6 Observations: UNEP Report Earns "F" on #E-waste


Illegally Traded and Dumped E-Waste Worth up to $19 Billion Annually Poses Risks to Health, Deprives Countries of Resources says UN Report


WASTE CRIME – WASTE RISKS: GAPS IN MEETING THE 
GLOBAL WASTE CHALLENGE (2015)

"a rapid response assessment"


Inconsistency in Cross-Border Regulations Challenge to Effective Control of Illegal Waste Trafficking”.  This is the sub-headline of the United Nations Environmental Programme’s May 12 press release.  The headline of the report states the trade is worth $19 billion, poses risks to health, and deprives countries (European countries) of resources.  

Say this slowly. Inconsistency in regulations... between countries... is a challenge to arresting people... for illegal activity... because it's not illegal.... in the other country? And therefore (by not making second hand goods illegal), the second country is "depriving (Europe) of resources?"

Four "e-waste experts" are on the team of 16 authors. I've highlighted their names at the bottom.

We counted 43 photos in the report, eight of which are taken at Accra scrapyard Agbogbloshie.

And the adjectives..."primitive", "informal", "deplorable"

These are the insults slung at the geeks of color, the workers in Africa's tech sector and manual disassembly operations. Perhaps, the authors "assessed" and "responded" too "rapidly". My own report has been slowed down, in contrast. I planned 10 pages, but was dealt with two curve balls on my return to the USA. First, Interpol announced a big EWaste (CWIT) meeting in Lyon, France - where I already have a ticket (was going to be there anyway). The CWIT features another 2010 performance by Jim Puckett and Mike Anane.

The UNEP Report announced that ten European Countries in 2012 (year of the E-Waste Country Assessments in Nigeria and Ghana, finding 85%-91% reuse) shipped 2,929 tonnes of "e-waste" to five countries - 4 in West Africa plus Pakistan. Ghana is profiled as the biggest target, and eight photos of Agbogbloshie illustrate the case.

Spoiler - our analysis was that Agbogbloshie manages (outside of cars and white goods) about 910,000 POUNDS (not tons) of electronics scrap, delivered by hand cart from street collectors in Accra. This week Scrap Magazine (p.78) publishes an article by Adam Minter (Junkyard Planet author), who we met in Agbogbloshie. The cover page photo shows how most of the material is delivered.

See left. By hand cart. Pickup trucks on occasion. But access roads into Agbogbloshie and outgoing wire, plastic, and circuit board (bottleneck) weights support the estimates of the workers there. Agbogbloshie manages between 20-50 pieces (TVs, VCRs, computers) per day.

About 910,000 pounds per year. Disassembled by hand, delivered by hand cart.


Now look at the UNEP Report figures, configured below.

Convert 2,929 million tonnes (metric) to pounds (x 2200) = 6,443,800,000 lbs. Six billion per year, from ten countries - not including the USA or Asia - of "e-waste". Divide 910k by 6,443,800k.
One of the five largest destinations handles about one fiftieth of one percent. 

Two conclusions are possible... if one assumes 100% of the material at Agbogbloshie is imported from Europe, and none of it was used for decades in Accra (which had tens of thousands of households with TV in the 1990s), then:
  1. Although Agbogbloshie is on the top 5 destinations list, it manages only about 2 percent of ONE percent (0.0002) of Europe's "ewaste".
  2. UNEP and Interpol are using Secondary Market (non-scrap, reuse) numbers in their "e-waste dumping" statistic.
Of course, if at least half of Agbogbloshie's volume was domestically generated, and the imports are one percent of one percent, the UNEP Report (shockingly) tries to explain that...

If the latter, the $19B suddenly becomes confusing if not meaningless. Africans buying used laptops on ebay is certainly legal... and Ebay has annouonced a $195 billion dollar market selling to emerging markets. Who knows what percentage of $195b is used electronics. But if it's 10%, then UNEP's $19B number looks low.

Below is an analysis of the UNEP Report which I've had to cut from my report (in order to respect my page limit).  It begins with UNEP making the massive case for millions of tons, then shows how Interpol's seizures only implicate 2-3 times the 9-15% waste estimate of the E-Waste Assessment studies.   Interpol accuses one third of the shipments of containing some waste.

