Challenge: IFIXIT Recycles 2009 GreenPeace Vid

I like IFIXIT.  With that said... Their weekend's "ewaste" blog titled


is correct in its emphasis on the word "blindly"... don't blindly do anything.  But Elizabeth Chamberlin also provides evidence that you shouldn't blindly trust EU Law, or Greenpeace and E-Stewards, either.

If you watch the Greenpeace slide show, you might think I'm saying you shouldn't trust your own eyes...   ( I covered this 2009 Greenpeace "science with photos" with the post "WRONG, WRONG, WRONG..." )

Chamberlin trusts her eyes and is doing what she should be doing - looking at all sides of the ewaste-to-Africa debate.   Now I'm gonna go Ozark Atticus Finch on her.  Where is Greenpeace's interview of the accused?  They have the African Tech there on camera, and say he told them it was not a working TV but they bought it anyway.  What exactly does their methodology prove, and why didn't they ask the African they spoke to what the percentage of reuse was, and what his losses were on the bad units?

A serious, lengthy interview with an African Geek will raise a lot of questions about "willful blindness".  When you are a repair person, you have to be willing to try more than one technique.  When you are paying for the import of the significant number of used WEEE Greenpeace describes, you are an African spending millions of dollars.    You don't want junk, you don't want to be accused of being primitive, and you don't want to lose money.   You don't want old trade-ins from the community or electively upgraded parts to be photographed and used against you in an international court of law.  Recyclers feel the same way when hand-recycling is "denigrated" without study of the effectiveness of the outcomes.  Let John Henry, or Joan Henry if you follow that arc, compare their "e-waste processes" to yours.  And by yours, yes I mean yours, IFIXIT.  Read on....  A friendly challenge awaits.

First, the Greenpeace slideshow which Elizabeth tips her hat to, is indeed a bit of "boots on the ground".   But now disassemble it.  Take a look, closely, at the methodology.

Greenpeace took a decent-looking CRT TV in England, gutted it of working and repairable parts, attached a GPS satellite tracking device inside, and then observes it sold with other TVs into Lagos.  They follow it to the Nigerian market, and prove you can ship a piece of ****.  I think they might even have taped an actual piece of dog feces inside the TV casing, proving Nigerians are stupid and will pay $10,000 for a sea container to buy dog poop.  Stupid Nigerians.  We see the blacks need us to protect them from toxics.

More proof of banjo waste in the Ozarks
Ok, I've now worked in a little Socratic provocateuring in that paragraph, and it's certain to make Kristtian Buus the Greenpeace director feel he's being challenged.  Squirm, dude.  Because since Greenpeace didn't respond to my letters to their Board of Directors when the 2009 video surfaced, a little four-letter-word (poop) slang can be forgiven as bait.  But back to IFIXIT -- What I'm getting at is the Greenpeace methodology.

Take sacks of rice sent to starving people in Ethiopia.  Insert dog feces.   Follow sack.   "More PROOF You Shouldn't Blindly Trust Your Food Donations"...

I'm not defending the British recycler.  My hypothesis is that England banned it and now Nigerians are forced to deal with people who skirt a ban.   Where have we seen Prohibition at work before?

But even if the British Exporter was testing everything, it's possible that you could get GPS-poop through the  system.   Take Good Point Recycling.... A TV like that might or might not get through one of my working-or-recycling shipments to Mexico.   But it is not that Mexicans got a bad TV that is the problem... Mexicans, and Nigerians, and Chinese, and Indians, are SWIMMING in decades of junk TVs generated over decades of sale, resale, repair and reuse and finally disposal.  They may wring their e-waste to the BONE before they discard it, but they will eventually have an "end of life".  And 99% of Nigerians say that a ban on trade of newer equipment is not the solution to the disposal of the old equipment.

How does Fair Trade Recycling solve the problem?

Easy.  In Mexico, I'd get a reconciliation or QA-QC report.  How many TVs we sent were "working", how many were "repaired", how many of the "working" were disassembled because they weren't the size or quality that people want to buy, how many of the "non-working" created jobs and internet access?  And we'd get a new feedback from the Chicas, a column "contains Greenpeace GPS tracker and dog poop".

