Bullyboy 4: No Habeus E-Waste Corpus, And curious retraction

Too bad Interpol and the UK authorities didn't consider how easy TV repair was.   Two years after Export-Hoax-gate (see BAN's Night of Breaking CRT glass, Environmental Malpractice, and Clubbed to Death Blogs), Intercon police are still seizing African's containers, presuming the electronics were waste.  Like a parent taking toys out of a crib, the paternalism of the "Project Eden" (putting Africa back the way it was?) stands opposing the African Revolution, the Arab Spring, the democratization which flows directly through used display devices like twitter to teenagers.

The two "root causes"?  BAN made up a fake number, and rich countries know so little about electronics repair that we make museums about it.  "Once upon a time, we replaced capacitors too, honey".  Fixing things is so "hunter gatherer", it seems to belong in a stoneage village.

Meet the other side of the table.  If you live in a place, like Lagos, that still does a lot of electronics repair, you wonder why people don't ask you how to repair the TV they seized.  That's what the UNEP study finally did - and discovered 91% repair and reuse in Lagos.  But it was too late for Joe Benson.

Here is a minute of Joseph Benson, describing Bullyboys in his own words.

This is about power.  It's about BAN and Greenpeace showing they are watchdogs.  They follow Saul Insky's model, enforcing their vision of segregation of trade, in a weird money-making way.  This is about paternalistic decisions about who Nigeria or Ghana, Africa is allowed to trade with.  Is Africa to be denied the path of development followed by South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia?   Or is Africa going to be relegated to mining raw materials for our new electronics, a resource-curse economy?  After Indonesia, Africa is the next battleground for Good Enough Markets, Tinkerer Blessing, and Resource Curse.

Puckett told me that - even if his math was wrong (It's 91% reuse, NOT 80-90% dumping)-  that the "law" was violated ("a technicality" he says justifies Benson's arrest).   What, exactly, is the crime the Africans are accused of?   Dumping?  Or like the Michigan case, is there some other technicality?  The facts of the case are like background music playing over a slide show of Pieter Hugo exotic photos.  The audio doesn't fit the video.

More cross examination:

Now, had Sky News or BBC or PBS or CBS etc asked Joseph Benson some questions, would they have still had a story?   Or would they have a lot more work?   Would Green and Thompson E-Waste Export Bill have been drafted?   It would have at least been Jim Puckett's word that the exports were 80% bad, vs. Joe Bensons.  Now they have the UNEP studies... but don't seem to be revisiting the story.

And they don't seem to have noticed the stealthy retraction two months ago, BAN back-stepping away from the initial accusation.
"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." 

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.

Bullyboy II: Meet an Innocent Man HR2284

At the Las Vegas E-Waste Summit last November, Jim Puckett of BAN and I each gave presentations on the export of used electronics for reuse and repair.  Jim's powerpoint had a slide showing this UK Independent journalist's (Cahal Milmo) 2009 article on the arrest of "Nigerian Exporters".

Milmo took a 2013 victory lap recently, alluding to his role in the 2009 seizures of Benson's electronics.
"Owners and employees of a string of waste disposal companies have been fined more than £200,000 following Britain's largest investigation into the illegal export of toxic dumped electronics to the developing world.

"The eight men, whose firm’s operated across the country, were found to have been at the heart of a lucrative trade which sends tonnes of waste computers and other consumer durables to west Africa and Asia every year to be stripped of valuable metals in grim conditions, often by children.
"One of the company owners, Joseph Benson, whose BJ Electronics toured civic waste sites picking up electronic goods to be sent illegally to Nigeria from east London, was convicted following an investigation by The Independent, Sky News and Greenpeace."
Puckett (a former employee of Greenpeace in Europe) showed the article in his slide show between photos of kids at dumps.   I raised my hand and asked him why he was applauding the arrest of Joseph Benson, when the UNEP found Benson's containers to be 91% working?  Puckett said "I don't know that name".   I referred him to his own slide.  And reminded him afterwards.  People have names.