It covers 6 observations about the report, Debate Team style.

OBSERVATION NUMBER ONE: One Third does not equal 90%
The report's own numbers disprove the 90% allegation.
"There were also checks in Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria in Africa, a region considered to be a destination for this waste. Almost one-third of the checks resulted in the discovery of illegal electronic waste.”*
We found most of these to be electric, not electronic waste.  White goods being reused, illegal due to Ghana appliance refund-takeback program.  In any case this "discovery" is legally an allegation at this point.  And most importantly, how the heck do they explain the "90%" illegal headline if 2/3 of the cases against suspect containers are dismissed??? Finally, if you "discovered" some in 1/3 of the containers, how much of those containers was allegedly illegal?  If 50% of "almost one third"... we have verification of the Ghana E-Waste Assessment Study (15%), don't we?

OBSERVATION NUMBER TWO:  Prima Facia Evidence of Legal Incompetence.
The report's claims cause of illegal transport is disagreement over illegality.
“Identifying and classifying electronic and electrical equipment as waste may be challenging. One could argue that used or discarded equipment could still be of value to others and therefore should not be considered waste. However, the life span of second-hand goods is very short, and within a couple of years it becomes discarded waste. " 
Nuff said.  They are frustrated that it's legal. See #1 above. Also, brand new devices fail the same test (more often, according to African technicians).  Is this what "Project Eden" means, reversing Africa's teledensity?

OBSERVATION NUMBER THREE:  Theory of "Drivers" is Disproven by Evidence
The report's theory of causes of trade is disproved by the report.
“The main drivers of the trade in hazardous waste appear to be the high costs of proper treatment and the opportunities for illegal actors to operate in a market with relatively low risks and high financial benefit. In addition, low shipping costs and demand for certain types of used goods and constituents in some countries can be a driver for the illegal export of waste to developing countries (Bisschop 2012)." 
Ahh.  But the 5 countries shown on the chart have the highest shipping costs on the planet.  The low shipping cost (cited) was for China.  USA-Ghana is about $7,000 or $14 per CRT.  And the scrap value for the CRT is only $2, so the "demand for certain types of used goods" (and not others) is explained only by reuse.

OBSERVATION NUMBER FOUR: Evidence of Value is NOT Evidence of Waste.
Payment for goods shown in report is not evidence of "waste" or "illegality".
"The owner/producer of the waste can pay a waste broker to take the waste off his hands for further recycling. Waste brokers maximize their profit through getting paid first by the player disposing of the waste and second by the player who buys it as a reusable commodity. "
First, no one pays the "waste brokers" who ship to Africa (if they do, it probably really IS waste, like Trafigura, and UNEP should focus and enforce there!). Second, if it only works because it's a "reusable commodity"... See #1, and subtitle. Frustrating that you cannot enforce against the "wastecrime" because of that stubborn "innocence".

OBSERVATION NUMBER FIVE: Only Conviction Doesn't Fit Theory
Conviction example (Benson) undermines case, demonstrates Observations 1-4
"Investigators found the defendant had been collecting e-waste from a number of council-run sites in the London area and taking it to his licensed waste premises. Instead of processing the e-waste properly, he sold and loaded four containers of items – including cathode ray TVs and fridge freezers with ozone depleting substances– to brokers and shipping firms who then exported the waste to West Africa. He loaded items at the front of the containers that appeared to have been tested properly for functionality and even put “testing labels” on them."
We have 100+ pages of documented evidence in the case, none shows freon appliances in Benson's containers and he denies being in that business and there are none in the photos.  His company license was a REUSE license, not a "waste processing license".  But that's all secondary evidence, the point here is that it doesn't fit any of the theories presented in this UNEP report.  Shipping costs were high, cost for Benson to return items (which he documented doing, after failed testing) was $0 at the council-run sites.  And repair is legal, a "cut cord" (cited as evidence of not being tested) is a simple repair, a most obvious "for repair" case under Annex IX Basel Convention.  Benson would lose money on the bad ones, which he could recycle in the UK for free.

OBSERVATION NUMBER SIX: No habeus corpus.
See math. If Ghana is at top of 5 country list, and Agbogbloshie is the largest site in Ghana, hand carts and tire fires cannot possibly manage millions or hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands - or even 1% - of tons claimed in the report.

