Seven Secrets Of SECONDHAND Professionals - A Guide thru Adam Minter's Dilemmas

Blog 1,430. Fresh on the media blitz of author/journalist Adam Minter's second blockbuster - Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale - there are a lot of questions about how to deal with the growing mountains of secondhand stuff.

First, a shameless self-promoting plug. Based on my experiences - Africa Peace Corps volunteer 1980s, grandson of Ozark hillbilly families with no electricity or running water, tales-of-the-Depression-dinnertable-correspondent, used electronics recycling company entrepreneur, and former state Recycling division director (MA DEP) - I've had a chance to answer more than a few dozen of Adam Minter's questions over the years.

In fact (shameless plug), we met ten years ago next month. December 1, 2010, kicked off a period of "dueling banjo blogs", when Adam was writing about secondhand and scrap markets from Shanghai (  Here in Vermont, I was writing blog about my heroes in emerging markets, telling positive stories about differently abled poor people ingloriously described as "primitives" by white savior barbies who insist all used electronics be shredded rather than traded, and who described the purchases of secondhand stuff "illegal dumping".

[The concluding 2 chapters of his book are a distillation of ten years of correspondence between me and Adam, including his 8 trips with me to Ghana, Vermont, Boston, and the Bronx NY.]

Yesterday, before going on air (NPR On Point), Adam sent me an email reminding me of that inspiration. We met when he had just given a shoutout to the Best Recycling Blog in the World. Shameless plug, but I'll take it again, because the blogs he was attracted to were about racial profiling of secondhand reuse markets as "primitives". I'm proud that he has carried that message forward in Secondhand, and has joined the fight for Right To Repair, and against shaming secondhand trade with poverty porn.

Meet Adam in Person Thursday Nov 14 at University of Vermont Davis Center.

A Guide Through Adam Minter's Dilemmas

Triage.  At Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, Vermont and Brockton, Massachusetts, our 40 staff have to manage up to 500,000 pounds per month of used electronics. A few of those devices are recently "electively upgraded", with a good resale value. But alas, like by Minter's other Secondhand firehose drinkers (Goodwill, Salvation Army, Japan's BookOff) we find that the vast majority has been in a closet for way too long. We send very little (5%) to the dump - mostly Ikea-grade wood from older electronics. But most of the items are going to be de-manufactured or shredded into little pieces of copper, aluminum, glass, black plastic, white plastic, circuit boards, etc.

There is a lot of value, a lot of waste, and a lot of emotional baggage. Fortunately, some things are easier than we make them out to be.

So there's a training program for the staff, based on the concept of "TRIAGE". There's a first sort, to get stuff to the department where there's an expert in that stuff (usually, de-manufacturing). Then there's a "second sort", which may mean testing the electronics to see if they work, looking up demand for them online, or removing 36 screws with 8 different screwheads using power drills. Sometimes, with things like "vintage" or antique electronics, or items that might have a hazard like lithium battery, there's a third sort, or reason to ship the third sort equipment to a different electronic specialist.

And also this hits home... All of us eventually are called to sort and settle our loved ones possessions.  Last month I flew to my 77 year old mother's home in very rural Marshal Arkansas. 29 years before my dad passed away in 2017, he had moved his own mothers STUFF from his super revered grandfather's home in Taney County Missouri. I wish I'd had 40 employee company when he did that, a lot of valuable antiques were lost, and dad  tried to save a lot of things that had only sentimental value.

Dad moved a few tons of those things to an abandoned house on their new property in Marshall, down the hill from mom's.  As giant oak trees are wont to do in Arkansas wind storms, one had sliced the abandoned house practically in half, and by the time I got there several rains (and a couple of meth-heads) had been through the place (one methhead kindly forgot all the silverware in a cottage cheese bucket near the door, probably set it down and couldn't find it again).  Anyway, I came down as a professional to "TRIAGE" the damage, and cherry pick the 20% of non- ruined stuff worth saving.

