Term Paper II: "e-Waste" Export, Geography of Environmental Justice

Yesterday's thesis about the relationship between land value, environmental enforcement, and pollution, used a map from http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/land/,  showing toxic release sites on a map of the USA, and a chart from the same website showing the relative amount of toxics generated in specific localities.  When the releases are charted as "an occurance" and each release is given a single data point, the map shows the "superfund sites" to be concentrated in urban areas.

The sites, when weighted by actual tons of pollutions, are 83.75% in the top 20 / 100 sites (suggesting the 80/20 rule or Paretto Principle may apply).  The top 10 sites are in Alaska, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Missouri (Doe Run area), and Orange Florida.  Each of these sites has a "drilldown" function for data at Scorecard.Goodguide.com  Orange County Florida, the one non-western, non-mining area on the top ten list, has a NASA, USA Department of Defense, WR Grace, Dupont, Department of Energy, Chevron industry, etc. on its list of "potentially responsible parties" for lagoon pollution.  The nine sites above it are raw material extraction industry sites, none of which, my thesis states, could function economically inside a high-property value area.

2.HUMBOLDT, NV350,591,683
3.PINAL, AZ248,792,746
4.SALT LAKE, UT138,824,328
5.ELKO, NV83,494,740
6.GILA, AZ57,220,938
7.EUREKA, NV43,572,135
8.OWYHEE, ID28,887,324
9.REYNOLDS, MO27,313,480
10.ORANGE, FL24,032,977

The enforcement and likelihood that a site is identified as a threat is proportionate to its proximity to a landholder complaining about it.  For this reason, the "superfund" target sites on the USA map above are concentrated around cities and population centers.  This "NIMBY" or "Not In My Back Yard" dynamic is part of a normal democracy.  The spotlight on "environmental justice" in the USA focused on the difference the likelihood of enforcement correlated to race of neighborhoods;  that's an overlyer, according to my thesis, for economics and property values.  As I pointed out in one of the Slums Blogs last spring, 5th Avenue in Manhattan had auto repair shops a hundred years ago... but these relocated to Queens because it's easier to do repair work on an area with lower property value.

The Diagram Below generalizes the relationship between property value, wealth, and awareness of pollution. People live in rural villages, forests, and plains, but their population density is lower, and enforcement of all types is less likely in these areas.

The difficulty or unlikelihood of an enforcement paradigm outside of a population center is why emerging market city-states like Hong Kong and Singapore are more likely to achieve OECD-like status sooner than an emerging market like Malaysia or Indonesia or Brazil... the most recent nations admitted entry into OECD have been small.   Large nations admitted to OECD tend to have gained entrance early on, because of their econmic power (like the USA).  The USA was admitted into OECD while the pollution in Orange County was occuring, but as one of the "founders" of the OECD, the USA benefitted from a simpler formula - wealthy and white.  Not even Japan was not on the first OECD list.

Term Paper on "e-Waste" Export and Geography of Environmental Justice

Thesis:   Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head... And wrote a thesis chapter in one sitting.

Regulatory burdens are primarily driven by property value.   People are mobile, but their investment in property is a non-liquid asset, and they will pay a lot to keep it from being polluted.  If it's federal land out west, or a jungle island like Borneo - not so much.    Borneo has more species and more "environment" to spoil, but the property values there make it easier to mine than a richer vein of ore on Long Island.

As wealthy neighborhoods have resources to worry about smaller and smaller cognitive risks, compliance with risk (e.g. toxics in air or wipe tests, employee safety standards) become more expensive in wealthy jurisdictions.  This provides incentives for markets to outsource, or purchase from, areas with lower property values and less regulatory oversight.

This phenomenon has been examined through a lens of "environmental justice" for two decades.  Groups of people who tend to live in less affluent neighborhoods tend to be less critical of local employers who tolerate these risks.  Whether the "disproportionate enforcement" of standards is based on race, income, or real estate value, it coincides with the opinions of neighbors.

In environmental risk, the "worst neighbors" are the industries with the highest toxics and workplace hazards. These are know to be metal mining.  Virgin ore extraction is strongly correlated with releases of mercury and lead.   The number one source of mercury in the USA is gold mining;  number two is silver mining.  The more valuable an end product, the higher the tolerance for pollution, but the farther the activity occurs from high property values.

During the past 50 years, this dynamic has led to the "most polluted places on earth" being located in the least accessible, lowest property values on earth.  Property value is known to be correlated with demand for the property, and remote property has less demand.

Kabwe Zambia has been named the most polluted place on earth (Time Magazine).

La Oroya, Peru is definitely in the running. (NY Times)

Even within the confines of the USA, the most toxic industries are found in the most remote places, usually on federally owned land (a private landowner is less likely to tolerate pollution than the public landowner).  Of the top ten most areas with the most toxic releases, the first eight are in remote areas.. and (according to Scorecard.goodguide.com TRI reports), the states with the most land covered by the General Mining Act of 1872 have the most toxic releases.

2.HUMBOLDT, NV350,591,683
3.PINAL, AZ248,792,746
4.SALT LAKE, UT138,824,328
5.ELKO, NV83,494,740
6.GILA, AZ57,220,938
7.EUREKA, NV43,572,135
8.OWYHEE, ID28,887,324
9.REYNOLDS, MO27,313,480
10.ORANGE, FL24,032,977

Calculated as a percent, the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) appears to apply.  The top twenty sites on the list of 100 are 83.75% of the total toxics:  The top 4 sites of the top 20 represent 73% of toxics.

