Earth Day: Pre-Apology to EWaste Watchdogs

I've been working all week on a formal apology - or rather, a "Separate Peace" letter for Basel Action Network.   I'll never try anything like the California Compromise with them again.  Whether the "outing" of the Indonesian SKD factory was the direct result of my sharing the information about them with BAN, or not, they were callous at best and continued to not lift a finger to help my friends...

But I learned last week that the Indonesians are shrugging it off.   They appreciate my attention to righting the infamy.  It hurt, the stupid anti-reuse policy cost them tens of thousands of dollars and forced shutdown of a recycling operation for Indonesia-generated e-waste.

But they are getting over it.  Seeing them calm and laughing and making do reminds me of what I loved about my years in Africa.   People didn't hold grudges so much, didn't take themselves all that way too seriously.

And so the point has come that I need to move on.  If USA wants to keep thinking Egyptians are burning the computers they bought for $30 in a landfill and that Egyptian authorities in 2008 were concerned about the environment, well, we think plenty of stupid things and that's number umpteen on some list.

The trick writing-and-rewriting an apology is that it has to be done well.  If you are not really ready to apologize and are going to work in some blame-deflection, then don't do it yet.

This was my family's hostess, a really beautiful young South American woman.  She used to import used USA electronics, and built a business with 6 employees.  Then she bought used Chinese TVs as Chinese cities all moved to flat screens.  Then she bought cheap Chinese-factory refurbished flat screens.   She'd like to start a factory making new product in Peru... but for now she's helping her brother open a restaurant in the shop they used to sell CRT monitors in.


Sobering Next E-Waste Decade

The "e-waste trade" was mis-characterized from 2000-2010.  While about 15-30% of exports were scrapped, the scrap was not particularly dangerous (not found to cause the water pollution in Guiyu, and most lead poisoning comes from burning heavy insulated electric cable, not lead solder or CRT glass).  There was a lot of fodder to write about, in a debate whether the export glass was 80% empty or 80% full.

There is a change I can report on, from my trip to South America.

da pond ain't so small, eh?
During most of the past decade, the USA, Europe and Japan represented "the only game in town" for large scale refurbishing factories.  Contract manufacturers (takeback) operated 3-shifts per day, refurbishing and upgrading white-box computers and displays for "good enough" markets in India and China.  They depended on wealthy nations with 10 years of surplus in order to operate at scale and meet demand, just as they had depended on those nations as consumers for their scale of manufacturing in the 1990s.

When California took itself off the market, it had supply-demand effects on NJ and VT, because there were only so many places a buyer could go for the supply.   Forced to buy from less reputable suppliers (as during any prohibition), quality of imports actually suffered due to the West's anti-export campaign.

During that period, China and India did indeed have their own e-waste and surplus, but it wasn't enough to actually export out of country.  What was generated domestically was used or recycled or disposed of domestically, in Dharvi or Guiyu.

That last part is changing.  We are not the only game in town.  My trip to South America really brought the changes home.