In fact, I'll prove it.  Here's the Challenge... Let's look at two actual shipments of TVs which you collect there in California....
I challenge IFIXIT California to prepare TWO containerloads of Televisions looking like the container of TVS Greenpeace films in Hampshire England.  Send one to CA SB20.  Send the other to Retroworks de Mexico, in the poor foothills of the Sierra Madres, in the Sonoran desert.   Put as much GPS/Poop as you can in as many of the TVs as you like... sabotage a percentage, if you like, to make them non-repairable. Now send one load to a California E-Steward, like Santa Clara County.  Send the other to Retroworks de Mexico (2009, NPR) for Mariano, Vicki, Nate, Roberto, Alice, and the crew in Fronteras, Sonora.
The Greenpeace "methodology" is for neophytes.  We heard black people buy X, let's try tracking X and see if any black people buy it.   IFIXIT - actual Geeks - need to do better.  TALK, GEEK-to-GEEK.  Why did the Africans in the Greenpeace Video BUY this container of TVs?  As a favor to England? The entire market in Lagos, which I first introduced Jim Puckett to, is run on reuse.  Here is what you need:

1)  Total Shipments of TVs
2)  Number of TVs sold as Working
3)  Number of TVs repaired for resale
4)  Number of TVs discarded for primitive recycling
5)  Number of TVs taken back from users in Lagos by used-electronics shops and sent for primitive recycling after many years of productive use.

My challenge will help you do that, with TVs and computers YOU collect, track, test or not, GPS tracker and poop and all.  Mexico is OECD, so there's no reason to call a lawyer (though I have one you can consult - Fred Fahiri Somda of Burkina Faso).

Taking a picture of 6 pounds of CRT glass on the ground at the END of a process, and using that as evidence that African technicians are stupid victims of an e-waste export campaign is So 2002.   IFIXIT knows not to measure it's technicians based on the volume of goods they repair or the volume of parts they upgrade.

All that Greenpiss (nyah nyah) has done is to add a flashy modern GPS tracking satellite and prove you can fool even brilliant people like Elizabeth into covering YOUR boots on the ground instead of the dry math of two years of study... the boots on the ground report on E-Waste Imports to Ghana in 2011.

If I sit at the dumpster of Kyle's ifixit repair shop and see discarded or replace parts, without knocking on the door and talking to Kyle, that doesn't make me qualified to talk about Kyle's success rate at repair.  If I really looked at it, along with other information, I could learn something.   That's why the Fair Trade Recycling Method of QA/QC, getting actual reports on each shipment fate - is so important.

If I deliberately ruin an IPhone and send it to Kyle with a hidden GPS bud and a tiny piece of mouse feces inside, I'll find out one thing and one thing only - WHAT is the end of life of the bad material?  In Kyle's case it will probably go to a nice e-waste processor which is less than 15 years old.

Should American Geeks have been banned from using Tech until that ewaste infrastructure was in place?  

Should Ethopian children starve until we get a dog-poop-test for sacks of rice?

There is one problem and one problem only.  Africa needs cleaner manual dis-assembly processes for E-Waste, the kind we have in Mexico.  And the most LIKELY source of funding for that e-waste infrastructure is the value from repair and reuse.  If leveraged to create incentives for proper recycling, Greenpeace will see Black Ms. Vicki (our Chicas Bravas leader) doing even better jobs of recycling than the shredder which most likely tries to process Kyle's ewaste iphone mouse poop.

Am I attacking Elizabeth or Kyle here?  No.  And I'm not being short, sweet, or accessible, either.  I'm running on and on.   Because we have plenty of short, sweet, accessible blogs which sell planned obsolescence, racist images of dirty Africans, marketing campaigns for shredding equipment, etc.  Hand disassembly rocks.

My roots in Ozarks
Mexico has been started up on two credit cards.  The California SB20 system spends hundreds of millions of dollars on state of the art shredding and machinery slicing and dicing.  I hope you have very very small GPS trackers so they can follow "de minumus" pieces of aluminum and plastic shipped to China, but maybe that will wait for another episode.

