Marketing Confirmation Bias for E-Waste

Here's the simple thing about electronics recycling.  If you are an electronics recycler, which would you rather unload into your building today?

1)  Two trailers of gently used rich people stuff (high repair and reuse value)
2)  One trailer of gently used rich people stuff, and one trailer of obsolete "ewaste"
3)  Two trailers of obsolete "ewaste"?

Does the answer to this question depend on your race, your language, or your identity?  Or is it a universal obvious fact that we prefer items of more value?

No tech or geek I know cares about the "nationality" of a device.  A Chinese geek will prefer a P4 to a P2.  An African geek, working diligently on repairing a P3 for hours, will quickly abandon his invested time if a newer laptop is set on the desk.   Everyone prefers gently used rich people stuff.

If this is boring and obvious, then why is 100% of the dialog about banning poor people from importing rich peoples stuff?  Why are the African e-waste PACE project assuming "no imports"?

Dictators and Planned Obsolescence.

It's normal that BAN has a confirmation bias about the plight of poor kids who have toxics in their blood.  Even if the toxics from leaded gasoline or gold mining accounts for far more poisoning, any poisoning of any child seems unacceptable.  And if something is completely unacceptable, we will have a confirmation bias (ban exports) towards anything that appears to move the other direction.  They see the import glass as 20% empty.

But those of us who have lived in the developing world and have friends there see that geekdom is the opposite of the "resource curse", and that the jobs creasted overseas by the trailerloads of gently used rich people stuff are far better for Africans than other jobs available.  So our bias is that the import glass is 80% full.

I'm as guilty of confirmation bias as any human, I'm going to get a high from UNEP studies which confirm my 2005 hypothesis.   But I have no source of funding to promote my bias.

BAN got another rich company, Sims, to join their E-Steward campaign.   The origin is California, where counties were disqualifying Sims bids, and in particular, California Universities... which are the biggest source of trailerloads of gently used rich people tech there are.

Running rich people tech through a shredder means that the African and Asian and South American e-waste recyclers will get more trailers of obsolete junk, low profit material, as a percentage.  We have demonstrated in Retroworks de Mexico that they are able to do that work, that it's possible to do by hand.  But if they can do it for the domestic junk, why can't they do it for the 20% of bad stuff in the export trailer?  If they can buy tested working, and then properly recycle the unit 5 years later when it stops working, why can't they properly recycle it if they cannot repair it, and keep the money - the big money - they would make on it if they can?

Banning exports of used electronics is a marketing campaign which touches on the basest biases that Europeans and Americans have.   Finding a small piece of electronics, upgraded from a working unit or replaced from a unit sent for repair, is an obvious example of confirmation bias.  If you have set up an E-Stewards program based on no exports, or you've built a shredder to manage California material, or you are selling brand new product and don't want "market cannibalization" competition with your own used product, or you are a dictator who doesn't want tweets and youtube to be widely accessible, then you can all agree, can't you, that the tiny capacitor replaced by a geek of color makes the entire trailerload illegal waste?

And you can pool your resources to market over and over again, pictures of dirty, poor, sad children... whose parents will unload two trailerloads of material today at their African e-waste processing plant.

1 comment:

Oz said...

One of my favorite posts lately. Completely agree with your point of view.