The Independent and Sky News coverage would have been ludicrous, except for the pictures of children burning scrap in horrid conditions. The NGOs said that "80%" of the imports of used electronics in Africa were dumped, burned by "scrap boy" children, in primitive circumstances.  (Sky News is owned by Rupert Murdoch... they cut a copper wire in a TV, gave it to Benson, and tracked it to Lagos, then bought it for 70 British pounds, and showed the cut wire.  My 11 year old could fix that TV.  If they think there is $107 in copper in a junk TV, have I got a deal for them).  (Correction:  I confused the Sky News TV with the BBC Track My Trash TV.  Sky News removed a part and bought the TV back for 40 British Pounds, about $62.  BBC cut the wire and bought their TV back in Lagos for 70 Pounds or $107).

The UNEP study showed that most of what the kids were burning was sourced from waste generated in Lagos.  Nigeria had 6,900,000 households with tellies in 2007 (World Bank).  The used electronics trade was already decades old, and was responsible for the development of communications infrastructure in Africa.   70% of all purchase of electronics in Nigeria, a nation of 170M, are used goods sold by people like Benson.

My first meeting with Joe Benson (Environmental Malpractice 6.1) in London was just a few days ago.  Unlike other factories and traders I've written about, I had never met, never sold to, bought from, or spoken with Benson.  This was a cold call.

Like the character Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, Benson was at first awkward and not very talkative.   Like Robinson, Benson seemed overwhelmed by the system of accusations leading to seizures and fines, without assessment of the veracity of the allegation.  Another recycler, clubbed to death in 2010.

My pidgin English is very very rusty, but I opened with a few words in pidgin just to hopefully make Benson and his three friends know I was a different kind of environmentalist.  That got a chuckle, but fell a bit flat, and we resumed the conversation in Queens English.

Bullyboy 1: Toxics, Consumption, and Racism

There were 3 seminal works, all published in 1960, which have guided me.

  • Silent Spring, Rachael Carlson.
  • The Waste Makers, Vance Packard
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Toxics, Consumption, and Racism.   The Story of Stuff, or E-Waste Exports, is “...tria juncta in uno...”

Used electronics recycling policy, as a lens, reveals how liberal occidental policy responds to risks.  The risk of a "toxic", the risk of product obsolescence, and the risk racism.   Particularly of black men taking white women.  Oh, you didn't know white liberals had fears about the third?  How subliminal of me.

These three seminal works have salted the discussion of used electronics regulation.  Racially charged imagery, planned obsolescence money, cognitive risk of "toxics" without borders, are everywhere as we look at the arrests of men like Joe Benson, the seizures of goods purchased by Hamdy Moussa, and the closure of refurbishing factories like PT Imtech in Indonesia.  American society, as much as it has progressed, still betrays a willingness to believe in crimes based on the brown-ness of the accused.

Lagos Nigeria has 6,900,000 households with television.   But when someone photographs a solitary junk TV at a Nigerian dump, we assume it was dumped there from Europe.   So sure, that even when it turns out the trade in used electronics is owned, operated, and successfully steered by African owners, the goods triaged by African technicians and repairmen, in a marketplace echoing the success of Singapore's R&O (repair and overhaul), Japan's Network of Tinkerers, Taiwan and Korean reverse-engineering and good enough markets, NGOs are satisfied to see African businesses enchained rather than question the Story of Stuff assumptions.

Answer:  Not much, you?
The sparse number of scrapped goods in the photos at African dumps (see below fold, under the tire) were probably, statistically, generated in the streets of Lagos, one of the largest cities in the world.   But the story, parrotted by all the western press, is that it came out of a sea container, diverted from a recycling program in the USA or Europe.  We are so sure, in fact, that the US Congress now has a bill (H.R. 2791) introduced to make sale of repairable used electronics to Africans a crime.  Why look at photographic evidence when Annie Leonard has drawn it so simply?  African kids get junk because fat western businessmen don't want to pay to recycle it.
Washington, DC, Jul 24 - U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (CA-05) and Gene Green (TX-29) today introduced H.R. 2791, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013. The legislation promotes the U.S. recycling industry by prohibiting the exportation of some electronics whose improper disposal may create environmental, health, or national security risks. 

"We'll start by burning the TVs from London hotel upgrades"
So, to truly connect the dots, Africans like Joe Benson and Hamdy Moussa are motivated not by consumer demand in cities like Cairo and Lagos and Accra, but by an altruistic need cut whitie's recycling bill.  But they don't want to do him such a big favor that they'll take ALL the junk, or any of the most expensive.  They cherry pick out the newest looking TVs and computers, to burn them, despite the fact the new ones have much less copper and gold than the old ones we never see in the African containers filmed by BAN and Greenpeace.