The thing I'm most grateful for finding in the destroyed home was a wood carving by my grandfather, Clarence Fisher of Ridgedale, Missouri. He taught me early on about quality, repair, and the good-enough market. He was probably born to the poorest hillbilly family in the county (his father did not read or write, signed his name with an "x"). A self-taught carpenter and subsistence farmer, he left a deep imprint on me. Adam Minter had a similar relationship with his own grandfather.

The carving I salvaged from the house is the lower one (the top carving Pa gave us as a gift, it was his last carving). He told me he was worried he might not be able to do one for everyone in the family. But later it turned out he had an idea, to make a wood carving template, so he could "mass produce" them, or some other carpenter could.  That lower one I found on the floor of his daughter (my mom in Arkansas) in the house the tree destroyed.

Adam is going to get a lot more coverage this month - C-SPAN, NPR Marketplace, and Fresh Air. And check the reviews so far in Nature, Publishers Weekly, Waste Dive, Recycling International, and NPR to name a few.  It's a great read, and if you want to hear some secret advice on the dilemmas he addresses, directly from a Reuse Pro, read on.

Ethical Gravity 4: Moral Moving Targets, Beautiful Gray Markets

Is an "illegal" market, or a "black market", unethical?

It is illegal to sell the Holy Bible in many nations, but who would consider it unethical?  It is important to distinguish ethics from laws passed by authorities to grant - well, more and more authority.

Beautiful, beautiful gray.

Ethical Gravity 3: Circular Economy Does Not Orbit Us, Tiger

Environmental Ethics Revolves Around Generations Yet To Be Born.

Primum Non Nocere to the future.

Long theme of this blog is how human behavior can be explained, or motivated by, Darwin's theory of evolution. Steven Pinker's psychology books owe a lot more to Darwin than to Freud.

We can see an animal - rat, beaver, guinea fowl, tiger - knows something is "about them".  Our brains are mapped the same way.
- Greed, Desire. 
- Fear, Revulsion. 
- Anger, Rage- Caring, Nurture.
The first three are called "Aversion Reactions".

I suffer everything - desire, fear, and anger - for the Tiger.

Vermont Press Release - Firsthand accounts of SECONDHAND, By Adam Minter

November 14, 2:30PM, UVM Davis Center

On November 14 (America Recycles Day Eve), the University of Vermont Recycling staff will greet best-selling author Adam Minter at the Davis Center (590 Main Street) as he speaks about his new book SECONDHAND, Travels in the Global Garage Sale.

Minter chose Vermont as a launching point (to the surprise of his publisher, Bloomsbury Press) to thank Vermont for hosting him at the Fair Trade Recycling Summit (2013), where he met several of the fascinating people he profiles in Secondhand.

According to UVM Recycling Director Corey Berman, and Middlebury recycler Robin Ingenthron, Vermont's emphasis on reuse is something that Adam saw, firsthand, put to good use in Secondhand.

"Downsizing. Decluttering. A parent's death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country—or even halfway across the world—to people and places who find value in what we leave behind."

Secondhand takes readers on a globetrotting journey to see how items saved or discarded, donated or sold by Americans make their way into reuse, repair or remanufacturing processes. In Vermont's example, he followed a load of computers from Middlebury to Ghana, and interviewed the "tech sector" importers who provided Ghana's information grid with affordable electronics. Minter also treks to Japan, India, Mexico, and other "reuse trade routes", and winds up with important questions about how important our stuff really is, and who should write the rules about it.

Date: Thursday, November 14, 2019
Location: Sugar Maple Ballroom – Davis Center (Address is 590 Main St.)
Time: 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm.

Documentary "Blame Game" Covers More Angles at Agbogbloshie

Directors Juan Solera and Albert Julia's English-language documentary, Blame Game, can now be viewed on Amazon Prime.  The documentary was aired at the 2019 E-Scrap Conference in Orlando, Florida, and Good Point Recycling of Vermont sponsored the travel costs for the directors (from Spain), on behalf of Fair Trade Recycling.

Short clip (Teaser) available on Vimeo.  