Total Toxics Emitted (Top 10) 1,484,112,451

All Top 100 1,991,863,954
Top 10 of 100 74.51%
Top 4 of Top 20 73.11%
Top 20 of 100 83.75%

Yet spending on "Superfund Enforcement" is not correlated with the toxics... it's correlated to property value and population.  One has to wonder how many sites on federal lands haven't even been sampled... if a pound of mercury drops in the forest, and no regulator is there to detect it, it still makes pollution.

This data is USA only, but the trend (in my thesis) is that the more environmentally damaging or toxic a process (e.g. gold or silver mining), the further the extraction will be placed from property values and populations.   Property value correlates with population up to a certain point (Manhattan Apartment) and then declines (ghettos and slums) because the more income people have, the more personal space they can afford.

Fast income growth would be associated with increasing property values.

In this thesis, the "good enough market" will be a rapidly emerging city, with electricity and potential wifi (like 1990s Guangzhou and Lima Peru, Cairo and Jakarta in the 2000s).  There is a labor force here, but the percentage of that labor force engaged in scrap wouldn't account for the fact that nothing "e-waste" is being shipped to rural areas even lower on the evolutionary scale;  for that matter, the presence of e-waste in concentrations at Guiyu or Agbogbloshie (with proximity to Shenzhen or Accra, cities growing at a faster than average pace for their continents), and the absence of a proportionally similar concentration of E-waste in even poorer cities like Mogadishu or Port-au-Prince, would be best explained by the growth and value added and not by the economics of externalization of pollution.

Haiti is closer and poorer than Accra or Kuala Lumpur, but the prices offered for e-scrap are much higher in cities (see Alibaba or Recycle.net) which are growing.

This establishes a reverse normal curve.  The demand for "used goods" and "cheap displays" like CRT monitors is very low in Manhattan, rises in middle income markets earning $3000 per year, and then drops precipitously again in very poor cities.    Mining, in comparison, grows in direct proportion to poverty, the lower the income level and property values, the greater the potential investments in raw material extraction.  You find coltan mining and gold mining investments in jungles.  A single mine like the OK Tedi Copper Mine, in a single day, dwarfs the toxics created by all the aqua regia and wire burning in all the cities of the world for a year.  If you want to find cataclysmic environmental damage, look in the opposite direction of recycling and repair.

According to my thesis, it is therefore the perception of "waste" formed by rich cities in areas with high environmental enforcement (driven by property value) which has been projected onto middle income cities which are actually buying used goods for "good enough" purposes.  It is true that the middle income cities have lower wage and environmental standards than the rich cities, but the correlation is exaggerated if you can't replicate the business in an even poorer city.  This is an example of "cognitive risk" which is marketed to by corporate interests in planned obsolescence, anti-gray markets, and competition from contract manufacturers scaling into good enough market economies.

It is the relative inexperience in rich nations with extreme forms of poverty which cause us to conflate "good enough markets" with images of suffering.   We create artificial groupings like "non-OECD" which basically mean "not as rich as us".   It's like creating a term "not forest" to describe everything that is not a forest, grouping deserts, meadows, swamps, and tundra together into a single term.

There are many types of snow.

End of Part 1.

Holy Slashdot! Look at the Certainty over Fake Data!

So sure of themselves.  Feel the righteous indignation peculating the internet...  It gives environmentalists super powers.   Enfused with the right amount of coffee, the enraged altruist can hurdle statistics and peer reviewed studies and protect Africa from the proven innocent.  In our latest episode, e-waste bans will protect Americans from a future "epidemic of cyber crime!"

Environmental waste!

Insert your cognitive risk here: ________________________

Below are responses to my post in Slashdot.org ("news for nerds, stuff that matters") about the three studies (Kahhat/Williams, UNEP, and BAN's own adviced Kenya Study) which report that 80-90% of imported electronics goods (paid for by the importer, after all) are reused, while 85% of the "e-waste" filmed at Agbogbloshie, etc. is generated by Africans after decades of reuse.

Mon dieu!  The outrage!  People really sure that if it comes from developed nations, and is purchased by "backwards" Africa, that it's gotta be bad.   Lots of caffeine evident in discussions of e-waste.  The superpower of Certainty!  The power of Smug.

Seems (according to one self-identified ewaste pro) that I "have got a chip on my shoulder".  Or another quips that that I haven't read "customs reports", or I'm "missing the point", and that even if the imports are mostly good, that "it's still a useful myth to shame Westerners into doing the right thing" (that being... to boycott black people?).    My usual favorite shows up - that eventually working equipment will become e-waste.   ERGO... Egyptians shouldn't be allowed to purchase working equipment until they have e-waste processes established.  (Let's try applying that to the next i-Device sold in USA)...

Meanwhile, BAN.org director Jim Puckett agreed with me, face to face, that there were no CRTs at the end of the Hong-Kong-CBS-Wasteland trail, and that the SKD factories he objects to are reusing and recycling the elective upgrades ... he just objects to the parts refurbished.  He hoped the poor will "leapfrog" us, he once told me.

Now, as good as those contract manufacturing factories may be, it's the principle of repairing and refurbishing them prior to export which BAN professes.  Puckett hopes he will create USA CRT monitor refurbishing jobs by requiring "pre -repair" facilities to remove bad capacitors (or working ones that may be upgraded by better ones), effectively eliminating any incentive for the sale to overseas repairpeople.  Banning the export, we'll repair them here!  Tell that to California, which didn't even TEST the working ones when exports were banned - they just shredded them, and now California companies have requested permission to landfill the shredded glass.  That's what created the sellers market, forcing Africans to buy from people willing to stoop to doing business with them.

Safer to stand back, and to clap when they are arrested.  Chains... prison bars... defamation...
Boycotts!! Boycott the poor dammit!!!  It's the only solution to globalization!!!