SCIENCE DAILY: Africa E-Waste Hoax Confirmed!!!

NEWS FLASH:  Most used computers and electronics found in Africa were purchased and imported at very great expense.   There is no incentive to pay for and ship junk.  The logic of anti-export organizations - that a few good ones at retail could explain their claim of 80% junk - may work mathematically, but makes no business sense.   Why would Africans buy the goods for $20, and pay $19 per unit just to ship each one, and then burn them for $3 worth of copper?  Today's Science Daily refers to UN Studies providing us with the truth about e-waste:

Domestic Consumption Main Contributor to Africa's Growing E-Waste Problem

ScienceDaily (Feb. 10, 2012) — In the five countries studied in the report "Where are WEEE in Africa?" (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria), between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tons of domestic E-waste are generated each year, which need to be managed to protect human health and the environment in the region. The report sheds light on current recycling practices and on socio-economic characteristics of the E-waste sector in West Africa. It also provides the quantitative data on the use, import and disposal of electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) in the region. The report draws on the findings of national E-waste assessments carried out in the five countries from 2009 to 2011. 
The article takes its news from the report "Where are WEEE in Africa", published by the Basel Convention Secretariat.

FACT CHECK:  As fewer rich nations allow surplus e-waste exports to Africa, but demand remains, the quality goes down.   There are fewer suppliers to choose from.  PROHIBITION ECONOMY 101.  The lower the quality, the faster Africa's domestic recycling problem grows.  'War on reuse" makes it worse.

The Solution is obvious to the writers at Science Daily and the Basel Secretariat.   Allow import for reuse and repair, and have the companies exporting provide incentives and training to improve the recycling infrastructure.   In other words, Basel Secretariat and Science Daily just threw another big log on the Fair Trade Recycling bonfire.  Interestingly, the opinions in the Techie Listserve, Slashdot, overwhelmingly side with the obvious... reuse and repair are good, donating to good recycling beats banning bad recycling.

Multiple UN studies now confirm what we've been telling you from the field.  Most of the junk discarded by Africans was twice-reused for years, not hauled out of sea containers to avoid recycling fees in rich nations.   The used computer stores accept trade ins, but they make their money selling gently used equipment, like Goodwill or Salvation Army.   It's simple.  Poor techs, geeks of color, prefer to buy and work on rich people's surplus.  That's why they import.  Rich people discard after 3 years, and unless it's shredded, an African will try to buy it and use it for another ten years.  Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul all know, you collect used goods in the rich neighborhoods like Wellesley, you may sell in Mattapan and Southie.

From the Basel Study:
The research revealed that there are some specific similarities between the refurbishing and recy-cling sectors in Nigeria and Ghana. In both countries, there is a well-organized repair and refur-bishing sector that is focused on used equipment either from imports or from domestic sources such as businesses and households. In both Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria), this refurbishing sector generates income for more than 30,000 people...
 One major challenge for West African countries is to prevent the import of e-waste and near-end-of-life equipment without hampering the socio-economically valuable trade of used EEE of good quality. In addition, high volumes of domestically generated e-waste require well-functioning local take-back and recycling systems. Challenges include the establishment of appropriate collection strategies, ensuring that high volumes of valuable and nonvaluable waste fractions are collected equally and that those fractions reach appropriate treatment and disposal facilities. In addition, connecting informal collectors to a formal recycling structure is pivotal, along with appropriate capacity building and training. 
Locally adapted recycling technologies for West Africa should make use of the abundant labor force instead of deploying expensive shredding and sorting machinery. To ensure a maximum yield of valuable recycling fractions, West African recyclers should be encouraged to interlink with international recycling companies and networks to develop market outlets for their pre-processed e-waste fractions for a maximized return of value for secondary raw materials.  A sustainable e-waste management system would also need an adequate financing scheme, a level playing field and appropriate market incentives. It is thought that similar to policies in OECD countries, e-waste recycling systems in Africa could be developed in line with the principle of Extended Producer Re-sponsibility.

Is the system perfect?  No.  It needs reform.  What Africa needs is the same thing the USA and EU needed fifteen years ago - a cleaner recycling system for the stuff that eventually goes bad.  They DON'T need to be cut off the internet, or to be forced to spend half their annual salary on a brand new computer.  China has more scrap-economy demand, a different subject (see 2010 E-Waste Travels in Scrap Metal)

Josh Lepawsky, Memorial U 2010 Agbogbloshie Ghana
Josh Lepawsky of Memorial University visited Agbogbloshie in Ghana within the last couple of years, and sent this photographic evidence of the kinds of computers seen at the primitive dumps... note the "property of" melted into the case.

Some people think I took a big risk by saying this, and by getting louder during the past year.  My article in AllVoices,   E-Waste Recycling Hoax? Basel NGO Profits from Racial Pics went too far, said friends.  I needed to find compromise with the people who were using kids photos to get donations from shredding and planned obsolescence industries.

A few scientific journals, like Discovery and NIH reporter Charles Schmidt tried to balance the claim that perhaps the Geeks of Color are doing something besides paying $20 to buy a computer, $19 to ship a computer, and then setting it ablaze for $3 worth of copper.  And reporters like Tom Knudson showed the cost of assuming otherwise, as California created a taxpayer scam to shred computers prior to export.  NPR Marketplace and Living on Earth visited fair trade recycling in Mexico, and witnessed that proper recycling, even the bad material, didn't need to be shameful.  Recyclers in poor nations, like our own cub scouts and girl scouts, deserve badges and sustainability medals, not insults.  Adam Minter has done his part, and Kyle Wiens of and the Atlantic are helping to correct the imbalanced perception that "recycling while brown" or "fixing while black" is a crime.

