Yin, Yang, or Omm Part 2: White Man Ju-ju vs. 3-Point Shot

In Part I we took a close up of an actual problem - the past decade of managing Cathode Ray Tube televisions and monitors, after briefly introducing the concept that guilt and liability - positive ethical systems - can be twisted into bad law via fear, greed, and envy.  

What's the "green scare?"  
Same as the red scare.  Export Sympathizer is today's "Commie"

The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA), HR2791, was the focus.  The bill acknowledges overseas refurbishing and recycling operations if and only if the name-brand company (e.g. Dell of Texas) is shipping there (warranty repair, takeback).  That's "responsible".  The contract factories overseas are NOT owned by the name brand, there are no Dell employees at the computer display factory.  If Hurricane Fung, Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Benson, or Hurricane Chiu were OEM employees taking back used goods for repair and refurbishment, they'd be "Stewards".  Instead they are "primitive waste criminals".

The Guardian covered Dell for coming out against a geeks of color boycott, and I vigorously applaud Dell for that.   But RERA language creates a "members only" export system.

As the blog got longer, I've cut it into three or four parts.  Poor editing, or de Tocquevillian insight?  Mostly lack of time to edit, I'm running a business after all.  The digression into psychology and ethics is the readers choice, I figure.   Just don't hit the "print" key.


My company has contracts for governments or manufacturers which require compliance with export laws, and it's a lot of work to keep track of who allows what.  When people are getting imprisoned for shipping 91% working product, the export laws are at best "unclear".

What we are living in is a modern "red scare" or rather "Green Scare".   In the 1950s it was dangerous to be seen with "communists", and the term "Communist Sympathizer" was itself a scarlet letter.   Today, I feel like I have an "Exporter Sympathizer" letter stitched to my company.  The blog is kind of my therapy.

The best cure for paranoia, someone once told me, is to live every moment of your life as if people are watching.  But the question is, who is watching... people who associate exports with pollution, or a generation from now, people who will see "fair trade recycling" vs. "export prohibition" as a civil rights issue?

You can certainly understand why someone with enough money to expense a million dollar shredder would just do so and be done with it.  I met yesterday with an old partner, a former MA TV repairman, who now practices "zero reuse", though he does so more to avoid the "documentation chain" than anything.  I can see why anyone who invested in zero reuse would want join the CAER, just to simplify the rules.  RERA is about changing the rules.

RERA takes away the "three point shot" from the electronics recycling game.     It's a game for Shaq, not for Ray Allen or Reggie Miller.

My career has been as a "three point shooter", not excelling at the cost of demanufacturing, but getting extra value from the 5%-20% of material which might still have a reuse market far outside the paint.

RERA equates it to "cheating".   Cheating is breaking the rules... Whose rules have been unclear, certainly not the Basel Convention - we are only accused of breaking the Basel Ban AMENDMENT, which has not even been passed by Basel Secretariat and probably never will be.

"Perception is reality", however.  Many of our clients, such as the State of Vermont or certain OEMs, do not want the APPEARANCE of impropriety.  If Vermont's largest electronics recycler exports, I'm told, it damages "Vermont's brand" as a "Green State".   That's why they kick us so hard, it's for the "Good" of Montpelier.

In other words, Export Sympathizer = Appearance of Export = Liability.

LIABILITY.   The fetish of past ownership which lingers over a device after it has been sold.

It's one of the most powerful spells of "white man ju-ju".    A simple dusty piece of Angelsite, a silica ore with high leaded content, blown from the side of a mountain, can be left in the open weather for decades.  It's mined material, outside of RCRA, and a different rule applies.   But the CRT glass - practically the same material, chemically and physically as mined angelsite - has EPR juju all over it.

Last week my company was actually sent a kind of citation by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources for having sent CRT glass to a CRT glass recycler, in January, when the CRT glass recycler (according to the documents issued us) was cited for outdoor storage in June.  My company actually delivered our own material in our own truck - we are also good at logistics - and we know we delivered our material indoors.   But we are somehow to be held accountable five months later when someone else's CRT glass is stored outside at the same facility.

Keep in mind, these are the displays we DIDN'T export, but tore down in the USA.

Someone else = 2TRG, BTW.  The E-Steward company which sold assets and didn't deal with CRT glass.  One of the piles from Yin Yang Om part 1 is glass that was abandoned by the E-Steward and delivered to the Recycling Company without paying for it.  The recycling company could understandably leave that stuff outside.   But my company gets the derivative citation, because we "failed to do diligence" (the words of ANR) for the January shipment... we should have know.

Screens4Hope - Senegal Community Television
White Man Ju-ju is derivative liability.

If I sample the thousands of TVs that come in and find 80% working (makes sense, they are being replaced by flat screens), and then set aside 10% of those, allow them to be inspected before purchase, and draft a contract warrantying them for an African buyer, I can - unlike 2TRG - afford to pay my CRT recycling bills. The 10% reuse that brings in three to five times the revenue is the "three point shot".

A small portion of reuse can save a lot of money in avoided recycling cost, which is why exporters are suspected of dumping.  But the export sympathizers use that money to properly recycle their CRT glass, rather than dumping it as "wind cover" in landfills.

Whenever a business saves money, it's not greed.  We pass those savings along... higher pay, more insurance, proper recycling of leftover CRT glass - or (in the Fair Trade Recycling model) give the savings back to the African to establish a hand-disassembly program like mine in Vermont.

