EWaste Whiplash I: Recycling Trade Between Rich and Poor

clap, clap, clap.
WHIPLASH and E-Waste Trade:  Good and Evil do battle in international markets, non-profit NGO rescues virgin natives from sinister computer exporter / exploiter...

Smile and wave, clap and nod... that's the instructions for ewaste recycling companies when we read the headlines of E-Stewards and EPA crackdowns.   We aren't asked to share data on what the markets, like here in Lima, are actually like.   That would be like discussing sex, religion, profits, and politics all in one dinner conversation.  Everything mom told you not to talk about at parties.

From time to time a regulator or researcher confides to me, that they read the blog, that they personally are curious about fair trade recycling, and the Geeks of Color.  But they don't want to be seen talking to me, or Dieu forbid, leaving public comments.  I get enough personal private feedback to keep writing.  But no one wants to turn over the money-changer tables with me.  Reminds me of private discussions about Christianity in Arkansas when I was growing up... fascinating and intellectual, but not too loud, keep this between us.

But so much of the news coverage is stupid.  Dudley-Do-Right-Stupid.

Coverage has been 81.3% black and white, victim and protector, Reefer Madness BS.  There is more-than-a-lot of grey area between "consenting adults", and the word "exploitation" is used to describe the concerns third parties have over the consummation.  We are indeed exporting garbage, but it's in the form of negative propaganda about the repair and recycling trade.  Pictures of children in poor countries!!!  BAN.org and SVTC.org and ETB have become like some kind of Save The Children campaign which eliminates the hassle of sending a dime to the kids in the photos.  They are surrounded by good people, but it has become a charity based on NOT doing something (buying and selling used electronics).  The more money you give them, the more they tell people what not to do?

Just remove parts prior to export
Parasites of the Poor.  And when I say that, I'm considered too far right, too radical, politically incorrect, and crazy ol' uncle Rob.  People suggest I say it differently, i.e. in a manner which doesn't threaten the fundraising.   "We wouldn't be talking about e-waste if it wasn't for these NGOs".

Maybe not.  Maybe we'd have been talking about mining rainforests and coral reefs with conflict mining child warriors sending tantalum and coltan money to Kony.  Maybe we'd see that the biggest lead poisoning cases in Nigeria have nothing to do with recycling, but come from rare metal mining.  Maybe we'd be talking about MEST and the actual choices people recycling scrap metal have in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Maybe we would actually NOTICE when BAN uses a photo from the outside of this cell phone repair shop to make its case that Geeks of Color are poisoning children, rather than the truth, which is that they refurbish cell phones for farmers in Africa, and reuse chips from phones - reuse even component level parts which took coltan from child warriors to make in the first place.

Why do I get so frustrated at the non-profits?  Why don't I be more diplomatic?  Well, maybe because here I am, once again in the emerging markets (South America), and geek businesspeople are giving up, buying cheap Chinese virgin made products.  The choices given them were to buy from the Americans who are willing to sell "e-waste" to them, which unfortunately includes no one with a conscience.

The people with a conscience are all drinking E-Steward Kool-Aid and boycotting the Techs and Geeks like they are some kind of cyber-leper.  They face shakedowns at customs, as duty officers threaten to seize the whole investment as "e-waste pollution".  They risk too much when they buy affordable used products.  They are told to buy tested working, fully functional equipment from shredding companies which produce "no intact unit" California-fluff.

They are giving up.  And when they give up, they open restaurants.  They need jobs.  Used computers and TV repair was a good job, but that got too political for them.

Here is my family having dinner in a shop which 4 years ago sold used computers and TVs from Middlebury.  These people are still my friends, but they are giving up and trying something else.  Used USA equipment used to be 100% of their family income.  They now buy "brand new cheap-o" Chinese electronics (which is getting better and better), and run restaurants.  Across the street, a former competitor's shop is still selling used TVs and PCs, but my friends threw in the towel.  This will be how Peruvians meet Americans now, as tourists not as traders.

Malcolm Rouse-West Art
Restaurants are not a bad career.  They aren't mining, they aren't warfare, they aren't corrupt government, they aren't sex traffic, they aren't drugs, or burning toxic electric cable (where the lead in the soil samples comes from, Bozo).

This is not the career which made Terry Gou of Foxconn, or Simon Lin, or the Japanese or Korean Tinkerers who went from refurbishing used electronics and cars to owning Sony, Samsung, and Hyundai.

These are people who know how to repair and replace a capacitor, turning a junk computer into a working P4, turning $10 worth of scrap into 2,000 soles (about $800).

And now they are turning... chicken.  On a spit.  It's delicious, by the way.  Maybe instead of Simon Lin, they can dream of becoming Colonel Sanders.  That's less threatening to us, perhaps, the brown people wearing chef and servants uniforms... instead of brown people in suits that we find out manufacture all the Apple gadgets and smart phones we thought were American.  And maybe that's the image my children will remember from their trips overseas... being waited on and served food.  But they got to see some geeks replacing capacitors too.

Tomorrow Part II:  Ewaste Whiplash 

How the parasitic do-gooders become ayatollahs, priests, and Aztec heart-grabbers... creating "blasphemy" fear inside our own environmental movement... using fear of SEX, vulnerable lasses, and the ju-ju of procreation.

(I'm going to try for an eSTORK series of posts here.   I thought those were too long to be read, but they did rather well and continue to get hits over a minute long)

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