Link to full documentary on Amazon Prime:

The Event was well attended by E-Scrap standards.  Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network opened questions from the audience, stating it was the best film he'd seen on the subject.  He then went on --- very curiously -- to ask why the filmmakers had not given more air time to proponents of the Basel Convention?

The curious insinuation was that he had not been interviewed.  But he had been. The directors had honored his own demand not to include his interview, perhaps because he had made a false claim on camera.

Ethical Gravity 2: Producer Responsibility Demandside

In the 1970s Environmentalists all knew that the least sustainable human activity was mining and refining, extracting petroleum and mineral ores and trees from the forests, coral reefs, and mountains. Conservationist knew that to conserve endangered species, we had to conserve habitat. The human activity that digs deepest into the remotest habitats is raw material extraction.

Why are the natural resources in such remote places? Well... they aren't.

No matter how rich in copper ore Mount St. Elizabeth of Vermont might be, the pollution that would occur from the hard rock mining would be unacceptable to neighbors.  The population density in New England had led to more environmental regulation.

Property value is at risk when ore is blasted from veins of ore, smashed with 100 ton tractors, and leached with cyanide in the open air. You cannot obstruct the view of a Martha's vineyard cottage with an oil deck. However rich the vein of gold, you cannot open a Carlin Trend, or Witwatersrand Basin dredge in Central Park.  It is easier to make paper by cutting down 100 small pulp trees in northern Canada, to truck them 200 miles to a hydropulper, than to chop a single rich softwood from the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and pulp it at the James River Paper Mill in the same city.
"Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees."
Ok, granted, those are not majestic Sequoia trees. These are low income housing for owls. But the fact is that trees appreciate if they are left to grow longer, and the Forest Industry knows that pulp demand needs both recycled and virgin sources.

Indonesia forests being replaced for pulpwood or palm oil

Ethical Gravity 1: NPR Throughline, History of the Ethics of Litter (and Vermont's Historical Role)

This is really worth a listen. It's a brief history of Keep America Beautiful, the history of ethical concerns over litter, and how voters are sent "grasping at straws", or recycling, rather than focus on the environmental legacy of extraction.

NPR's series Throughline takes a swing at how voters are influenced through guilt, and how that guilt can be diluted, harnessed, or its trajectory influenced by PR.

The broadcast starts early on with my state of Vermont, which passed the first anti-single-use law to prevent litter. That led to the Keep America Beautiful industrial organization, which leveraged white guilt  through TV PSAs... but also acts as a "gatekeeper" or authority over what voters are told to keep in mind when they feel the gravitational pull of their liability or responsibility.  (I'd previously started a draft blog a month ago on the Crying Indian, but this program does better than I can).

Industry creates environmental awareness around litter because it's closer to more people's personal responsibility and "ethical gravity".

As I shared in a retweet of MIT's Jeremy Gregory's link to the NPR story, this keeps us away from extraction, mining reform, externalization of forestry and oil drilling.
The environmental impact is mostly at a point of extraction & creation. The focus on end of life is fetishism - similar to the way we spend 9/10 health care dollars on the last year of life. Probably [Steven Pinker] @sapinker could explain fear of / obsessions with "end points in plain sight".
Will have more to write about this, and explain what I mean by "ethical gravity" and personal sense of liability for a piece of litter, as opposed to the environmental costs of the mining or forestry or carbon or energy behind the production of that litter.  In fact, the whole plastics packaging debate completely ignores how much more efficient plastic packaging is at protecting - and extending the lifescycle - of food products (compared to selling food and drink in glass or cans or cardboard).

Why No Place's Industrialization Looks Like Any Other Place

Corporate conquests, raw materials, industrialization and economic development... I'm beginning to think that African classrooms should be receiving USA 1970s high school history textbooks.

Histories differ, context differs, trade relationships differ, languages differ, currency differs.  The development of Western Guangdong Province looks nothing like the development of coastal Shenzhen. The WSJ reported last week that Viet Nam would not instantly replace China as an outsource.  In Harvard Business Review this month, author Ndubuisi Ekekwe of the African Institution of Technology and Fasmicro Group published an essay with the headline "Why Africa's Industrialization Won't Look Like China's".

