E-Waste Made Simple. Logo Extortion

"It's as if recoiling from images of poverty is becoming equated with compassion."


That quote was one of my most powerful insights in 2011, crystalized after reading the December Bloomberg piece on fairtrade cotton and Victoria's Secret.  It's a powerful human impulse to harness, and Bloomberg reporter  Cam Newton (not the NFL player) is not the only "parasite of the poor".  Another report came out yesterday from our friends at BAN, loaded with allegation, evidence, and a solution for your e-waste angst, dissonance, panic, unease, discomfort, and fear.  The witch doctor in Seattle has a Copyrighted Logo cure for your toxic juju.


It's the same parasitic business model, harnessing our cognitive risk, unease, and good intentions (or fear of blackmail via public watchdog "outing") without sharing a dime with the poor people used in the process.  Read BAN.org's press release / email. Then look for evidence to support their allegation. 
But what most people don’t know is that most companies that call themselves electronics recyclers are not really recyclers at all.  They are global e-waste dumpers. The vast majority of companies and organizations touting themselves as environmentally friendly “recyclers” are just selling this highly toxic scrap to brokers, who then ship to developing countries in African and Asia where all this waste is broken down in highly dangerous and destructive ways, creating what 60 Minutes calls “the most toxic places on earth” (seewww.ban.org/photogallery).
Most people, Most recyclers,  Most Toxic Place.  Vast Majority...  Hyperbole accusations are a bad sign. The NGO doesn't know what it is talking about, and is making "facts" up as it goes along.  Providing false evidence is the first signal that someone is either mistaken or has an angle.

Pixelating the OECD and Non-OECD E-Waste Geography

I'm about to submerge into Mexico with some professors of history and geography.

The best way to visit the "fair trade recycling" concept will be with history, geography, and economics.  A lot has been written by OECD scholars about "converging markets" and "contract manufacturing".    The question is whether hand- disassembly recycling, repair, and reuse is a decent way to achieve environmental benefit, amd whether it can create sustainable jobs in poorer countries?

OECD lens of Penang, Singapore, and Borneo:  Basel Convention Chaos
My theory, which I've approached from many angles in 2011, is that there has to be something good in trade for two parties to agree to it, and to do it over and over.  If it's not all bad, then it needs to be reformed, not prohibited. Prohibitions and boycotts never work because they ignore supply/demand.

The "attractiveness" of the export boycott is to Americans with typical weakness in geography, math, science and history.  Ignorance lends us to bias.  We draw conclusions from photos.  We think that the entire south of Missouri is wiped off the map when we see homes destroyed by tornadoes in neighborhoods of Joplin.  We think that "non-OECD", plus or minus six billion people, is "primitive".  And if people invest capital around that misperception, they will tend to promote and market to it.

The unholy grail is to get the processes of your competitors declared illegal.  Selling CRTs to be rebuilt into TV/monitor combos?  There may not be any pollution to it, but if I'm running my CRTs through a shredder I bought, it's ok by me for your process to be called "illegal".  As Dilbert calls it, "Using the law to keep justice at bay."  Whether patent law or environmental law or export law, if there are lawyers there are interested parties.

Massachusetts Bottle Bill - Redemption Centers

A brief history of how government programs to collect deposit containers failed to keep up with the times, and what it means for e-waste and health care.


See Boston Globe on Struggling Redemption Centers...

I don't understand how people failed to grasp this when I was at Massachusetts DEP, and still don't seem to grasp it.

The bottle bill was an anti-litter campaign before it was a recycling campaign.  It somewhat arbitrarily went after "carbonated" beverages and not juice, and failed to anticipate bottled water.

Most of the bottles and cans returned for deposit are single-serve.  Most of those are consumed away from home, at the office or in the car.

Most of those are collected by janitors, custodians, and pickers, and brought to redemption centers (not to retail stores).   The redemption centers, in 1996, were 2% of the locations but handled 40+%  of the total volume.  They haven't had a handling fee increase since the 1980s and some of the distributors stopped collecting from them, making them drive out of state to deliver the containers for no additional fee.

Janitors and park-pickers need the redemption centers.  No one wants people with 600 cans and bottles inside the retail supermarkets.  And curbside programs don't do office buildings and parks (though that could change with my Tomra recommendation below).

So here are some recommendations....  15 years later

Postscript: Entrepreneur E-Waste Recycler 2


January 2, 2012:  It being the winter break, I've tinkered with and re-edited yesterday's post on Entrepreneurism several times.  It's better, if not yet shorter, than when it was first posted.  I left the crazy long Mad Man title as kind of a warning that it would be difficult to skim.  The post centers on an essay by Kentin Waits, published in OpenForum.com

Five Essential Characteristics of the Entrepreneural Mind

1.  Creativity
2.  Suspicion of Predictors
3.  Comfort with Uncertainty
4.  Openness to Experimentation
5.  Functional Humility

This morning, I thought about people who are really looking to get into the recycling business, people who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs.  For that audience, my own shanzai essay is a little one sided.

There are of course other true entrepreneurs who have entered the "e-waste" business on completely different terms than I have.  It takes creativity, suspicion, comfort with uncertainty, and experimentation to design an automated shredding and chopping and grinding machine, and to take a chance on not exporting when everyone else is donig so.   I don't look down on any of the companies which established the USA's domestic recycling infrastructure.  In fact, companies like mine NEED them to keep from sending toxics along for the ride, and for improving the junk in loads from 30% to 15% and better.

I can't even blame those who helped to fund the insulting and racist campaign that turned my Egyptian friend Hamdy and his brother Essam, both with medical degrees, into "waste tourists" and criminals.  Or at least, they were suspicious dark skinned exporters who no one felt comfortable trading with.  And the other recyclers can't blame me for taking credit for my own risk.  My ewaste company was on Hamdy's side when their friends twittered down the dictators regime.   If some of the 30,000 computers I sold there since 2001 played a part, I'm glad.

If some of those computers wind up in a Cairo dump 12 years later, with wire yokes scavenged by Zaballeen recyclers, the monitor would still have served its purpose 5 times as long as if it had been shredded after it was upgraded.  And it will have helped 5 times as many people.  And it did something besides play "Doom" or "Second Life".   Heck, the computer itself lived a second life.