E-Waste Vid: Beginning, Endings, Boundaries, Edges

A non-political, fresh take on "e-waste" trade and export by third party researchers (J. Lepawsky, C. Mather) in Newfoundland brings us back to the beginning, for me.  The 2011 film is titled "From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges:  Rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste."  It touches on reuse, disposal, mining, recycling, and people as conveyors, adding and salvaging and retaining value in a chain.   Lepawsky and Mather are listening to the e-waste trade, rather than lecturing to it.

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THIS IS MY CRACK: Internet Printing Press in "Good Enough" Markets

Is it possible that Guiyu, China, has just as many noble reuse jobs (reuse of boards at the chip level) as it does "primitive wire burning" jobs?

Is it possible that more of the -e-scrap in Guiyu comes from huge cities than from imports? (metro Shenzhen-Guangzhou-HongKong has the population of JAPAN)

Is it possible that most of the scrap in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, comes from twice-reused goods, and not straight out of sea containers?

Is it possible that the Basel Convention, in Annex IX B1110, explicitly makes import of display devices for re-manufacturing and reuse legal?

Is it possible that Indonesia has huge, contract-manufacturing factories with hundreds of employees refurbishing PCs and displays for white-box sales to places like India and Egypt?

Is it possible that the Arab Spring or green revolution would never have happened without USA and European exports of cell phones and monitors for repair and reuse?

Is it possible that none of the E-Stewards recyclers is even coming close to the NGO's goals of supplying those markets with "fully functional, tested working" equipment?

Is it possible that innocent Geeks of Color, techs in Jakarta, Cairo, Lima and Nairobi, are being racially profiled as "criminal enterprises" because they prefer to work on Stuff thrown out by rich neighborhoods, rather than poor?

A journalist like Michael Rey, Nichole Young, Solly Granatstein, Ben Elgin, Brian Grow, Terri Gross, Scott Pelley, or John Stossel (all of whom have done "gotcha" stories on e-waste recycling) hasn't really done their job if they don't check these boxes, i.e., at least ASK the questions.  When they do visit the alleged ewaste import sites and ask these questions of the alleged "criminals", reporters tend produce more nuanced stories, like those written by Ingrid Lobet, Tom Knudson, Adam Minter, Klaus Neimann and Brian X. Chen.

Journalists aren't experts, and they cannot succumb to the temptation of posing as experts.  What they can do is apply Socratic Method to a dispute or exaggerated claim.  The latter, claims by "recyclers" who were actually exporting most of their equipment, seemed like an easy thing to test without going very deep into the developing world.  But they should have found one of the 3 billion people earning $3K per year, and asked them more questions.  Like, how they are getting online and communicating, when they can't afford a new PC?  Then they should ask them where the good ones went (to doctors offices, internet cafes, and college dorms) before photographing leftovers on the ground, and printing "80% waste" baloney.

New Allegations by Basel Action Network vs. Indonesia

As regular readers know, I believe the biggest environmental outrage of the decade was Basel Action Network's accusation in 2010 of a large scale computer monitor takeback and refurbishing factory (PT Imtech of Semarang, Indoenesia) of being a "hazardous waste" polluter.   BAN refused to ever acknowledge that the factory was permitted, ISO9000, ISO14001, had put glass-to-glass washing equipment for incidental breakage, and was providing sustainable recycling and reuse jobs in the tsunami-ravaged nation.

I don't have any details about the accusation made late yesterday against the Netherlands and other exporters of "e-waste" to Jakarta.  It may or may not be  one of the Indonesian Techs we interviewed on camera.

We do know for sure that BAN has falsely accused people in the past, and has a pattern of not admitting it or explaining themselves.  BAN made false statements about the 2010 rejection (BAN said in writing that the Indonesian government had opened the containers and discovered hazardous waste, but the Indonesian government said that they were "notified" by BAN that the containers has HW and returned them unopened).  We got independent verification from Port of Boston officials (where the 2010 containers were returned) that the seals on the containers had not been opened.

We cannot defend anyone involved in today's case, as we have done no more business in Indonesia.   Perhaps the "e-waste" is hazardous, I really don't know.

Here is video and slides of a factory I do know was in Jakarta, where todays containers were seized.  They refurbished computers into like-new condition and sold them in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Iran and other nations which were hungry for affordable internet.  When we visited, they were refurbishing 5,000 computer devices per DAY and employed hundreds of people.  Yes, that's 5,000 units per DAY.

