Bullyboy III: Meet The Real Environmental Criminals

"The Perfect should not be the Enemy of the Good."   My first face-to-face with Donald Summers (the guy who told reporters I lie through my teeth), ended on that note, and Donald said it first.  We must prioritize our environmental issues, not based on the money and attention they bring our environmental organizations, but on the risk and harm.

When I met the head of Interpol's "Project Eden" in Lyon, France, last Monday, he had just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka, where 300 elephant tusks were seized.  Cees described his feelings, seeing the tusks there, and imagining the scale of the slaughter.

And toxic waste dumping in Africa is real, too.   Here is a 2006 story about a Dutch shipping company which dumped tons of highly toxic waste (from the cleaning of sea ship gasoline tanks) - the Transfigura Ivory Coast case was settled for $45M, thanks to a Dutch Court.  Amnesty Inernational and Greenpeace did important work.  The money is actually being distributed in Africa, not used to fund NGO offices in Seattle.  WR3A's attorney/stagaire, Fred Somda of Burkina Faso, was the first to make the point that planned obsolescence campaigns by OEMs should not distract from serious need for enforcement of the Basel Convention.

From Wikipedia 2013.07.28:

"The 2006 Côte d'Ivoire toxic waste dump was a health crisis in Côte d'Ivoire in which a ship registered in Panama, the Probo Koala, chartered by the Dutch-based oil and commodity shipping company Trafigura Beheer BV, offloaded toxic waste at the Ivorian port of Abidjan. The waste was then dumped by a local contractor at as many as 12 sites in and around the city of Abidjan in August 2006.
Ivory Coast kid poisoned by Trafigura - photo Al Jazeera
The gas caused by the release of these chemicals is blamed by the UN and the government of Côte d'Ivoire for the deaths of 17 and the injury of over 30,000 Ivorians, with injuries that ranged from mild headaches to severe burns of skin and lungs. Almost 100,000 Ivorians sought medical attention for the effects of these chemicals.[1]
The substance was claimed by Trafigura to have been "slops", or waste water from the washing of the Probo Koala's tanks. An inquiry in the Netherlands, in late 2006, revealed the substance was more than 500 tonnes of a mixture of fuel, caustic soda, and hydrogen sulfide for which Trafigura chose not to pay a €1,000 per cubic metre disposal charge at the port of Amsterdam. The Probo Koala was turned away by several countries before offloading the toxic waste at the Port of Abidjan.[2][3]

Fifteen people died, and thousands were treated.   We don't want to forget how important it is to truly enforce the Basel Convention, when someone is avoiding the true cost of disposing toxics by dumping it in sacks on African shores.  We do not want to label environmental watchdogs and enforcement agencies as "bullyboys".

At the Vermont Fair Trade Recycling Summit, Frederic Fahiri Somda made a clear case for the risk and danger of dumping toxic waste in Africa.  But he also said it's absurd to compare TV repair to Tranfsigura.

Photograph:Interpol headquarters, Lyon, France.
Parking and offices to the left.
Two days before I interviewed Benson and company in London, I stopped on my drive at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, and for meetings with ex-Basel Convention staff in Geneva and Fribourg Switzerland (shared a car ride), to make this point.  Fair Trade Recycling is not about decreasing environmental enforcement, or apologizing for bad acts.  It's about perspective.

The new director of the Interpol Environmental Enforcement program discussed the Environmental Program (Project Eden) for more than 90 minutes.  He had just returned from Sri Lanka, where he was sent on his first week on the job See  where Interpol assisted the Sri Lankans in DNA testing on 300 illegal elephant tusks.