This was the circumstantial case presented in the arrests of Africans during the past year.  A few days ago, I got a chance to do a one-on-one, exclusive interview, with Joseph Benson, the man profiled in Jim Puckett's powerpoint presentation, in London.

Leading up to the meeting with Benson, I did a whirlwind tour of Europe by car, meeting at Interpol offices in Lyon (FR), with Basel Convention staff in Geneva and Fribourg (CH), and flew out of Copenhagen.  I met with four Africans accused publicly by Basel Action Network, Greenpeace, Rupert Murdoch's SkyNet News, and the UK Independent reporter Cahal Milmo, of buying used TVs, sold in Lagos for $100 apiece, to be burned by children for $2 in copper scrap.

Robert Ewell, call Sheriff Heck Tate.  There's a Tom Robinson running loose.

Europe Virus, European blog update

I think I picked up a virus in Sweden.

Not that.  NO.  I mean I used a wifi server to open my blog page, somewhere by cell phone, and now it's getting tons of incoming hits from an icky website and I have to go through it and see if I got something contagious.  If I open the site at retroworks.blogspot.se (Sweden) it opens ok, but .com opens something different.  Don't go to the website tao of bad donkey, it may have infected the Radisson hotel website (run by ESM).

Europe has not been easy for wifi.  Most of the free wifi sites require you to enter a EU cell phone number and then a text is SMS'd to you to enter and validate.  I've got no EU phone, had planned to make all my calls on internet while here.

I've got another Europe travel blog started but have to make it to the plane.  I see a huge drop off in all visits to the blog in the past few hours except for my own and the SPAM icky site, so I hope I don't have to start over.  I'm in Sweden by the way.

I can't say anything really meaty yet about this week's meetings with Interpol staff in Lyon or meeting former Basel Convention sec staff in Geneva and Fribourg, or today's meeting with Hurricane Joe Benson at Heathrow (my first such honor).  There is a lot of meat on the stove.  This was a big, big trip.

From the desk deck of the Scandilines ferry, facing west, it occured to me that a road trip in Europe, not by train or Ryanair or Virgin express or Easyjet, has been unique.   I've driven from New England to Arkansas many times, and from Arkansas to Mexico, but this is my first multi-day (5 driving) trip through 6 countries in Europe.

Our Dane friends, the French family, the Swiss, the Dutch, etc. who I've spoken to it's funny how everyone things my road trip, by car, from Copenhagen to Perpignan and back, seemed a very American way to travel.  FrWhat I can say is that it's the least American road trip ever in Europe.  I meet no Americans, no one but Europeans, in the gas stations, on the roads, in the restaurants.  I stop in tons and cities whiech either cont have trains or no gare close to the highway

OK, have to go rescue the car from European parking ticket spiders.  At 9 AM they crawl out of alleys and behind bushes and simultaneously parking ticket 100% of street parked cars.  Kidding, actually I haven't gotten a parking ticket.  I don't think I got a speeding ticket on the autabahn, either, but my wife says they have speed cameras (like in Arizona two years ago) and snap you and mail you the ticket.  If that's true, I may break the European banking system.

Europe: Comfortable With OECD and Nation Lines on Maps

Late, late cocktails on the fjords of western Denmark can generate some great conversations.   I said to my hosts last week, "You know, in 100 years, I don't think 'nations' and 'nationality' will mean much to people.  Nations will probably be obsolete."

shooting lines were different
We had been talking about World War II, and I was headed for "Catalan France".   It seemed at the time to be harmless enough discussion, and I've said it many times before.  I think my grandchildren will have more "loyalty" to their dot-com address than they will to their "passport".   But in Europe, where I normally expect high falluting philosophical speculation to achieve flight, the idea of non-nationality fell with ze thud.

The lips of our Dane and Norwegian friends drew downward.   They explained the frown:  the idea of "the end of nations" meant "end of democracy".
That idea never occurred to me, an American who votes in state and national elections.  Losing a label does not mean surrendering a freedom.

Well before the end of nations and nationalities, I said that there would be universal democracy, as we are seeing now in the green revolution.  Democracy tends to support peace, not war, and nationalism is most strengthened by threat of war.  The way it would happen would be that cities would vote for mayors, and it would increasingly become meaningless whether a neighboring city - like Barcelona to Perpignan, or Boston to Montreal, or Kansas City MO - Kansas City KS, was inside some other hand drawn line or not.

