Bullyboy 6: Eden is Not On Our Map

Fair Trade Recycling.   Our vision is not the same, perhaps, as Basel Action Network, or the "Back to Eden" program of Interpol.  Arresting dozens of Africans and seizing thousands of "good enough" televisions and monitors, purchased for repair and resale, will not get us where we are going.

Where are we going?  According to the Economist, to the end of poverty.  The world population is making the same progress as the United States made, in standard of living, for the past 100 years.

Nearly 1 billion people have left poverty in 20 years.

In "Towards the End of Poverty", the Economist shows how at this rate, another billion will leave poverty in a decade.

This  is our vision.  Africans with television, barios with high speed internet, rice fields with smart phones.  Yes, that means they will "generate e-waste", just as we did/do.  But "Back to Eden" isn't on our Map.

While the Harvard Business Review article, "The Battle for China's Good Enough Market", predicted the rise of corporations like Vizio, Acer, and Lenovo, from repair or tinkering to reverse engineering to mass production, it misses the subjective point.  

There are not just "good enough" products.

Jobs, too, can be good enough.  

USA debris, not acceptable to exporters
Recycling and TV repair... Not good enough for your liberal arts alumni reunion, Perhaps.  But good enough to get out of the extreme poverty targeted in poster child campaigns. 

We have been told over and over again that used electronics export criminals created "nightmares", and "witches brews" and "ghoulish" "skeletons" of waste, and if we just shred a higher percentage of our used televisions and computers, we'll somehow help the people out of the bario.  Right.

Out of the bario, out of the ghetto, out of the slum... Out.  To where?  Eden is not on the map.

Back to rural agriculture?  Back to hunting in the Amazon?  The poor are attracted to the bright lights and big city the same as in the USA, Europe and Japan.  It's supply and demand.  And the young poor are demanding internet, television news, cell phones, and a lot more.

80% Impossible to Export
"Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People" discussed hand disassembly and TV repair, and other jobs that are good enough for the Asians, Africans and Latinos.  Families drawn away from the forests and fields towards the "Bright Lights, Big City" of Cairo, Jakarta, Mumbai, Guangzhou, Kunming, Rio, Lima, etc. arrive at the bus station from places like Yenwa.

They want to earn, and want to save, and want to get Stuff and see Stuff, to communicate and stuff.

There were 6,900,000 households with televisions in Nigeria in 2007.   And there were millions and millions of CRTs replaced by flat screen, LCD and Plasma, technology in London, New York, and Chicago that year.  Joe Benson was one of the dozens of Africans to see the opportunity.  Hamdy Mousa saw it, Gordon Chiu, and Su Fung, Ow Yung and Dona Minta.

None of those names are graduates from liberal arts colleges.  None of them use the word "green" in their business cards.  They came out of the cities I'm describing, either directly or via the mining and forestry and fast food fields.  They are providing an alternative to the hard rock mining, poaching, drugs, sex work and child pirate soldier jobs that scare and sadden us.  

What Africa Wants
The mix of junk shown in the Vermont collections above is never visible in BAN or Greenpeace photos of sea containers (to the left).  But the people being arrested are accused of "stack and pack" by CAER, accused of threatening American recycling jobs, of diminishing our massive piles of CRT glass.  Halloween images of black, brown and yellow recyclers are everywhere, they've become the natural resource of environmental NGOs.

What would be BAN's motive for saying the stretch-wrapped televisions in sea containers at Lagos import (left) came from stack and pack of raw e-waste, in collection programs (photos above) in the developed world?

As Emile Lindemulder of Interpol told me in 2009, it's usually a good idea to "follow the money".  In Joseph Benson's case, the money comes from sales of working TVs and computers sold in electrified cities like Accra and Lagos.  Africans paying African money to buy TVs when hotels in London "upgrade" to flat screens.
"In the organization’s 2011 fiscal year, the Basel Action Network raised approximately $328,000 from fees charged to e-Steward-certified firms. This represented about 55 percent of BAN’s e-scrap program revenues and 46 percent of the nonprofit organization’s total revenues." Resource Recycling, July 2013
It's a curse of unnatural resources.  Environmentalists must escape our hubris.  We must take the time to meet and listen to the accused dumpers, and reverse our bandwagon's direction in this Poseiden-esque race to the bottom, a misguided effort to arrest the people in the developing world who are climbing slowly out of poverty, the the top of ODM enterprices.

Family businesses in Africa

This is not just about recycling televisions.  It's about recycling people.  The people in the poorest situations are the ones that feed the blights, the red light districts.   

TV repair does not belong on the list.  TV repair does not belong on Interpol's list, it does not belong on environmentalists lists.  Whether or not Joseph Benson, or Hamdy, or Gordon are innocent, it should be treated as a misdemeanor.  Habeus Corpus.   The TV bodies BAN shows at the dump were in use for decades.   

Why is BAN really rallying international enforcement to arrest exporters of "intact units"?
"Planned Obsolescence" and "Big Shred" has a "Watchdog" to scare away foreign competitors.  Now they have a bill filed to make the competition illegal.   And to explain the whole approach, the donations, seizures, and piles of leaded CRT glass, we are offered halloween language and close up photos of sweaty children on piles of garbage generated in the largest, fastest growing cities in the world.  And they lied to us and told us the junk the kids burn in "pyres" came out of sea containers from Europe.

Prince Nico Mbarga's 1977 TV

See the electricity rates growing in the world.   Tomorrow, Bright Lights, Big City.  How the rate of urban electrification directly predicts "e-waste" exports, and how the lagging poorest never seem to purchase containerloads of scary junk ewaste to their ports.   TV importers, like Joe Benson, are always attracted to the light.

Table 1: Electricity access in 2009 - Regional aggregates
Population without electricity

Electrification rate

electrification rate
electrification rate
   North Africa299.099.698.4
   Sub-Saharan Africa58530.559.914.2
Developing Asia67581.094.073.2
   China & East Asia18290.896.486.4
   South Asia49368.589.559.9
   Latin America3193.298.873.6
   Middle East2189.098.571.8
Developing countries1,31474.790.663.2

* World total includes OECD and Eastern Europe / Eurasia

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