Collateral Damage 1: Data Journalism vs. Ewaste Politics of Personal Destruction

The best advice has proven out. Don't do what I did.  If the press isn't covering BAN's story, don't cause them to cover it by over-reacting to it.  Yesterday WasteDive called in reaction to the blog on the curious denial of a claim never made.

But I've long been in the business of "glasnost", and in the end I believe that serious researchers will learn more by the methods used by the "watchdog" than if I hold back.  This is the long game.  I'm betting that friends 10 years from now will appreciate honesty and integrity, even if the safer choice is to hide in the crowd.  And let me take personal credit for BAN's announcement that future tracking will be a) voluntary (e-Stewards), b) anonymously reported (no more singling out Robin), and c) won't send live lithium batteries that burst into flames at shredding companies.

I've already taken credit for BAN admitting state of the art [SoTA] facilities exist in Hong Kong. State of the Art modern facilities which, I pointed out, was insulted by describing New Territories as "rice paddies".  In our private May 10 letter to MIT, we described the $550M investments in EcoPark as examples of modern and legal importing facilities.  Important to remember:  at that time we were demanding data that was being OBSCURED in Hong Kong.  We did not export to Hong Kong, period.  We did not claim WE had any connection to company in Hong Kong.  We were saying that the profiling of Hong Kong recycling was biased.  And it was.

My private May 2016 letter to MIT demanded our data (on the printer seen going from Boston to Vermont to Chicago to Hong Kong).  MIT SCL's Carlo Ratti denied having the data (see below).  We later learned MIT undergrads at Senseable City had rung the doorbell to deposit the tracked, sabotaged printer to our greater Boston client offices.  It was not a public drop off point.

Jim Puckett solves these mysteries in an email of August 16, and the text of the Scam report (left).  We requested an Ethics review at MIT, but have only heard back from their attorney so far (who seems like a nice person, see next blog on "Collateral Damage").

Here it gets a bit messy.

Now, completely separate from our investigation of BAN and MIT deployment data on the sabotaged printer ("our data" on "my tracked printer"), as a blogger I was provided data from a different Seattle non-profit - one quite similar to the one in Boston above.  That Seattle non-profit had been given the prescise, unobscured data through enforcement actions that were then underway by Washington State environmental regulators.

So we were now tracking two different devices to Hong Kong, one deployed on the East Coast (Printer to Chicago) and one no the West Coast (LCD from WA to California).

Unlike normal peer reviewed research, no one was making this easy. MIT answered back "As BAN is in sole possession of the information and data that you request, we suggest that you contact BAN for the information."   Hmm.  I read that to mean it's a one-way street, because we did NOT contact BAN for the information, but Ratti sent our 14 page letter and 2 page cover letter to Jim Puckett (according to Puckett).  So in the blog we wrote about the data we did have - the Seattle LCD travelling through EcoPark to Tin Shui Wai.

How did we think BAN would react to disclosures of modern high-tech recycling in China?  Been there.  Read the quote below, and ask what you'd expect BAN to "obscure" in the Monitour website designed by MIT SCL.

Remember 2012?  BAN specifically attacked me, ad hominem, to a Chicago Patch report for promoting "the myth that there are all these wonderful high-tech facilities in China."

This quote from BAN not only attacked "the myth of wonderful high-tech facilities" for recycling in Asia, it attacked me personally, "adding more harsh comments about Ingenthron's character".

If you follow, we requested the data that would have saved us a lot of time and shown the printer showed up in Mr. Lai's Printer Farm.  But between May and August, while we were refused that data,  some other data fell in our lap.   We were given coordinates of the Seattle LCD, and sent a letter to MIT about the coordinates about a wonderful high-tech facilities in Hong Kong, objecting to those facilities never being contacted by PBS @KCTS-9 etc.

It's a small world.   One company I've mentioned in the blog as an example of R2 and ISO certified state of the art recycler in New Territories in HK has requested we keep their name out of the discussion.  On reflection, I agree that BAN's naming the company as a blameless party - but implying claims I did not make about it - is unfortunate, and am rewriting past blogs to remove unwanted references.  Though there is a WSJ article about them from January 2015, when their press releases I used to have links to went out.

We tracked the data we had - the LCD from Seattle (repeat - not the printer from Boston) on its journey, via the coordinates no longer obscured in Hong Kong.   Compare the two screen shots from Monitour and Google Maps of the site in Yuen Long (New Territories HK) below.... Pillar Point, home of EcoPark, Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong.

