Term Paper IV: "E-waste" Export, Geog of Env Justice

PhotoSitting in the exhibit hall of CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, at the World Trade Center (an enlightened name for an exhibit hall)  in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In part I, I mapped the toxics in the USA, contrasting the tonnage of serious toxics (remote areas, primarily from raw material extraction) to the number of 100 data points close to urban areas.  I used this to support my thesis that environmental enforcement correlates positively with property value.

In Part II, I put the USA map into a generic Venn-like diagram (below), with the bluer areas representing land with high property value, and the green areas representing forests, tundra, moutains - land not valuable except to minimalist living or raw material exploit or agriculture.   The remote areas, where:

THIS HAPPENS (Mexico primary lead smelter 1999)
THIS HAPPENS (Peru primary ore smelter 2009)
And THIS HAPPENS (Zambia primary ore mining 2007)
And THIS HAPPENS (China primary copper, zinc, lead smelting 2000-1010)

In Part III, I made analogies over 130 years, how mercury mining and Indian wars and extinction of bison in the big green wild USA parallels the mercury mining, conflict metal wars, and extinction of gorillas in the wild jungles.  And the tinker Irish laborers in Boston who made paper mills survive by switching to recycled feedstock were looked down on 130 years ago, and suffered in the "great stink" of flushing toilets in Baltimore, much like repairpeople in Accra are looked down upon by recyclers while the goods they fix are labelled toxic, and while rich flood the markets with used devices...  Accra repairman lives in an Irish ghetto in a USA eastern city, and Congo mercury miner lives in the wild green lands of Wounded Knee.

In Part 4, I want to explore how the miracle of transportation allows trade between different zip codes in different countries.

Out in the vast "green" areas of our Venn diagrams, where History Channel films 'Bamazon and Discovery Channel Films Jungle Gold, people buy liquid mercury from recycling programs, uproot 500 year old trees in the middle of rainforests, blast the flora away with 1800s California water mining tech, and burn the mercury to gather gold for someone's precious little earring.  From Chinese agriculture pollution ("Worse than China's industries") to bushmeat hunting and tantalum mining juju on gorillas, the worst environmental activity in the world is NOT happening under our noses in major cities.

China's city growth is driven by "peasants" leaving the countrysides for manual labor jobs.  Even nice looking apartment buildings I've been to in China may be "ghetto" inside, a slum with multiple families sharing a few rooms.  But they either move there because the opportunities are better, or they move back out because they are disappointed... the free market seems to define property value.

When a toxic is produced by consumption (post consumption pollution), it is likely to be externalized from a wealthy neighborhood to a poorer neighborhood.  That correlation, labelled "environmental injustice", is represented simply by auto parts yards and auto repair yards which used to be found on Manhattan's 5th Avenue (when car ownership was rare and chic), but were relocated to Bronx or Queens as autos became commonplace.  Car oil changes, and the carcinogenic and mutogenic chemicals in auto air bags, and the toxics of gasoline and mercury switches and flame retardants and anti-freeze, are all toxics generated by affluence, and the value of the repair and reuse at auto chop shops and repair garages is accepted as a local job and local source of affordable cars/parts in neighborhoods with fewer choices.   Million dollar condos outperform auto repair on 5th Avenue, but if you build the same condo in Melrose-Morrisania (South Bronx), you are likely first against the wall when the real estate bubble goes into "Bernie Madoff" mode.

This was described simply in one of the better-shared posts of 2012, "Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People."   Just at affluent can make a list of "burger flipping" jobs beneath their consideration, they can afford not to have an auto yard next to their property.  Tolerance for neighbors is relative.  Zoning laws are the result.  The number of families per home in one part of the USA may be illegal (per zoning) in another.  That doesn't make the families who cannot afford square footage illegal or non-existent, it just means the next MTV "Jersey Shore" shared apartment episode won't be filmed next door to "Friends".

One of Massachusetts most respected and historic recyclers, the E.L. Harvey company, found this out when their neighborhood in Westborough became "gentryfied", and new homes sprung up surrounding their recycling yard, and then people tried to vote the Harvey's off the island of Westborough...