If City A is a democracy, and City B is a democracy, and both cities have vibrant free trade economies, how are future children to keep up with the lines?

City A is EU, City B is non-EU?
City A is OECD, City B is non-OECD?
City A speaks X, City B speaks Y?
City A is Sunni, City B is Shia?
City A is Catholic, City B is Protestant?
City A ratified the Omega Treaty, City B signed but did not ratify the Omega Treaty?
City A is in WTO, City B is not in WTO?
City A uses Linux, City B uses Microsoft?
City A watches analog TV on PAL, City B watches analog TV on NTSC?

If I was better at math at 9 AM, I could tell you how many different-different, same/different permutations there are of the 9 silly "alpha-beta" tests above. Same-Same-Different-Same-Different-Same-Different-Different-Same squared?

The past century has largely celebrated erasing of lines.   Women vote.  Our children are taught to ignore race.  In northern Europe, that's both easy (they are very liberal) and difficult (they don't have many dark skinned people to practice not noticing). But they are very comfortable crossing language barriers.  My friends are a Norwegian and Dane, raising 3 kids in Bergen, but vacationing chez granny in Jutland.

They scribble through conversations in Danish, Norwegian, and English with easy, not really conscious of which language they are thinking in.   That's really difficult for most Americans to imagine.  We spoke Franglais to keep up.

Geographical Labels on Social Movements

This occurred to me when I was discussing "Americanization" that's occurred in Europe since I first visited here in 1979.  I'm travelling Europe by car rather than train or RyanAir/EasyJet for the first time, and using the freedom to retrace my steps.  Luxembourg was my first EU stop (from Iceland Air), where I slept on a park bench.  Then I tried sleeping in the Bern Switzerland train station, was kicked out, and brought home by a 300 lb red headed swiss deutsch taxi driver who showed me snapshots of nude teen boys all evenining....  ok that's a digression best described over a tall beer.

Anyway, in discussing the fact I'm travelling by car for the first time, I decided it's silly to apologize for that.  The highways are jammed with Europeans in cars, stopping at rest stops, lining up at McDonalds and fueling up.   The experience driving in Europe, other than the speeds on the Autobahns and freeways, is pretty familiar.  The speed is familiar compared to my drive across West Texas.

Anyway, in discussing the "typical American" (my friend Gitte in Denmark was asked by her kids, 17 and 22, whether my family fits that label), or the a-typical drive across Europe, I'm suddenly struck by this insight.  Humans give geographical labels to social movements.

It makes perfect sense.   Over centuries, plagues and fashions and traded inventions arrived from another "place" and changes occured slowly enough for mankind to talk about "occidental" and "oriental" for solid goods, like silk or wool.   The sheep giving the wool from Scotland has as little to do with the silkworm in China as a Big Mac has to do with cheese fondue.   But the geography is completely relative and arbitrary, and as energy access allows us to shorten distances in time, the geographical label is just quaint.

In Vermont, the "true Vermonters" complain about non-Vermont-ness (you have to have your parents to have come from Vermont, more difficult to arrange than a green card - I'm an Ozark Mountain "flatlander").  Williston Vermont, where the big-box stores are found (Staples, WalMart, Dicks Sporting Goods, Best Buy) is referred to as "New Jersey" by the Cool.

In literature, it's called "The Other".  Camus' "L'etranger" is one of the easiest to read French books for an American of my literary/language skill.   I'm sitting at a coffee table across from a francophone literature specialist Ph.D (my wife)

Why Recycling Coordinator Title Trumps Sustainability Coordinator

College and university recycling staff (CURC etc) kept in touch durint the Fair Trade Recycling Summit (Earth Week in Middlebury).  Some have confided that recycling is old hat, "sustainability" is in, and that energy and carbon are at their peak for "prestige" positions at their institutions.

Have always said our goal is for recycling to be taken for granted, to be as boring as laundromats.   But at the same time, if you are truly motivated by green, and ever have a chance at a career in recycling, grab it.

Here's why recycling is the best thing.

First things first, forget all about "waste management" and "zero waste".   We hitched the recycling wagon to the "waste management" pony for one reason.  No, it was not to preserve landfills, or avoid construction of incinerators.   Scrap and recycling has only one competitor - virgin material.

