Waste Perception Creates Image Problem

Last spring Resource Recycling published an article following WR3A research into leaded silicate mining.  Long before my days as a regulator (Massachusetts DEP 1992-99) I had noticed how recycling happens in cities where property values (NIMBY) made compliance expensive.  Virgin mining and forestry, while far more damaging and polluting, happened farther away from property values, and was thus less regulated.

Here in Ghana, we are looking at lead and zinc mining streams as a way to "piggy back" CRT glass back to secondary primary ore refiners.  Rather than try to construct a "takeback" program aimed at manufacturers (popular because they are extremely costly, charging high fees in a bargain with Planned Obsolescence to squash the secondary market), merely cite the "circular economy" and toss the CRT tubes back into containers bearing Pb Ores.  Africa mines primary leaded silicates for export to refiners in wealthy - and less wealthy (China, India) - nations.  And some of those ores are chemically identical to CRT glass.

And there is no "EPA-EU" "Waste" "speculative accumulation" paperwork or R2 or E-Steward #bs to make it economically unfeasible.  I keep hearing in the west that CRT glass is "impossible" to recycle in Africa, a continent where primary ores are frequently the number one export.  This is a clear case of the EU and USA shooting itself in the foot, and then demanding Africa, Asia, South America follow "equivalent practices" prior to engaging in strategic metals trade.

The difference between recycling and mining is largely an image problem.  It doesn't take much imagination to solve problems like CRT glass recycling markets.  It means being willing to listen to people outside of your "circular economy" box.

Vermont, Hertogenbosch, Salzburg, Accra...

The last time when I went to Ghana for 3 weeks, I actually had quite a bit of downtime to write and read.  So I'm guessing I may do the same.  Right now, I'm at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.  My pal (first introduced as "Ghana Techie" via the blog 6 years ago) Wahab has met the first visitor at the airport now.  We have 3 more visitors arriving tomorrow - documentary film crew from Europe - and need to coordinate visits with professor Isham of Middlebury, DK, etc.

When I talked in Salzburg, to the Europeans, there was not a single African there, though Africa has been called the dirty little secret.  I was in this kind of weird space that I've often critiqued Jim Puckett for being in - the white savior speaking on behalf of the oppressed.  Nameless and faceless as Viet Cong soldiers, Jim speaks for the orphans pawing through toxic junk, and I speak for the noble Geeks of Color, the Joe Bensons, arrested and goods seized, etc.

So it is strange.  The flight I'm boarding (the line is now much shorter, gotta wrap this up) is fairly inexpensive.  For Europeans, the trip to Ghana is almost like a UCLA fraternity crossing to the Tiajuana border.   Poverty porn, or donkey porn, it's seen the same way by the people who live there.

How to Categorize Part 2: Derivatives of Martin Luther King Jr

Yesteday's post wasn't well edited (I added some clarifiers this morning from my room in Salzburg, Austria).  But I was happy writing it, because I felt something was coming together somehow, it felt like something crystallized.  Sometimes those are the worst submissions, sometimes the best.  But in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday in the USA, I hope that it channels Reverend King's letter written from Birgmingham prison, with pen and paper.  No backspaces, no click and delete.

Someone I met and admire here in Europe stayed up with me last night (we arrived on the same flight), arguing and pontificating about Trump's election, e-Waste policy, economics, and family.  It was a broad enough discussion, lasted well past midnight.  He and I don't always agree, though he's reasonable enough that I hope he'll be able to look back and see the fallacies in the EU position in hindsight (or I will - I had to come back to my room and research some stuff when we left).

The next day, it all seemed to fit in 140 characters.  Second, below the first 'pinned' tweet below.

Criticism of method or regulation isn't "attacking" the regulator.  It is defending the innocent from unjust prosecution.  And a regulator or prosecutor who persists in using methods or enforcement proven to be constructed on false premises is liable for environmental malpractice.

< That's boiled down to 140 characters at left.

Shouldn't we try to get along?  Or is the false consensus built upon white privilege, and we need to represent the Geeks of Color, whose comments were ignored in PACE Initiative?

The discussion came in response to Jim Puckett's constant claim that this is an "attack blog" and that I am "insulting" or "attacking" his poor non-profit organization.  This has been Jim's go-to response for several years now, since I wrote a guest editorial "We Shouldn't Have to Make That Choice" in Resource Recycling in 2009.  It was one of the first blogs turned editorial, and it was cited by Grahm Pickren in his 2014 thesis, Political Ecologies of Electronic Waste: Uncertainty and Legitimacy in the Governance of E-Waste Geographies.

The editors of Resource Recycling liked it, thought it was nuanced.  But Jim Puckett, in emails to me personally and to the editors (demanding a right to response, which they gave him) called it an "attack" which he could not let stand.  In that email, he threatened to go after me personally, and my business and employees, if I did not refrain from criticizing his policy.

How To Categorize People Properly: Beware Those Who Accept 80%ism

Do's and Don'ts for categorizing people.

80/20 Rule is useful enough... which is why we must be careful with it as is.  Exaggerating that "80%" of someone or something is bad is over the top, the worst insult.