It's not a bad short essay, but it could have been even shorter. If the western edge of one Chinese Province looks nothing like the eastern edge, why on earth would we expect a whole continent to develop by the pattern of eastern Shenzhen?

A Short, Short 3 Minute explanation of Ghana's Agbogbloshie Scrapyard

Intern Nanja Horning and Liotolio Gahd whipped up this brief and  entertaining short video to explain to people what Agbogbloshie is, and isn't, about.

Dinky funky funny rap on whitesaviorcomplex and the geeksofcolor who pay the price for sensationalism.

Explaining USA Health Care Debate: Repairing Humans and Our Systems

USA Health Care debate is clearly about the allocation and distribution of cost. I keep hearing it expressed as a poor health care. Most instances where USA death tolls are higher could be attributable to relative affluence (affordable illegal drugs, affordable guns, affordable sugar).

Take Cancer. USA's system developed the best responses in the world, and help explain not just the increased rates of survivorship in the USA, but actually floats a lot of other boats as well.

The hypothesis being debated by politicians is not that cancer rates would be lower in a single-payer system, or that treatment of injury would improve, but that costs would be distributed differently. Right now you get very affordable health care if you have Medicare (are over 65) or are eligible for Veterans Administration hospitals, or perhaps are poor enough for Medicaid (I know less about that). But under those systems, you are better off if you have an extremely expensive ailment (like cancer) but not clearly better off (red tape) than if you go to the emergency room of a private hospital.

This blog was developed after a conversation with one of my kids who attended United World College in Bosnia y Herzogovina. All 3 of my kids have lived as ex-pats and wind up trying to explain a system that most people don't even understand in their own countries. If a nation can't even manage its own appliance repairs, how can it manage human bodies?

The answer is as complex as the question is simple. In the USA, people who are the smartest in their class go to Med School or get employed by pharmaceutical research firms. Those people are not available to fix laptops, the money is in fixing hearts and livers. In Ghana, only a slight fraction of smart people have the opportunity to go to med school. I means there are more smart people available to repair laptops.

#CircularEconomy? Beware of Virginia Recycling Companies Bearing Gifts

Shared by an old academic pal this afternoon.... This news story "speaks for itself" even if no one interviewed seems to understand the massive cost diversion.

The disguised recycler not only gets out of paying for the dismantling and recycling of the CRTs, he'll potentially be paid a second time to recycle them again.  That's one evil Santa.

The solution is not dilution.

Africa is not a Leak in Your #CircularEconomy

The Twittersphere continues to post drama documentaries about Agbogbloshie, illegal dumping, largest e-waste dump on earth, etc.  Just 12 months ago, another European documentary was produced which tries to out-do the outlandish racial profiling that already put Joseph "Hurricane" Benson in prison.  It now has over 1M views.

But there's no title.  No filmmaker.  Narrarator is unnamed. There are no credits. No funding source. No one to ask questions of.  It's an anonymous hit job on Africa's Tech Sector, doing the business of Planned Obsolescence, Big Shred, and Charity Industrial Complex.

Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics, Olu Orga, and the Tech Sector in Ghana still face a European lynch mob... but now the journalists may as well be wearing hoods.  Learning from the retorts to #SashaRainbow and #BaselActionNetwork, the propaganda now seeps through social media without anyone to confront or trace it back to.

Garrison and Olymbec's CRT Glass Mess #2: Triple Jeopardy

Update on the progress of the CLRR lawsuit, where a 5-year landlord is suing people who shipped CRT tubes to the tenant in 2012 (there is a mess still there in 2019).

- The OEMs who backed CLRR are not named.
- The landlords who expanded CLRR 3-fold (3 warehouses) are suing recyclers who ceased shipments at first warehouse.
- Ohio EPA is pursuing tonnage, which means companies who abandoned CLRR before Ohio EPA greenlighted them are being sought for amends.