Larger diagram below
Number Five is Fair Trade Recycling's "Hurricane Benson".   Their star example, Joe Benson of BJ Electronics, as being the kingpin, the example of the bad dealer, and proudly trumpets his 16 month prison sentence... 

But all the math in their own report indicates there is no Benson material dumped at Agbogbloshie.  Tying black Benson, a TV repairman, to black Rachid, Awal, and Razak (my new chums in Agbogbloshie) is racial profiling - you may as well tie him to Kofi Anan or Nelson Mandela or Hurricane Carter or Joe Johnson (the boxer).

Joe Benson may not be perfect, I've met him only after his indictment, and have never traded with him.  But I have seen the "evidence" against him, and it's based on the same bad math as riddles this UNEP Report, making Joe Benson the most important example of legal abuse.  

Only reuse explains African incentives.
Only reuse explains African growth in teledensity.
Only reuse explains the $19B dollars cited.
Only reuse explains the costs paid to load, ship, and unload the electronics.

The authors of these reports have jobs to "solve" #ewaste, and the conclusions between the lines of their reports are that they need more resources, to arrest more #freejoebensons.  This is #whitesaviorcomplex at best, and #parasitesofthepoor or #charityindustrialcomplex at its worst.

So we meet, head to head.  Sixteen paid UNEP experts, armed with professional photography, vs. one lonely blogger.  

ENVIRONMENTAL MALPRACTICE AND FALSE PROSECUTION.
INJUSTICE AND RACISM AND PROTECTIONISM OF EU SHREDDING INTERESTS.
THIS IS A SCANDAL.  THIS IS #EWASTEGATE.

Academic peer review is occurring (Josh Goldstein and Josh Lepawsky are separately reviewing the UNEP Report), reporters like Adam Minter are taking the time to examine the case, Africans like Wahab Odoi Muhammed and Emmanuel Nyaletey are coming forward, and other photojournalists, less driven by "poverty porn" (like Heather Agyepong) are finding out about the Ewaste Hoax on their own.

Below is the rough analysis of the UNEP Report cut from my own Agbobloshie Report, which has larger paragraphs for better context of the quotes above (I have footnotes as well).  But it's almost 9 AM and I have a recycling factory to run... a plant which manually disassembles most of the electronics, because no one would want them or would want to pay to ship them to Africa.  Everyone in our business knows that.  Everyone in EScrap knows this is a hoax, that there are no Africans buying thousands of containers of packed junk.

Africa's best and brightest, the Tech Sector which brought double-digit and triple-digit teledensity growth to the "dark continent", year upon year.   The Tinkerer's Blessing is the opposite of the curse of natural resources.  We have met the enemy, and he is us.

[This is "cutting room floor" material I can't fit into my report, but which I post for serious investigators and researchers of "e-waste" policy.  If I've made a mistake, please let me know.]

Eight (8) are photos taken at Agbogbloshie?   That suggests that Agbogbloshie is rather important to the credibility of the report.  The report (on page 42) has the following map, showing approximately 600,000 tons of "e-waste" being shipped from the UK alone to 5 countries - Cote D'Ivoire, Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, and Pakistan.    Ghana is specifically mentioned in the report as a major recipient, and Abogbloshie is highlighted.  The "Top 10 European Countries", the chart says, generated 2,929 million tons.

It's an attractive chart.  And it is prima facia evidence that when it comes to Ghana, the authors do not know what they are talking about, and are making it up as they go along.  



In the way of "citations", the authors make generous use of several mainstream publications which have indeed depicted Agbogbloshie as a significant, if not the largest, destination for illegally exported, western generated, scrap electronics.   Citations for the claim include photojournalists (e.g. Hugo, Delvaney, McElvaney, Bellini, Dannoritzer, Anane), and reports by NGOs (Basel Action Network, Greenpeace Amsterdam, Blacksmith Institute).  However, most of these published reports and documentaries on Ghana’s imports contrast sharply with accounts of African traders who seek to purchase used electronics in Europe and the USA.  

