5 Bells: Blogger Declares "E-Waste Hoax is Dead"

Shaba Kahamba, the Artist formerly known as Prince, and the E-Waste Hoax are dead.*

The second of the list, Prince, the incredibly famous purple dancer, was found passed out in an elevator, and declared dead at age 57.  Shaba Kahamba, the Congolese Soukous bassist legend, died peacefully in retirement in the Netherlands on Tuesday... in somewhat undeserved obscurity.   And the E-Waste Hoax will be remembered only by its silence.  There is no "correction" forthcoming from BBC, Economist, NYT, NPR, etc.  But I predict no further national or international coverage of any "e-Waste" emergency this Earth Day, one year after the news "jumped the shark" in declaring a small scrap metal pile in Western Africa to be the largest E-Waste Dump on Earth.

After a decade of NGO hype, what makes me think that "ewastegate" is over?  And not with a clang, but a whimper?

There may be some residual stories about "e-waste exports" cropping about here and there, but mostly they are coming from rank amateurs like Kevin McElvaney, people in their 20s with a camera. But the source of the hoax statistics is running out of funding, and not a decade too soon.

*homage to "the Oxford Comma"... Shaba K and TAFKAP are two different people.

1. E-Stewards "Run on the Bank".  

Alone in a room so cold ?...
Maybe you're just too 
At ISRI, I confirmed that in addition to the publicized abandonment of "E-Stewards" certification by the largest E-Scrap processor on earth, Sims Metal Management, that several other large e-scrap processors had also stopped paying their E-Steward dues... leaving E-Stewards grabbing for fig leaf.

The confidential gossip is that BAN.org, which was receiving 1% of gross income from these processors, had negotiated to give the other quitters a "free year" in exchange for not announcing their departure.  But the word is circulating, and the head of the NGO, Jim Puckett, has to cut back staff or publicity.  He is said to be hoping that some geo-tracking devices hidden in some LCDs will again catch lightning in a bottle.  But his methodology is now cooked - he cannot dispute that used electronics are eventually disposed of after years of use.  A tire pile in a city like Lagos, known for traffic jams, is not evidence that tires are being dumped on the shores by European Waste Boats.   The combination of BAN's past retractions and printed fallacy is now too startling for journalists doing background checks to ignore.

2.  Interpol Hasn't Run "Project Eden" press releases since our meeting in Lyon

Last summer, after Fair Trade Recycling brought data journalists (#ewasterepublic) and professional scrap journalists (Adam Minter) on our own Dagbani-translated tour of Agbogbloshie, we met informally with Interpol Environmental Programme staff in Lyon.  Interpol had earmarked funding for the "Project Eden" enforcement, and is not in the business of declaring it has wasted time on a wild goose chase, and nothing was said "on the record".  But it was a lead from that meeting that led me to the UK House of Commons "Strategic Metals" report, which confessed that those seeking a ban on exports only themselves thought 19% of used electronics exports were non-functioning, and that the actual reason was political - to keep metals in the electronics in UK shredders.  This was the export ban advocates' own figure.  Interpol said Mike Anane did not attend their enforcement briefing and would not again in the future.  Check the emphasis on actual environmental crime enforcement - against rhino horn, ivory, illegal lumber, etc., and relative silence on "e-waste" arrests.  This is a positive direction for Interpol, and we should all wish the wind to their backs going forward.

3.  Mike Anane is Exposed

no more trickes
This chief Ghana "activist" claimed to have statistics, but could not provide them to the reporters we sent with questions. Mike Anane was featured on camera making a lot of claims over the years.  Anane claimed to work for a newspaper Triumph, but there's apparently no such newspaper in Ghana. He has not been able to show a single article he's written on any subject.  He claims to have been "swimming in a lush river" at the Odaw Lagoon a decade earlier, when multiple reports document it was already a landfill in the 1970s.  And when he says it's on the "outskirts" of Ghana... no, no, no it is a hotly contested piece of real estate in the center of the city, prized by developers and subject of multiple reports.  One published in 2002 advocated for bulldozing and forced eviction of the slum and scrapyard in 2002 and labelled it "Sodom and Gomorrah" without a single reference to electronics scrap... When Anane claims the locals call the area (the slum, not the scrapyard) "Sodom and Gomorrah", he's evidently referring to the Accra Metropolitan Association's document prescribing the areas residents as sinners who deserve forced evictions for the greater good of urban land development.  We outed Anane, and the fact that not a single NGO has come out to defend him speaks volumes.

4. China is the biggest GENERATOR of E-Scrap

Facts are "in".  Instead of photographing piles of scrap and assuming they came from western "waste boats", some academics looked at the number of electronic appliances purchased and used in places like China over the past decade.   Appliances in, garbage out.  The methodology showed that if there was not a single imported non-working cell phone, that the scrap piles in Guiyu or India or Nigeria would be no smaller.  Nigeria had 7 million households with TVs 15 years ago.  The fallacy that photos prove wastecrime is outed by simple control group.  Science and data journalism trumps photojournalism.  When 80% of Earthlings own electronics, 80% of Earthlings generate waste electronics, merci a Captain Obvious.

Statistics on export dumping were so obviously wrong that the NGO claims never to have said it?? AKA FRAUD

5.  No one is buying our junk

Alibaba and other online trading platforms still have trade of scrap and e-scrap.  But most of the trade in used and refurbished product now goes between places like Seoul and Shanghai to Dubai and Karachi and Addis Abba.  Any American in the scrap business knows that the USA is no longer the "Saudi Arabia of reuse", and you can't send "toxics along for the ride" if people aren't buying "the ride".  Today, the only way to send junk electronics overseas in any significant volume is to run it through a steel shredder - something documented here in this blog in 2010.

Anti-E-Waste-Export "Ken" doll has joined #WhiteSaviorBarbie in the dusty toy bin of the past decade.

It is too late to rescue #freehurricanebenson and the other victims of this "e-waste hoax".  What is left is to make sure that history correctly records this as a loss for our team of environmentalists.  I'm an environmentalist, I'm a HUGE environmentalist, bigger than Puckett, so much bigger.  But what makes me a bigger environmentalist is that I don't cheat.  When Puckett was shown that SKD "big secret factories" were buying CRT monitors, and not scrap yards in Guiyu (he admitted he saw virtually no CRTs in Guiyu, despite it being the largest used electronic import into Hong Kong), he responded that he KNEW the export for reuse was the driver.   During the year preceding 2010the "California Compromise" that (to paraphrase a dozen emails from Jim)
"technically if a capacitor is replaced during a repair, the capacitor itself is e-waste which travelled cross-border, and therefore, despite the fact that the Basel Convention explicitly allows export for repair of CRTs, that the repair generates waste which is illegal".  - Dumb environmentalist advocating for arrest of Geeks of Color
Finally, there's a 6th piece of evidence that the E-Waste Hoax is Dead.

For the first time in nearly ten years, views at this blog flatlined this week.  There has almost always been someone, somewhere, doing research or something, looking at one of the Top Ten blogs. The pause of not-a-single-page-hit lasted just a few hours (still 84 for last post).  And I haven't been posting much while I have a book in processes, but it was always nice to know that "E-Waste Poster Child Telethon from Disney" or some April Fool's day post, or at least "How to Start an E-Waste Business" was drawing some views somewhere.  During the past 24 hours, according to Google Analytics, this blog had zero views.

This isn't surprising.  When you kill your nemesis, the movie is over.

I'm in Taipei, Taiwan, doing interviews for the book and trying to have two laptops repaired in the bargan.  This time last year I was in Tamale and Accra, Ghana.  The difference between Earth Day 2015 and leading to Earth Day 2016 is striking.

A year ago, in the months leading up to Earth Day 2016, the puny scrap car yard in the Agbogbloshie District of central Accra was called "The Most Toxic Place On Earth" by Science Daily (citing Blacksmith Institute), and "The Biggest E-Waste Dump on Earth" by Washington Post, NPR, the Guardian, etc.   We seemed to be tripping over "White Savior Barbie" photojournalists eager to strap on dust masks for selfies, declaring themselves eyewitnesses to Electronics Scrap Armageddon, or rather - and this is no exaggeration of the state of exaggeration - "Sodom and Gomorrah".

It is time to stick a fork in the E-Waste Panic and direct environmentalists back to carbon, endangered species, loss of barrier coral reefs, air pollution here in China, clean water, and other real problems.

As noted in the intro, two noble musicians, Prince and Shaba Kahamba, passed away this week.
They are celebrated differently, because in the West the ratio of people age 50 who know Prince are pretty substantial in relation to people under the age of 30 who never heard his pop radio.   In Africa, the percentage of people over the age of 60 who listened to Bella Bella, TP Ok Jazz, and other Shaba Kahamba super bands is dwarfed by the percentage of pre-30s African youth.  Shaba would be, to me, the more substantial of the two giants.  But like fans of WC Fields and Mae West, the percentage of adults who knew him find ourselves unheard in the din of When Doves Cry.

Shaba Kahamba was one of the youngest musicians in Bella Bella and TP Ok Jazz (Franco) bands in Kinshasa.  I've posted video clips of them playing on Zaire Television (YES, AFRICANS HAD TV STATIONS) in the 1970s.

I had been trying to arrange a personal interview with Shaba Kahamba, and it's a tragic life lesson that I put it off too long, seeking a French translator because I wasn't confident in my own French.

And so, too, I declare the E-Waste Hoax dead.  Like past "environmentalist panic" (who cares how long it takes a glass or plastic bottle to degrade in a landfill?), it's going to be more quickly forgotten than either artist.

The most recognized face in America, 75 years ago... 

Not white savior Barbie... just someone known for speaking the truth.

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