From Wildlife News (July 2013).
"Interpol are offering help to the Sri Lankan authorities in their investigation of a shipment of over 300 tusks that were intercepted last year. A specialist forensic team from Interpol has taken samples from the tusk for investigation at leading laboratories in the US and Europe.
The INTERPOL Investigative Support Team (IST), composed of experts from INTERPOL’s Evironmental Crime Programme, DNA Unit, and Command and Coordination Centre provided Sri Lankan authorities with technical assistance and the required equipment to check the tusks which were seized in the Port of Colombo last year on a shipment from Uganda bound for Dubai via Kenya.... 
"Cees van Duijn, INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme Project Leader explained, “This successful cooperative forensic effort between INTERPOL Colombo, Sri Lanka Customs, the Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Port Authorities is a great example of the power of international enforcement collaboration in tackling environmental criminal enterprise...  
Cees is a former police beat from Rotterdam, Netherlands (where Transfigura, Martijn van Engelan, Brenda Wijnen, and StEP are based), and described himself modestly as perhaps more shoe-leather, less policy based, than the average Interpol appointee.  It was a good meeting.  I could not expect him to agree, based on my say-so, that the used electronics were actually 90% reused, not 80% dumped.  But we could agree that IF that's the case, that arresting African tinkerers may be a very poor use of Interpol resources, and his staff asked for copies of the UNEP Reports.  We agreed to meet again at E-Scrap in Orlando.

The sheer public fascination with "e-waste" however, must make this enforcement difficult to resist.   When I go to youtube for video on Transfigura, or the Ivory seizures, the news is there... just not many views.  E-Waste, however, seems the perfect story to exploit white guilt, fear of blacks, and hyperbolic ju-ju toxic verbage.  The TVs aren't exactly harmless in an African dump, or even in a repair shop.  But they are more dangerous in your living room, where they are connected to live electric current, and distribute programming linked to reduced brain activity.

Sri Lankan customs officials stand near seized ivory at a warehouse in Colombo. The ivory, from Africa, was for a buyer in Dubai.More people know about the used TVs Joe Benson and others purchased from hotel takeouts (LCDs in, CRTs out) than know about the Transfigura case or the ivory program.  And it's thanks to The Basel Action Network, and the big OEM planned obsolescence, and big shred money, that's behind them.

If poached elephant ivory was competing with Samsung,  Dell, or Apple "iVory", you'd be sure Interpol's efforts to eradicate the trade would get more attention.  There is a lot of money behind "market cannibalization", planned obsolescence, and anti-gray markets that isn't showing up in endangered species enforcement or toxic sludge dumping.

The bullyboy focus on African tinkerers actually threatens endangered species by distracting enforcement.  BAN's E-Stewards campaign, which is getting such favorable treatment from new electronics manufacturers, is an anti-reuse campaign.  BAN is not just dropping the ball, it's diverting the attention of journalists and enforcement agents from true crimes, and real environmental crime enforcement.  I get so upset about tinkerers being arrested for refilling ink cartridges, that I have to remind myself not to paint all enforcement with a bad brush.

Read details of the case of Transfigura, and compare that to the case Cahal Milmo makes against Joseph Benson, the TV and computer exporter, below.  "Tonnes of illegal e-waste", "scavenger children at risk from toxic fumes..."

Man held after tonnes of illegal e-waste are exported to Africa     'Scavenger children' at risk from toxic fumes produced by broken equipment

By Cahal Milmo, Chief Reporter
Saturday, 7 November 2009

The director of a British waste export company suspected of illegally shipping defunct televisions and electronic goods to Africa has been arrested after a joint investigation by The Independent and Sky News.

The 49-year-old man, a Nigerian national, was detained this week on suspicion of the illegal export of electronic waste from Britain in an operation by the Environment Agency and the Metropolitan Police as part of a wider crackdown on a trade which leaves thousands of tonnes of broken and contaminated electrical goods dumped in the developing world each year.

The investigation by The Independent, Sky News and Greenpeace showed how a television broken beyond repair was shipped from a municipal waste site in Hampshire to an electronics market in Lagos, Nigeria's most populous city. The TV set, which is hazardous waste under British and European law and could not have been exported legally, was bought by BJ Electronics (UK) Ltd and taken to its east London warehouse then sold for export despite being unusable.

Tonnes of defunct electronic equipment sent from Britain to countries including Ghana and Nigeria ends up each year on waste dumps where "scavenger children" pick through the detritus looking for bits of wire, circuit board and cathode-ray tube. The precious or heavy metals in the components can be extracted by setting light to their plastic and glass coatings but that produces a dense cloud of potentially toxic chemicals.

British investigators have arrested 12 people this year in swoops on suspected illegal exporters after inquiries by The Independent found that waste electronic and electrical equipment (Weee), much of which is deposited by householders at municipal dumps, was being bought by middlemen and sent abroad rather than being safely recycled in the UK.