Remove 6 more screws, then set on fire
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has had the guts to stand up to ill-researched legislation which would ban us from trading with geeks from other nations.  EPA, with the CRT Rule, had the guts to listen to both sides and refused to slam the door on exporters who kept records and proved responsible recycling.  R2 Solutions faced a walkout, and pressure from the Watchdogs, and paid a heavy price for not sending exports to the back of the bus.  There are other heroes.

But even many WR3A members preferred not to be public.  They wanted to trade when it made sense, but not put their names out publicly as exporters.  Most gave support to the blog with anonymous comments.  The threat of the lynch mob was too great.  BAN Watchdogs made examples of their own, as Intercon and ERI were forced to "see the light" or lose their contracts.  "Are you now, and have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party."

Friends of mine cautioned that the risk was too great.  What if one of the computers I sold to Egypt really was bad?  What if one got broken and was thrown away?  What if one was disassembled or burned by a child?

I needed to compromise with the people who "outed" the Big Secret Factory in Semarang, Indonesia, and which stopped the Klang Malaysia CRT furnace from using CRT glass cullet from USA recyclers.  But when I tried the California Compromise, within days the Asian EPAs were called by BAN offices to start the lynch mob...
And others, I'm sad to say, refused to look at the numbers, were slow to raise their hands as dictators used the E-Waste Hoax to ban affordable internet (I had 3 containers of working P4s seized in Egypt in 2008).

Even Interpol and Europol said it was African criminal gangs who pay for the computers and import 80% junk for primitive burning.

Even StEP and EPA eventually became nervous that the claims of primitive African exports were so pervasive that the safe thing was to assume the worst.

Only WR3A and Fair Trade Recycling, and groups like Timothy Anderson's World Computer Exchange, and Interconnection in Seattle, stuck with our friends in Africa.  Tucson Clean and Beautiful stood up for the Chicas Bravas when the City of Tucson cancelled their contract for the crime of "recycling while brown".  Other heroes in the USA and Europe continued to refuse the pressure to shred working and reuseable computers... I'll miss someone in the shout-outs.

Where were you?  
What did you say about Geek-to-Geek Trade?  
Alter-globalization is the civil rights march of our decade.  

A number of good people are still sitting on the fence.

BAN says African Fixers will get ahead without imports .... by buying and fixing computers discarded in other poor and destitute nations.  SVTC and Electronics Takeback Coalition would ban the factories in Indonesia which originally made computers from taking back their own and refurbishing for Africa.  Sego Jackson tsk-tsks that the quality of refurbished monitors is declining, while the West Coast shreds every newer item and forces the factories bo buy from back alley recycle abortion doctors.  Lots of good people are on the Planned Obsolescence and Shredding Industrial Complex [#POSIC] train.

Lenovo Thinkpad 600E?  I recommend burning at 620 C with butane fuel
News Flash:  The non-OECD nations, 83 percent of the world population, has cities and offices and garbage, too.  And they do a better job of fixing, recycling and repairing it than WE do.

The Product Stewardship movement still has time to miss this POSIC train, but they have come way too close to drinking the kool-aid.  They must not embrace the theory that Africans should get internet by trading with each other, between poor and poor... Buying and fixing computers Stewardship Program states can work, if regulators don't ban it.   Africans want to buy used goods from cities so obscenely wealthy that they mine Africa for copper and coltan to make flatter and flatter displays, then toss out monitors that work for 25 years as if Moore's law applied to Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs).

In Vermont's Stewardship program, for example, all exports of all computers may be technically illegal, because none has been "approved" by ANR, and ANR defines "local reuse" (banned) as "The USA".  Even tested working items to Montreal.  Because the regulators put themselves into the position of "not without our approval" but are then afraid to approve it, product stewardship becomes a accidental member of the Planned Obsolescence and Shredding Industry Complex.

Fair Use Polk of Granatstein
That is the logic of cognitive dissonance... giving government a decision it is not comfortable with.  It's a slow process for the risk-averse, who tend to hold onto government jobs (unlike me, who left a terrific state job after 8 years).  If you allow the slaves to be free, what if they really do ... fail to integrate, are incapable of work, rape our daughters, etc.?  Let's compromise, not be in a lynch mob, but segregate.  Sound familiar?  The majority of Americans who practiced that were no stupider than the people who are afraid to trade and buy and sell computers with African geeks.

Solly Granatstein is probably one man who could do something  More than anyone else, CBS has been the source cited at the witch trials. This was exactly the story I was warning you about.  The Shredding/Obsolescence Industrial Complex is working bills to make my fair trade recycling work illegal.  And time and time again, your CBS 60 Minutes Wasteland Story is all the proof people need to convict my friends of recycling while brown.

Solly seemed like a good guy.  I appreciate he tried  but was on deadline, and Scott Pelly had a red-meat story and a tossled cameraman.  But when CBS finds itself cited as a "source" of the statistic that 80% of e-waste is exported to a primitive fate, and that Guiyu is the "most toxic place on earth", and that Guiyu's material didn't come from inside China but was imported from the USA.... CBS needs to see who slipped them the numbers.  Not Science Daily, not the UN, but someone making millions off of childrens photos in a massive e-waste scam.

CBS should be the FIRST to report on the Science Daily article.   To paraphrase Good Will Hunting...
Solly, Do you like Apple?
I got real numbers. How about them Apples? 

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