Weeks ago, we blogged about the Landlord's case against all recyclers, whom the landlord claims participated and profited from a "sham" recycler.  The landlord expects the judge to accept that anyone who shipped a tube there on Day 1 knew it was a sham, but the landlord did not, as they proceeded to extend leases and offer 2 additional buildings, years after some of us pulled the plug.

As an informal consultant to an OEM representative who vouched for CLRR, I have a treasure trove of information on the project between. 

My associates provided a viable downstream outlet for the CRT glass CLRR was able to process (at least, until the trommel broke in 2015), as an industrial mineral useful to primary and secondary metal smelters. In 2016, E-Scrap News published my article on the useful nature of CRT glass sized and graded with trommels. That was the backup plan for CLRR, not the $15M furnace.  When 2014 ended, CLRR had not shipped enough loads of processed furnace ready cullet, and the speculative accumulation had begun.

What could CLRR do, and when could they no longer do it?

“The Circular Economy Doesn’t Revolve Around Us”

Testimony Submitted July 4, 2019

via Fair Trade Recycling (

The environmental WEEE policies supported by the UK mean well. They mean fabulously well. When I met Lord Chris Smith at a public meeting to launch INTERPOL’s “Project Eden”, I could see the passion towards ending what was thought to be the scourge of the planet - E-Waste exports.

The UK had made the export (except for “fully functional”) used electronics a crime.  African, Asian and Latin American tech sector importers were labelled “waste tourists”. The House of Commons reported in 2012 that the exported secondhand computers represented a “strategic mineral” interest, and that whether or not they were reused (the HOC report did, to its credit, cast doubt on the “80% waste” statistic proclaimed by Lord Chris Smith), that the UK’s industrial sector needed the metals to remain in the UK’s “circular economy”.

Thought Protein: The Empty Calories of Smug Policies

Committed Environmentalists generally prefer as friends the people who care deeply about extinction, sustainability, and the environment, strongly over those that don't care.

If you are truly passionate, however, you must also strive to think critically and deeper than slogans and groupthink.

If thinking critically is equated to 'criticism', social popularity takes a hit.

I often hear the argument that a popular message is important to momentum, which is valuable to policy change. However, if popularity is measured with a small smug group and not broad swath of humanity, it quickly sours into useless moral licensing and posed indignation.

The worst possible outcome is a poorly tested 'cure' which has negative environmental outcomes, increases costs on others, and which dissuades a democracy from making other regulations and changes. Many voters have a justifiable resistance to entrusting Authority To The Smug.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America v. Planned Obsolescence

Since I often have to hunt this down, here is copied the best Defense against accusations of "Planned Obsolescence". Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy In America, Volume 2, Chapter 8.

Note that it has nothing at all to do with piracy, counterfeit, gray market.

When a company correctly estimates that too much 'value', too much repairability, is being given to the market, and 'downsizes quality', that may actually be good for the environment.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. English Edition. Vol. 2.  
"You cannot believe how many facts flow naturally from this philosophical theory that man is indefinitely perfectible,d and the prodigious influence [762] that it exercises on even those who, occupied only with acting and not with thinking, seem to conform their actions to it without knowing it. 

It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Good Point Recycling's Eco-Entrepreneurism

Just ran across this photo from 15 years ago (just before we bought the Nissan forklift), at the warehouse across from Agway on Exchange St. The monitors were selling for $7 apiece back then.  Pretty much all we did was to do pickups, pull out the PCs and CRT monitors we could reuse, and load everything mixed back onto a trailer.

5 years earlier, I had announced my resignation at Massachusetts DEP to follow my wife to Middlebury, Vermont, where I'd taken a job running a thrift store while doing consulting work for EPA, MA DEP, New Deal Software, etc.

It was 20 years ago that I took a big chance and left my corner office at One Winter Street in Boston, having successfully instituted the USA's first waste disposal ban on CRT devices in Massachusetts. The consulting work I did for MA DEP and EPA was published in September 2000, about a year after I turned it in. Titled Electronics Re-Use and Recycling Infrastructure Development in Massachusetts, it eventually became the business plan for Good Point Recycling. 