Just as real estate choices are "zoned", and "acceptable jobs" lists differ by affluence, personal property may or may not be "good enough" for a marketplace.   There is perhaps no more useful example of this, historically, than the cathode ray tube (CRT).

The CRTs are a display device which was more than "good enough" for the wealthiest rich in the USA just 15 years ago.  There was no "obsolescence" involved (even HDTV didn't affect the 90%+ households who had cable or satellite), but these turned from desired property into "waste" in a very short period.  Nothing in "Moore's law" makes the CRT useless after 3 years.  Depending on the quality of the device and the hourse of use, the tubes lasted 15-25 years or more.

CRTs were displaced by fashion.   It was cooler to have a thinner screen, and Americans wanted one.   When a certain percentage of the market changes fashion abruptly, the "passee" can become difficult or impossible to resell locally.   That does not make it "waste". . . [ Link to Red Shoe Blog ]

In any case, nations are not easily grouped into two as "OECD and Non-OECD", and materials are not easily grouped into two as "Waste" and "Commodity".  The CRT has no buyer, no market, in the wealthy country, because the difference in value (about $100-500) between a CRT and an LCD is considered less than the value of the fashionable device.  The brand new LCD has very little, almost no markets, in the rural areas which have no electricity or internet, nor in the ghettos or emerging (good enough markets), because a $100 difference is half a month's salary - the equivalent to the cost of LCDs in the USA ten years ago (when flat TVs cost $3,000 each).

This means that if the CRT were being exported primarily for scrap, waste, and to avoid environmental enforcement, most of the trade would be from blue areas of the rich to green and light blue areas of the poor, or to nations with a smaller blue area.  The ratio of ghetto and rural development would correlate positively with the waste trade.

Part 5:  Case Study:   Singapore and the Malay Peninsula

In part 5 I will show another country or region - Malay Peninsula - by property value and compare it to the green-and-blue environmental enforcements in the USA map and the green-blue venn diagrams.

In Part 6 I'll then compare our Venn charts (based on property value, not miles) with the Venn Charts in this MIT Study   http://www.scribd.com/doc/74998714/MIT-E-Scrap-Workshop-Summary-Report-2011  December 2011 Characterizing TransBoundary Flows of Used Electronics:  Summary Report  (Miller, Kirchain, Gregory, Duan).   See below.

As a preview, the problem I maintain with the MIT charts is that they are based on words like "generated" and "exported" which use artificial boundaries lowered by trade agreements and transportation efficiencies... like the border between Singapore and Jahor Bahru becomes "export" based on a drive across a bridge which may be less meaningful than a drive into a poorer area of town, but which is heightened by the "OECD" status which Malaysia effectively is responsible for in Borneo but which Singapore has no strings attached to.   Since it's a big report to read, you can get started on it now while I work on Part 5 and 6.  (This is me channelling de Tocqueville, writing as if he has a reader, but not knowing who he is writing to, who died never knowing what he contributed to social studies and political science courses 200 years later).

MIT also uses words like "informal" and "formal" sectors, which I believe are undefined terms based on race and perceptions of poverty and by "systems" of governance (e.g. China's) which are mainly based not even on property value or toxics, but actually act as pure non-tariff barriers to protect an industy (e.g. CRT manufacturing, new ones made by factories purchased by the Chinese Communist Party).

Nameless faceless MIT diagram from 2011 Report.. Can you guess what 
DATA my buddy Reed and his companions use to make the color distinctions?

Bridges, boundaries, responsibilities defined by lines draw by European on maps... My thesis is that they get far afield from sustainability, useful function, electric grids, internet bandwidth, toxics, property values, enforcement, supply, demand, etc... something that Senor Randall Kirchain is an expert on... I think MIT will eventually agree with me wholeheartedly, they just have to "pass the stone" of BAN's hyperbolic profiling of the trade... like StEP, Universities are very cautious about taking on an organization that could call them "dumping on the poor", "crazy" and liars...

The fear of being accused of "Environmental Injustice" has caused a serious environmental injustice.  

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