EWaste Risk: What Africans Typically Know

More on the UNEP Report... Risk Risk Risk.

Risk and Opportunities of E-Waste:  Where are WEee in Africa?
"Where are WEEE in Africa? 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 in the region."

The report is not about landfilling e-waste.  The thing getting buried is the LEAD, not the lead.
Journalistic leads emphasize grabbing the attention of the reader.[5]
In journalism, the failure to mention the most interesting or attention grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph is sometimes called "burying the lead." [wikipedia 2012.2.21]
The most interesting thing in the studies is the description of the Opportunity for reuse and repair markets, and the opportunities in safe recycling. I wish the Report was a celebration of the Geeks of Color.  The report finds 30,000 electronics repair techs in Ghana alone.  The report says the Tech in Africa earns ten times more than the "scrap boy".  The Fixers should be the story.  The reuse of the imports generates over $100M dollars in nations that need it.  The CRT monitors  get reused, not burned, most of the time.  But (tsk, tsk, tsk) "Opportunity" gets second billing.

Ok, after reuse, ten years later, as Africans generate twice-reused electronics, is that the Risk?  No - the report STILL talks about OPPORTUNITY.   Within the junk, the opportunity of recycling the end of life product, is still an opportunity, the report says.  The report implies that the only problem is that Africans don't know how to do it safely.

The report should be written in this order:

1.  Most of the used electronics imported are reused and repaired.
2.  The reuse and repair create most of the jobs and value.
3.  Africans continue to use and repair the devices for years.
4.  Finally, of the remaining 15%, there is also jobs and value, but we have safety concerns

The fourth is definitely a concern to me, too.  But it's not instruction the Africans need.   It's not technology, either.  Hand disassembly works better than shredding.  The problem is that African have tough choices on where to spend their money, and will face real risks.   They may take the low hanging fruit, the cash crop copper and gold, and leave the difficult stuff for later.  There is also a danger that Africans will suffer toxic consequences if they in turn pass the buck to other Africans, to people who aren't equipt or incentivized to recycle professionally.  That's what happened in China.

How risky is that risk?  Tomorrow I'll go public about the Toxic Risk from recycling e-waste in Africa.

The main risk
 in this whole trade is the risk of being accused, in the west, of being an exporter.   Clients feel that it risks their reputation, recyclers fear they will get photographed with a container in their yards, like Intercon or CRTR.   OEMs are primarily concerned about the risk that White Box Computer factories will crop up, refilling their stupid $22 ink cartridges and reusing their RAM sticks.

My thesis is that The West is primarily concerned about itself, and masquerades that as a concern about African boys working instead of being in school.   Most of us are concerned first with our own liability, and at best the risk to our own consciences, when we believed that most of the e-waste in the dumps was fresh off the boat.   Let's be honest, readers in the west want to hear about OUR stuff, our role.  No one seems to be covering that the UNEP Report is ABOUT Africans and the best things Africans can be doing right now.   I say that the best thing for Africa is to increase their choices of people supplying to them (IE end E-Stewards and SB20 prohibition), and work on as new a used product as they can get their hands on, and then find someone to pay them for the printed circuit boards who will also take the CRT tubes.

One last word about something Africans generally know better than Europe and USA counterparts... RISK.  Africans I know have Risk in perspective.  They know:

1.  Just how soon we are all going to be dead.
2.  Just how long we are all going to stay dead.

There is a perspective and a beauty and a friendliness in Africa that comes from this knowledge of "end of life".  It can also, perhaps, explain the shrugging off of horrible violence.  It also may help explain the joy of religion there. But in general, Africans don't exaggerate their self importance, and their waste, when they are really truly finished with it, isn't tinged by the importance of the generator, quite so very much.  And it means that stalling the internet access for ten more years is not a good option.

I've introduced Recyclers who don't export to people from Africa who wanted to buy from them.   I know what I saw in their eyes.  They are afraid to be voted out of the good people club.

The single biggest risk of recycling e-waste, it appears, is the high correlation to narcissim, and taking yourself way too seriously.  I should know.

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