EPA Proudly Stops Egyptian Monitor Reuse? Err...

I was aware of the company.  I was aware of the market.  I think the EPA press release, below, is referring to the sentencing of the same St. Louis company "profiled" in the Basel Action Network blog. which I covered in Environmental Malpractice 5.1   The Michigan owned Missouri company was trying to stay in the reuse business... selling used CRT monitors to a hungry bunch of Egyptians.

Michigan Computer Company Owner Sentenced for International Environmental, Counterfeiting Crimes

In the year before the first "Arab Spring" revolt, in Iran, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was already beginning to feel the heat.   Iran's regime would survive, but Mubarak would be the second to face internet impeachment, after Tunisia and before Libya.  In the years running up to that revolt, Mubarak called used CRT monitors "e-waste" and made it illegal to import them if they were more than 5 years after the date of original manufacture.

Keep in mind that CRTs last 20-25 years, and keep in mind that the "original manufacture date" is typically a year before it's even sold at retail.   That means an American would have to buy the 25-year CRT, use it for three years, and then leave time for a collector to inspect it and send it to Egypt.

Discount Computers (and I know of one other doing this in the USA, and two in other countries), was taking the good CRTs which might be 6, 7, or 8 years old, and putting a new label, in Arabic, which said something like "remade on".   This would allow the Egyptian buyer, sometimes with the help of a bribe, to get the working and repairable CRTs into Alexandria and Cairo, where they were sold in shops like the ones I photographed in the blog about innocent "Hurricane Hamdy" (Environmental Malpractice).

Price of the mislabelled monitors?  The Egyptian importer in this story, according to EPA, paid $21 apiece.  That's Twenty-one US dollars... enough to make the mislabelling worth the trouble.

So why does EPA declare this? "By exporting older CRTs with fraudulent manufacture dates, Mark Jeffrey Glover sent a large quantity of older e-waste overseas which was subjected to improper recycling, increasing the potential for environmental and human exposure to hazardous materials. "

Profiling  Anyone?  Is this what we call  "environmental justice?"

Now anyone who has met an Egyptian CRT buyer knows they are beyond picky.  They will haggle you to the end of the earth.  No tolerance for 21 inches, must be black, black plastic only.  No E-Machine!  No Screen Burn!  dual volt check, power cord and video cable check.  Where is the plastic base??

I learned they could actually move some of those, via their "poor stores" (where the poorest Egyptians used them with a Taiwanese converter box as used TVs).  But they sold those "TVs" for $7, and seven dollars did not cover all the risk, all the haggling, all the shipping costs.

So with the number of seven dollar CRTs the Egyptians rejected, how are we to believe that they would accept scrap CRTs, and pay enough for them to justify relabelling them?

Now, relabelling is fraud.   Egypt is in violation of the WTO agreements on used product trade restriction, but that is to be challenged by the US Trade Office, not by counterfeit labelling the goods.

What concerns me about the EPA press release is the illogic of these paragraphs:
"Egypt prohibits the importation of computer equipment which is more than five years old. To evade this requirement, all three DCI locations replaced the original factory labels on used CRT monitors with counterfeit labels, which reflected a more recent manufacture date. Over a five-year period, DCI sent at least 300 shipments to Egypt, with a total shipment value of at least $2.1 million, constituting more than 100,000 used CRTs monitors 
"Under federal law it is illegal to knowingly use a counterfeit mark on or in connection with goods and services for the purpose of deceit or confusion. It is also illegal to store and dispose of hazardous waste, which includes certain electronic waste, or e-waste, without a permit. Glass from older CRT monitors is known to contain levels of lead, which is toxic hazardous waste. When deposited in a landfill the lead can leach out and contaminate drinking water supplies. 
"As a result, these types of monitors are required to be disposed of as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. By exporting older CRTs with fraudulent manufacture dates, Mark Jeffrey Glover sent a large quantity of older e-waste overseas which was subjected to improper recycling, increasing the potential for environmental and human exposure to hazardous materials. "
Now, try to follow the logic in bold, the transition from a document crime to an environmental crime... If counterfeiting is illegal, and it is illegal to store and dispose hazardous waste, the logic goes, and if glass from CRTs contains levels of waste... "As a result, these types of monitors are required to be disposed of as a hazardous waste."

Err.. no.  That is not "as a result".   If EPA can show what they say  later, that they are shipped to be "subjected to improper recycling" in primitive conditions, then he's guilty of environmental crime.  At this point, he's guilty of a document crime - the intended victim is not the buyer, but the Egyptian government, which is still trying to make internet access more difficult.