An Environment Agency (EA) spokeswoman said: "As part of an operation by our national environmental crime team, a 49-year-old man who is the director of BJ Electronics (UK) Ltd was detained on Tuesday in Loughton, Essex, on suspicion of the illegal export of Weee." Companies House records show that BJ Electronics (UK) Ltd, which has its main warehouse in Walthamstow, east London, has a 49-year-old sole director, a Nigerian national named as Joseph Benson.

When contacted by The Independent, Mr Benson yesterday denied he had been arrested and insisted his company followed the relevant regulations. He said: "I have done nothing wrong. I operate a legitimate business and we operate within the rules. We dispose properly of anything that is broken."  - UK Independent, Cahal Milmo, 2009
I found Joseph Benson's most poignent quote from our meeting was "I didn't poison any children!".   At a certain level, he was not here with me to defend the used stuff trade, he was not here to argue fines, he was not here to quibble over differences between Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment.   He felt he had been accused of dumping junk on scrap boy children in Africa.   And it struck me, he felt he had no control over what white Brits thought of him, but he was confident in his countrymen in Nigeria, and he cared that they new, he did not poison children.
  • "Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don't pretend to understand."- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ch. 9, by Atticus
It struck me that I've been too aloof perhaps.  I've been developing a case for rational trade and business.  But Benson saw the ultimate issue.  Sky News and BBC and the Independent were blaming him for poisoning children, not for creating a Nigeria with television and internet cafes.  And that's what hurt, and that's the story that's close to the bone.

Quite simply, compared to the Transfigura disaster, which did poison children, this article by Cahal Milmo is a laughingstock.   It's like Milmo went to Bohpal, ignored the chemical disaster, and reported about a dirty service station washroom.  Even if the TV was "properly sabotaged", the fact that Sky News had to sabotage one they found (because any others they chose are working) should have tipped off their Ombudsman that they are on a witch hunt.  They could have snuck ivory into Benson's sea container, but that wouldn't make his trade a threat to elephants.

Video from SkyNews is still on youtube.  There is some pretty sad footage of kids on a pile of junk.  The business isn't perfect.  But Benson is no more responsible for the eventual junk that eventually gets dumped, after years of reuse, than Sony is.  The fact is that numbers and percentages matter. It matters whether most of the TVs are sabotaged junk, or whether that's a case of the reporter poisoning the well to make the storyline.  They never really make a case at all of what percentage of the TVs exported are not used or repaired.  As it turns out, the used sales are more likely to work than brand new product sold to Africa.

Skynews did at least remove an entire television part.  It's an easy to find, easy to replace, easy to tinker part, and the TV would have been repaired (or they could have bought it back for a lot less than $107).  Milmo's description of a single TV being "beyond repair" is both false, and more importantly, they had to make a serious effort to attempt to make it the way they wanted it to be seen.  Actual UK residents, probably, don't sabotage their TVs in a way that can't be seen from the outside.

More laughable is the BBC endeavor, "Track my Trash".  "As you will see here, the wires have been cut" says Raphael Rowe.  OMG!  Cut wire!  That's why he was able to buy his TV back, in Lagos, for a mere 40 British Pounds ($61.53).  They intercept a container, test and find 70% working, and assume the rest are not repairable.  The UNEP (which BBC cites as a source) followed the fate of these devices.  They found the same 70% fully functional, but also found 91% reuse after Nigerian repair techs got to them.  My theory for the bad ones in this container?   THE ONES THE INSPECTOR LET FALL OUT ON THE PAVEMENT, PERHAPS?  (When I have time, I have a lot more of these screen shots).

"OMG!  A cut wire too?  As if that fat old CRT wasn't bad enough!  Daddy where's my 3D Plasma?"
And example of an easy repair?   How about the one that Raphael Rowe himself provides as "bait"?

That's right, boys and girls.  Raphael Rowe cut a copper wire!  "Beyond Repair".   Like an exploding car in Naked Gun, this is TV drama at best.  Both the Sky News $107 tellie and the $61 telly are purchased in shops which, oddly, don't seem to have any of the wood console, or 1979 Curtis Mathis, or anything that looks like the "junk" they filmed at the dump site with scrap boys.

