Ten "Feel Good" Facts about E-scrap Recycling: Gorillaz and #ewastegate

Gorillaz band photo.jpg
Maybe it was the Hans Rosling video?  Maybe I really am manic?  Or maybe a thaw, a "correction" is on its way.  

Without forgetting about the #Hurricane exporters, it occurs to me that there's actually really good news about "e-waste recycling".   Rather than emphasizing the "environmental malpractice", here's another way to look at it.


This is ultimately a happy ending.  Everyone was told there was a crisis, in ghoulish halloween hyperbole, singed with #ewastegate statistics, toxic adjectives and sad-eyed (brown) children.

As it turns out, the "third world", as we knew it in the 1970s, has virtually gone away.   And households in Africa who make a living fixing used electronics earn six times more than average wages, meeting the needs of growing cities without mining for coltan or cutting down rainforests to expose gorillas to tantalum digging.  

It's good work and it turns out you never needed to boycott these people in the first place.   And more good news keeps coming...

Ten Feel Goodz Facts about E-Scrap Recycling!

  1. If you turned in a TV or computer for recycling in the past 20 years, the odds are overwhelming that it was either properly recycled or reused.    
  2. Exports of used computer monitors, it turned out, have been going overwhelmingly to factories which refurbish them, or directly to reuse.  The rapid urbanization of 3 billion humans in "good enough markets" was met with reuse rather than mining and refining.
  3. The effects of world connectedness are outstanding.   Green Revolutions don't go any more smoothly than the Revolutionary War or the French Revolution... but like adolescence it's something rapidly emerging markets go through on the way to someplace good.
  4. Like the "virtual band" Gorillaz, people like me are able to connect to people like Emmanuel Nyaletey of Ghana, Heather Agyepong, Joe Benson's friends in London, Rafa Font, etc.  The truth harmonizes.
  5. Major universities (Memorial U, ASU, MIT, PUCP, etc) and major US Commerce studies and UN funded field research all shows that the pollution found at dumps is not "externalized" any more than brand new product is "externalized".
  6. Although everyone is talking about the richest one percent, the growth of the world's "middle class" is a great story.   When I was a kid a third of the world lived in abject poverty.   Poverty has shrunk as much as the wealthiest have grown.   
  7. #Ewastegate was caught with it's mouth on the liar trumpet.   People are quitting.  The people they ruined will be let go.   Truth wins out in the end.
  8. Mining and refining and making stuff creates most of the pollution.   The worst recycling, it turns out, is better than the best mining.  And while export for reuse is profitable, it's good too.
  9. Even the "jobs" scare is hogwash.   A company that exports 30% of its goods intact hires more people and pays them more than a company that shreds 100%.
  10. Not only is the truth good news, it's being discovered and understood.   People are losing interest in the "e-waste hoax".
But best of all, because of the growth of internet and mass communications in faraway places like Africa, we find that Africans actually care about gorillas, and habitat, and ivory poaching, and proper recycling.   We find they didn't quite need as many #whitesaviorcomplex volunteers.   We find they are electing women to more positions of power, meeting growing demands for resources as #sustainably as they can, and... And I Stress THIS... They are happier on average than we are.  Maybe it's the soukous guitar music, maybe its the makossa dancing, maybe its the sense that things are improving every year.   As much as Boka Haram and Ebola press seem to suck into our screens, there's a growing feeling that Africa is next in line for the Tinkerer Blessing.

Check out Hisense LED Television manufacturing's South Africa division on Facebook.  Can you imagine flat screen smart TVs being made in Africa back in 2002?   

Courtesy of Hisense LED TV South Africa Division Facebook page.

Now, there are a lot of terrible statistics in the way, just as there were in China when 2002 "Exporting Harm" video came out.  Like engangered species poaching.  And crime.  And ignorance.  And serious anti-LGBT sentiments.  Africa definitely has more than its share of messed up @#$%.   I have not, not, convinced my wife (who was African Studies chair at Middlebury College, a professor of Francophone literature, and who helped set up Middlebury's program in Yaounde Cameroon) to retire there.  But those problems are in the minority.  They appear "above the fold" because "good news" can't stimulate the survival center in the brain's hippocampus enough to click the link or buy the paper.  My wife has no problem with me bringing my kids, and her main complaint with my trip is that she can't come, too (as they did when we visited Latin America and Africa buyers in the past).

And there's plenty of other things to feel good about.   I'm proud to be an exporter... and glad to be visiting actual friends and associates I know, people I've entertained in my home, who want to do the favor back to me.  It's better than "tourism".  I won't just see the people who buy used product... I will see their spouses, their parents, their kids.   I'll listen to music with them, and chop fine Africa chop at their table (still trying to get my 14 year old son to come along).

As fast as Shanghai went from TinTin to Anthony Bourdain, that's how fast I expect Africa to grow.  And it will get there the same way Guangzhou and Taipei and Singapore arrived... on the backs of tinkerers, with less credit going towards the Resource Curse.

The Gorillaz band was able to record and jam from different places, sharing tracks and mixing them online, for a decade.   The fictitious cartoon members of the band look multicultural, and its the way my kids see the world.  Post racism.  Post lines on maps.

People talk about the bad news in the papers, but why are terrorists trying to mess things up?  Because they are alarmed by the rate of change.   They are scared of development, afraid their kids and grandkids will listen to the same music, too.   The total deaths in wars, and incidents of terrorism, are down.   And as world trade increases, and globalization increases, more people will have connections across continents.   With trade and business, people have "something to lose" when a war breaks out.

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