Does the Greenpeace video show that California shredding, the end of life process in the wealthiest Silicon Valley Tech do-gooder area is superior to poor communities like Lagos, Fronteras and Guangzhou?  Or does it show that if exports are outlawed (as they are in England), that only outlaws will export computers and televisions?

You can film the whole experiment.  Someday it will be not controversial at all, like this video of Woody Guthrie playing John Henry with African Americans.  Someday no one will think twice about FreeGeeks, Refurbishers, and IFIXIT Geeks jamming and Shanzai-teching with Geeks of Color.

How about them dueling banjos?

Welcome to the Symposium, Elizabeth and Kyle.   Now answer our challenge.  I'll pay for the blind shipments.    Greenpeace and BAN are welcome to pre-inspect every load.  I have 4 universities ready to examine the outcome, the reconciliation reports.   "Joan" Henry is waitin.  Screwdriver be the death of me.

People who know/love/hate me know I'm Socratic to a fault.   Dialectic is my mojo.   I truly believe in using the force of ideas to test and politically correct and incorrect assumptions.  The advances of science and technology are built primarily on scientific method, which is to formulate and test hypotheses in a transparent and argumentative manner.

[Sunday Digression:  My eighth grade Earth Science teacher in Fresno, Mr. Williams, got expelled.  Yeah, the teacher got expelled.  He got in a fist fight with a phyics teacher and got kicked out of the school.  At the beginning of the semester, Williams had transparently spoken about the fact his son (Eric?) was in our class and that there may be questions about his son having unfair advantages by having his father teach the class, but that if we were all open about it he was confident we'd see that his son was just another student who'd be treated fairly.   When the teacher was missing from class and the facts came out, it turned out to be true that there were as many disadvantages to being related to the teacher as there were advantages.  The substitute teacher, Mr. Kasnakjian, was Lebanese-Armenian, I think.  He told us every morning we shouldn't complain, because he walked mile-in-snow (one word, we thought) to get to school and his teacher hit him and he cry-for-three-hour.   Ok, that's an example of a Socratic digression....]

Thanks IFIXIT.   I like having Elizabeth in the conversation.  I'm using debate and dia-blogging, not like a fist-fighting earth science teacher, because IFIXIT is doing what we need it to be doing, showing it's not biased and looking at all the evidence.

Incidentally, even before SOPA, it's extremely hard to find a version of John Henry on banjo via youtube (my dueling banjo motif) which won't be blocked on some international servers.  Imagine if Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others had been PRESUMED to be copyright thieves and their music blocked.  How John Henry the traditional American folk song gets blocked, sung by a liberal like Harry Belafonte, should give us all pause.   Next thing the Planned Obsoleters will block IFIXIT videos on how to repair their devices.

Don't laugh until you read about the Ink Cartridge Refurbishers lawsuit, when Lexmark put a EULA agreement in the new cartridge box and sued all the way to the Supreme Court that they now had extended patent rights.   This is scary, people, and I warn you not to assume that white guilt over black toxics won't be used very, very predictably.  This is about more than E-Waste.  This is about the Right To Retain Value.

Mississippi Fred McDowell plays John Henry on electric guitar.

 For my mom in the Ozarks, listening to this was 

"controversial".  White Musicians were among the 

first to "break the color barrier", followed by the USA

Army, followed by sports teams.  Geeks and Tinkerers and

Refurbishers should not be last.  And 

environmentalists!  Please!!!

Pull your damn heads out!!!!  You embarrass me.


Elizabeth Chamberlain said...

As always, Robin, a ton of great, provocative questions.

You're quite right to point out that people who purchase, receive, repair, remanufacture, and eventually discard e-waste are not evil, backward, primitive people. They're not victims. I certainly didn't mean to suggest as much by posting that video. And, hopefully obviously, we believe very much in helping people get access to the power of freely available information on the internet.

We love your idea for a better e-waste experiment, too. We don't currently have access to two containers of material—but I'll be thinking about ways we could make this happen.

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate@retroworks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.