I approached BAN about a Compromise two years ago... hoped that BAN would look at these pictures and perhaps feel a little remorse, and be a little gentler about the concept of Fair Trade Recycling.   Jim was civil, but said his hands were tied, as he believed that the export SHOULD be made illegal, even if it was not, event if no pollution resulted.  His theory was that rich people will always abuse poor people, and stopping the trade between rich nations and poor would result in poor nations "leapfrogging" into better technology.   While he admitted it wasn't actually illegal under Basel Convention, that for consistency he had to oppose it because he objected to that part of the Basel Convention (Annex IX).

BAN's solution to me was that Basel Convention Annex IX B1110 (which makes this activity LEGAL) should be amended by a Basel Ban Amendment (so that even if legal now, it would become illegal), and that the factory should buy worn out stuff from poor countries instead of the 3 year old equipment they like to refurbish from rich countries.  Then BAN said that they would meet the demand for internet by selling "tested working" and "fully functional" computers from E-Stewards, eliminating the need for refurbishing jobs in Indonesia.  We wonder how close to 5,000 working units per day their E-Steward shredding companies have come.

So in the past the NGO has committed fraud.  In the past the NGO created a hoax that the computers at the dump in Ghana were recently imported (no evidence of that).  We'll see whether their history of false accusations is even brought up by Treehugger, Grist, Huffington Post or Good.

The European and American press are cowards for not uncovering the money that goes from planned obsolescence interests into this shady, reckless, racist organization in Seattle whose job it is to chase reuse entrepreneurs out of the closet.  This Seattle NGO organization does nothing for the environment.   The biggest shame of the environmental movement is that they continue to circulate the accusations and stories and never lift a finger to investigate the truth about the people who have committed no crime except to be geeks of a different color.

Basel Action Networks press release is below.  Maybe this time they are right.  A broken clock does that twice per day.  If the formula is to accuse every geek of color who buys surplus property from rich nations a polluter, they may eventually get one... because they have millions of people to profile.

113 Containers of Toxic Waste Arrives at Indonesian Port
Groups Call for Ratification of Basel Ban and Crackdown on Global Dumping
Jakarta, Indonesia, February 3 2012 – On the heels of massive quantities of toxic wastes arriving at the Jakarta Tanjung Priok Port last week, environmental groups led by Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, the Basel Action Network, Ban Toxics, and BaliFokus condemned the illegal trade and urged world governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and to enforce the Basel Convention as a matter of urgency. 

"Winning" the War on Diversity, Alabama Style

Howdy, I growed up in Arkansas, and am always keeping an eye out on our state ranking. Alabama has usually kept out of the fray in the fight between 49th and 50th rank between Mississippi and Arkansas.  But, as The Economist observes, a new Immigration Law in Alabama may succeed where teenage pregnancy and ignorance has failed.  FTA

ALABAMA’S immigration law, boasted Micky Hammon, an Alabama legislator and one of its co-authors, “attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life. They will not stay in Alabama…This bill is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves.” It is not, however, designed to introduce visiting executives from Mercedes-Benz, which employs thousands at its factory in the state, to the pleasures of Alabama’s jails. But that is what happened to Detlev Hager, who was caught in November driving in Tuscaloosa with only German ID on him.
The article describes how the Alabama legislator "shrewdly included a severability clause, ensuring that if a court strikes down or prohibits one part of the law, the rest remains in effect."  My God, it's Brilliant!
...Mr Hammon’s fond hope—that illegal immigrants will leave—seems to have come true. Anecdotal reports suggest that thousands of Latinos, legal as well as illegal, have left Alabama. Farmers complain of rotting crops and building companies of rising costs, both because there are too few workers. Samuel Addy, an economist at the University of Alabama, estimates the law’s total cost—taking into account productivity declines, increased enforcement cost, and declines in aggregate consumer spending and tax revenue since so many workers have left—in the billions.
The Chicago Tribune reports Addy's estimated cost to Alabama at $10.8 billion.  This is similar to the outcome expected from another "good theory", about e-waste recycling, championed by a group of shredding companies in support of the Green Thompson anti-export bill.  Their idea is that if we eliminate exchange of goods and services, the USA will create jobs.  