Photojournalists take moving pictures of young, dirty, Africans, burning wire in a hopeless situation. And then provide... Numbers. Numbers cited in a major UN study, as if written by Wikipedia editors.

The case against the trade states that 80-90% of the imports are dumped as waste, while proponents state that 80-90% of the imports are reused or refurbished. The World Bank says that African teledensity has increased by about 60%, year after year, thanks to reuse and refurbishment. One side estimates that Agbogbloshie receives “millions of tons” (i.e. 4-6 billion pounds, or 2-3 billion kilograms.  The other side estimates a bit over 900,000 lbs (409,090 kg).  

The difference between estimates is so extreme that most of us are satisfied to say it must be somewhere in the middle... perhaps hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands of tons... 



The purpose of OUR study was to visit buyers who had not been interviewed in the documentaries and to provide them an opportunity to respond to accusations that they are “waste tourists” or engaged in “illegal activity”, and to investigate the sites in the controversy and to compare visual investigation with metadata (World Bank) and peer reviewed research.  The research team would also interview scrap workers at Agbogbloshie to determine the amount of “informal” or “primitive” recycling which actually occurs.

OUR investigation determined the claim that 80-90%, or even over 50%, or even 25%, of used electronics imports are either dumped or scrapped to be categorically false.  

In fact there was no evidence of any direct foreign dumping at Agbogbloshie or Tema... used product was found as likely, or more likely, to be reused than brand new product. Asset tags are of course evidence that product was imported used, and had a previous owner. But that's not sufficient to show it wasn't reused for years.  Our team investigated, up close, the visual evidence shown in film of the site which appeared to many to support the claims of overseas dumping, and found it had been vastly exaggerated.  The origin of the material that is being scrapped was much more likely to come from African businesses and households (as claimed by the African importers and scrappers) than to have been delivered in sea containers or other method of direct import for disposal (as claimed by the photojournalists and certain NGOs).  

Whether the claims of importers, that 90% is reused, and that the remaining 10% is from shipping damage or normal accidental breakage during customs inspections, or human error, or negligent testing, was beyond the scope of OUR study. The UNEP has clearly stated its case that the fallout is significant and deliberate, and applauds the imprisonment of Joe Benson. But the claims by traders and scrappers certainly appeared more valid than the claims of the UNEP and the NGOs cited in their footnotes.  

Under a normal investigative paradigm, importers should be presumed innocent and studies should be performed including control groups of brand new product and “documented” fully functional product (e.g. delivered by exporters who have paid to be vetted by the NGOs).

Please send your requests for apology to the authors below...

WASTE CRIME –WASTE RISKS GAPS IN MEETING THE GLOBAL WASTE CHALLENGE (2015)

Christian NellemannPhD, is the Senior officer and head of UNEP's Rapid Response Unit and Assessments.
GRID Arendal on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/gridarendal
Nancy Isarin, Environmental Consultant at Ambiendura and Communications and Project Officer at IMPEL.  
Wanhua YangUNEP Environmental Law Officer
Lui NingUNEP Associate Programme Officer
Keili Yu, UNEP
Siv SandaesIntern GRID Arendal  https://twitter.com/svmrn
Katie OlleySenior Environment Protection Officer, Scottish Environmental Agency
Member of the Advisory Board at CWIT *E-waste expert*
Howard McCannPrincipal Counsel at Environment Agency, England
Leila Devia, Director Buenos Aires Basel Convention Regional Centre (BCRC)  *E-waste expert*
Lieselot BisschopEnvironmental Crime  *E-waste expert*
Denise SoesiloEnvironmental expert
Tina SchoolmeesterResearch Assistant
Rune HenriksenConsultant
Rannveig Rivedal NilsenProject Assistant















--- - - - --- - blog end - -- ~ [copied and pasted from the WR3A Report cutting room floor ]



So I have to read the study for us. Simply reading the UNEP report generates enough doubt on its credibility to set the stage for an actual study.


Which is correct?


Millions of tons? Or 900,000 lbs? That's an incredible gap. Someone has to take a "credibility bath".


We are coming out with our report in a few days, which estimated 910,000 lbs (not tons) of electronics are being scrapped each year in Agbogbloshie. How will our report stand up to this incredible, 68 page report by 16 writers at UNEP (four of whom are "e-waste experts")?