In order to compete with the mining and forest subsidies (e.g. the General Mining Act of 1872, passed during the Apache Indian Wars under the Ulysses S. Grant administration), scrap needed to compete with raw materials by claiming avoided disposal costs.

Recycling, reuse, repair.  They are ultimate environmental impact measures.  Don't quit your recycling job.

Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo Redux Nigeria

In July 2010, I was here in the same beach house (Barcares, France), reading author Bill Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything", and I attempted to explain exports of used electronics to Africa the way Bill Bryson might explain it.

It has been the highest ranked, highest read blog.

Many such blogs relied on photos or topical references, and the "Monkeys" blog is not really any exception. The photo of the baby monkey was forwarded back to me by Jeff Hunts of California Recycles (the example makes short shrift of CASB20).

But for me it is the financial analysis in the example at the end of the blog which makes it high ranking.  It uses sample loading of sample purchase orders to predict - 85% reuse.

This was a year after the Ramzy Kahhat and Eric Williams paper (Peru 87% reuse).

It was a year before the UNEP found 91% reuse of electronics imported to Nigeria.

It was three years after BAN's own researcher in Kenya estimated 90% reuse.

And it shows NORMAL TRADE.  Californians return brand new product at 11.9%.  Worldwide, new product failure for circuit boards is 8-33% (ESD).  If we were reporting on a trade which didn't have photos of Pieter Hugo nymphs burning smoky junk attached to it, it would be boring, too boring even for this blog.

Oh, right.  People are going to jail.  Over this.

A week from today, if all goes well, I will be meeting (outside of Heathrow Airport) the man Joseph Benson who was labelled a "kingpin" in the "illegal" trade of used electronics to a country - Nigeria.  Nigeria had 6.9M households with television, a 70% of all sales as "secondary market", and a sampling showing 91% reuse of used electronics imports.

I'm told Benson doesn't like meeting face to face with white male environmentalists.

Who can blame him?

Read the 2010 blog if you haven't yet.  I want to keep it as the #1 read blog.

In Europe: On the Trail of the Great Grey Whale

The Great White Whale, from Moby Dick, is a story which combines the medieval tales of obsession (Gawain and the Green Knight, or the Jaborwocky) with the exoticism of travel and foreign adventure.

This isn't one of those literary blogs, but I was in Lyon France yesterday (home of Interpol offices), and next week I'll be driving through Geneva, Basel, and home of the European Union (Strassberg).  I flew in with my family to Denmark (spending 3 nights with old Scandinavian chums), and we drove south, stopping in twice in Germany and Luxembourg, then Lyons, and now find ourselves in Perpignan.

Next week I leave them here and drive back solo, hoping for a series of gams on WasteCrime policy, WEEE rules, with the final stop in London.  It's not just a chance to charge part of the trip to business (though it's legitimately that as well), but also hopefully a chance to meet Joseph Benson, face to face, outside Heathrow.

Most of the Europeans I've spoken to an this trip know as much as the average American about used appliances.  Our Scandinavian friends told about how their package delivery man (an African immigrant) asked them to buy an old freezer one day, which he saw outside the house.   They said it was for the dump and he could have it. and he explained that on his trips back to Africa, he always sends a sea container of repairable WEEE for friends and family to fix.

Photo: Scandanavian reservation
Euroeans gam on stoneage Europeans - whoa
The friends are both archaeologists or anthropologists at a Norwegian university, and are able to talk about cultural tools and relics from stoneage times (we visited a Stoneage Village outside Vinderup, Denmark, see photo).  We drank, and talked about what would be left of our time for future archeologists and anthropologists to comb through?

Then talked about fake antiques, like the fake-vintage-toys I saw for sale at a French highway rest stop (possibly refurbished, but no way were these "as is" condition, and I suspect they were just "made in China" like every other toy at the rest stop).   The way age and value intersect can make the marketplace, and is easy to study in economics.  But when the trade is layered by race and nationality and geography, it becomes too complex a legal maze, and the burden of proof shifts against the Africans I recklessly presumed to be innocent.

