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".

"E-Waste Hell"

In hindsight, it's pretty clear that Copernicus and Gallileo were better authorities than the Pope. But without the Pope, there wouldn't be a place to pray in or to be buried safely... or to be married without sin.  And the system was greased with guilt and liability.

Environmentalists find themselves in a similar predicament.  Basel Action Network's stories about TVs and monitors in Guiyu, and hundreds of sea containers per month dumped in Agbogbloshie, brought a sense of emergency and crisis, which leads to bigger budgets.  Bigger for Interpol.  Bigger for Basel Convention Secretariat.  Bigger for UNEP.  For EPA.

It's enough to make you want to close one eye when you're told to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain".

In the same way the Church sanctified the relationship of marriage, BAN.org seeks to sanctify the trade of used devices between Person A and Person B.  Through E-Stewards, BAN has created a third party role for its organization, to make sure that "relationships" occur with the Church's blessings.  And using the E-Stewards "certified" vendor absolves us - supposedly - from all kinds of guilt and liability.

At its core its based upon the same guilt of wealth that Jesus spoke of, and that the Church *ahem* managed for us.

PERSON A is richer than PERSON B
- Is it ethical for person B to do work that Person A doesn't want to do? Of course! 
- Is it ethical for person A to sell second hand goods to Person B? I would hope so!
- Is it smarter for Person B to accept "good enough" stuff rather than brand new? Mathematically.

If you look at the 16th arrondissement in Paris, you won't see many automobile repair shops or "e-waste" scrapyards. But you will see people uniquely worried about the liability and guilt over the "circular economy" and the environmental destiny of their used products.

The question is, should the reuse economy, and disassembly jobs, or mining jobs to make new product, revolve around them?  Do the rich have the moral authority to decide what the poor can buy new or used, as is, or for repair?  What gives them the rich this authority?   What good has come of it, for the environment, and for the poor?

Are the Long Island Hamptons, or Kurf├╝rstendamm in Berlin, in the position to "save" the poor by "extended responsibility"?  How can they know, without walking a mile in the other persons' shoes?

The outcome needs to be negotiated with the Geeks of Color, the buyers and fixers, as equals. Even the lowly recyclers deserve a say.  The dismantling job may actually be the most environmentally sound way to reuse parts, keep copper and aluminum separate (they tend to contaminate each others smelters).  It may be the best job Elias can find.  And if the hand dismantler keeps aside parts for reuse and repair, they may actually create even more value added jobs in the reuse sector.


That's the home of Mr. Lai's Printer Farm.  See, in the time since the BAN Monitour GPS reports were released, I've had the time to look for reasons why a place like Hong Kong would employ hand disassembly, the way we do it in Vermont.

Here's an example of a $100M per year Printer Part supply dealer across the bay from Hong Kong, in Guandong.  You can order extremely old parts of practically any printer ever made by man here (through Alibaba).

We know these parts aren't being made any more.  Like the parts of 1990s cars, they come from the second hand "chop shops", the secondary market.  Where does MIT suppose this $100M per year (a single example) parts distributor in Guangdong gets these parts?

Hint:  It's not from a shredding machine.

The men and women who work here were never interviewed by BAN or MIT, or by Interpol, or PACE, or UNEP.  But dollars to donuts, I bet you they know way more about printers than any of us do.

The Chinese website even has a troubleshooting guide to help you find the right fix for the printer you already own.   They have a map of distribution centers around the world... in India, Thailand, South America, Africa, etc.   And purchasing offices in Europe and the USA (so I'm not sharing their company name or direct link here... I was told by the attorney of the tenant at the $500M Hong Kong EcoPark - whose site turns up in "hidden coordinates" - that they don't want to be part of the Robin v. BAN pissing match... they are busy making money.

"It's Not About You"

So my thesis or analogy today is that everyone who participates in applauding BAN's Authority Solution are like the cathedral engineers, fresco artists, and paid philosophers in the court of Pope Urban 8.  The people who attest and pontificate at EScrap, ISRI, and ICM conferences, verily I tell you, they have their reward.