We all need to make simplifications, rules, and shortcuts to efficiently survive.  The most famous and useful generalization is the "80 / 20 Rule", aka the Pareto Principle, which says that 80% of the value is in 20% of the transactions or stuff.  It's a risk management principle as well - 80% of the danger is in 20% of something.  I applaud this principle, and use it all the time in business, especially in training new staff.  What we teach people the first month on the job is the 20% of things they need to know to get 80% of the work right.  The learning curve is eventually going to kick in if training is regular and consistent.

But the 80-20 rule has a downside, too.  Donald Trump is on his way to being infamous based to his brute appeals to this kind of generality.

We can all imagine how we'd feel if the generality was actually reversed... there is nothing that feels more racist and insulting than to have your own demographic group called 80% stereotype.   Consider these horrible insults...

80% of men are rapists
80% of women are incompetent
80% of German citizens are Nazi apologists
80% of white Americans are racists
80% of black Americans are drug dealers

Most readers would agree that the statements above are difficult to even read.  They are simplifications that appeal - in the worst and falsest way - to the human instinct to generalize.  I'd call it hate-speech.  When I even use these as examples in conversation, I can see my friends blood pressure rising.

Now imagine I make it about how professionals do their work.  It's not racist, but a class of people nonetheless.

80% of doctors mistreat their patients.  
80% of carpenters build homes that fall down.
80% of environmentalists perpetuate hoaxes.
80% of soldiers shoot innocent civilians.
80% of police falsely accuse innocent suspects.

Ok, it no longer counts as "hate speech" if it's about a profession rather than a culture or race or demographic, right?

"80% of used computer importers dump junk to pollute their countries."

Imagine how Jaleel, 34, above, feels about that?  Jaleel is a guy who worked very hard in school, excelled beyond expectations for people from his village.  He was a great saver, a marshmallow experiment prodigy (see Standford Marshmallow experiment below for the "type" of person he is).

Or Jaleel's young son?

Or Jaleel's boss, Kamel?

Or his co-workers?

Or his father?

Or the people he buys stuff from, every day, in the market?  See, just how the "white lie" pervaded Europe, it is pervading Africa in the opposite direction.   The Africans all know the 80% lie.  Just the same as you'd know it if something extreme like that was said about you.

The number of educated European policy students and professors and German photo-journalists may well be impressed.  If your audience is the Privileged, you have safely made their discard decisions easier to navigate, and they will applaud you.

But the collateral damage to your organization from the people who know people who could not possibly have afforded internet, television, cell phone, or other teledensity measure if-not-but-for Jaleel and his world, is enormous insult.  They have never actually lived in a world where they are a "minority", and they really don't have first hand experience with Racism against Minorities, which is the subject or most writings on the R-word.

But it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck.

 It's 80=percent=ism.

I'm defining as "80%ism" the reverse of the Pareto 80/20 rule.  It is the description of 80% of something in the worst possible way, knowing that human nature may confuse it with the 80% of the perceived risk that comes from 20% of the population.  My hunch is that the 80/20 rule is used subconsciously by so many people that we perceive its 80% bad as a hyperbolic insult, and at the same time fear that people will "compromise" emotionally and consider 20% of us to be bad as a "likelihood".

So how do we harness the awesome power of the Pareto Principle, to simplify and economize the way we treat people, without triggering fear of generalizations and false identifiers?  Like a gun, most of us want the simplification method to be in the hands of authorities who protect us.  But we don't want it to be a short-cut or label for whole groups of geographies and demographics and religions and sexual orientations, etc.  To some, "politically correctness" verges on "disarming the police".  But none of us like it when it happens to us.  As comedian Chris Rock said, if a guy goes ballistic and kills his co-workers, it's probably a white guy.  But that's actually what occurred in San Bernadino, CA, and because it WASN'T a white guy, candidate Trump used the occasion to invoke the infamous "Muslim Ban".  That's how sharp the 80-20 simplification knife cuts.  Today it's pointed at a threat, and you feel a little safer that if only 20% of the people cut really were a threat (and 80% were innocent), that it's not your problem.  But when you are the subject of the "great rounding of numbers", nothing feels more threatening.

So I'm out of time, but here are two very famous psychological studies from the 1960s and 1970s which can help you to properly generalize people... and not by race or culture.  Not at all.  But these are really the things that you should be concerned by.

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment - This study looked at kids who were tested as follows.  They had to sit still at a table, hungry, and look at a sweet (marshmallow) for an hour or 30 minutes or something.  They were told that if they waited the whole time and didn't eat it, they would get two marshmallows (double ROI return on investment).  If they ate it, they would not.  The Stanford researchers kept track of the students, and found that those who had NOT waited for the second marshmallows performed poorly (economically) the rest of their lives.  Whether that's because they lacked discipline, lost accrued interest, or otherwise succumbed to instant gratification, is speculation.  Perhaps (I have pointed out) they lived in a culture where the Authority Figure (the one who made the "deal" over the marshmallows) is less likely to be truthful.

