Pharmaceutical Recycling 2: Rich Liability vs. Poor World Shortages

George Washington Carver Is Not Liable For Peanut Butter Allergies (he didn't even invent it)

In Part 1, I introduced this topic after opening a piece of mail telling us that a $500-something dollar epipen we own had reached its expiration date.  It made me curious whether the "obsolescence" of the pharmaceuticals equated to actual risk, and made me think about the different financial implications for wealthy, poor, stockholders, etc. And how the psychology of "greed and fear" is used as a persuader to advance the interests of those parties.  From Part 1:
In the case of an epi-pen, "less effective" is certainly a concern if you can afford a new one.  But if my kid starts to suffer a life-threatening peanut allergy reaction, I'm not going to check the date on his epi-pen.

What about "elective upgrade"? Can I sell my expired epi-pen, and buy a new one to satisfy my risk averse kin?  That reduces MY liability (to my son), but is my liability somehow "externalized" to poor people?
Hint:  No

But let's see how the Policy On Pharma Storage or Disposal (not recycling) is covering the exits.

Pharmaceutical Recycling: When 1st World Liability Means 3rd World Shortages

My  wife and I received a mail about a $500-something dollar epipen having reached its expiration date.  It made me curious whether the "obsolescence" of the pharmaceuticals equated to actual risk.

I found a decent 2012 Science-Based-Medicine journal article by Scott Gavura, seeking answers to the question, and found once-again that medical ethics are rich in direction for environmental ethics.  Human Health has been a concern for longer than Environmental Health.

So basically the article says that there is very little risk that expired medicine is bad for you.  It doesn't turn into poison (there was one possible case of that from a medicine that was long ago banned from the market... think of the liability if people died from not reading the date on your label).

When a new medicine is approved by FDA, no Pharma company can afford to then test it by putting it on the shelf for several years to determine its expiration date.  They do run tests on exposure to moisture and light, and use those to predict shelf life.  But like food, an open can of stuff doesn't stay good for as long as a closed can of stuff, so the expiration date is majorly affected by whether it is pre-consumer (unopened at a pharmacy) or post-consumer (excess from a once opened bottle).

And this is hot topic in Waste Policy... see all the national pharma take-back day events this month.

How We Knew About Apple's "Recycled Content" Plan 2 Years Ago!

Big announcement, just out, from Apple CEO - Apple will produce its electronics from 100% recycled material, not from virgin mining.

It's reported from Apple's just-released 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report.  It's bound to hit all the Earth Day news outlets this weekend.

Sourcing recycled content, creating a demand-pull effect, was what we were working on when I started at Massachusetts DEP in 1992.  It can be very big news.

Question:  How did I know about this almost 2 years before Apple's announcement?

Apple doesn't make its own stuff.  It's generally put together by a Shenzhen contract manufacturer like Foxconn or Wistron, which the blog has focused on many times.

Guess how we knew about Hong Kong EcoPark when we allowed a trial load of printers to go to Hong Kong - when our E-Steward downstream wouldn't pick up after several loads to their shredder?  When the BAN GPS Tracker was in our facility, and suddenly our shipments were mysteriously cancelled?

When I did background check on why Hong Kong would be paying for printer scrap again, before approving to the Chicago downstream replacing the E-Steward, I found that the $550M EcoPark tenants were sourcing scrap for plastic to be sold to a contract manufacturer in Shenzhen.   One who made devices with a major brand name label.

Lifecycle Analysis: CleanTech, "BrownTech", and Export Markets

What is the tension between "CleanTech" - e.g. a new hybrid car - and (what I'll call) "BrownTech"?  Repairing an older gas guzzler to run another year before mining, refining, consuming for new?

Early adapters proudly display their new CleanTech device.  As they should. By electively upgrading to a newer, environmentally-efficient device, they are sending signals to the market and to investors.  The early adapters are on the front lines, bringing the scalability (lowered cost and efficiency) to the new wind, solar, sustainable, recycled-content, non-toxic, etc. markets.

But being able to afford these elective #CleanTech upgrades is a privilege not shared by poor people, especially those in Emerging Markets (so-called "third world" countries).  For them, they are upgrading from a black and white 1967 television to a color 19" CRT.  From not having a phone at all to a flip Motorola.

The new #cleantech device trade shows are exciting.  So are ghetto repair shops. We are on the same spectrum of Life Cycle Analysis.  The differences are economic and cultural.

2002 Article In Recycling Today Foreshadows WR3A, IFixIT, E-Stewards

While looking to upload some papers in, I ran across an article published by Recycling Today magazine in 2002 - by yours truly.  "Setting a Higher Standard" explained that boycotting the export market would be a "war on drugs" approach, forcing legit oversees reuse and recycling operations to meet demand via "back alleys".

Here are 3 conclusions about e-waste export policy at the end of the article (edited by Brian Taylor).

Looks sound.

1) Send Quality.  Meet the customers and find out what they want.  Just export that.  Don't throw a piece of junk on the container that you don't know what to do with.  This would become the foundation of and Fair Trade Recycling.

2) Support Reuse and Repair.  This forshadowed, was influenced by's Silicon Sam.  I'd used Sam's repair instructions while reviewing Chinese purchase orders, and found the Chinese buyers were giving instructions that would eliminate non-repairable units.  This led to the realization that China was not buying ANY CRT Televisions, only specific 15" and 17" CRTs, which meant the trade was not driven by cost externalization.  California SB20 went off a cliff that year.

3) Support Reputable USA companies.  This forshadowed R2 and E-Stewards.

Basel Action Network attacked me for writing the article, personally, and that is how I met Jim Puckett.  He blasted a response to the article via "Microsoft Outlook" and cc'd dozens of people whom I'd never met, but with whom I'd become acquainted over the years.

The article was sent to some folks at US EPA, who later hired me as a consultant for the 2006 Federal Register CRT Rule, which funded my second trip to Asia - this time bringing Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim and Lin King of UC Davis, to visit some of the "Big Secret Factories" that BAN was racially profiling as "primitive rice paddies".  (If you are researching MIT Senseable City Lab and BAN's Monitour project, there's a chestnut about this at the bottom of this blog).

TOP 10 Themes to Ingenthron's Good Point "e-Waste" Blog 2006-2016

If you were going to map this blog to take my insights for a book you are writing, I'd be glad to help though I don't have that much time to insert links below. Let me know whether I've forgotten any.

Because I might be finished.

1) Mining a ton of material always pollutes more than getting the same ton by recycling.

The hand-wringing about "perverse consequences" of recycling can lead to improvements in the recycling process.  But any "gotcha" or "dirty little secret" stories need to face up to situations like copper mining at the OK Tedi Papua New Guinea, the lead mining at Kabwe, the 17/18 largest USA Superfund sites, etc.  If you dispose of X out of concern over it's recycling process, and the same quantity you disposed of has to be mined from a rain forest, don't pay yourself on the back.

2) Elective Upgrade Decisions are Relative, Tied to Value Added

The second-hand market allows a chain of affordable use.  When a rich person chooses to upgrade to a new device, the environmental costs of production (like mining) remain embodied in the old device, which is now affordable to someone who could not have afforded a new device.

This creates a "critical mass of users" in emerging markets necessary to support investment in cell phone towers, internet cable, satellites, TV stations, etc. You can't raise enough taxes to repave a road if none of your citizens owns/affords a car.  Don't feel guilty about getting something new - so long as your used good gets reused.

More below

Circular Economy and African Shanzhai: Under the Bridge

Shanzhai, or Shan Zhai, or sanzai...

I dropped the word "shanzai" recently.  In my mind, it's something I blogged about not that long ago (2011) - a term I learned from meeting Dr. Josh Goldstein at USC via Adam Minter.  But I do admit to that habit of dropping a word or a phrase in places where no one knows what I'm talking about (unless they do).

Like a reference to "the Keystone Cops", the word "shanzhai" went "whoosh" over the heads of my listeners.  But in a reuse and recycling context, it's a profound concept.  It is like a master guitarist finding that a fan has learned to play his riffs even better than he can.  It's the concept of taking an iPhone 6 and repairing it with bells and whistles that make it, virtually, like an iPhone 9 (yet to be invented).

Today's blog has three goals - 1) remind readers of the importance of shanzhai, 2) show some really awesome examples of Africans turning broken LCD TVs into things of higher value, and 3) explore the "poor communicator" dynamic which so often dumbs down own discussions. When is it necessary to go back and remind a new reader what a word means?  Often today, journalists and bloggers "hotline" the word by html to a definition somewhere else online, similar to a footnote.

So here's the thing - Shanzai is being re-defined in relationship to "counterfeit" stuff. In the same way the charitable industrial complex defined African electronic recycling with "bad" images of Agbogbloshie, and defined Chinese technology reuse with cesspools and rice paddies, someone is out to bury the concept of refurbishment itself, and to make it seem shameful.

