value Added by Recycling Industries in Massachusetts" was an article I published in July 1992, in my first few months of my appointment as "Recycling Director" at Massachusetts DEP.  Footnotes to the report live on, and I feel sure I must have a hard copy somewhere, but I cannot find it online any longer.

Drive around the parking lots of your competitors.

Count the cars.

Use the cars to estimate the number of employees.

Some staff may be absent, some may have carpooled, some processors may be more efficient than others. But generally, if you circle 100 paper recyclers parking lots, the ones with just a few cars are less likely to be baling the same amount of material.  The larger ones will actually bale more per employee or more per car perhaps (due to larger, higher efficiency balers), and the smaller ones may employ more people per ton.  But you have a point of reference.

Blog Maintenance - Searching for the Poison Pill

UPDATE:  After a couple of hours I found the "Search Engine Genie" XSS (cross site scripting) in the PAGERANK button at bottom (er.. formerly at the bottom, it's erased now).   I have a headache from reading HTML now but hopefully this puts us back in business without (ironically) punishing our pagerank.  The lesson learned in this case is not to borrow Gadget Script from third parties.  What is interesting is that the pagerank button was there for a long, long time before I got this warning.  

Dear readers, please be patient while we try to find the source of a report that an unsafe link has been found in one of the blogs.  There are a lot of comments and a lot of postings to screen through and it may take time.   This site may be taken down for several hours or days if we find the "search engine genie" hijacker is actually found here.

The good old days of letting any person comment with any link, or using links to other sites which may change ownership and become "link poison" years later, may be over.  Or this may be a false flag.  If I link to a site that I disagree with, I think of it as being transparent, but it also means that if the owner of the site I link to wants to get back at me, they can insert something at the link which poisons my blog on google.

History and Future: Reuse of Chips Without Fire

Readers may recall that a journalist confirmed one of my theses about Guiyu, China.  There had to be something else going on besides "aqua regia" (using acid to recover gold), or it would not be financially viable for Guiyu to import PCs.  Sure enough, similar to the cell phone chip reuse documented at TechTravels, there was chip harvesting and reuse going on.  That's a huge savings compared to mining.

The river in Guiyu is polluted from textile dying mills in the area, but we don't want to understate the pollution coming from circuit board residuals.   It can be pretty nasty.

You could almost make the case that Guiyu is internalizing the pollution that is being diverted from the mining communities, i.e. make the case for Chinese altruism. But can fair trade recycling find a way to incentivize Guiyu to maintain chip harvesting and reuse without shouldering the pollution of the residuals?

Circuits that come apart in water may allow the chips to be reused more safely.
The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water. The work was part of the ReUSE project, funded by the UK government's Technology Strategy Board.

Recyclable electronics: just add hot water

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water. The work was part of the ReUSE project, funded by the UK government's Technology Strategy Board.

Recycling this printed circuit board is as easy as making a cup of tea - simply add hot water, and the bonding material dissolves away leaving you with 90% of your components to re-use as you wish
Recycling this printed circuit board is as easy as
making a cup of tea - simply add hot water, and
the bonding material dissolves away leaving you
with 90% of your components to re-use as you wish

The Challenge

The electronics industry has a waste problem - currently over 100 million electronic units are discarded annually in the UK alone, making it one of the fastest growing waste streams.
It was estimated in a DTI-funded report, that around 85% of all PCB scrap board waste goes to landfill. Around 70% of this being of non-metallic content with little opportunity for recycling. This amounts to around 1 million tonnes in the UK annually equivalent to 81 x HMS Belfasts.

The Solution

The aim of the ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project was to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies, in order to avoid an ever-growing volume of waste.
The project partners designed, developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers which, while withstanding prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing, allow the assemblies to be easily separated at end-of-life into their constituent parts, after immersion in hot water.