First, here is an article on electronics recycling in Ghana, written by Shanghai Scrap / Junkyard Planet author (and scrap recycling expert) Adam Minter, who accompanied us on the first few days of our trip to Accra / Tema and the urban district known as Agbogbloshie. It's the cover story for this month's Scrap Magazine, titled "Continental Shift". I'll let you read it on your own.


But as for the UNEP report, perhaps the best critique of the report's headlines are found in the Report itself. I have several gems from the report below (emphasis, italics, bold, etc. added by me).


OBSERVATION NUMBER ONE: One Third does not equal 90%



The UNEP Study offers as evidence the results of Interpol’s Project Enigma, aimed at shipments of “electronic waste (e-waste) falsely declared as second-hand goods.
“The operation aimed to identify and disrupt the illegal collection, recycling, export, import, and shipping of such discarded electronic products as computers, televisions, and other electronic devices – before they could be dumped in landfills or other sites where they can cause severe environmental harm. Checks were conducted at major ports in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in Europe, which is a common source of electronic waste being shipped internationally. There were also checks in Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria in Africa, a region considered to be a destination for this waste. Almost one-third of the checks resulted in the discovery of illegal electronic waste.”


You follow that? These checks intercepted the containerloads “before they could be dumped”, so there is technically no “habeus corpus”.  But the startling news is only 1/3 of outgoing EU containers identified as "suspect" failed inspection.

If 90% is illegal, why do suspect containers only fail inspection one third of the time?

Keep in mind, this is "you can indict a ham sandwich" phase, the mere allegation. In 2/3 of the seizures, there is apparently not even a basis to make an allegation, much less hope for conviction.


OBSERVATION NUMBER TWO:  Prima Facia Evidence of Legal Incompetence.


At least, if one third is suspect, that's still a lot of "waste" uncovered, right?  No.  Check out the low, low bar the UNEP authors give themselves as a basis for enforcement.   The "illicit" or "illegal" goods may in fact work, the report says, for several years. in the section titled “E-Waste” (p. 24):



“Identifying and classifying electronic and electrical equipment as waste may be challenging. One could argue that used or discarded equipment could still be of value to others and therefore should not be considered waste. However, the life span of second-hand goods is very short, and within a couple of years it becomes discarded waste. Technical guidelines on criteria to classify equipment as waste or non-waste are currently negotiated at  the international level (Basel Convention 2010).


“For the law enforcement community, e-waste is a problematic waste stream for several reasons. As noted above, the classification of equipment as a waste poses challenges. Secondly, the lack of designated customs codes for e-waste makes both data analysis and developing profiles to target shipments difficult. Thirdly, the actors involved in the e-waste chain are numerous. Getting a grip on the -waste management and shipment chain is resource-intensive and requires an effective operational network at both national and international levels.”

Setting aside the fact that this statement in bold is completely legally false and unsupported, (and could easily be applied to brand new equipment, which lasts even shorter time)... this is a MAJOR credibility flaw.  This is a major UN publication stating that "Technical guidelines on criteria to classify equipment as waste are currently negotiated...?"  That is utter hogwash under international law.  International law currently states under Basel Convention Annex IX, B1110, that reuse and repair - and even recycling (if no Annex III constituents are tossed out) - are completely legal.


Now does that sub headline make sense?

Inconsistency in Cross-Border Regulations Challenge to Effective Control of Illegal Waste Trafficking”.  
If there is no international law, then the law of the countries stands.  If the importing country considers the goods second hand waste, there is no habeus corpus.  No crime has been committed!  (Where a crime was committed, according to Ghana customs officials, it was through the import of "white goods" such as refrigerators.   More on that below.)


The argument above appears to be that even if the importer fully intends to reuse or repair the equipment, that the interception of the goods and allegation/accusal of the export partner (in most cases a known associate of the African importer, inspecting and packing the loads) is merited because someday the goods will be disposed, and then we'll all feel guilty. So Africans cannot own anything - cars, cell phones, computers, x-ray machines, etc - which will "one day" need to be disposed? By that definition, Germans are responsible for cleaning Volkswagons out of Vermont scrap yards.