  • Fake antiques.
  • Actors playing in stone-age villages.
  • Used electronics, sold for reuse

Response to The Lancet: Electronic waste—time to take stock

Electronic waste—time to take stock

A member of WR3A based on Sao Paulo, Brazil, emailed me a copy of an article in the respected journal "The Lancet" yesterday.   It reminded me of the Charlie Schmidt article in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2006, when I was interviewed, and unfortunately, kept a hand tied behind my back.   Charlie erred on the side of "white guilt" and wrote an article that supported J. Puckett's of BAN.org now completely discredited allegation that African importers were "mostly" importing TVs to be burned for copper.   Puckett only recently admitted (in the comment section of an article by Bloomberg) that he had done no research while in Africa and made the "80%" statistic up.  He simply made it up.

Profiling kids at dumps
I now realize that once an allegation is printed in a respected journal, like EHSP or The Lancet, especially when accompanied by "poverty photos" of kids at dumps, that the "presumption of guilt" shifts, rather violently, against reuse FIXers techs geeks of color.  The white guilt ricochets around, and in the end, it's the African, like Hamdy of Egypt or Benson of Nigeria, who is accused, arrested, loses his business.

For that reason, my new policy is to never let a "reporter", like Dr. Jack Caravanos, off the hook as easily as Charles Schmidt.  I haven't met him yet, am certain he's a good guy, just like Therese Shyrane and David Higgins of Interpol, and UK enforcement leaders lik Graeme Vickery  (a supporter of Joe Benson's arrest).  All good people, armed with the statistics Basel Action Network hallucinated, who think that most African importers are guilty of #wastecrime.


Dear Mr. Caravanos,

Are you the author of the piece in the Lancet?  http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)61465-8/fulltext  First, I want to congratulate you on entering the discussion, and second, to introduce you to three professors who are working on a grant together to explore reform, rather than ban, of the trade.  Dr Lepawsky is from Memorial University, Dr. Goldstein from USC, and Dr. Kahhat teaches engineering at PCU Peru.

"Much e-waste (estimated to total 45·6 million tons in 2012) originates in developed countries. Treaties such as the 1989 Basel Conventionprohibit the export of defunct electronic equipment for disposal in developing countries. However, a loophole that allows the export of electronic equipment for re-use results in most of this retired equipment ending up in developing countries—a problem exacerbated by a lack of resources to test equipment for functionality. E-waste output from developing countries is also rising rapidly, and will soon overtake the developed world as the dominant source."

While there is definitely an element of truth here, and while the aspects of bored children burning things in landfills is completely unacceptable, I'd like to invite you to revisit the article from another point of view.   According to several studies, the import of used electronics cannot really be explained, economically, by any economics of "externalization".  Externalization of recycling costs definitely exists, but would not explain the sorting of loads sold.   From what I've personally observed, cities like Accra and Lagos have had television and electronics for several decades, and the way their own eventual discards are treated bears reform in the same way ours did two decades ago.

Nigeria, in 2007, had 6,900,000 households with television (World Bank).  And according to a 2012 storty, the UNEP, which intercepted and tested 279 sea containers imported by Nigerian techs, found 91% reuse in those containers - actually higher reuse rate than brand new product sold in Africa.  I'll share two quotes from the UNEP studied (funded in part by a grant from the Basel Secretariat).

"The majority of refurbished products stem from imports via the ports of Lagos. The interim results from project component 2, the Nigerian e-Waste Country Assessment, show that 70% of all the imported used equipment is functional and is sold to consumers after testing. 70% of the non-functional share can be repaired within the major markets and is also sold to consumers. 9% of the total imports of used equipment is non-repairable and is directly passed on to collectors and recyclers."
Final report of the UNEP SBC, E-waste Africa Project,  Lagos & Freiburg, June 2011 
Here's another quote from the Nigeria E-Waste Assessment Study:
"Refurbishing of EEE and the sales of used EEE is an important economic sector (e.g. Alaba market in Lagos). It is a well-organized and  a dynamic  sector that holds the potential for further industrial development. Indirectly, the sector has another important economic role, as it supplies low and middle income households with affordable ICT equipment and other EEE. In the view of the sector’s positive socio-economic performance, all policy measures aiming to improve e-waste management in Nigeria should refrain from undifferentiated banning of  second-hand imports and refurbishing activities and strive for a co-operative approach by including the market and sector associations."
If you simply mean that most of the used goods imported to Africa work or are repaired, but will eventually be discarded in a decade or two, I'd agree with that, since 70% of the sales documented (product in use) are used product.  I don't think that mining more lead, tin, copper etc. to make brand new product, however, would either eliminate the eventual dumping problem.  It would certainly elevate the exposure of Africans to lead and other pollution - hard rock metal mining is the primary source of toxics in both the USA and Africa.

