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.

The "equivalent practices" was thrown at me immediately following my session on the IERC panel, in fact.  On the panel, the other experts at least agreed with me - rather strongly - that the paperwork for trade in secondary materials was so much more onerous than primary materials that EU was killing the circular economy with its trans-boundary regulation.

So just throwing CRTs onto piles of leaded ores and silicate, already containerized for export to refiners.  No paperwork.  Sound crazy?  Not to mining engineers.  See, the leaded silica in Cathode Ray Tubes is chemically nearly identical to the anglesite mineral found in mines in North Africa (Morocco).  Excerpts from Wikipedia mostly cite USGS Minerals Information Yearbook.  These links are dated, I'm going through country specific reports which are more up to date (reflecting changes both in metal price spikes prior to 2008 and increase in secondary "waste" metals as Africa urbanizes).
From 2000 to 2005, Africa’s production of secondary refined lead increased by 34%. South Africa accounted for 86% of African secondary refined lead output; Kenya, Morocco, and Nigeria accounted for the remainder. The share of primary lead in total refined lead production in Africa declined to 35% in 2005 from 64% in 1995 and 72% in 1990.[1]
So, basically I've been reporting for a long time about the sheer volume of secondary research on things like the Korle Lagoon in Accra, CRT manufacture (Digitimes) not accounting for number of displays in countries with 3billion people earning $3k per year, the existing economics in Africa (37% of exports from here in Ghana are minerals), televisions per household, where GPS trackers actually find BAN's CRTs (University of Faisalabad, the central Punjab tech school), etc.  Along the way, this blog has identified actual solutions, like this very simple answer to African CRT glass.

Want to see how the world sells Anglesite from African lead-zinc mines?  Use your Twitter search box and search anglesite (screenshot example at top) Most of what's for sale comes from north Africa mines, which can be found on the USGS website.  Those mines send raw ores to China, India and Europe for "refining" (USA gets most of its ores from South America).

Here is how CRT glass is trading on a mineral mining trading website in Asia.  Gee, chemically it looks like anglesite.  And trades at $80 per ton.  Like anglesite mined from Africa.  Do you think MAYBE Africa can sell this to Asia, too?

This blog has been full of practical geographic solutions to ordinary problems.  And most of the ideas I have that seem weird or out of the box is because I listen to people in Mexico (the smelter engineers), Africa (the Tech Sector - and the Agbogbloshie scrappers as well), the Chinese display re-manufacturers (attorneys, importers, exporters, engineers), and Peru electronics repairers (like MUN has been filming interviews with in Lima, on #fixerFriday also available on twitter search)

But I kind of felt looked down upon at IERC in Salzburg.  Someone I actually respect quite a bit sniffed about the "negativity" and "insults" in the American discussion.

All the primary and secondary research we've done, all the expertise we've found hidden in plain site, all the environmental malpractice we've corrected, the collateral damage like Joe "Hurricane" Benson's imprisonment on trumped up charges in the UK (yes, saying it's common knowledge that 80% of what he exported is "waste burned in primitive conditions" when your House of Commons reports only 19% - which includes repairable - that's darn well trumped up), all this information I take the time to research and provide... it is taken as insulting and threatening.

The big insult is "racial profiling".  See, they take that seriously.  As in, don't say it.

News flash - it's not about YOU.
(Though to Europeans and Americans, even that can seem like an insult)

There wasn't a single black face at Salzburg.  Hundreds and hundreds of experts.  And the Keynote speaker - I won't mention his name - actually showed a slide with Muhammed Awal, the Barcelona-jersey shirted Agbogbloshie scrapper we are going back to visit today.  One of the twenty five young men between 17 and 35 who operate "the largest e-waste dump on earth".  We've spoken with Awal several times this week by smart phone.

I don't want to idealize Awal any more than I want Europe to hyperbolize and exocticize him.  He's among the unlucky, the economic migrants from Tamale.  On Friday I will be back with Tamale's Tech Sector, the Big Bang Theory guys, the smart phone and laptop repair gurus.  Who I shouldn't idealize or heroicize either, except to say...

To Europe...
What do you mean I'm not OECD?

Cut it out. It's not about YOU.  The circular economy doesn't revolve around you.  Kevin McElvaney could as well have been filming toilets in Africa.  There was no secondary resource, no vetting of Mike Anane as a source of statistics on imports.  It is bloody shameful.  And a whole bunch of very intelligent European grad students are going to be studying this and there is no way to keep it quiet.

I'm not insulting you.  I'm just saying, the sun doesn't revolve around the earth, and the circular economy will continue just fine if Africa exports its secondary and primary minerals to China and India because you haven't figured out a way to control your own exports without banishing their imports.  That's the game of antitarrif trade barriers, which I studied in college.  You come up with unintended consequences.  Africa is a huge resource of junk cars and electronics, and has cheap labor to manage them correctly, and a long tradition of exporting (mostly primary material) to smelters.

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