How to Fix E-Waste in Africa in 5 Easy Steps

StEP into recycling
Here is a roadmap for recycling used electronics in Africa, in 5 Simple Steps.

1.  Correctly report the problems.  
African cities have had TVs and electronics for several decades and generate their own "e-waste".  Most of the "ewaste" filmed (BAN, Greenpeace) at dumps was not recently reported, but "takeback" from reuse markets which import newer product.  We want to further reform the trade, not to nuke it.

2.  De-Criminalize Purchase for repair and reuse in the EU.   
The reuse people are not "going back to Eden" if you boycott them.  They are tinkerers who create good jobs and affordable product in African marketplaces.  We want to improve their jobs, not to nuke them.

3. Use value of exports to incentivize domestic African takeback infrastructure.   
Many Africans who purchase imported reuse goods also do repair for domestic electronics. The abandoned repairs are a form a product takeback infrastructure. In fact, it's EXACTLY the same as the evolution of electronics repair and sale in Massachusetts in the 1970s.   
TV repair shops learned they could make more money if they offered a choice of Retail Replacement as well as Repair, letting the consumer make a choice.  When the consumer chooses not to repair (or worse, asks for the unit to be repaired but then changes their mind and doesn't return for it), the TV repairperson becomes a takeback operation.  When Masschusetts DEP enacted the first "ewaste" law in America (CRT Waste Ban), it was a TV repair family which created the largest TV recycling operation in the USA.  Africa is on the same path.

4.  Recycling, Reconciliation and mass balance.   
Hand-labor recycling is actually cleaner and produces better results than mechanical shredding. Just don't burn the items you disassemble, and recycling is still profitable.  The caveat is CRT glass and mercury backlighting.
Left purely to the free market, Africa will have little incentive to properly recycle CRT glass (the most expensive component).   The value of reuse exports should be adjusted, reducing sale price to Europe or the USA according to the actual recycling and takeback, and should be monitored, or they will accumulate the same CRT glass piles the USA has accumulated.
This system preserves Tinkerer Blessing jobs (compared to StEP's OEM-funded solution).  It will also work in India and other emerging markets.  But there's one immediate step we need to take first.

5.  Where scrap recycling, repair, and refurbishment already exist, nurture it.
Major CRT glass recycling operations have been shut down by friendly fire.    In Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern China, semiknockdown (refurbishing) factories, glass washing operations, and warranty-repair-turned-takeback operations have been closed.  It is not too late to save repair in Africa.  
As Recycling Director for the Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s, I tried always to preserve existing expertise and infrastructure.   Massachusetts had not prepared Salvation Army, Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul for new freon rules in the 1980s, and created a "white goods" glut.  I was determined not to do that, and we took care of our scrap paper packers, our TV repairpeople, and our charities.   The Massachusetts model of charity partnerships was later adapted by Dell in its Goodwill ReConnect program (I met with Michael Dell and Pat Nathan personally in 2001, suggesting the partnership would take them out of the BAN attack on Dell's Unicor prison recycling program at that time). 
The same partnership approach can succeed in Africa. Rather than demonize, demoralize, insult and ridicule the scrap boys and repair technicians, the entrepreneurs like Joseph Benson or Hamdy Moussa or Souleymane Sao, we need to defend them.   Touche pas a mon pote, E-Stewards.
It would be a nice gesture to fire Jim Puckett.   His "misinformation" campaign about recycling in Africa has been completely discredited, his accusations of "primitive wire burning" (against high tech contract manufacturing factories) are borderline racist.  Yet he remains a spokesperson for "ewaste" at grave risk to the environmental community.   Puckett, more than any other person, is responsible for circulating absurd made-up "facts", hoax stastics circulated by BBC, NPR, PBS, USA Today, etc.   He created alibis for textile wastewater polluters in Guiyu (strangely identifying e-scrap as the source of arsenic downstream from the fouling dye mills), and his recklessly fabricated "statistics" have resulted in false arrests by Interpol.  He has personally waged a very personal campaign against the very Tinkerers we need to execute this Electronics Recycling for Africa Plan.   
This is bigger than just "e-waste".  If it gets out that the Green community refused to recognize it and covered up for Basel Action Network's Environmental Malpractice, it could have grave negative consequences on other environmental efforts like Climate Change (global warming), Ozone, toxics, rain forest preservation, etc.  People are concerned about the environment, and they desperately want to believe our leaders... we cannot afford to let them down.
If I'm wrong, please explain it.   I'm a lifelong environmentalist, and should be your friend. BAN acknowledges the blog, but never responds to the Kill a Mockingbird style of Environmental Injustice.  The silence is deafening.  R2, EPA, and StEP timidly show BAN respect it does not deserve.    BAN is killing Africa, taking away good jobs, affordable product, and potential solutions for the waste Africa generates. 
Africa needs to move forward, either this way, or with a different answer.   Banning trade will not do anything to improve Africa.  Trade it was never the source of the problem.  Fair Trade Recycling is a legitimate solution, and Puckett's statement that it is "poisoning people" was the last straw... five years ago.

No comments: