2010 Flashback to Europe's Decade of Racial Profiling E-Waste

Back in November 2010, I used a cover photo on a blog to convey how Europe was relying on photojournalism to set waste policy. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG was one of my most visited blogs that year - the year Interpol launched "Project Eden", an approach to Africa and Asian geeks that was as cringeworthy as the Eurotrash Art.

Europas Parkas, by Lithuanian Artist Gitaras Karosas, is said to "symbolize the absurdity of communism".  I was in Lithuania in 2004, seeking a recycling market at the CRT furnace of Ekranos, a Soviet-era cathode ray tube manufacturer.  I wish I had made it to this "sculpture" or "museum", because in the past 10 years I haven't really found a better image for "the absurdity of Europe's WEEE export policy".

2010 was also the year I discovered Thom Yorke's Black Swan (his 2006 solo album The Eraser, post Radiohead). The lyrics totally captured that year (embedded below / bottom).

This is f***d up, f***d up....

  • Interpol launched Project Eden.
  • BAN Launched E-Stewards with corporate backing.
  • In the Boston Globe, EDC called PT Imtech, the largest CRT remanufacturing company, a "primitive wire burning facility".
  • Samsung closed its Klang, Malaysia, recycling furnace, when it's import permit expired in 2010, after BAN wrote a letter to Malaysia's EPA expressing concern about recycling CRT glass from USA (glass-to-glass).
  • Several starcrossed USA CRT glass recycling ventures were launched in response to E-Stewards and Samsung's Klang closure.  MITS , as did Closed Loop Recycling, CRTR, MPC, Creative Recycling, and other "CRT glass solutions" to take the place of "primitive" factories in Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • BBC Panorama (Raphael Rowe) "framed" Joe Hurricane Benson with a GPS tracking device placed in a TV "with a wire cut inside".
  • WR3A attempted a public "compromise" with Basel Action Network, at the 2010 EScrap Conference, to redirect California's SB20 to supply SKD factories using BAN's tapdance.
  • BHP abandoned its controlling share (and environmental cleanup obligations) of the OK Tedi copper mine in Papua New Guinea to Indonesian and Chinese investors.
  • Jim Puckett published "A Place Called Away", describing Agbogbloshie in Ghana as a remote fishing village populated by "thousands of orphans" processing "millions of tons" of foreign E-waste, using halloween language (Hell, skeletal, ghoulish, etc) to describe Africa's Tech Sector. A dozen photojournalist documentaries would follow the trail to Agbogbloshie in the next 5 years.
  • Basel Convention Secretariat published it's draft PACE document, containing BAN's statistics (80% illegal dumping) and a testing protocol to reduce the "80% waste", which would be adapted by UK's then-Environmental Agency director, Lord Chris Smith (who crowed publicly about the arrest of Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics that same year).
  • Mike "fishing as a boy" Anane was interviewed a dozen times, and flown to speak at Interpol's 2010 conference (with US EPA in Alexandria), as a "journalist" and "expert" on Agbogbloshie. A place he told everyone was "a beautiful paradise" that he swam and fished in (late 1990s or early 2000s, depending on his interview). No one can find a newspaper he claimed to work for.
It was a mass hallucination, an orgy of confirmation bias, an investment opportunity, all driven by a "non-profit" organization in Seattle... which, as it turns out, only filed its first IRS 990s that year.

"And for spare parts, we're broken up
But I made it to the top, but I made it to the top" -Thom Yorke (Black Swan)

I have links for all of the 2010 fact-massacres, but the point is that I've written about them and linked to them before. Increasingly, they are now documented be peer-reviewed journals, books like Josh Lepawsky's Reassembling Rubbish, articles by long-form journalists, and an increasing number of African Ph'D candidates (WR3A hired a new one, John Sumani, this month). The World Bank and IMF documents that chronicle chapter after chapter of the investments and use of electricity over the past 50 years support the late great Hans Rosling's statistics. There is so much good news, and yet journalists find it so much easier to find, photograph, and write about the bad news.

So I adapted. "If it bleeds, it leads". "Man bites dog".  If journalists want some bad news, the friendly fire of environmental racism had something to offer.

2010 was a big year for this blog.  I go back to that year pretty frequently. I met a lot of people, academics and authors and EPA staff, who were listening to my defense of "Geeks of Color" against the "ayatollah of e-waste". It was also a busy year for several of my own projects, trade with Retroworks de Mexico, with Egypt, Malaysia... a lot of travel. Many of the blogs were written in airports and hotel rooms.

It was the year I changed my strategy to document how environmental injustice can be propelled by a charitable industrial complex, with well-intentioned environmental "standards" that amount, in sharp retrospect, to racial profiling. Environmental Malpractice, Collateral Damage, and Accidental Racism. A few smart people began to listen to each other, and planned the Fair Trade Recycling Summit at Middlebury College in 2013.

The blogs became more numerous , longer, and more detailed. I abandoned all the advice of the blog-writing community. I was trying to reach the smartest people in academia and journalism.

Circuitboards purchased from Abogbloshie, Ghana scrappers, for export/sale to Japan. 2018

This may be the year I give up, cull the herd, and come up with something to publish on my own.  As I come closer to gripping with my own mortality, I return to the philosophy of using history as wisdom. We can establish a "relativity" to explore the theory of an Intelligence so much greater than human intelligence, using not just Artificial Intelligence (AI), but also imagining what generations of humans, 500 or 5000 years from now, will remember us for. I think mining Papua New Guinea and Kabwe in Zambia, coltan from Congo, and "lead-free" tin solder from Indonesia's Bangka, which seems to be leading to extinction of orangutans and gorillas and coral reefs, will be remembered as pretty stupid.  And the "Friendly Fire" against geeks of color, the emerging market's tech sector, may mark the last gasps of racism's stubborn immunity, even in our liberal "green" recycling community.

I can imagine being a European colonist or missionary... "Here to help".

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