Mathematically, 100,000 CRT monitors sold for $2.1M is $21 apiece.   That would pay for the effort to relabel the monitors, and it would allow the Egyptian reseller to earn money (the retail price of CRTs was $38 when I visited Egypt).  The buyers could not afford to pay that much for $7 "good enough" TVs, and certainly could not afford to scrap a significant portion of the 100,000 units for copper value.

Let's read the last sentence once more, to really understand the EPA's logic, its cause and effect:
By exporting older CRTs with fraudulent manufacture dates, Mark Jeffrey Glover sent a large quantity of older e-waste overseas which was subjected to improper recycling, increasing the potential for environmental and human exposure to hazardous materials. 
So does EPA know that these $21 CRT monitors are "subjected to improper recycling"?  Or is this once again, where the entire world justice system is reacting to a bogus statistic?  I smell profiling.

Interpol proudly arrested 40 African businesses a few months ago, alleging they use "primitive practices".  But we can't call this a strictly European illusion, EPA is making the same fallacy.

Just how bad is getting online with a used CRT monitor?

Ask yourself this.   Did Egypt ever import enough brand new computers to put people into Tahir Square?

No.  Africa has not even purchased enough brand new computers to pay for the internet cable.  Without the used computers, Africa would be "back to Eden".  Africa relies on cell phone towers, having leapfrogged wired telephony.  Did the investors in the towers put them up hoping Africans would buy new smartphones? No, just as the internet backbone is paid for by "good enough" equipment, the cell phone infrastructure was built on used, exported cell phones.

This story, about Discount Recycling in Michigan, is about what happens when a legitimate trade is driven underground.  It is about the unfair profiling of African technicians as "primitives", and it's about a phoney baloney statistic which Basel Action Network has admitted to pulling out of the air.  The only way Egyptians could get display devices they could afford was to pay more, probably for lower quality, and pay Discount the extra money to put fake date labels on the back of the monitors.

An angry reader referred me to the Basel Secretariat's summit in Egypt when I wrote about this on our Fair Trade Recycling Facebook group page... I looked up the research.  The stacks of monitors "dumped" in Egypt were all ones seized by Egyptian customs from legitimate reuse and resale.   It wasn't the businesspeople who dumped the waste, it was the enforcers.  He was filled with disgust for me, and he cited Basel Action Network... using a report that didn't say what he said, and a statistic BAN has disavowed.  But he was furious... he hated me... he was filled with the same logic as EPA uses, the same logic Interpol used in 2009 (payment for goods is organized, 80% is a crime, so it's organized crime).

My company was offered the same deal by our Egyptian friends, who still needed the monitors, and asked us to falsify documents in 2008.  Instead, we stopped exporting to Egypt due to the Mubarak Planned Obsolescence Rule.  We sold a couple of loads in 2009 which I figured out, based on the prices and descriptions (right out of Egyptian hagglers), had to be in a re-labelling operation.  I wouldn't do that, even if it is, environmentally speaking, a victimless crime.

We were a little more sophisticated.  We sold the monitors to an SKD factory in Malaysia, which refurbished the CRTs to brand new, new plastic, in box, with Arabic lettering, warranteed by an Egyptian repair company.  It's a little more intelligent than Discount's approach, perhaps.  But by EPA's logic, we also committed an environmental crime, selling good enough monitors to Egyptians, for good money, under warranty.  I think we sold 300,000.

What I wonder is why EPA and Interpol wouldn't want to educate themselves?  Learn why the whole 80-90 percent statistic was abandoned by BAN, and now lives on only at CAER.

My company only exports about 7 percent of our material for reuse anymore, down from the days of 25% in 2005.  I like that part of the business.  And I dislike it when someone generates a headline which is based on the race, color, or nationality of the person doing the buying.  China's going to sell Africa all the used CRTs Africa wants.  This is the twilight of the USA's importance in the secondary goods market.

And we are celebrating our own exit from the market.   Will Africa perish because we traded with Africa, or because we refused to trade with Africa?

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
But if it had to perish twice
I think that for destruction, hate
Is also great
And will suffice.
[ Robert Frost]

Visit the Middlebury Vermont Fair Trade Recycling Summit, online, on April 16.  We will have some Africans there as guests, willing and able to speak for themselves.  Interpol, EPA, and others are invited.

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