SEERA, HR 917 - A New Protectionist Message?

First let me say that there are several paying members of the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER) who I really respect.  We use several of them as subcontractors for our company. (My hunch is that they wouldn't want to be thanked here individually).

They haven't reached out to me directly, but appear to have taken serious note of admonishment on the blog.  They have dropped references to the "80% Dumping" claim (which was still on their website after Basel Action Network disavowed it).

The "perception - reality" logo, featuring the African guy carring a 1977 white Magnavox at Agbogbloshie is gone from the website.  "Primitive" Africans no longer feature in the press releases for the legislation that CAER was formed to promote...

But their interest is the same as any other heavy industry.  "Big Shred" are the companies with multi-million dollar investments in big heavy machines to automate electronics recycling.

This month, it's all about - get this - protecting USA troops.

Here was the 2013 press release describing the US Responsible Electronics Recycling Act

Here is the new reason for the US Secure E-Waste E-Waste Export and Recycling Act... Same bill authors.  Same sponsors. Same targets.  But it's like finding out Trump's border wall isn't to protect the USA from illegal immigrants anymore - now it's to keep out poisonous snakes.

Could your e-waste exports now be a threat to USA soldiers, who might get equipment with "counterfeit" silicon chips?

Come on.  Do I really need to generate another list of Top 10 E-Waste Recycling Myths?

Like a late night TV kitchen tool ad, it slices!  it dices! But wait!  It also protects!

The "counterfeit" is a misnomer.  I have found no evidence of anyone running a counterfeit silicon chip plant.  But the chips are getting harvested, not melted, and they are getting reused.  As CAER realizes that Basel Action Network was pretending to know what they are talking about, making it up as they went along, they still have these big mechanical shredding beasts to feed.

And how can your shredder compete with someone that's harvesting the chips and putting them back into new circuit boards?  Big Shred found an alliance - the Anti-Gray-Market-Alliance.  Planned Obsolescence doesn't want to compete with their own used products.  And together they are supporting a new bill to make reuse of circuit boards "un-American".

Four Reasons why the SEERA is nonsense...

1- Most exports are Display Devices, which are not "national security" issue.  Sure, it's possible that a reuse chip from a TV or desktop monitor will be harvested and repurposed in China.  But they are all made there to begin with.  And displays (CRTs or LCDs) don't shred well - you don't want lead and mercury dust in your shred house.

2- Obvious complete change of argument for the same bill.  In the transition from the original HR 917 Version, which was 'saving children' (photo of kid at Agbogbloshie used to be on the CAER masthead), the "crime" was supposedly that the exports weren't repairable or functional and were headed for an African dump with kids "pawing" at it "primitively" etc etc.  Kudos to CAER for expunging all references to that crap.  But now, if the issue is chip repurposing ("counterfeiting") then why do we care if the goods were functional or not?  Can't any used device have its chips harvested and repurposed?  Don't you need a complete trade ban for that?

3- Careful of cynicism and blowback.  Any time the purpose of a bill changes THAT radically, from saving children at dumps in Africa by exporting only fully functional devices (which will never ever fail and go to the dump in Africa eventually I guess), to protecting USA Troops from buying equipment with used chips on the circuit board, people are going to search for Ockham's Razor... the simpler solution.  It would just be simpler to mandate the military equipment is manufactured in the USA.  Oh but guess what, it mostly is.  So what's a simpler problem the bill is a solution for?  Ok, how about million dollar shredding machine companies (Big Shred) don't want to compete in the marketplace with reuse companies, hand disassembly companies, or Asian Big Shred (Hong Kong Eco Park, remember?) in the marketplace?  Looks like protectionism, walks like protectionism, quacks like it.

The Charitable Industrial Complex and Military Industrial Complex measure up to be quite a foe.  I may have to retire.  Maybe to Ghana, where the "fake news" about Agbogbloshie (the so-called world's most toxic place) needs truth telling full time.

I don't think America will succeed by keeping others down.  We were accustomed to having the biggest mansion on a street full of trailers and grass huts.  Now all the other countries of the world, having adapted our great competitive trade and capitalist system - and increasingly our democracy - are building nice homes too.

I told my kids that if you REALLY want your home to go up in VALUE, you need the neighbors homes to go up in value.  Location, location.  It's the neighborhood, not the house.

No comments: