Eerie Quiet on the Interpol E-Waste Report

Is it just me?

Interpol, the International Police Agency, issued a press release on a sweeping number of arrests of African used electronics traders.   As one of the first bloggers to react to the report, I expected another round of back-slapping by the anti-e-waste juggernauts.

I posted the Interpol press advisory without much commentary, in their own words, two weeks ago.

It seems quiet.

Is it possible that the press, and people generally, have tired of the "primitive e-waste arrest" story?   Sometimes stories don't get picked up because they are so familiar.  But still, I'd expect a chatter at the trade press.   Even the Basel Action Network has been quiet.

Is it possible that my conversations (and blogs) with Mike Enberg and Jim Puckett, about "collateral damage", and "Environmental Malpractice", have actually had an effect?  Both fine people.  Could they actually have the same concerns about the arrests by Interpol that I have?  240 tons, 40 businesses, presumed guilty, without going through the containers...  Maybe BAN is ready to draw a line?

Or does the credit belong to the Basel Secretariat funded studies in Ghana and Nigeria, where used goods containers were painstakingly itemized, found 85% useful, and the material at the dump found to be generated by the African cities themselves, did that finally sink in (to everyone but David Higgins and Interpol, who may eventually come around)?

Does Brian Brundage deserve credit, for finally bringing the heat closer to the holders of the flame-thrower?  The Intercon Solutions lawsuit must have at least made Watchdog lawyers and board members weigh their statements more carefully.  And the "lying through their teeth" statements by BAN's consultant, immediately retracted, may have earned a longer look in the mirror, or a more careful analysis of the news.

I went looking for press releases about the most infamous "collateral damage", the whacking of the Semerang Indonesia SKD factory in 2010.  The Boston Globe coverage was gone from BAN's wall, and ETB no longer has the press release accusing Advanced Global by name.

Interpol is tweeting its arrests and seizures, but they aren't getting many re-tweets.

It seems eerily quiet.

Is there a paradigm shift?

Or is the press attention dying of natural causes?

Are we about to sing Kum-bah-yah and merge R2 and E-Stewards and Fair Trade Recycling?

Or is something about to pop?  Why do I feel like Bambi?

Over the past 3 years, I felt morally obliged, no matter what the interest of my company, to wage a defensive campaign, some say a private and personal war worthy of Captain Ahab, on the hoax statistic at the heart of the "E-Waste" controversy.

Fair use low resolution Isaac Brown?
80-90% of all ewaste collected, we were told, is exported without processing.  And 80-90% of those exports, we were told, are burned or dipped in acid in ghoulish, toxic, primitive conditions.   I cannot seem to find anyone who learns of my business who doesn't start with the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

It's a hoax.  The stat is pure baloney.  The Herald Trib's Paksistan partner actually printed that only 2% of the goods imported there were reused... kind of strange how emphatic the Pakistani market is about Pentium 4, minimum Hhz speed, and black color, if they are just gonna burn it anyway.

Could it be that Stewards feel the same moral compassion I have?  Could they also be connecting the dots, and seeing how a trumped up statistic leads to seizures and closures without sampling the goods?  Maybe they are as concerned as I am about the collateral damage in emerging markets.

Among industry, American companies can handle that false fact two ways.  Mostly, our industry gives the nod to the story, like it's true, and brags we are different (and use that to justify increases in recycling fees).

At Good Point Recycling, we believed the more honest thing was to explain where the story has been exaggerated, to explain that while our import partners are not perfect, and their nations are behind us in environmental standards, that fixing and repairing is nonetheless honorable and better, environmentally, than making new stuff or even recycling.  If we aren't going to force people to keep using their older products, then we may as well let the used products - like CRT monitors - be used in Internet cafes, hospitals, schools, and businesses in cities which are getting electricity and internet and want to enjoy what we've been up to.

We only export less than 15% of the material we collect.  We can either say "and that's special because our competitors export 80%".  Or we can say, more honestly, that no African or Asian or "third world" buyer would ever pay to ship 80% of the material we collect?  Are "certified" recyclers actually taking credit for the discretion of the emerging market?

There are problems over there.  They generate more "e-waste" than we do.  And it gets collected by informal scrappers.  African TVs (purchased used in the 1980s and 1990s) are taken to dumps, hit with hammers, and - if the teenagers are bored - burned.  Burning isn't even profitable, it reduces the weight the kid carries to the recycler, but the recycler pays based on the percentage of weight and unburned is more weight.   Taking away the job doesn't pop them into a school room, the problem is money.  And the repair and reuse business upstream from the scrappers brings in a LOT of money, and good jobs to smart Africans.

We need to set up recycling takeback in the emerging markets which import used goods... Make good use of smart Africans with technical skills.  They have decades of old used goods around them.  What Fair Trade Recyclers do is offer to sell good product for much less money, if the importers will use that money to take back, at retail exchange, the even older products being replaced.  Hand disassembly works.  It works better than shredding in most cases.

The question is this:

Can we make people care about Fair Trade Recycling if they don't care about "e-waste"?

Can people still care about "e-Waste" without having to arrest importers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America?

Can we use the smelters and the mining already relocated to emerging markets (yes, because of cheaper environmental standards) to recycle material like CRT glass which we have a glut of?

Plan to attend on April 16.

I've got a modest proposal.

Let's merge WR3A, R2 Solutions, and E-Stewards certifications into a single Fair Trade Recycling body which uses scientific method to weigh the effects on production, exports, and new demand.  Let's legalize trade between rich and poor, but regulate it and monitor it with better measures and reconciliation.

Imagine that.

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