OBSERVATION NUMBER THREE:  Theory of "Drivers" is Disproven by Report Evidence



UNEP fails at proving causality. What drives this illegal trade, according to UNEP? Why do Africans pool their money to avoid disposal costs in Europe? How is this waste transport paid for?  The UNEP study (page 41) cites cost avoidance.


“The main drivers of the trade in hazardous waste appear to be the high costs of proper treatment and the opportunities for illegal actors to operate in a market with relatively low risks and high financial benefit. In addition, low shipping costs and demand for certain types of used goods and constituents in some countries can be a driver for the illegal export of waste to developing countries (Bisschop 2012). A study commissioned by the US EPA found that it was ten times cheaper to export e-waste to Asia than to process it within the country (Lundgren 2012). According to the Italian NGO Legambiente, Italian companies have to pay about USD 64 000 to dispose of a container of 15 000 tonnes of hazardous waste legally (Ciafani 2012). The same amount of waste can be disposed of illegally for USD 5 000 through informal businesses shipping the waste to Asia.”


If these are indeed the drivers (more value in constituent materials than cost of shipping, labor and disposal) in Asia, what are these costs and values that would make Agbogbloshie, Ghana, one of the most significant destinations for “waste” in the world?   Are Ghana’s enforcement weaker than Republic of Congo, Cameroon, or Angola?  Are shipping costs lower, or labor cheaper?  Our investigation compared these explanations to those given by the Africans behind the trade.

Shipping costs to Ghana are astronomically higher than shipping cost to Asia. Ghana is also one of Africa's most prosperous countries, with a high GDP growth for sub-saharan Africa. Why would the wealthiest African cities become the magnet for activity "driven" by lowest standards? The shipping makes no sense, and the theory of "drivers" would have placed the containers practically anywhere else than Accra and Lagos.

OBSERVATION NUMBER FOUR: Evidence of Value is NOT Evidence of Waste.

As in the headline citing $19B in trade, the UNEP Report repeatedly states that the trade is best explained by the evils of capitalism.  Profit is to be distrusted.   If Africans are making money doing it, you can be sure it's for the wrong, wrong reasons.  The Report explains how "waste" has all this value - $500 per ton (per the Interpol citation).


“E-waste is another clear example of waste that can be turned into a positive value. Electronic products contain precious metals, such as copper and gold, which can be re-used. The owner/producer of the waste can pay a waste broker to take the waste off his hands for further recycling. Waste brokers maximize their profit through getting paid first by the player disposing of the waste and second by the player who buys it as a reusable commodity. The producer of the waste often does not know whether the waste will be handled in accordance with regulations, since there is no clear mechanism for following this up (Baird et al.2014).”


This clearly alleges that EU based African brokers ("primitive waste tourists") are charging to take the items.  But that's not the case. In every case, Africans pay for the material and pay for the shipping and customs fees. In bold, the report itself admits that only reuse has value... but then implies only the metals are the value.

Can anyone tell me how 500 CRT televisions, 400 of them broken and unrepairable, worth $2 each in scrap (at Ghana copper, steel and plastic scrap prices), can be exported from London for $5,500, paid $3000 in customs fees, and then inland transport to reuse shops, to be then carried by hand cart to Agbogbloshie? The math proves that the UNEP report is WRONG, and the previous E-Waste Assessment Studies (showing 85% reuse in Ghana, 91% reuse in Nigeria) are correct, because otherwise the economics DON'T work. And if the African shipper actually pays for the material, and has FREE RECYCLING available for the unrepairable items, and has never cherry picked items older than 10 years of manufacture, how exactly would that person have ANY incentive to pay for a load which is 80% waste? In fact, is it even possible to find 80% CRT Televisions that don't work?

I challenge anyone to find 80% of a load that doesn't work and can't be repaired, even if it was paid to dispose. Which is what the UNEP Report says. It's what the report says... But is that what the Report Alleges?

OBSERVATION NUMBER FIVE: Only Conviction Doesn't Fit Theory

On the following page, the UNEP Report specifically cites the first imprisonment case - Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics, in the UK. This is the only person ever imprisoned. He's an African born Television repairman.


“In England, the first case where anyone was sentenced to jail for illegal export of e-waste was concluded in May 2014. A licensed waste processor was jailed for 16 months by a court in the UK for illegally exporting 46 tonnes of hazardous electrical waste to Nigeria, Ghana, and other destinations in Africa. Investigators found the defendant had been collecting e-waste from a number of council-run sites in the London area and taking it to his licensed waste premises. Instead of processing the e-waste properly, he sold and loaded four containers of items – including cathode ray TVs and fridge freezers with ozone depleting substances– to brokers and shipping firms who then exported the waste to West Africa. He loaded items at the front of the containers that appeared to have been tested properly for functionality and even put “testing labels” on them. On inspection these items were found not to work despite the labels suggesting otherwise. Further into the containers the “testing labels” disappeared and none of the items were protectively wrapped. Almost half the items tested from each container failed. The Environment Agency (EA) calculated that the defendant made a profit of about USD 12 000 on each container. The Agency said that such export trade is not a victimless crime. The containers contained a variety of hazardous materials and ozone depleting substances that can have serious detrimental impacts on health and the environments of the receiving countries if not recycled in an environmentally sound manner.”

Benson's company license was a "reuse license", not a "waste processor license".  That is an incredible error... Benson's company was NOT licensed to disassemble or process waste, they operated under a reuse license.    If his company had been paid to process the material, arguably it would not matter if it was reused.  But if his license was to reuse, it most certainly does.


There is no "label" requirement.



We have copies of 100 pages of prosecution evidence in the Joe Benson case. We see no evidence of any white goods (which would be illegal, but because they would be reused, not dumped).  

If I had been one of the authors of the UNEP document, I might have taken the trouble to get this correct (they link to a news story in the footnotes which identifies Joe Benson by name).

It is not in dispute that Benson refused more items at the council-run sites in the London area than he accepted, and not in dispute that his company regularly returned devices to those sites that he had taken and determined (after further examination) not to export, and not in dispute that as a broker he paid council-run sites for the items (and never is alleged to have charged to take them). Therefore, the report by Baird et. al 2014 on the previous page appears either disproven or at odds with the UNEP Report and Benson's Prosecutor’s conclusions.  

There are two possible explanations for Benson’s actions:  One is that despite that care, and shipping expenses, that Benson managed to somehow chose more “bad” items than good.

The other is that the UK has defined export for repair to be illegal, while still giving "reuse" licenses to businesses like Joe Benson's BJ Electronics. The TVs were at worst repairable (e.g. the wire cut in the TV with the tracking device placed by Raphael Rowe in BBC’s Panorama program) but that is not illegal in Ghana. Repair's legal status under Basel Convention Annex IX, B1110 makes Benson innocent of any "waste" crime.  

As part of our Agbobloshie investigation, WR3A obtained copies of the court documents in the Benson case.  Most notable is the apparent absence of any freon-containing appliances in any load attributed to Mr. Benson (the importance of the refrigerators is explained in the report), and no white goods appear in any of the manifests.  Copies of the manifests and photos and film of the loads (from BBC Panorama and Sky News documents of the arrest) were obtained, and African importers we interviewed acknowledged that the packaging and age of the material was typical.  We note that if freon refrigerators were found in any containers, that this undermines Ghana’s electricity conservation program (note below actual enforcement in Ghana against aged white goods eligible for government removal under the electricity conservation program).  Agbogbloshie has no role in imports of devices that are used (consume electricity), so while those shipments would support a conviction, they are not part of any “e-waste dumping” debate.

(Benson told this investigation team, through his advisor, that he accepted the 16 page sentence as part of a sentencing reduction deal, having already paid more to appeal the previous accusation than he could afford).  Benson indicated his understanding that he was pleading guilty to a “Guideline” used for enforcement staff to bring allegations (his public defender did not return messages as to what force in law the Guidelines, designed by PACE etc., have in UK or international law).


“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”




The UNEP chart at the top of this blog follows the paragraph about Joe Benson's imprisonment. The chart claims that 0.6 million tons of “e-waste” was shipped from the UK in 2012, to Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, “Congo”, and Pakistan.  If Agbogbloshie is the largest site, processing millions of tons, presumably it is a significant destination and imports from other EU nations cited on the chart as well.   For the purpose of this report, we assume that if the allegations cannot be confirmed against Ghana importers, that the burden of proof shifts to Interpol and UNEP to demonstrate that exports to other ports are significantly likely to be worse than Ghana imports to Tema Port.

