How To Pay For Africa E-Waste Cleanup? Part II

So we've established that so far, "saving Africa from e-waste" has made a handsome profit for EU Policy makers, NGOs, Big Shred, and lazy photojournalists and prosecutors. 

We've established that like USA in the 1990s, Africans have a growing volume of junk televisions and computers.  Imported in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the CRT televisions alone represent a modern "urban mining" project.

The kids at left - ALL of their grandparents had a TV when their parents were born.  This is not a "recent import" or "Basel Convention" disorder.

Here's the problem - Africa's Tech Sector, the repair and upgrade professionals, used to be able to sell third hand televisions and computers, collected from African consumers who traded them in or abandoned a repair after 'elective upgrade'.  They are increasingly finding it hard to resell 20, 30 and 40 year old "third hand" electronics.

Correctly diagnosing the problem is the first step to treatment.  Paying for the solution is the second step.

How to pay for the safe and effective recycling of used electronics abandoned at African repair shops - not by Europeans or Americans, but by African consumers who, eventually, decide not to pay for the repair of a 45 year old television set?

First, stop wasting money on environmental malpractice.

Second hand TVs, recently imported
Like in America and Europe, Africasn will eventually find cheaper to buy a new or second hand television than it is to repair the old one (this is increasingly the case with cell phones).  The imported used TVs being sold today (left) may be used for 10 years rather than 40.  Africans are doing what Americans did in the 1970s and 80s - assuming something that was expensive to buy years ago is worth storing, if not in a garage or basement, then out in the yard.

There is an e-waste problem in Africa.  No one denies it.

But it isn't a recent Second-Hand Import Crisis.  It's last decade's import, a Third Hand Storage Crisis....

Solutions tried so far are aimed, wrongly, at a "Second Hand Import Crisis".  The efforts below represent tens of millions of dollars in effort.  Let's add up the potential savings from ending environmental malpractice.

  • Enforcement - Interpol and UK Environmental Agency arrest TV repairmen, imprisoned at UK taxpayer expense.  Net cost, $500k, net recycling of e-scrap, 0.
  • Fundraising - NGO Basel Action Network published heart-rending descriptions of "thousands of orphans" "pawing" through "skeletal" debris in "ghoulish" conditions.  Raises $1M per year. None of it goes to Africa. Net recycling in Africa, zero.
  • EU Policy Groups - UNEP, StEP, PACE, WEEE, CWIT...  At IERC they gave an award 3 years ago to Jim Puckett.  "Without him, none of these conferences, meetings, or project funding would be here."  Net cost in the millions, benefit to Africa, $0.
  • Pilot Projects - Blacksmith Institute publicly named Agbogbloshie scrapyard in Accra as the 'largest and most toxic e-waste dump on earth' (alphabetically).  Administers $1M grant to "transform" Agbogbloshie with a large utility-wire grade wire stripper (one inch thick wire, not computer wire - reported value less than $100k).  Zero tons of e-waste recycled.
  • Documentaries - Cosimo Dannoritzer, Kevin McElvaney, Bellini and multiple other photojournalists fly to Agbogbloshie to pose kids atop junk imported 25 years ago and recently discarded from the streets of Accra.  Reportedly one photo was auctioned in NYC for $10k (fundraiser for NGO).  Net e-scrap reduced, 0.  Benefit to Afrians, 0.
  • E-Waste Legislation - Huge multimillion dollar high tech E-Waste Processing Facility announced in Ghana, to be funded with manufacturer taxes.  See this weeks headline, where government employee is accused of changing the contractor without bid and negotiating 20% off the top take.  So far, no sign of any facility. [New Crusading Guide cited as source].

Let's be generous, and say the above costs only one million dollars per year in "charitable industrial complex".  The savings potential of Fair Trade Recycling programs is clear.  End the misdirected programs, and our program can nearly pay for itself.

Why is my blog, and fair trade recycling, so unpopular among European experts?  Maybe I'm a poor writer, maybe I'm too close to the Africans whose lives and livelihood are threatened by this malpractice.  But if we are funding our solution with avoided expenses on E-waste boondoggles, there may be another reason for discomfort.

Clearly a lot of people have made a lot of money on this so-called Agbogbloshie e-Waste Tragedy, this "e-waste Hell", this "Sodom and Gomorrah", but none of them appear to be Africa Tech Sector or Africa recyclers, and none of the (white) heroic efforts appears to have diverted any e-waste.

That is the environmental justice problem.  White saviors are making all the money, and aren't even bothering to hire translators, meet the accused importers, or look at a city map.

Third hand, imported decade earlier,
 abandoned at repair shops
Everyone is making lots of money on this "E-Waste Tragedy" except the people depicted.

So, back in Salzburg Autria, at the IERC 2017 Conference on WEEE and E-Waste, I told my European audience ito close their eyes, count slowly backwards from three, and when I snap my fingers, to forget everything Jim Puckett ever told them about e-waste.

Not a popular presentation to a roomful of people who make their living on the photos of Awal, Razak, and Yahroo in Old Fadama...

I was asked to present something constructive.  It was less than gently hinted that my blog is full of criticism and even "insults".  One person said, in regards to yours truly, that was perhaps Americans and Canadians solve problems by criticizing and insulting "like Trump".

Our program can pay for itself, but represents the benefits as saving money wasted on the charity industrial complex.  I'm threatening European jobs.  They say that even if the exported materials are reused for 10-20 years, that the "strategic minerals" used to make them will be lost by Europe.  Minerals mined by African hands.

I've got a solution for that problem, too.

So tomorrow I'm going to show you all how my African friends can run circles around these people, how they could with 1/10th the funding solve virtually the entire e-waste problem in Ghana. These are the people like Benson who are arrested and accused of creating the problem (falsely, with rather timid retractions not yet picked up by EU press).  These are young men and their families who separate metals and plastics at scrapyards like Agbogbloshie.

Spits on palms of hands, rubs them together with machismo...

We can do this.  It will look a lot like the Massachusetts CRT Recycling Infrastructure Plan which I piloted in the late 1990s, but with a lot of African spin and tinkering.  Fair Trade Recycling will present a plan to "save" Africa from the treatment of the White Savior, Charity Industrial Complex, and will do so convincingly and in a way that creates leadership opportunities and jobs for Africans, carbon savings, low overhead, safe procedures, and lots and lots of added value.

The only insult or criticism will be to compare our plan with the net costs and benefits of the people who received all the money and acclaim to date.

Part III - Paying for Third Hand Recycling with Imports of Second Hand Fair Trade Electronics.

No comments: