According to the opening page of Massachusetts Institute of Technologies Senseability City Lab's expose on second hand electronics, transboundary movement demonstrates likely environmental harm.
A joint project between the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the MIT Senseable City Lab has led to the discovery of previously unknown international electronic waste routes departing from the United States.Printer, and LCD and CRT monitors were embedded with GPS trackers capable of remotely reporting their location from overseas locations. These trackers were then delivered to recyclers and charities around the country. 65 of the first 200 trackers deilvered as part of the Monitour/e-Trash Transparency Project went offshore, mostly to Asia.
On-the-ground investigations in Asia by BAN produced a clearer picture of these trade routes. Results of this study can be found here on this site in graphic form and will also be released in a series of reports by BAN. These can be found at: www.ban.org/trash-transparency.
While legitimate e-waste recycling helps reduce landfill contamination and raw material extraction, the export of hazardous electronic waste is most often illegal trade under the Basel Convention and moreover, the management of toxic electronic waste in the informal sector damages human health and the environment.
The Monitour/e-Trash Transparency Project demonstrates how relatively new technology can generate unique data needed by civil society, law enforcement and enterprises to better track what until now have been hidden flows. Since the time of our experiment, the UN Organization on Drugs and Crime has confirmed that the Mong Cai border is a primary corridor for e-waste flowing from the US and EU into China, part of an estimated US $3.75 billion market for illegal e-waste.
Learn more about e-waste tracking here: Video.
"On the ground investigations in Asia by BAN produced a clearer picture of these trade routes." Really, MIT? Just how clear? Analog or high definition? Seriously, this is from Media Lab of all places?
As I showed last week, the screen shots of the MIT's tracking project are difficult to see at proper resolution; you can't zoom in. Instead, you must copy the longitude and latitude and paste it into google maps, or rely on whoever is writing written descriptions of the sites on MIT's website.
Then you find places like the Hafeez Computer Center in Faisalabad, Pakistan. It's near the center of a dense city, blocks away from one of Pakistan's largest universities. It is a long way from the port. Screenshot below.
We are writing to MIT to offer to assist them in interpreting several tracking devices locations. In particular, I'm focusing on CRT devices, which are governed by USA EPA law. That law does not ban export for reuse, or even export for recycling, but requires that export to be declared and investigated by EPA prior to export.
The reason for EPA's restrictions stem largely from the Basel Action Network (MIT's "joint partner") declarations in 2002 and 2005 that the "vast majority" of CRTs are not recycled, but are dumped overseas to avoid high USA recycling costs. Overseas, BAN announced, the CRTs were most likely going to be beaten by children with hammers to remove "valuable copper". It is certainly true that CRTs are the most expensive type of electronic waste to recycle, and it's true that any which are diverted for continued use represent an avoided fee. It's also true that working display devices have been in high demand for reuse and repair markets. Billions of people owe their "teledensity" (mass media, internet, etc.) to used and rebuilt CRTs sourced from wealthy nations.
Probably no one has investigated those claims about CRT exports more than I have, so I'm offering to meet with MIT to help them interpret this movement. Here by way of introduction is Muhammad Madni, of Islamia University in Punjab, describing one of the biggest sellers - the DANY TV DEVICE.
Sales of DANYs are in the millions. I was given one as a gift in 2007 by Hamdy Mousa of Medicom. He imported CRT monitors to Egypt (before used displays were made illegal under Mubarak's "put the internet genie back in the dang bottle e-waste policy). The device allows the owner of a CRT or LCD monitor to receive analog or digital TV tower broadcasts, effectively doubling their computer display to watch cricket games, world cup matches, BBC, Al Jazeera, etc.
The fascinating thing is, you can do anything you want, pull any wire, damage the power supply, anything short of damaging the vacuum on the CRT tube, and a decent TV repair technician with one of these devices can turn the CRT into a television. The converters are made by the same factory that made USA's analog-to-HD converter boxes of the late 1990s-early 2000s, and the amazing thing is that they can translate ANY analog into digital. The ideal CRT for digital display is the computer monitor, it has a superior resolution rate to brand new CRTs made for analog television. But as technician Madni explains above, any LCD with a good screen can also be turned into a laptop television using a DANY.
20 years ago, most of the demand associated with DANY converter technology was associated with CRTs. Now they are mostly associated with used laptop and LCD sales. It's not a huge surprise that of the 75 exported CRT monitors, that they'd be found in one of the highest purchasing areas for DANY TV devices. Are the DANYs being exported as "e-waste"? Of course not, they are sold brand new in box, and sold among other places at the HAFEEZ Electronics bazaar in Faisalabad. The first thing one notices (if one has an open mind about trade of used electronics) is that the exports of CRT monitors cluster in two locations - Punjab Pakistan and Foshan, China.
Two of the 8 CRT devices that left North America apparently went to Hafeez Electronics, which sells DANY devices for 1000 PK rupees... about $10. For 10 more dollars, you can buy a used CRT monitor at Hafeez, and you now have television. Buy a desktop for $40 more, and you have Pakistan and India's "Triple Play", computer, internet, and skype.
I don't know which is more shocking, that after 2 decades of DANY converter sales, that Americans still don't know about the TV converter market, or that MIT in particular would associate itself with an NGO which describes graduates of Pakistani universities as "primitives" and "child labor".
This TV-CRT business is way smaller than it was when I was in Egypt nine years ago. And because it's smaller, the purchase orders for used CRTs are drying up. Of 75 tracking devices placed in CRT monitors, 8 moved outside of north America. That's a strikingly small number to represent avoided disposal costs as a driver, or to demonstrate BAN's statement that certifications don't work and new laws are required to stop the transport.
But while it's difficult to "zoom in" on MIT's site, and tempting to rely on the descriptions in the top right corner, I can tell you that those descriptions are written by a hostile and possibly bigoted person.
I don't really have time to describe Foshan, where I have also sold CRT monitors a decade ago, but it's not far from where DANY TVs are made
6F E building, Huafeng industry Hangcheng Road, Xixing Town, Baoan District, Shenzhen, China
And Foshan is a really, really, really interesting place. I haven't been there in a decade (though I flew over last month, having gone over the north pole in a Chinese airline flight from JFK to Hong Kong to Taipei). But this again shows that MIT is taking its cues from people who don't know what they are talking about and are making it up as they go along, and PBS is taking MIT's credibility to accept Basel Action Networks bigoted portrayal of geeks of color like Muhammad Madni. Madni hasn't posted on Google Plus since September 2014. I hope he's ok. When your coordinates are posted on the web, and MIT and BAN say you are engaged in criminal activities, you may not be ok for long.