E-Waste Tragedy 9: GUILTSTAINING

"Something Must Be Done.    
X is Something.  
...Therefore, X must be done."

Like the blacksmiths and coal miners of old, the scrap recycling and secondary products industries touch everyone.   Every consumer, in the lowest of middle classes, discards something, and the poorer the generator, the more concerned they are with the value of the material.

So far, that's pure economics, not ethical philosopy.  But because recycling saves trees, and preserves energy and resources for future generations, recycling companies attract more than our share of do-gooders.  I am one of those people who entered this field out of a desire that future generations would consider I made my best effort to be environmentally sustainable.

Little did this recycler realize what a social ethical economic puzzle it would turn out.

Chimpanzee Reading Newspaper SwitchArt™ Print
Who reads this junk?

The ethical scrapper and agent of conscience looks at social and environmental policy.  He finds and magnifies a crack in the morality play, using the commerce in used electronics as a lens.

The Ethical Scrapper coins new terms.  Environmental Malpractice, accidental racism, e-waste hoax, and so forth.

For 2015, here's the debut of "Guilt-Staining".   It is the polar opposite to "greenwashing":  when big corporations shout their environmentally contributions (using advertising budgets) to create green impressions. out of all proportion to their net environmental effects.  Guilt-staining is the allegation of "dirty little secrets".   It leverages already-activated "agents of conscience" (a term coined in high school) into anger, and threatens to take something ACTUALLY green, and stain it with guilt.

Like all recyclers, the ethical scrapper already does much for the world by saving energy, carbon, and finite resources... by reducing the toxic mining of rain forests and coral reef islands.

All recyclers do that, at all levels of a company.  An entire company contributes as a team to win one for the environment.   People running the payroll, or maintaining the fork trucks, or filling the balers all earn a moral share of diverting the burdens of man's consumption of finite resources on the planet.  The recyclers are a team of village blacksmiths, or blackleg miners, working far harder than any regulator or average consumer, in dirtier and more hazardous conditions.   We do much just by being focused on our jobs, collecting material, and recycling it.  Politics would seem to add as much value to recyclers as it adds to mining, agriculture, or laundry, or radio repair.
"Something attempted, something done, has earned a night's repose".
It's an economy worth billions of dollars.  If remanufacturing and repair are included, it approaches a trillion dollars worldwide, with very high employment per dollar, and it actually reduces mankind's impacts on the planet.   It's biggest competitors, hard rock mining and forestry, demand billions of dollars in subsidies, superfund bailouts, and $5 per acre "General Mining Act of 1873" terms exported to dozens of other countries (via the World Bank and IMF loan conditions).

Something must be done.

Guiltstaining.  All BAN.org needed was a "dirty little secret".  A surprise, a gotcha, a crisis. "Something Must Be Done" to leverage tens of thousands of sustainably employed workers in a trillion dollar scrap/reuse economy.  Shabang.   Millions of dollars to an organization that helps no one, which arrests the people it claims to help, and actually generates MORE carbon and MORE toxics by interfering in the marketplace.

Shakedown Street.  The morality police - who do not know what they are talking about, and are making it up as they go along - can cash in with a crusade, casting themselves as reformers, do-gooders, etc.   The priestatollahs are absolutely outraged to have their motives questioned (see Donald Summers Chicago Patch quotes), but they are putting African TV repairmen and internet cafe owners in jail based on a "rhetorical statistic" ... Something I think Socrates may have called, in the original Greek (Plato's Republic) "made completely out of word-vomit."

So... does it add value for the recyclers to be philosophically self aware?  Or should we just pay the Crusader's Toll, give a portion of our income to "Stewards", and go about our scrap recycling business?

My hope is that there are fellow philosophers out there who enter the environmental field for the reasons I did 35 years ago.  Karma yoga, the practice of doing good works during our life, should attract more of us to recycling, reuse and repair.  Finding ourselves not by isolating ourselves in monasteries, but by working side by side with other people.  Some like ourselves, others not.  But accomplishing, pound for pound, a sustainable period of time to balance our own consumption, our own impacts on the planet.

So here we are, doing that, and bam, egotistic savior-itus strikes.
"After a drought in investment in new generating capacity lasting almost three decades, blooms of new power plants are now sprouting across sub-Saharan Africa like acacia seeds after a rainstorm.  A tally by The Economist of announced power projects (under construction or at an advanced stage of planning) suggests that the region's electricity-generating capacity will increase by more than half by the end of the decade." - Economist "Lighting a dark continent", October 3, 2014
Africa has a firehose of new electricity projects coming online - many from renewable resources.   When China, India, South America and Indonesia saw electricity quadruple, they met the demand for World Cup matches, news broadcasts, sitcom reruns, and beauty pageants with rebuilt, refurbished CRTs from Europe, South Korea, Japan and the USA.  That multi-billion dollar refurbishing and reuse trade made an even more attractive target than the scrap recycling industry.

We don't need to exoticize our compatriots in other countries.  American recyclers can be proud of who we are without calling teams from poorer nations rude names like "primitive".   When we hear a client say they'd rather throw away material than know it was recycled by an oriental, hispanic, or black person, we don't need to agree with that, much less champion it into a certification or brand.

Export for reuse, repair, and even recycling is no threat to the jobs in the USA than it is a threat to the environment.

Though nine years of blogging would suggest otherwise, there's actually nothing quite so boring as trade in used electronic devices.  The people are interesting, and the moral posturing is fascinating.  But from an environmental lifecycle, or engineering perspective, nothing could be less controversial and no science could have explained the unintended consequence or Nigerian born television repairman Joe Benson waking up for 16 straight months with his butt in a British prison cell.

Nothing.  No statistic, no finding, not a word of truth suggesting Benson did anything remotely wrong.  He just found himself on the wrong end of the charitable industrial complex, which teaches us that Something must be done, That Shredding and Export Guidelines are Something, and that therefore Shredding and Export Guidelines must be done.

Certainly the worst forms of reuse and recycling are better than the best forms of mining.    Carbon saved by reuse and recycling puts refining, manufacturing, device use and disposal to shame.   Exports, free and fair trade over lines on maps, bring repairable goods to places where repair markets thrive, and bring copper scrapping from dumps where it would be shameful to do anything other than recycle it.    For all the problems that can be found in free and fair trade, recycling has proven itself not to be among them.

Merry Christmas, fellow recyclers.

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