Monkey Zoo Math: Reprint of Basel Action Network Fingerprints

In July of 2010, I wrote the post with the most reads to date.  Some have suggested that it was too long and buried the lead, but the people I met after writing it encouraged me to write more, and not to be afraid to write longer.

Below (more:) is the bottom third of the blog "Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo".  The math has now been corroborated by USITC, by MIT, by World Bank, by the ASU Williams/Kahhat study, the Nigeria and Ghana E-Waste Assessment (studies of 279 actual containers, seized at ports in Lagos, based on reporter Cahal Milmo's and Greenpeace's "investigation" of naughty, naughty African television repairmen).

I will re-link all of those studies this week.   But as a reminder, Basel Action Network knew this in 2006, when they provided guidance to Kenyan researchers Kiaka and Kamande.
PRELIMINARY STUDY ON THE IMPORTED SECOND HAND COMPUTERS IN KENYA - THE CASE OF NAIROBI by Richard Kiaka and Rachel Kamande (2007) "with guidance from Puckett James, Basel Action Network"
The 2010 math has been completely borne out.  All you had to do was listen to the African, Latin American, and Taiwanese refurbishers, and take a pen and the back of an envelope.  It has always been obvious. Toxics are a problem, pollution is serious business... but Racial profiling doesn't look good dressed in green.   There are real victims of Environmental Malpractice, and the time has come to clean our "stewardship" programs of the vestiges of accidental racism and poverty porn.

Whose fingerprints are on the "e-waste" monitors at Agbogbloshie?   African cities.  The "80% export" figure was not just a mistake... it was mathematically impossible, and disproven by BAN's own 2007 study.  

From 2010 Blog:

Q:  How do bad monitors get overseas? 

Q:  How do bad monitors get overseas? 

Follow the money. Start with shipping costs.  Someone had to ship them.  There are several online sources of freight quotes (they also give you a picture of how complicated it actually is to complete international shipping paperwork).  Here is one.  My door-to-door rates for the containerload to Dakar Senegal (WR3A video) was about $7000, including taxes and inland freight. Who pays the FREIGHT?

Answer 1:   Some African businessperson paid $6000 to ship 1000 pieces ($6 each) and then delivered them to the landfill, where the 1000 pieces are broken for $1.65 each in copper.  The importer has taken a loss of $6000 - $1650 or ($4,350)... plus in most cases paid the USA shipper for the television or monitor, about $4 each.  Net loss to Ghanaian = $8,350 per container, and the apparently insane Ghana Businessman does this over and over again... actually accounting for 80% of all the e-waste recycled in the United States, by paying $8 each for $1.65 worth of copper which he gets somehow from the "burn village". 

Answer 2:  Assume there's at least a breakeven percentage on the container, then at least 70% (700) CRT monitors must have been sold at $15 each to cover for the loss in shipping plus the loss from scrap ($4 paid -$1.65 scrap).   So up to 300 bad ones can be on each container (if the importer is satisfied with breaking even.)

Answer 3:  Maybe the used electronics once worked in the developing country, but have worn out?  Someone should at least look into that, right?  Someday the 700 monitors used will break or cease to be economically repairable (and low cost imports does affect the willingness to repair). And maybe they are importing so many, and demand is so high, that even a 30% residue rate makes a big mess. For that matter, brand new monitors imported will someday wear out.  (But the precautionary principle shouldn't keep people in the dark...)

The breakeven point in China is different than in Ghana,  and the tolerance for bad units is higher, because of lower shipping costs.  Shipping is cheaper to Hong Kong because of the "empty seats" on the sea container vessels (ships have to go back to Hong Kong with empty containers to get more Chinese made stuff for Americans).  You can find container rates for China at $2000 (with inland freight) rather than $6,000+ to ports in Africa. 

Because China has the factories that made the monitors, they also have a higher refurbishing rate for whatever monitors show up. 

You cannot sell many working used monitors for $15 in China... they'd rather use it as a $5 core and turn it into a $30 TV.  China doesn't buy working used monitors for resale, because China is becoming a net generator of used monitors.  China now ships the the refurbished ones to Africa.  (In special "import for re-export zones", some of these factories were considered legal.  But for the most part it is illegal, because the Chinese communist party owns the new CRT factory, and doesn't like competition.)

So if the value of the working ones is only $5 (for SKD cores) in Hong Kong, and the scrap copper is still $1.65, you still could not achieve BAN's 80% bad rate and get $2320 to cover the $2000 shipping costs.  for more than $0.32 per monitor.  If you are paying at least $1.65 (scrap price), plus shipping, that's $3650 per container or $3.65 per monitor.

(Good * $5) + (Scrap * $1.65)    =  $3.65

Good = [(2.21 - Scrap) * 1.65] / 5

1 = [(2.21 - scrap) * 1.65] / 5

which I think calculates out to scrap = 41%  possible or 410 per load...

BAN and WR3A are both concerned about 41% scrap.   We don't ship to China because it's illegal, but also because the prices make this a possibility. 

WR3A's "fair trade" solution requires the USA exporter to first document that they remove AT LEAST 30% of the CRTs domestically, before shipping, and to recycle those here.  This doesn't guarantee better than 70% good product, but it makes it more likely (breaking good ones and shipping bad ones makes little sense).  Second, the WR3A importer must reconcile each load and report how many incidental breakage or bad ones.  If they provide glass recycling records, they get paid $3 each (enough to make a profit after copper scrap).  The incentive for fraud would be for the importer to over-report bad ones, selling some at $15 but reporting they were bad.  Still, WR3A exceeds 85% reuse, and our better members exceed 90%. 

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