To the Church's enormous credit, Galileo was allowed to continue working, and to publish, and his work was preserved by the Jesuits.  I'm able to cite this entire example because the Jesuits had the the sense and decency to preserve the "heresy".  How many hundreds of other genius were beheaded, or their works burned, for a crime of heresy which we have no record of today?

The Maya Codices were set ablaze by Bishop de Landa, the Franciscan monk of the Spanish (Cortez) conquest of the Yucatan, who wrote:
 "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." 
We are just lucky to have a recorded history of Galileo and Copernicus... we even owe a wee bit of thanks to Bishop de Landa, who at least saved three codices, and recorded his decision to burn them.... because they weren't about the Church.

If their counterparts spoke "inconvenient truths" in the Halls of Montezuma's Mexican pyramids, or those of the Pharaoh in Egypt, or the Ayatollahs grand Mosques, it's pretty doubtful we'd know about it.  I don't doubt Montezuma's lineage made examples out of a few victims, and who knows if they recorded it.  The list of destroyed libraries doesn't include people, like Galileo or Joe Benson.

Authorities tend to make examples of people who speak out against the system that gives them money to buy cathedrals.  And people in the cathedral engineering business wind up in this awkward position.

And they are putting people like Joe Benson in a prison, and telling journalists rotten things about the Guiyu chip sorters, and the NON-Guiyu semiknockdown factories, and calling the importers in Agbogbloshie "orphans between age 13 and 17".

This is happening right now.

See, if you had a good engineering or chapel ceiling painting job, like Micheangelo, you'd probably be disturbed that "Sun Revolves Around Earth" headline authority was putting pal Galileo in prison.  And if you heard the Church's prison goons rationalizing - Maybe Galileo also masturbated? - to make themselves feel better about the guy being in jail, you'd dislike that, too.

But these rationalizations of the treatment of Copernicus and Galileo are now pretty recognized human behavior.  The Tyranny of the Majority, or the Powers That Be, or City Hall, often will put construction and engineering projects (using science and engineering) out as ends justifying the means.  And they close one eye, most of the time, on the Galileos in jail cells.  And certainly on the Tom Robinsons (colored man accused of rape in Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird").

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was about a punkish redneck kid who felt sorry for an African American Negro slave father, who he saw as a better man than his own father.  Huck sets off on a raft with "N**r Jim" and defies the authorities who kept the Church going in Southwest Missouri (where Mark Twain's novel is set).

Ok this is all blah blah background for how I see the position I'm in, going to the ICM Conference in Salzburg.  Hurricane Joe Benson's statements about the "Bullyboys" who seized the assets of his used electronics business and put him in jail are really expressing doubt about the Authority.  And that's scary to a lot of people, who feel more at ease thinking that the Pope knows more about the solar system than the tinkerer of glass lenses.

"WE wouldn't even be here (in this conference space) if it weren't for [The Ayatollah of WEEE]".

- - - ~ ~ - - _ [blog end] _ -- ~ ~

Haven't left a rambling "blog end" in a long while.

The story told by the Basel Action Network was not half-truth... it was mostly false.  But it involved pictures of children at sad places, images of poverty, juxtaposed with second-hand goods and scary words about toxics and witchcraft.

The science says that Chinese people didn't pay to sort out containerloads of JUST 15" and 17" CRT computer monitors.  The explanation that they did so to "paw" apart copper "with their bare hands" in Guiyu was a lie.  BAN knew it was a lie by 2005.

I'd already shown BAN the pictures of the Foshan and Klang and Jakarta and Guangzhou City SKD (semi knock down) factories.  I had told them about the plans to recycle the bad glass in these factories, and by 2006 we had a purchase order for the bad CRT glass recycling at Samsung Corning glass recycling factory in Klang, Malaysia.  We had a decent relationship then - just as Galileo originally had with the Catholic Pope.  I'd helped them publish (with Sarah Westervelt) the CRT Glass Test, trying to find compromise on the worst actors (who I knew about based on my visits to Asia and explanations by the CRT factory operators there).