The report was based on interviews with 48 electronic recycling professionals, 176 TV repair shops, 4 white goods (fridges) appliance collectors, 10 thrift shop operations (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc), 2 retailers, 20 computer monitor repair shops, 7 Original Equipment Manufacturer reps (not credited or cited), and 32 used electronic equipment exporters.

Garrison and Olymbec's CRT Glass Mess 1: Throwing the Book at Closed Loop


There's a CRT glass CERCLA lawsuit claim against 60 or so companies who chose not to pay demands by the landlord for Closed Loop Recycling and Recovery in Columbus, Ohio.

I informally consulted for OEMs on David Cauchi's CLRR processing operation from 2010, all the way until 2016. My company was one of the first to cease deliveries, before speculation occurred.  "No good deed goes unpunished," as the saying goes. Garrison South Park (GSP] and Olymbec not only named us anyway, but took information I've provided online over the years and introduced it to the court as evidence that my company was deliberately part of a sham to dump CRT glass on them.

Well, well, well... Their position is that we should have known something in 2011, from hundreds of miles away, which they still couldn't figure out in 2015 (when Olymbec leased CLRR a third warehouse), or when they appraised and purchased the original property (2013) while CLRR was operating inside. It's not like multimillion-dollar commercial landlords know anything about CRT recycling?

There are probably enough of these blogs on the subject of CRT recycling since 2007 to pass as a Ph.D thesis.  Here are some important questions for the CLRR, Olymbec, Garrison South Park case.

Where did the (e-Stewards certified) Creative Recycling CRT Glass Go?  
Where did the (e-Stewards certified) 2TRG CRT Glass Go?
Where did (e-Stewards certificed) Kuusakoski get the CRT glass delivered to Columbus?
Who does GSP plan to pay to remove it?
Where will it go next?

How many landlords will have had this on their property, and how many times will recyclers have to settle the costs, before it's over?

Racketeering or Certification 6: Defamation Is The Only Product BAN Sells

The 2019 Certification or Racketeering series of blogs began about Total Reclaim of Seattle.  Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle were sentenced last week on their fraud case.  I offered to fly in to testify, and sent them a letter for the judge, to make the case (as in the blog) that the executives at Total Reclaim had been told by BAN that 80% of recyclers were shipping 80% of goods overseas, where 100% percent were smashed by hands in primitive conditions. As I testified at Brundage's sentencing hearing in Chicago, those were false claims.

  • BAN begins by defaming the Tech Sector overseas, with wild hallucinatory descriptions of thousands of orphans in rice paddies beating electronics with hammers. 
  • BAN creates a lie about the Basel Convention having been "amended" to criminalize legal exports (reuse, repair and recycling are ALL legal under the actual Basel Convention, not just "tested working")
  • BAN then defames those who (like yours truly) question or rebut the initial defamation, or correct information they give about the Basel treaty.
  • BAN defames the companies who don't pay tribute through E-Stewards certification, and defames the alternative certifications.
  • If the companies like Intercon or Total Reclaim threaten to withdraw from BAN, or defend themselves (Total Reclaim exported far less than 10% of the material they received), BAN's enforcement it to defame them.

Essentially, defamation and slander are BAN's only product. And at its root, the initial domino of defamation - of people in faraway geographies beating LCDs and CRTs with hammers - is a fake statistic. BAN is the most ruthless in attacking anyone who questions their credentials.

What percentage of what Total Reclaim exported became "waste"? Was that the source of the corporate profits? Or were those profits, and the repeated purchse of flat screens from Asians, evidence that the exports were likely NOT WASTED?  How does the Department of Justice conflate fraud, profit, and mercury to poison our minds with racist assumptions about Asia's Tech Sector when there is no evidence that the goods were dumped?  The crime Total Reclaim execs pled guilty to was lying about the export, not knowing the goods were dumped or that the buyers were poisoned.