And they are going to use European and American implicit racism and assumptions about Africans and Chinese people to keep the competition away.  Like second string white baseball players, the American and European "big shred" recyclers are frightened of competition from Jackie Robinson.

To be fair, shanzai does also mean borrowed or knock-off, but in Chinese it has a much more respected context.  As I explained in the blog, Shanzhai is respected in China, in the way that John Frusciante, 47, (Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist) respects Josh Klinghoffer, 37.  Klinghoffer copied Frusciante's guitar riffs and added a spice to them that put the Red Hot Chili Peppers on another level.

Here's what you will see in the blog below the "more" line:

1) Chili Peppers "under the bridge" video
2) An explanation of how I feel lonely explaining African exports (tied to lyrics)
3) A photo slide show demonstrating what Africans are doing with broken LCD TVs (like the ones Total Reclaim allowed to be exported to China)

And as usual, the conclusion

4) African geeks know more than we do, and the "circular economy" doesn't revolve around white people.

followed by

5) a blog-end of why it may be worth it to sometimes write a blog that's over most reader's level of expertise.

See if you can check the boxes

Defending Geeks of Color In Vacuum of Nuance

The April Fools blog on Saturday returned to familiar ground.  I'm a little uncomfortable with one of the jokes, which I softened in a later edit.  The GPS Not In 88 Electronic Recycler acronym was cringeworthy.

But in backing away, I'm also caving in to the neutering of nuance by political correctness.  You see, by nature of my privilege, many say I cannot joke about certain things.  Such as the white privilege of those who would criminalize used appliance repair.

Mark Twain's use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn is still "controversial", at least among people whose IQs are either much higher or much lower than mine.

Essentially, the majority of human beings agree with me and not those who have claimed the mantle of "Steward".  But the majority does not have the e-waste megaphone.

Ghana Fair Trade Recycling Album

The strict European definitions that place repair and reuse under "waste management" regulators was a reaction to a false statistic, which was perhaps created innocently but was funded with millions of dollars of Planned Obsolescence, Anti-Gray-Market, and Big Shred money.  An obscene amount of money as compared with the number of dollars that ever went to the families of people whose photos among waste were used to pass the legislation and garner those donations.

Breaking News: GPS Recycling Miscegeny Trackers Flatten Circular Economy

[SEATTLE, WA 01.04.2015 00:01 april fools] MIT Sendable City lab announced today that a study with NGO Basel Acting Network has revealed a startling outcome, and a next stage.  The circular economy is flat.  And a Next Generation Tracking Devices has been developed to find reuse trade as it occurs.

The team will keep tracking the devices, as they move around between repair and reuse markets. But the next generation of trackers, the NI88ERGPS, will clearly identify boundries in the gray market.

"In our first effort, we thought that Basel Acting Network had tracked each of the GPS devices to its final resting place.  We called that end point 'Overseas'.  We thought we were finished," said Dr. Carl Ratty of MIT Sendable City Lab. "It turns out there are a lot of different places over there, and stuff keeps moving around."

The 1st Generation of GPS devices are still in motion.  88 different nations have continued to use, pass along, and exchange the devices.  Reuse is spiralling out of control, and it will take a new generation of trackers to make the crime - not disposal, but point of exchange - more black and white.

A 'point of pollution' requires that the device stop somewhere, in a dump. BAN's actual target is the exchange of goods and services between rich and poor, an act he labels electronic miscegenation.  These are not geographic "positioning" tracers.  They will trace "possession".

Continuing Final Outcomes:

"In 2016, we were certain that when the GPS devices landed in Faisalabad, Pakistan, that they were surely and finally buried, deep in the soil of a 3rd story electronics mall with escalators and dozens of reuse shops," said Basel Acting Network CEO Jim Plunckett.

But the first trial continued to track the property for as long as the batteries last.  Devices disposed in a primitive computer company's third shelf eye-level retail shop moved to a dormitory at Faisalabad University, 3 blocks away.

"We updated the report to show the devices new locations.  But they keep moving," said Ratty.

Devices sent to Tin Shui Wai in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district could be tracked going up an elevator, the a 14 floor apartment.  One device appeared to be in use in a hospital mobile cart.  A display device attached to a blood gas analyzer, the GPS tracker showed the cart moving up and down hallways, floor by floor in the Cairo General Childrens Hospital.

Plunckett sees a better solution than tracking an "end point".