Cahal Milmo added the phrase "beyond repair" to cover up the fact that it's much easier to just declare Benson had shipped the TV for primitive dumping than it was to actually wait and follow the darn TV to the dump. I think it actually makes him more guilty than Raphael Rowe, because by saying it's "beyond repair" he acknowledges that repair is legal (and otherwise there's no story).   Raphael Rowe should also know better, however.  He should actually be Benson's champion.  Raphael Rowe spent ten years in British prison for a murder he was later acquitted of.  Like distracted Interpol officials, sending Raphael Rowe and BBC on this witch hunt is a waste of limited environmental resources.

There are other choice moments from the video.  Here Ghana reporter Mike Anane shows the UK reporter the thin silver dust on the inside of the CRT glass.
0 Points.   Correct answer:  "No, it's aluminum phosphor, not lead"

"This is lead!"
"It's lead?"
"Yes!  It is lead!"

Uh No. No, it is not lead.   Nope.   Really, it is aluminum phosphorous.  There may be some trace amounts of yttrium in it, but no cadmium, and for the most part it's aluminum and phosphor, which are NOT toxic.  The lead in an CRT tube is actually vitrified, melted and bonded into the glass, like leaded glass crystalware we drink champagne from.   If the glass is shredded - like they do in California, it becomes volatile.  But in any case, this was a TV taken at the dump, not from one of Bensons containers in the first place.  The TV they "sabotaged" and tracked was found in a different part  of town, where all the TVs sold are warranteed and repaired, according to the UNEP study.

Watch the full BBC video.  You find white regulators circling professionally stacked containers with stretch-wrapped TVs.

Yes, 2009-10 were busy, busy years for Environmental Malpractice, for technicians clubbed to death by Jim Puckett, like baby seals.  Jim told me that if Joseph Benson (now that he knew who's scalp was on his powerpoint slide) was indeed innocent, that he and BAN had nothing to do with it.

Here again are four quotes from BAN.

"Despite your reading diligence however, it is unfortunate that you did not start by questioning the baseless assertions made by Adam Minter in his reckless article.   Never has BAN ever stated that 80% of US e-waste is exported." - Jim Puckett, 2013, Bloomberg News comment

Discovery News From 2010:
"The U.S. doesn't even have such a ban, and the Basel Action Network's Jim Puckett says we are "way behind" Europe on e-waste, estimating that up to 80 percent of e-waste in the U.S. is exported, again mostly to developing countries, primarily China." TLC-Discovery Channel
In BBC News in 2010:
"It really has become the crisis issue of the whole Basel Convention," says Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, pointing to the e-waste generated as people buy flat-screen TVs and switch to digital. "It is really the fundamental, number one issue."  He says the US, which has not ratified the Basel Convention, is "way behind" Europe on e-waste, and estimates that as much as 80% of American e-waste is exported, much of it to China through the port of Hong Kong.  - BBC News
2010 on NPR:
"The dirty little secret is that when you take [your electronic waste] to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80 percent of that material, very quickly, finds itself on a container ship going to a country like China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Pakistan — where very dirty things happen to it," says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment.
At the close of my meeting with Joseph Benson, Adamou, and Jacques Dorson, I tried to tell them that Katharina and Basel Convention are not the Bullyboys, and Interpol is not the Bullyboys, and even the English environmental enforcement were not ultimately the bullyboy enemy.  They were all just neophytes to electronics reuse, repair and recycling.   And they had been bamboozled by one person, the source of the Eighty Percent that Wasn't.   Jim Puckett has done more damage to elephants, to racial equality, to international development, to internet access, and to Africa than Robert Ewell had done to Tom Robinson.

Innocent repair and reuse in Ghana, 2013
The court in Mockingbird's Alabama found Tom Robinson guilty.  But it's Ewell who falsely accused him.  Jim Puckett sadly believes that anything that brings the public's attention to the Basel Convention Treaty is good, that there is no "bad press".

Sorry, the firehosing of civil rights marchers in Birmingham Alabama generated a lot of press, but didn't do much for George Wallace.

George Wallace did at least give me hope that Jim Puckett will someday stop racially profiling people in the secondary market.  It took Wallace a few years, but I accept that he died with a clean soul, forgiven by the African Americans who knew him.  And maybe, someday, Jim and Joe Benson can share a mimbo with me, saying huskayn news.
  • "So it took an eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses.... That proves something - that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they're still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children."Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird, Ch. 16

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