It's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Intercon Sentencing, Defamation, and Charity vs Charity Grudge Match

Chicago's Hall of Mirror Balls

Several people heard a "whoosh" sound while reading the April Fools Day Blog.  The BAN vs ERA of Canada - two recognized tax charities - defamation lawsuit was dropped about the same time.  But ERA's leader Bojan Paduh (a refugee of Bosnia during the 1990s civil war) is someone I got to know as a result of the lawsuit.  His anger at BAN is absolutely seething in a way I have not heard since Brian Brundage sued the NGO 6 years ago. (For April Fool reference, see email from BAN at bottom).

I told Bojan that I had indeed, more than once, considered a defamation lawsuit against BAN. Brian Brundage (like Bojan) had asked if I was interested in joining class action (shared legal cost) approach.  I spoke to an attorney about it in 2012, when Basel Action Network told a Chicago Newspaper that I was "lying through my teeth" and that the "state of the art" reuse and recycling facilities I had visited and eyewitnessed in Asia were a "myth". According to the reporter, BAN warned him against even listening to me, stating I was mentally ill and that everyone in the recycling community knew it.
"Most libel cases are filed by private citizens. There are reasons for that. Private citizens have a much lower bar to hurdle. They have to prove that the statement was factually wrong, that it was published, that it referred to them and damaged their reputation—and that somebody is responsible for it. That the person who made the statements was negligent." - Guy Bergstrom, "To Sue or Not to Sue: Libel"
Now BAN has learned a thing or two from their experience paying attorneys to defend them in defamation and liable lawsuits.  The 2012 attack on me was certainly explicit and personal, not against a company and not a vague "opinion".  They explicitly warned a reporter not to talk to me, and gave reasons why I was not credible.  Because BAN had to take the unusual step of apologizing and retracting their statements, I get contacted a lot for advice from others wanting to sue BAN. But they have learned to be a little more cautious in some cases (like using the term "likely illegal" against ERA, instead of "illegal", as they claimed in 2012).

Instead of suing, I accepted BAN's apology, which was run in the same Chicago Patch newspaper. I was not really satisfied with the apology, because it did not remove the insult or racial profiling I originally objected to. I was not the person being defamed, it was the Tech Sector overseas, the poor people who make a lot more money repairing rich peoples stuff than they can make repairing poor peoples stuff.

Garrison vs American Retroworks

The landlord of the Closed Loop Recycling (CLRR) certainly has a mess to clean up.

We will be submitting a claim in the near future ourselves. Unfortunately, our attorneys don't want us to make the case in the papers, yet.

But the headlines already generated calls from our clients.  So here are a few points of fact that need to be considered in any story.

NGO Bravely Intervenes in Seattle Laptop Donation

[April 1, 2019  Seattle, Washington]  It was a close call for a local Seattle charity, which nearly received a dozen working laptops from a Canadian reuse organization last month.

Fortunately, Basel Action Network was quick to intervene, notifying the charity by email that the working laptops - while free -  were, in fact, used goods.

"We try to sabotage these before they are handed out," said Executive Director Jim Phuckett. "Had these gotten into the hands of a needy person, they might have gone for years using the device, not even realizing they were accessing the internet and typing term papers using 'e-waste'!"

A Word from The Recycling Industry that Sponsors Us

This blog is supported by international trade and recycling markets, which for centuries saved forests  and canyons and coral islands from the mining and forestry it takes to produce consumer goods from virgin material.

An excellent framing of today's so-called 'recycling crisis' is available today on Twitter. Follow @AdamMinter for decades of perspective.

This isn't to say there are not winners and losers. Buyers and Sellers markets always create those, and we don't want to discount the pain from those who have lost pay, or their recycling jobs. But the only way to truly lose is to stop recycling.

Certification and Racketeering 5: Analysis of Seven GPS Tracking Studies

2018 GreenTrack Report found only 5% export, including export to OECD countries DWE
In the next blogs of this series "Certification and Racketeering", we look at a chart comparing 6 actual and 1 hypothetical use of GPS Tracking Devices to follow largely unwitting and unwilling subjects.  We compare methods of placement, tracking, and financial involvement of lead investigators. From there, we will delve into whether the study acts as "Environmental Watchdog" or merely protects the claims of being an authority when those claims are threatened. If, for example, a GPS tracking study specifically seeks to discredit or scandalize someone who has a beef with the Investigator, does that influence the mechanics of the study?