The specifics  of the UNEP report are in places frustratingly unclear, and appear to rely on mainstream press reports (Guardian) without peer reviewed sources (passive voice is predominant in both the UNEP report and the “reported by” sources).  However, several logical questions can be posed from the UNEP’s own report.  If the top ten European Countries generated 1.889 Million tonnes in 2012, and only  one third of containers investigated are alleged to contain illegal waste, what is the conviction rate outside of the UK?  Have the allegations proved founded?  And what is the percentage of those alleged containers?  Has any container been found with 80% electronics destined for scrap?  And of the ⅔ which passed inspection, were found NOT likely illegal, is the value included in the $19B in the UNEP headline?

What percentage of 1,889 million tons is seen at Agbogbloshie?

OBSERVATION NUMBER SIX: No habeus corpus.

If there are 1,889,000 tons of "e-waste" generated in the top ten EU countries, and Agbogbloshie is the world's "largest" e-waste dump, there must be a "scene of the crime" where the body is found. Instead, we found a fingernail.

The current capacity at Agbogbloshie (which cannot accommodate sea container trucks) is 910,000 lbs of e-waste at Agbogbloshie, per year.  If you separate car scrap and white goods scrap, that's how much electronics we came up with in Agbogbloshie (assuming it works 7 days per week, 365 days per year, at top capacity).

That is 455 tons... 910,000 / 2000 (metric tons would be 414 tons)

Out of 1,889,000 (metric) tons, shown flowing into 5 countries, on page 42 of the UNEP Report.

.00024 if we generously divide British pounds by metric. Or 0.000219, metricly speaking.

00.022%

That's 455 tons / 1,889,000 tons.

That's about two percent of one percent.

Eight of the 43 photos depict this site. It is given more weight than serious dumping sites, like Trafigura in Cote D'Ivoire.

I visited Agbogbloshie. Anyone could have visited Agbogbloshie. It's quite near the airport, and only 9 minutes from Accra's finest hotel. Or the UNEP team could have carefully looked at the number of young men in Peter Essick's 2008 National Geographic photos. Or the number in Greenpeace Amsterdam's 2008 "Poisoning the Poor". Or looked a little more closely at the photos by Pieter Hugo, Kevin McElvaney, etc.

This is a case of poverty porn.

Cynically, the UNEP Report seems to try to protect the jobs of the people charged with stopping the "deplorable situation". The European jobs at Interpol, the jobs at StEP, the jobs at UNEP. There have been millions of dollars allotted to "find the real dumpers".

Parasites of the poor.

White savior complex.

Agbobgloshie is a neighborhood in the capital city of Ghana. Accra is in a metropolis of roughly 5 million people, with one of the highest electrification and teledensity rates in Africa. Most Accra households have had televisions since 1997, and most Ghanains had internet access by 2005. Another UN Report previously stated that these Africans are generating thousands of tons of e-waste.

910,000 lbs is a light generation for Accra, but even if Accra didn't generate a single computer or television as scrap (despite the UNEP Report stating that those imported ten years earlier would only last a few years, as I recall), the 910,000 pounds per year doesn't support the chart.

Only reuse explains African incentives.
Only reuse explains African growth in teledensity.
Only reuse explains the $19B dollars cited.
Only reuse explains the costs paid to load, ship, and unload the electronics.


THE UNEP REPORT PROVES BENSON'S PROSECUTION WAS INCOMPETENT.


But oh, won't someone please think about the children?

Those photos of Agbogbloshie are all over the report for a reason. It's because the text of the report demonstrates racism, incompetence, and false prosecution.

But the photos of Ghana are chilling, as intended.  The purpose of my report is to describe our investigation of the trade in Ghana.  Who purchased these goods?  How much of the ⅓ of containers accused actually were “waste” (the entire containerload?  or is a 15% portion of a containerload sufficient to classify it as “waste containing?”.  And how is the value cited by the UN Report and Interpol ($19 billion) accounted for, if both second hand and waste equipment are both being considered?



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