The photo above, taken from a film by Greenpeace, shows a typical load of imports.  Frequently these are used CRTs taken out of hotels, upgraded for flat screens.  The Africans who purchase them are very picky, and you will not see a lot of variety of age or type of e-waste in these loads.

I'd invite you to visit my plant in Vermont, or to come down and meet with you at CUNY.  Our organization, Fair Trade Recycling (fairtraderecycling.org) is dedicated to improving quality of loads sold to repair and refurbishing markets.. The moral of your article seems to be that the "reuse" is some kind of a "loophole", and that people should be somehow ashamed if some of the goods sold or repaired in Accra or Lagos originated in New York.   I'm afraid that "boycott" attitude has not been very effective, driving entrepreneurs into back alleys to find the computers and televisison Africans need but cannot afford to buy new.

Robin Ingenthron

So that's my "open letter" to Jack Caravanos.  I hope I didn't burn any bridges.  I still correspond with Charles Schmidt, who unfortunately cannot get an editor interested in exhuming the bodies for DNA tests.


Now Blow Your Mind on Q-Analysis

Clean, Big and Obvious:   Six Billion People Aren't Going Away

"Uncle Will" Stephenson
I left the last blog hanging on a follow up (which is coming).  But it's a holiday and vacation coming up, when I traditionally "go academic" in the blog.

Dirty Little Secret : Clean Big Obvious

The weak link is between "Secret" and "Obvious".  The first question you have to ask is "Obvious to Whom?" "Secret to Whom?"   Or does a secret only matter to one billion "big and clean" people?

Whom is being Surveyed?   This is a question I grew up with, as the oldest kid whose dad was getting a Ph.D. in Journalism at Columbia Missouri - then considered the top J-School and still a giant.   I sat as a kid and absorbed dinner conversation between my dad, his Faculty Advisor Will Stephenson, and my great Grandfather, William Freeland.  And I was told to finish my peas, and not spread them about the plate, because children were starving in China...

Fair Trade Recycling Announces Agreement with RE:Solve (Resolv.org)

Mobilizing Information about Fair Trade Recycling Standards in Used Electronics

WR3A.org, dba Fair Trade Recycling, is soliciting donations from members and supporters to fund the transition of our NGO to a venue in Washington DC.  The outcome will be a mature, responsible, diplomatic organization which is better able to defend the best practices in recycling, and to defend them and those who practice them from thinly veiled accusations of exploitation and other "dirty little secrets".

WR3A is changing, but it's not going away.  We are going into a new phase of the organization's development.   The message of Fair Trade Recycling is moving out of Vermont, to Washington, DC.  We are mobilizing the message about fair trade recycling.

Fair Trade Recycling is joining the Solutions Network at Resolve.

Below are three other projects housed at ReSolve's Solutions-Network.


In September of 2012, the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative was announced by Industry partners convened by the Dutch government. The Conflict-Free Tin Initiative project intends to start a conflict-free tin sourcing program in South Kivu, an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The initiative pilots new tracking and tracing procedures to ensure the conflict-free status of the supply chain. Following the conflict-free testing phase of the pilot, the initiative will address other mine-site sustainability issues. View project


The Conflict-Free Smelters (CFS) Program of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and Global E-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) seeks to end supply chain support for the sale of illicit minerals from Eastern DRC and the surrounding region.  As smelters/refiners (smelters) build systems and demonstrate compliance with the provisions of the EICC-GeSI Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) Program, they may encounter transition or start-up costs associated with participation in the program.  It is recognized that these costs may be most significant to small and medium smelting enterprises.  The CFS Early-Adopters Fund is designed to offer smelters an extra incentive for early participation by helping to offset these transitional costs. View project


In July of 2011, the Solutions for Hope Project was announced by Motorola Solutions Inc., a leading manufacturer of mission critical public safety and enterprise wide communications equipment and AVX Corporation, a leading tantalum capacitor manufacture. The ‘Solutions for Hope Project’ was launched as a pilot initiative to source conflict-free tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Tantalum is a metal used in capacitors for electronic products and is derived from the mineral coltan, which is in rich supply in the DRC. View project