Fair Trade Recycling Summit in Vermont Earth Week 2013

Middlebury College Environmental Studies is hosting a Summit of researchers of "e-waste" or WEEE exports on April 16.  The Summit will be streamed online at www.fairtraderecycling.org.   It is funded in part by a Canadian grant of $479,000 to Memorial University, University CP de Peru, and University of Southern California (LA).

Researchers organized the Summit in order to interview actual importers of used electronics in five countries.  They will be joined by experts from MIT, Monterrey Tech Guadelajara, University of Amsterdam, and Universite Paul Cezanne of France.  A representative of the Swiss Basel Convention will speak about 2-year studies in Nigeria and Ghana, and the US International Trade Commission will update attendees on its new 2013 calculation, that 88% of used electronics exports are reused.

In fact, Researchers from Peru, Basel Convention, US ITC, and elsewhere have consistently found 85%-90% of the used electronics purchased by Africans, Asians, and South Americans are reused, and that the 10-15% fallout is comparable to new goods.   Most experts say that material filmed at dumps is collected from cities in emerging markets which have used up the equipment imported decades earlier. IT importers from Egypt, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Peru, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Angola, and Colombia are attending the Summit, to meet students, and explain that they cannot afford to pay $21 per unit, plus thousands in shipping, to burn material on the ground.

Fair Trade Recycling, an international NGO based in Vermont, organized the Summit.  EPA, Interpol, and other enforcement agencies have committed to participate online.  The enforcement agencies will be asked who originated the statistic that 75% of the imports are dumped and burned (creating a presumption of guilt among used IT importers).  FTR representatives hope to shift the burden of proof, so that exports of used IT are not presented as de facto "e-waste", and to address the need for appropriate recycling techniques and hand disassembly systems.  The association of exports with "primitive" or "informal" recycling and dumping (via widespread coverage by CBS 60 Minutes, Frontline, USA Today, Oprah, NPR Fresh Air, etc.) doesn't address the problem if those wastes were not recently imported.  (a Seattle NGO has emerged as the probably source of the claim that 75%-90% of used IT imported by Africans are immediately sent to be burned in dumps).

List of Speakers and Biographies, 2013 Vermont Fair Trade Recycling Summit

Meanwhile USA EPA and Interpol continue to support 'Project Eden', which announced arrests of 40 African tech entrepreneur importers last month.  A recent press release from EPA states that a USA exporter in Michigan sold 100,000 CRT monitors to Egypt prior to the revolution for $2.1M, an average value of $21 before shipping.  Critics cite EPA's claim of dumping as an example of profiling of African importers as "primitives", when the displays were purchased for reuse (and relabeled in response to Egyptian internet control laws).

The Fair Trade Recycling organization is seeking college interns to visit emerging market importers, to negotiate for better documentation of export reuse.  Most African importers routinely take back decades old equipment from cities like Lagos, where consumers "trade up" for newer equipment.  University researchers suggest African technicians should not be viewed as "waste criminals", but as an asset to create proper recycling channels for the WEEE or "e-waste".

The day before the Summit, Vermont NPR will host an interview with the FTR founder, and with China based author and journalist Adam Minter.  Minter visited alleged international e-waste dumping sites in China (like Guiyu, focus of CBS 60 Minutes), and will discuss how much of the "waste" and water pollution cited in the press has come from home generated scrap, residue of reused material, or unrelated sources (like the textile dying factories, a source of arsenic, found upstream of Guiyu).  Organizers of the Summit stress that they don't want to gloss over or de-legitimize concerns over externalization of polluting processes, but stress the need for scientific method in accurately determining where the waste came from before arresting and "exoticizing" free market technicians  in emerging markets.

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