@RecyHub: The Case for Reformed Electronics Recycling Exports

  White's move...  

In the comments section on Sunday, reps from @RecyHub posted the following questions about the Fair Trade Recycling Model.  As a reminder, WR3A/FTR encourages export of used electronics to Africa, hand picked by Africans, under defined purchase orders and contracts, to meet the desire and needs of African cities.

EU RecyHub writes:
There are some issues in my mind that I think are not cleared out by your model:

- Child labour. In Agbogbloshie there are kids working with the e-waste, burning cables. Somehow, they should be considered in a model that takes into account human development, not only economical development. 

- Non-recyclable parts. Not 100% of the components are recyclable. There are hazardous parts that need to be removed and treated separately, and there are plastics that don't have any secondary market value. Those parts will be travelling together with the reusable electronics. 

How do you approach these two issues?

First, it is now very well established that the junk show in primitive scrap yards is primarily generated by Africa's cities themselves.   The two problems - child labor and difficult-to-manage components - are products of the emerging nations themselves.   A trade ban does nothing to address these problems.

Second, and on the contrary, the WR3A / fair trade recycling model uses the value of the goods to create incentives to address these problems. Instead of paying $7,000 for a containerload of televisions, the African trader could pay just $4,000 in return for a contract to eliminate child labor, recycle the plastic, etc.

This is the only model which creates $3k (or $4k, $5k, $7k) to fund proper recycling. African traders import from wealthy countries because the scrap is so much higher in (reuse) value, and OECD nations are foolish to shred that value. Keeping it out of the hands of African techs is a lose-lose proposition.


Compare the WR3A model to the "Best of Two Worlds" model invoked by StEP and Interpol.   BOTW does see African generated "e-waste" as a resource, and hand-disassembly with proper tools to be better than "informal" practices.   Not bad.  But BOTW is designed to go hand in hand with the "Project Eden" crackdown by Interpol on used goods.   "Project Eden" was based on the hoax statistic that 80% of the secondary market goods that Africans hand pick for export are burned in primitive conditions.  Poppycock.

We know the reuse rates of imported containers from Europe are 85%-91% (BAN's own Kenya researcher, in 2006, estimated 90%).  Close to 0% of the junk collected from African city e-waste generation is reused.  Rather, it has already been "reused to the bone" and is only a metals and plastic scrap resource.  How exactly are Africans better off dismantling 100% junk rather than fixing 85% and dismantling 15%?  If you were African, which would you rather have?

Project Eden is an unintended recipe for harming Africa.   The African "Bobby Fischers" find fewer OECD sellers willing to sell to them, the quality of imports goes down, and the people willing to risk selling are less likely to be "agents of conscience".  See "War on Drugs" and "Alcohol Prohibition".

The average containerload paid for by an African generates about $7,000 to the European seller.  The African then has to pay another $5-10,000 to ship it and get it through customs, a total cost of $12,000-17,000 for their trouble.  The WR3A partners donate back a portion - say $5,000 - in return for contracts to reconcile the loads, take back junk for proper recycling, eliminate child labor, or ship back difficult to recycle parts, ensuring the 15% is recycled, and creating an infrastructure for the 100% junk from African waste in the process.  The $5K is issued as a credit on the next load, once the African buyer has satisfied and proven the terms of the first load.

"Fair Trade Recycling" has been tried (Malaysia, Peru, Mexico, Egypt) and it appears to work.   Memorial University is now running a 5 year research project to evaluate "fair trade recycling" as a model for other nations.  But it's difficult to find a partner in Africa when Interpol is threatening to seize the containerloads and arrest the trading partners.  It's driving Africans to buy used product from Chinese cities.

Here is film a private sector effort to recycle the e-waste Kenya generates.   Once Africa has this infrastructure, why ban them from buying reuse goods from Europe?   The @WR3A model uses the reuse value to create this type of endeavor.

It's called "THE TINKERERS BLESSING", a phrase I coined to contrast geek/tinkerer/repairer economies against the "curse of natural resources", sometimes called "Dutch Disease".   Can we at least agree this is a model worth discussing before the "Basel Ban Amendment" gets passed?  Currently, under Annex IX, B1110, the WR3A model is still legal, but countries in the EU are passing domestic laws saying otherwise. 

Germany's 3SAT Network gets it, see our side's interview on German public cable news.  This isn't a nutty idea.

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