If so, then the Authoritarian Regimes the Global South is notorious for (to generalize) have a long term effect on the citizenry and the economics.  Accrued interest, Einstein supposedly noted, is the most powerful force in the known universe... nothing naturally observed grows at that rate since the Big Bang.

Milgram Experiment - this infamous experiment tested unwitting participants willingness to inflict pain on a third party if told to do so by an authority.  Just to simplify, about one third of people will refuse to do harm to the third party on moral grounds, about one third will inflict the pain or harm on the third party if told to do so by an authority.  And one third in the middle has to somehow be convinced, or it depends, or it's a little unknown.

What Nazis did was scare the hell out of that middle group by not threatening them directly, but by selecting a minority - should be kept at 5% or under - and applying the 80% Racist Stereotype against them.  Kill them.  Show absolute authoritarian power.  The "follows authority" group will do so, the wishy-washy middle just want to make sure they are not IN that minority.

This is how we should catergorize other humans.

By what they do when told something by an authority.

And who is willing to tell the most vulgar, exaggerated lie -  not that 20% of some people are unsafe to deal with, but that EIGHTY percent are unsafe.  That's the hypnotic power of evil, taking the naturally assumed, frequently good-enough 80/20 rule, and reversing it so that privileged white people in Europe actually feel really good about putting TV repairman Joe Benson in prison for fixing TVs.  They actually are hypnotized or persuaded that by doing so, they are agents of conscience, doing something good for the environmnet, saving the poor.

The problem is the false authority.

For Jaleel's network of humans, it's the Ayatollah of E-Waste.  He doesn't know it, but he threatens them with poverty and all the death, destruction, lack of education, etc. that goes with it.  And the most dangerous authorities are not evil people, they actually believe their simplism.  They know perhaps it's only 20%, not 80%, of exporters are violators, but they write laws focused on their own fame, and the number of people who believe they saved Africans, rather that dropped bombs on them.

Sorry, "collateral damage" is not an excuse for reversing the 80-20 rule to create a stereotype that makes bomb-dropping more acceptable to the privileged third of people following your authority.  You lied.  You damaged people.  And there is no way to cover this up, hundreds of students are doing forensics on it.  You

Heliocentrism Of E-Waste: The Economics Don't Revolve Around Us

The Sun doesn't revolve around the Earth.

Really.  It doesn't.  And the economics of "e-waste" processing doesn't revolve around you, either.

Catholic Pope Urban VIII showed the "value added" by Authority.  The Church of the Inquisition found Galileo "vehemently suspect of heresy". Galileo spent the rest of his life under house arrest. 

Today, most people know the name of Galileo.  Not many can name Pope Urban 8.  But at the time, I'm sure that was difficult to imagine.

It seemed natural, from a layperson's perspective, to think that the sun did revolve around us, and to take the Church's word for it.  People really didn't have the time or lenses, resources or motivation to test the theory.  If we wanted to know more about the origin of sun and stars, we were sent to an Authority Figure.  The Pope served as Heliocentrism's "Denier in Chief".

The Dominant Organized Religion did a lot of cool things for art and engineering, if not pure science.  Then (as today) people were impressed by the construction of huge cathedrals.  The church charged money to manage your baptism, your marriage, and your parents bodies (or your childrens') at the cemetery or mosuleum... no doubt putting in a good word with the Man Upstairs at the "end of life".

2017 Theme: Questions From Grad and Undergrad Students

Here's an idea for 2017.  Through the FairTradeRecycling.org web address, we receive research questions and internship applications from undergraduate and grad students around the globe.  This year, I'm going to publish some of those questions, with my answers (or external experts) in the blog. I'll be the Dear Abby or Miss Manners of E-Waste.

If you have a research question about recycling or waste or export for repair, send it here.

It reminds me of my Carleton College (MN) internship at the United Nations in Geneva in 1983.  I was a long-haired activist and agent of conscience who was promoting the 1970s "Nestle Boycott" over infant formula sales [NYT 1981].  I'd circulated a petition at the college to keep Nestle brand candy bars out of Carleton vending machines, etc.  In Geneva, I had the chance to meet with the head of INFORM the Boycott NGO, with the US representative of the WHO, and the Vice President of Nestle, Geoffrey Foochs.  A lot of what I learned that summer put a permanent spin on my career.  A lot of that summer appears in this blog.

The misuse and aggressive marketing of infant formula was indeed a horrible period.  I won't go into the pictures of malnourished babies, contaminated water, "samples" which lasted long enough for a mother's breasts to dry out (leaving her bound to the bottle)... this was clearly a heroic battle in the early 1970s.  But in 1983, there was as clearly an "industry" around the "boycott" and the main product being traded was ego gratification among long haired liberal arts students.

A year later I was teaching in Adamawa Province in Cameroon and I brought in Nestle powdered milk for a lesson.  I'd drawn a nice cartoon of a mother breast feeding and asked the class which was better.

A slight majority raised their hands and said the powdered milk was better.  All boys.

Then something rare occurred - the few young women in the class were adamant.  Standing.  Raising their voices and pointing their fingers menacingly at the ceiling, as if testifying before God.

No, they cried.  Breast is best!  All of the girls knew better, and were - uncharacteristically - LOUD about it!