Yin, Yang, Omm Part 1: Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR2791)

#FreeJoePenna Blog (one of 8 composed on a France beach vacation 2014)

WR3A became the anti-BAN.  But we have both been part of a Charitable Industrial Complex.

It's like a tug of war over dusty, desolated, impoverished Darfur, a guerrilla morality of ethical posturing.   A war between rich over who gets the rights to the poor's images. 

Poverty and inequality, or the perception of it, is power.  Ask Marxists about how to harvest envy.  The bigger the problem is perceived, the more you can justify meddling and redirecting the marketplace to "fix" the problem.  (appropriate illusion and background music by Brazilian MysteryGuitarMan Joe Penna, below)

There is no denying that there are problems and inequalities in the system.  But whether or not the poor are hurt more by the free market than by BAN.org's efforts to "fix" it, we are contesting a moral high ground which itself has an economic value.  In this series (Yin Yang Omm) I'm attempting to write about how the economically disadvantaged either benefit from the dispute, or from its resolution, or whether they have any interest in it at all, and who-the-heck-are-we in that equation.

In several previous blogs, like Environmental Malpractice, readers get a closer view of what it's like inside the planned obsolescence shredding industrial complex, and how it is driven by white man juju - liability.  The fetishes placed on the secondary market by people "responsible" for the continued life of products they've let go of force many to shorten the lives of the product.  Recycling laws have made it almost impossible to export working assets.  It is taking billions of dollars of USA assets which are wanted by less affluent but rapidly emerging markets, and turning them into toxic piles, and puts people supplying countrymen who cannot afford new product into jail cells.

Reactions to perception of inequality or injustice can drive societies to do irrational things, to burn witches at stakes, ban books, and shred new cars.   Envy can drive liability lawsuits, jealousy can sway jurors... (so Mazda said to heck with it).  That's right, liability for product has created a system which actually shreds new cars rather than punt them into poor countries, and the same system is increasingly positioning itself to shred refurbishing markets.

Through a proposed new law on exports to secondary markets, BAN and CAER essentially propose a paradigm where the emerging markets cheap labor is available to only to corporations, but are blocked from buying their own supply of work.  RERA would allow these people to do warranty repair, and to assemble and disassemble brand name goods, but not to purchase non-working products for reuse, repair or recycling.

The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR2791)   

The Bill is supported by some people I really like. Niel Peters-Michaud, for example, has enlisted himself and his company both with E-Stewards, BAN and CAER, and has also been to Africa and testifies that limits on trade to that continent will produce better results.
"Do we really believe that the dream of someone in a developing world is to process our toxic e-scrap?  I think they would prefer to dream of driving a well equipped Audi." - Niel Peters-Michaud
Before going deeper into the psychology of two white CEOs from liberal northern states arguments over the welfare of Africans, let's look at what a state (California) with a system similar to RERA's has created.  Hint:  no new Audis have been distributed to any African nations.
How do two decent people, like Niel and myself, who are CEOs of scrap recycling companies in liberal states (Wisconsin and Vermont), find ourselves fighting over the moral high ground?  How does the fact I can compete with Niels company, using reuse dollars, affect his strategy?  And how does our competition blow back on "Hurricane" Joe Benson?

RERA would make Benson a criminal in the USA, if it's passed. My opponents argue that I have an economic interest in dumping crap on people like Benson, or Wahab, to avoid the cost of recycling responsibly.  I argue they are trying to rig bids to keep overseas markets from competing with them.  Benson could be a criminal in California, which ironically requires CRTs to be "cancelled" (vacuum damaged) prior to export.

I've never traded with Benson, have never exported USA TVs to Africa or China for that matter.  The only people in Asia buying used televisions from the USA were PT Imtech and PT Mag of Indonesia, two of the original equipment manufacturers (picture above), who I tried to supply via the 2010 "California Compromise".  If Africans and Chinese do someday approach my company, however, and tell me they have ethical and modern reuse and recycling capacity, I'd like to be allowed to do business with them.  RERA would make that illegal.

There are billion-dollar "big shred" business who are willing to testify to the US International Trade Commission that the same factory that originally manufactured 17 inch computer monitors cannot be trusted to buy them back.  The largest ones grew up in California, under SB20.

What do they produce?  Ground up leaded glass.

The massive piles of toxic CRT glass in Arizona attest to these companies success.   They have been paid to take CRTs, which Indonesians wished to pay money for, changed them from a state of safe and vitrified / glassified non-toxic tubes into small dusty pieces which Jim Puckett now poses beside, blowing in the wind...
Jim Puckett films his new baby

Jim Puckett wants to save us now from a problem he and Niel and others created.  Last month, California's KPIX News covered the two Yuma Arizona CRT glass piles, where California's TVs and monitors - diverted from the factories in Asia who wanted to buy them, and the Africans like Benson and Hamdy and Wahab who would have bought them from repair.  It's the newest report Basel Action Network is using to fundraise for "e-Steward" -ship.

Make no mistake - few overseas want to buy CRTs shredded into small pieces.  Certainly no one would pay for the transport to Africa.  The millions of TVs and monitors which were processed to this state are no longer on the wishlist for Lagos or Accra or Cairo or Jakarta.

There are a few smelters who would take it, but they are afraid of being on the wrong end of BAN's camera, and unwilling to apply 365 day "speculative accumulation" timetables that don't apply to virgin material or remanded smelter slag.  They can get their leaded silicate from mined mountainsides and process it in primary smelters - the source of 45% of the toxics released into the atmosphere by man.   Who can blame them for not wanting to go near the stuff?

So California shredded millions of dollars of its TVs and monitors to keep them from being reused, based on the perception of risk and liability in the export market.  The result is a toxic heap of ex-CRTs.  The leaded silica was originally safe, intact, inert, glassified, vitrified - no more "releaseable" than it was on your desk or in your living room. has been mechanically processed into leachable sizes, to be used as "wind cover" for landfills.  The last remaining markets for leaded fines are primary smelters which need the silica for fluxing agent. They see what happens to Dlubak, to Benson, to Samsung Corning Glass (Klang) - and prefer to continue mining it from mountainsides.

The solution to the mess?  A national California "no intact export" law. CAER, BAN, E-Stewards, and other "environmentalists" say trust them.   They are here to help.

The RERA debate is not about my plans do business bi-racially, or to trade with six billion "non-OECD" people, but about our rights to do so if we choose.  The relative ethics of the positions in opposition to that right to free and fair trade may begin with best intentions, but it's the economy of risk and envy which drive the investments.  Whether either CEO Neil or CEO Robin have the right use the images of "saving Africa" to describe ourselves morally, and how the legal system views us, is the derivative theme of Yin, Yang or Omm.

Part II:  White Man Ju-ju:  Guilt and Liability

Most powerfully, the juju of inequality can be used to divert billions of dollars of trade and income in unintended ways.  "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."  For Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Chiu, Hurricane Benson and Hurricane Fung, it's old news.  The wealth these tinkerer entrepreneurs created in rapidly emerging markets became a target.

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