Meeting R2 Standards for export should be sufficient for the 3 point score to count.  Enforced by civil law referee, if my company doesn't do what the contract said, we lose the business.  I have another contract with the African (or Indonesian, whatever) buyer stating what the 10% export must be (and not be).  In WR3A, the buyer keeps 20% of  the purchase as a guarantee (if anything they have an incentive to over-report bad units).  But because of the "export sympathizer liability", more and more contracts simple say "no export" or like California, "no intact units".   See the piles of glass, Yin Yang Omm Part 1.

I call this "white man juju" as a joke to explain the point of view of the African trader, the Ghana Tech, the person who just wants a working display to watch Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast in the World Cup, on a small enough TV to fit in the slums and run off a trickle of electric current.   The African traders know capacitors, they know flywheels, they know tuner boards, they know types of CRT.  They are technology savvy.

They just don't understand the liability issue.

What the African buyer wants is to supply "good enough product" to the hugely growing middle class in "emerging markets".
abc news photo

Mubarak creates a law saying nothing can be imported more than 4 years after it came off the assembly line.  Africans know that Mubarak was just trying to make internet less available.   There's no difference between a 2005 monitor and a 2009 monitor except for how common they are.  There just aren't many 2009 CRT monitors manufactured.  So the African buyer, not understanding the liability issue, sends little 2009 date code labels in Arabic and asks us to tape them over the 2005.

We didn't do that.   Discount Computer did.  I still have the labels sent to me in my desk drawer, as a reminder.  It was technically fraud, though the only person being fooled was the Egyptians Customs agent.  But like Joe Benson, the CEO of Discount Computer in Michigan got a prison sentence.  Changing the labels is out of bounds.

We instead sent our monitors to be remanufactured in Malaysia, to a company with a legal import permit, and we paid for R2 audits and ISO certification.   In 2012 their permit was taken away.  Now, we have piles of CRT glass instead, which we made the mistake of delivering to a company which in the future would store glass from 2TRG outdoors.

Yep, the E-Waste rules are pretty hard to follow.  But emerging markets are just trying to get affordable computers, cell phones and TVs into fast growing cities.  More than 6 billion people will live in these megacities by 2050, and if we won't allow reuse, we have a lot of mining to do.

Thanks to IMF and World Bank, electricity grids are expanding in all the urban areas I call 3B3K (three billion people earning average $3k per year).   You know, the people who watch the World Cup in Brazil, the home country of Joe Penna.  The people who organized student protests via Twitter in Tehran and Cairo.  People for whom a $30 TV-and-monitor-combo which resists heat, resists theft, and works for 20 years, seems a better deal than a new LED screen.  The people who drive a 1985 Volkswagen (even if they dream of Neil Peters-Michaud's promised Audi).

The trade between the used electronics business in the EU, USA, Japan, Korea, etc. and the African, South American, or Asian import entrepreneur is pretty simple.  Globalization recreates the same dynamic as someone from Southie Boston buying a used car in Newton in 1970.  We didn't call it "environmental injustice", we simply knew that Ray Flynn's dad couldn't wait for his new Audi.

What "Stewardship" introduces is that other parties enter the commerce.  State governments - like the UK Environmental Agency - now apparently have a say in what the African is allowed to buy.   And NGOs have entered from the periphery, raising the "risk" and "liability" to manufacturers and collectors.  "It doesn't matter that your company is more environmentally sound than the shredder," an manufacturer representative told me. "We have to protect our brand, and as long as Basel Action Network is making these accusations, the risk is too great for us to allow exporting."

Wait a minute, Ray Flynn's dad... You can't buy that used Volkswagen.  It's "A-Waste".  It's creating a liability for auto manufacturers, and for the moral stewardship of the original owners in Newton.

Ok, I may need to edit this later but I'm going to hit the "send key".  I don't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

If you follow the ball above, you can begin to understand the concept of "fetish" or "ju-ju" in the Extended Responsibility game.   The manufacturer continues to have liability.  The collector (e.g. California SB20) feels the liability.  Through advertising of "waste crime", the original consumer may feel environmental liability.

But liability for WHAT, exactly?  No environmental crime has been committed.  The liability above is to shareholders in Manufacturing companies whose stock may suffer if false accusations are made against the African buyer - accusing him of not reusing or recycling the electronic devices, but dumping them in some "primitive, third world" child-labor-wire-burning-cauldron.  Nothing too, too, subtle, just google the words "e-Waste Hell."

This is what I call "liability ju-ju".  No African really understands what the "wastecrime" is, or the "harm" done.  It's assumed that some pollution occurred and some children suffered.  And this us based on positive hereditary psychology... nurture, risk aversion, caring, responsibility.   The image of "e-waste hell" attracts all the right people.   And the outcome is the "high tech lynching" of the weakest player - the African importer.

Et tu, Environmental Justice?

We need facts about the "waste crime", if indeed there is any.   How many units can be rejected by brand new sellers from electrostatic discharge?  1/3 warranty returns in Africa, is that illegal waste shipment, or is that ok?  The name of the game for Hamdy, Joe, Fung and Chiu is to provide better, cheaper product.  They have no share of "avoided recycling costs" allegedly driving the exports, according to Interpol, but they are paying for 100% of the activity.

In Part III of Yin, Yang, or Omm I will demonstrate the logic of the environmental malpractice, to demonstrate how this can be expected to occur again and again if we don't learn from our mistakes.  Working title (and I have a lot of editing yet to do):    Managed Inequality.

"The juju of managed inequality can divert billions of dollars of trade and income in unintended ways. In Part 1, the CRT glass piles tell the story of stewards who "had to destroy the village in order to save it."  For Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Chiu, Hurricane Benson and Hurricane Fung, California was off limits.  The wealth these tinkerer entrepreneurs created in rapidly emerging markets became a target, in the way of RERA/CAER's plan to take the California obsolescence model nation-wide." (preview)

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