I actually made the pitch to Jim Puckett that perhaps he should look at a market in Lagos, where they really were going to be victims of any "toxics along for the ride".  I told him about the investments going into the Asian factories - like the one in Semerang, Indonesia - for recycling CRT cullet.  I told him about how quickly Asia was modernizing and urbanizing, and that frankly Asia was generating more of its own e-waste than we were.

I told CBS 60 Minutes team, during an hour of phone interviews, that the CRT monitors they observed in Hong Kong were going to SKD refurbishing factories, not to Guiyu, and that the origins of the CRTs there were as likely to be from Japan or South Korea or Hong Kong itself than from the USA.  I tried to explain to 60 Minutes that MOST of California's CRT waste was in 19", 25" and 30" CRT televisions, which were being replaced by flat screens.

I told them that mathematically and economically, there was no way that thousands of separated 15" and 17" CRT monitors, absent any printers or TVs or keyboards, were being separarated by "avoided disposal cost".  I told GAO the same thing.

That the sun didn't revolve around us.

So now I have this job of telling hundreds of people whose jobs and research is funded by the Pope of WEEE that his highness doesn't know what he's talking about, and is making it up as he goes along.

It's a little bit scary.

I don't see myself as a Galileo.  Not even as an Atticus Finch.  I guess I'm somewhere between Atticus and Huck Finn, or Scout (Atticus's daughter).

The best thing about Western Civilization is the way that we respect innocence and reason.

BAN's GPS trackers weren't put inside 21", 25", or 30 inch CRT televisions, or in projection TVs.  Those represent over half the E-waste.  But not a single GPS went inside one.

That's because I explained this to BAN back in 2005, and to CBS in 2008.  That if the sin of externalized environmental costs were really the driver, that we'd see that kind of junk in the Hong Kong orbit.  So BAN knew that.

The fact that no random CRT TVs were sampled by the GPS is all that MIT's Ethics Committee really needs to know.  Even the 15" CRTs BAN tracked, it turns out, were only exported 15% of the time, and the places they were exported to - Foshan and Pakistan - were DANY TV and SKD remanufacturers.  They were probably being reused (or intended to be, before the MIT undergrad goblins got the Ayatollah's instructions to open the device and sabotage it and put it back together like a statistically good unit).

It's as if BAN wanted to prove that 80 percent of NBA players have blue eyes.  Then didn't sample any black players.  Then announced 40% of NBA players (whites and Asians) have blue eyes, preparing a fig leaf of compromise (it wasn't 80%, it was 40%)

Thing is, this is in academic hands now.  If BAN abused the test of unwitting, unwilling test subjects, if BAN selected samples of overseas end markets which avoided Big Factories and reuse markets, if BAN "disappeared" the data showing the CRTs at the SKD factory in Guangdong (originally on MoniTour but missing from the August printed report), if BAN told MIT students which device (a laser printer reselling for $349 in used condition on Amazon) to sabotage internally, and sent them to knock on the door of a Somerville office with NO public collection point in order to get it to my staff, and then somehow our shredder in destination in greater Chicago - a funder of BAN - cancelled our deliveries and we redirected the printer to another Chicago area recycler, who had a purchase order for a new facility at Hong Kong's EcoPark.... all of this is in academia now.  This can all get researched.

Students around the globe are reading BAN's report, and my blog reads have gone up 400%

See, it wasn't actually critical that Galileo physically get out of the prison.  Copernicus had already demonstrated the earth moves around the sun, not vice versa, in Poland.  The Pope and Ayatollah and Montezuma's soldiers aren't going to keep this from getting out.

So my message to regulators is going to be that it's a little scary to find out that the project you are hired to work (like "Project Eden") is a tale of the Emperor's New Clothes.  But look at the numbers.  Look at the research at Memorial University, PUCP, ASU, RIT, USC.  See where the numbers take you.

Then look at the BAN funding.

Follow the money.

Big Shred.

Planned Obsolescence.


You will find out that the tracked devices were selected and placed on tarps at a facility that BAN recommends based on that facility paying BAN a portion of its income.

The Authority is in the cathedral business.


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