The idea may or may not have a certain local merit (if you work at a shredding company in California).  But shredding money generally doesn't increase payroll.   Like the anti-immigration bill in Alabama, the economic theory won't pass the straight-face test on its economic merits.  But it nevertheless finds political fuel from the basest American instincts, as it becomes tinged with the latent passions of jealousy and racism.  Some people think that money coming into their state is not the answer - that their boats will only rise if they vote other peoples' boats to sink.

The theory is, if you stop trading with 83% of the world, and in particular the 3 billion people who are getting online internet at ten times the rate of the developing world, using used display units and other "non-obsolete" surplus which doesn't obey "Moore's law" of obsolescence, USA jobs will result.  All you have to do is turn $100 billion dollars of repairable IT equipment upgraded every year into $1 billion dollars of scrap.  Sit back and watch as the jobs arrive faster than Alabama White Collar Cotton Pickers.


It's an old lesson, retold from a letter in 1865, written by a former slave to his former Tennessee slave owner (republished on the web this week, e.g. Huffington Post).

It's a lesson Alabama is re-learning, as the immigrants walk away from the fields and leave crops to rot.  It's a lesson Basel Action Network brought to us when they wrote letters to Malaysia objecting to Samsung Corning using USA CRT cathode ray tube cullet to make new recycled CRTs... Malaysia decided they could get all the CRT cullet they needed from Japan and Korea, thanks much.  And it's a lesson BAN brought to us again when BAN attacked contract manufacturing factories.  Remember, those are the "big secret factories" which upgrade CRT displays by the thousands per day for affordable use in the mideast and Africa (CRTs withstand heat better than LCDs).  The factories are still there, and still buying... they just are not buying from the USA.  Thanks.   That's going to create more jobs here in Vermont when I turn the $200K we used to get from reuse into -minus -$30K in CRT glass cullet.

There is something in Jourdan Anderson's letter to confederate Colonel P.H. Anderson, which seems to repeat itself in the history of trade between immigrants in Alabama and Geeks of Color in overseas refurbishing and recycling markets...

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
Jourdon Anderson.

Fair Trade Recycling: Networks of Tinkerers

I have a lot of deadlines pressing, and a lot of 80% finished stuff in the DRAFTS folder, so I'll be spending less time in the next week competing for the latest and most cutting edge developments on electronics scrap export policy, surplus property policy, e-waste, digital divide, and Fair Trade Recycling.  We do have a big WR3A Announcement coming down the pike in the next 2 weeks, so stay tuned.

Tinkered Printing Press
Meanwhile, we try to be a resource for university and college students who are studying the past and present about trade in "e-waste" and surplus property.  We have an exciting new Master's Thesis student here in Middlebury for 6 months, who traveled from Paul Cezanne University in France just to study "E-Waste" with WR3A.

Many of these students come from other nations, and it's obvious to many of them that transfer of surplus technology is a transfer of wealth.  We never seem to see that simple idea in any UN, EU, or even EPA documentation.  It's as if our culture has become so obsessive-compulsive about food spoilage in the refrigerators that we are banning sale of food to starving nations unless we have proof it won't spoil.  If you give food to a starving child, you better have done your paperwork.

The "hyperbole of harm" accusations by groups like Basel Action Network have made donations and trade almost "radioactive" for donors.  Who is hurt?  Poor people, democracy, and the environment.  

My "hypothesis" that "tinkering" (see Japan, a Network of Tinkerers, Y. Takahashi, 2000) is the opposite of the "resource curse", that repair and refurbishing (or "Yankee Ingenuity") is a form of "value added" which has been critical to the most successful international development stories... it can probably be documented here in the USA when Yankees bought manufacturing practices and "surplus from upgrades" from England (c.f. Benjamin Franklin autobiography, on printing technology).

So again for the academics, here is some light reading about how Japan went from resource-starved and military complex into becoming the kingpin for technology two decades later.  This is happening in real time in India, Indonesia, and China - just to  name three of the five largest countries in the world, two of them the top Muslim population and largest democracies.

A Network of Tinkerers:
The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan
Yuzo Takahashi
Technology and Culture
Vol. 41, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 460-484
(article consists of 25 pages)
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25147538
A Network of Tinkerers: The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan