Departing Words CES Presentation - "EWaste Not"

OECD is 1/5 of world population, but only 1/2 of sales.  How E-Recycling Opens the Market
Fair Trade Recycling is a 4:1 Friendship
My points on yesterday's panel at CES were that the Geeks of Color, and the buyers in the Emerging / Converging Markets who depend on them, are tomorrow's market. 70% of electronics sales in Africa are used, some of the 30% "new" are actually refurbished cores.

When places like Egypt had a desire for big USA brand names (and aversion to E-Machines), the USA was like Ford Motors, watching new drivers get their licenses and learning to drive used cars.   Ford needs used cars so that people learn to drive sooner and own more cars in their lifetimes.  Similarly, our electronics industry needs the used equipment to give people an incentive to get online, watch programming, etc... which will lead to new markets and sales in the future.

When Egypt or Indonesia bans imports of anything more than 3 years after date of manufacture, it's essentially a ban on all used sales.   Goods are often not sold for a year, and then they are used for at least two years, then it takes months to collect and ship them.

The consumers in those markets are left with 3 choices:

1)  Go without
2)  Buy brand new, with 30% of their total annual income ($3000 per year)
3)  Learn to like cheap no-name, white box, Chinese brands.

This danger is explained in The Battle for China's Good Enough Market, a seminal work in Harvard Business Review (which I bought for reading on a plane coming back from France and Egypt).  If you don't make the product that the emerging market can afford to buy, you are growing competition in the vacuum.

My advice to manufacturers is to stop trying to support the HR2284 bill.   You need these markets (83% of the world) to grow and develop.  Exports of working and repairable is not "market cannabalization" if you don't have the logistics or infrastructure in the market.  Used computers and TVs get the emerging market to "buy in".

Yes, counterfeiting is a problem.  But like a prohibition or "war on drugs", it's futile to send legitimate demand into the black market.   If we supply the goods in Fair Trade Contract terms, we can better control what markets used goods are sold into, and how they are used.

If used cell phones had not been allowed to be sold in Africa or India 10 years ago, would you have the cell phone towers and demand for your product you see now?  For the cell phone tower investors, the used cell phones were essential.  They could not build the bandwidth without a buyer, and the buyers could only afford used.

Fair trade recycling is a decent compromise.

Nasr City E-Reuse
When we trade fairly and honestly with Tinkerers and Geeks overseas, we are doing something much more important than making e-waste recycling affordable in the USA or internet affordable overseas.  This is a good alternative to USAID and other foreign aid programs.   The nations which follow the "reuse blessing" rather than the "natural resource curse" emerge as stable democracies, where people add value by being smart, learning schematics.   Of all the ways an African student of mine could be making money, I can think of nothing that would make me prouder than to come back and find her/him repairing a laptop or cell phone, earning $300 in 30 minutes, and arming the Revolution 2.0 with twitter and Facebook, email and Youtube in 2012.

This isn't really about CRT displays, its about finding the beauty in the free market and fair trade, and teaching fellow environmentalists that we, too, need a "precautionary principle" if we are to begin accusing brown people of being primitive wire burning polluters when what they are actually doing is creating sustainable jobs, without mining, making display units that last 10 more years. Let your eyes adjust to the dark, you may find that the primitives are classifying circuitry, salvaging chips, repairing cell phones, and deserve the courtesy of their own side of the story.

A final irony, as revealed on this blog last spring... when USA and Europe stopped supplying southeast Asia with the gently used OECD CRT monitors for refurbishing in SKD, the factories did not go away, and demand in Africa did not go away.  They used older CRT, refurbished Chinese generated, which often have much higher hourly wear on the cathode ray gun.   So the quality of refurbs to Africa fell, and the E-waste generated in Africa went up, not down.  Thank you, California.  SB20 is the gift that keeps on giving me the creeps.

No intact unit = let them eat cake. 

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