So BAN is putting two and two together and getting three.  Seattle's LCD goes through EcoPark and apparently gets reused.  Chicago's printer doesn't, is diverted to a scrapyard, and winds up at the "printer farm".  Vermont never exported anything.  But had we been given an LCD and shipped it to Seattle rather than shipped a printer to Chicago, it might have been different.  We'd still have nothing to do with the outcome, and the question becomes how did BAN decide to profile yours truly (and my client) for 2 pages when we did neither?  The point is what is BAN hiding in the obscured data, and what is MIT's role beyond having undergraduates "deploy" devices at unwitting, unwilling, private drop off points?

Let me be EXTRA CLEAR.  This map does NOT show a printer going to an informal scrap yard.  The final destination appears to be Tin Shui Wai, one of the most modern cities in the New Territories (disparaged as "cowboy land", "primitive" and "rice paddies" by the Watchdog).

Again, this is not a device I knew about when I wrote to MIT in May, and it's a device from the West Coast, not one that has anything to do with Vermont or Good Point Recycling.

So maybe these responses are a political (Trumpian) mistake keeps us in the negative press, maybe this blog is breathing oxygen into BAN's gills, maybe we are providing WasteDive and Recycling Today TMI on a SND (too much information on a Slow News Day),  But any serious university researcher, Interpol or EPA investigator, has to know the dirty little secret behind BAN.  I'm an adherant to the "Streisand Effect".  "Have you stopped exporting your printer" sounds a lot like "have you stopped beating your wife"?

Here is BAN's email to me finally releasing the data we requested - August 16, after the Seattle LCD to EcoPark blogs above were written.  I have not provided the actual data, which Jim asked me to keep in confidence (but note his tone of "confidence" while he was writing the hatchet job against my innocent client.  Jim's Board should review the blogs before and after Jim attacks innocent people like Joe Hurricane Benson, and persuade him that karma is contagious).

Perhaps Jim is legitimately confused by the blogs about the released LCD data from the Seattle non-profit to EcoPark and my request for the data from MIT and BAN.   Perhaps not.  But to wrap this into an insinuation that I claimed a printer went to LiTong just goes to show it's the same old BAN in the business of racial profiling and character assassination.

Some people think BAN's goose is cooked.   I don't see how they can survive as an organization if we as environmentalists continue to expose the selective bias confirmation they are selling.  They may score points for confusing reporters about R2 Certified recyclers in Hong Kong and Good Point of Vermont.  But I'm always betting on scientists and data journalists and researchers to write "the rest of the story" (note Jim's "Paul Harvey" reference... not many MIT students will get that one).

It is funded almost completely by E-Stewards, big shredding companies.  Those companies have now cautioned the NGO not to use live Lithium batteries in its GPS trackers, as those catch fire in a shredder.  What we've asked for is that GPS devices be placed in the shredded material, so that can be tracked, perhaps to modern high tech sorting facilities in Shanghai.  If only intact units can be tracked through the methodology, they may either go to a modern high tech recycler  like Net Peripheral or LTG, or to an informal scrap yard like Mr. Lai's Printer Farm.  But how much different is Mr. Lai's Printer Farm from the metal sorters of China?  How exactly is the toner BAN points to as a carcinigen managed in the process.

See Atlantic Magazine's "The Metal Sorters of China". if you want to see what happens to shredded printers (photo Adam Minter).

BAN is funded by big shredders (owner of one is on BAN's Board of Directors, and is a donor to PBS station that covered the story).  The shredders, we maintain, are good companies, but they don't want to compete, in my experience, with big factories in China.  They provided the devices BAN tracked, and perhaps (we asked MIT), provided the coordinates for MIT undergraduates to find places - like my client without a public drop off point - in Boston.

As I said last summer, a contact from one E-Steward has told me confidentially how the devices were selected and tagged.   So who do you suppose the funders want BAN to highlight in a 2-page attack?  There are two University of Washington affiliated researchers on the Board of Directors.  Did they review my personal request to Jim not to shame our client if he can't even say that my company exported anything?  Can they approve of BAN sitting on our 14 page letter to MIT since May, selectively and - quite misleadingly - representing it as a claim Vermont exported to a spefic recycler in Hong Kong?

The letter to Dr. Ratti was private, and did not contain any of the claims Jim Puckett created.  It was an intellectual discussion about the possibilities, to explain why I wanted data that was being obscured from me.  Tying a company to an obscured, obstructed site in Hong Kong and then showing dirty informal facilities - and not EcoPark - speaks of white privilege.  BAN treats devices that stay in the USA as being better managed than those sent to Hong Kong, but provides only innuendo.

Jim referred to Joe "Hurricane" Benson as "collateral damage".  I think some reporters and board members may someday feel the heat that LTG is reacting to.

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