Press Rains: India Pours OUT E-waste

First things first.  Let me welcome Elizabeth Chamberlin of, a new blogger using Kyle's photos to tell the other side of the story.  She came charging out of the gate last week.   Hope she puts me out of business.

Actual interview with actual recycler
Second, for a wider audience, ALJAZEERA is back on the job, and getting closer.    Reporter Sohail Rahman is NOT reporting a "feel-good story" on e-waste in Al-Jazeera, but it's fair.   He documents both good (recycling and reuse rates), bad (aqua regia and toxic recycling processes) and ugly (women doing hard recycling work without toxics, but without sophisticated tools either).

Obviously a "ban on exports" will do nothing for Mowgli's Sister Meena (interviewed in the film).  Almost as obviously, the recycling shown kicks the bejeezus out of Mining and Smelting and Disposal as an environmental process.  What bugs us are images of poverty.  Most Americans want to vote whatever takes the photos off the screen.  Banning trade with these people, however, is just turning our heads, it does nothing to help.  She says in the interview that the boss gets the money and decides what to pay her.  What we want to do is give the boss even nicer material, with more repair value, from richer neighborhoods - in return for sharing the proceeds fairly with Meena.  That, says, makes me an "apologist" and makes Meena "a polluter".

This film shows a lot of what I saw nine and a half years ago when I visited Guangzhou.  Except its missing the also really cool and great stories of Techs of Color fixing and reusing and Tinkering, riffing like guitarists, whipping new uses out of old chips and display units, turning yesterday's CRT monitor into tomorrow's TV-Video-Monitor combo with all-bandwidth tuner technology.

This puts an exclamation point on the previous three films I wrote about last weekend.  If you BAN it, the waste will still come.  The assumption that used electronics found at Agbogbloshie were taken straight off the boat was questionable when Greenpeace showed new-black units coming out of the sea container, it was suspicious when Memorial U's Josh Lepawski brought back photos with Ghana Agency names on the computers, and Adam Minter's shakes its head at how women who recycle are depicted only as victims.  Kyle Wiens and are showing that Geeks are People, Too, even when English is their second or third or fourth language.

For ten years, I've been saying this, as someone who travels to and escorts reuse through these countries.  The Techs, Geeks, and Tinkerers are being ignored, the pollution is being hyped, and the opportunity - to leverage proper infrastructure through contracts with valuable refurbishing - is being lost.  This is going to blow so wide open I'm going to be forgotten.  I'll be the guy who said "look, there's an iceberg" on the deck of the E-Waste Watchdog's Titanic.  I probably won't even get a seat at lifeboat.

It's said he was a bad communicator (Bulgarian passive)
That's what Zen is for.  Mixed with the right volume of karma and born-again-itis, you can champion the poor and just feel warm zen without acknowledgement, and know that God would have done this without you, you were only aiming your sights in the right direction.  It doesn't matter who felled the Tyrant, it matters what the Agents of Conscience do next.

When you have interviewed men in their seventies, men like Baynard Paul, Jim Harvey, Sheldon Appel, Milty Schaeffer, people who took paper recycling from invention to more commonplace than laundromats, you see that people tend to forget the names who were the entrepreneurs.  E-waste recycling will be the same.  I'm cool with that, to have my name on a list of people whose names are forgotten.  We are all going to be the Unknown Recycling Soldiers, Jim Puckett included.

Instead of a flame, we should have compost bin. 

1 comment:

Elizabeth Chamberlain said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Robin—and for the fascinating video and your spot-on commentary.