"How E-Waste Benefits Your Children"

It has always been "think about the children", perhaps.

Programming was made for children.   OEMs used it to sell the appliance to the parents.



So, the electronics get sold to us via "cognitive risk" - that our children will be left behind socially and intellectually if they don't get the electric gadget.  Then, if we sell it for reuse (so someone doesn't buy a brand new one), we are sold the cognitive risk the "e-waste" poses to the poor black children.

It's all about consumption, selling consumption any way they can.  We own stocks and retirement IRAs in their corporations and can't complain too loudly about the way they market sans sustainability.  And ENGOs are really not any different at all in their use of this "think of the children" marketing.  But we can be smart about what panics us.

I'm from the WWF generation - that's "World Wildlife Fund".  That's when Greenpeace was powered by Jacques Cousteau, and caring about endangered species and whales.   It's a dicey topic to debate which we should care more about - whale, tiger, orangutan, and rhino extinction vs. toxics in a child's environment.

But let's start by being smart.  What are the real numbers?  What are the real risks?  Is this about children's health, or is it about planned obsolescence?  Look at the enormous resources spent on non-toxic ink cartridge refilling.  Grinding those cartridges into pieces of plastic to be plastic-recycled in China is a lot worse of a job than refilling those ink cartridges with new ink for the "grey market".   But look at the attention given to ink cartridge refill risk vs. plastic recycling.

It's howdy doody time, it's howdy doody time...

Put Yourself In the World's Shoes

I got some positive feedback on the slide I put up two days ago (from my "Fair Trade Recycling" presentation, which has been given at CES and Colleges in 3 countries during the past 6 months).

Here are a couple of other slides from the same presentation.

The first shows the relative size of the market for computer displays.  People earning $3K-12K per year are getting online at 10 times the rate of growth of wealthy nations since 2001.  But the "boycott the poor" advocates shows pictures of primitive dumpsites to describe 6 billion people.

And even the poorest of the poor deserve a bit of a break.  Recycling isn't THAT bad a job for the very poorest people in the world.  If we control the three worst practices - burning wire (little of which comes from computers anyway, that will not be affected by the HR2284 boycott), dumping broken CRTs, and aqua regia acid baths for circuit boards (another rarity), then recycling stacks up pretty well with other choices - like sex worker, miner, Somali pirate, child soldier, etc.

The term "parasites of the poor" and "accidental racist" are a little tough.  But the longer this stupid idea of boycotting poor people and shredding metals into smaller un-fixable pieces goes on (without any intelligent comment or response to people like me), the louder I have to get.

Press Sinks Ship Recycling

There are two ways to get metal.

Bangladeshi Workers Risk Lives Recycling Ships... thanks to Adam Minter for the nod.

One is to get it out of the ground.  Here is an example:  The OK Tedi Copper Mine on the island of Borneo.  Metal is found in many places, but it's impossible to gouge and dump cyanide tailings anywhere close to a populated area.  The USA has vast federal lands, remote from cities, so we can still mine red and hard rock metals (gold, copper, silver, etc.).  They generate 45% of all toxics generated by all USA industry... but it's not close to property values.   It's the same economic logic discussed in "environmental justice" blogs last weekend.

Australia has a lot of remote places, and is in the metal mining business, as is Canada and Mexico.  But when you try to do it in a place like Europe, there are risks of toxic spill disasters, like this one in Eastern Europe in 2010, or recently, in Liuzhou, China.  A city of 3.2 million, its drinking water system nuked by a cadmium spill into the Longjiang River, released by the Guangxi metal mining industry.

The press does occasionally cover these polluting practices, but only when an "abnormal" disaster strikes.  Bloomberg reports in 2010, China's Shenzhen Zhongjin Shuts Zinc, Lead Smelter After Toxic Leak Found.  Or here is another zinc smelting spill, of cadmium from metal mining, of the Yangtze River.
 In January 2012, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: Chinese emergency personnel are erecting barrages and pouring hundreds of tonnes of chloride into a river in southern China in a desperate effort to prevent a toxic spill from contaminating the supplies of a major city. The flow of cadmium - discharged into the Liu River earlier this month - has continued despite three previous containment operations, and now threatens the 3.2 million residents of Liuzhou city in Guangxi province. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, January 30, 2012]
I've previously reported stories from the Danube, and from Guangzhou's massive zinc-lead smelter spill in 2006.  And don't forget about the conflict metal mining... today, this blog is sadly the top of the google ranking if you are looking for news about it.  I find that tragic.  I'm a nobody.  But the Guardian writes about stopping ship recycling, without asking, anywhere in the article, where the metal will be replaced from as the shipping industry increasingly sinks the ships rather than risk the wrath of environmentalists.

There are two ways to get metal.