In the 7th hypothetical GPS Tracking study, I've deliberately created a clearcut "Racketeering" use (using the tracking study to offer a solution to a problem that would not otherwise exist without the financial interest of the investigator). The hypothetical would clearly be a matter for the American Civil Liberties Union, or EFF, or Interpol or Bob Mueller to decide. We then correlate the studies to see which ones have more in common with the Racketeering Hypothesis.  Then we look at quotes and behavior of the lead investigator.

Certain MIT students, when they get older, may want to come forward and disclose specific methods used to drop specific devices at specific places. I can promise anonymity and cover your costs. I can also put you in touch with MIT's own attorney, who took over correspondence after MIT Senseable City Lab excused themselves from further collaboration with

Fair Trade Recycling Geek in Tamale, Ghana
Later, we will visit ("Take Your Pic") the use of cringy photos to jolt emotions when the actual statistical findings are not doing the trick. The art of a deal "selling" an unnecessary service, deceitful or otherwise, involves provocative / race-baiting imagery.

In the DWE tracking study, Dennis Ward    @dward_dennis gives us charts. In report by BAN, we have constant tear-jerking imagery evocative of our worst fears and perceptions of their so-called "Third World". But let's first focus on the methodology in 7 separate GPS Tracking Reports.

GPS trackers show exchange of products between two consenting parties.  There is not a single case of direct dumping of used electronics at foreign landfills. Who are we guilty of doing business with? And what makes our partnership suspicious?

Racketeering and Certification 4: "Framing" the Export Market

In the first blog in this series on Racketeering and Certification, we looked at actual problems in Africa (assassination of a journalist who reported on Racketeering). We then looked at the monetization of a so-called "charity" which claims to similarly expose problems -- for cash.  Pay for #EarthEye / "EarthEye"  and they will track your competitors, Pay for E-Steward Certification and get advance information about the same trackers. We looked at the charity's practice of sabotaging used devices (creating a problem) in order to gin up sales from paying clients (including commission-based profits, normally disqualifying for 501-c(3) "charities").

In part 4, let's look closer how this tracking works.  Do Basel Action Network's services cross the line from "watchdog" and become simple extortion, or racketeering? Is the problem they purport to solve one of their own making?

Jim Puckett "Frames" Africa

If a single computer monitor from this African Tech Sector shop went to Agbogbloshie days after Jim Puckett photographed it, we will bet it is the very one that Jim sabotaged. How more cringy can this "charity" get while "framing" the story?

Racketeering and Certification #3: Targeted Collateral Damage!?

How does Basel Action Network define Africa's Tech Sector, who purchase affordable solid state electronics for import, as a "Problem"?

First, look at their words.
Primitive. Pawing. Ghoulish. Skeletal. Rice Paddy. Shantytown. Swamp. Third World. Orphan. Toxic Soup, Witches' Brew, Cadavres...
Next, look at their claims.
80% of all ewaste is exported... Stuff at dumps mported days before... Children and teenagers... Most die within 5 years... Illegal under Basel Ban Amendment... 
Published in UNU Report 2015
And we can't look away from their photos.

At first glance, these are meant, like a tear-jerking Humane Society sad-dog-trick ad, to appeal to retiree church ladies or college PIRG fundraisers.

That is not who funds these ads. The poor kids herding goats at African landfills do not benefit.

Part II assessed BAN's service technique of selling a sabotaged (but nice looking) computer or TV with a GPS tracker inside to someone who does business with Africa or Asia's Tech Sector. Through a "Tracker" service they sell for money, you can investigate a competitor's sales. To legitimize the spy-ware (literally "ware") they try to make it about pollution and children.  They send reporters, like BBC Raphael Rowe, to a dump in a city that has had TV stations and electricity for a half century, and tell the reporter it used to be a lush paradise until bad, bad African repairmen imported waste to burn on it. But usually, they just send the reporter pictures, fake stats, and halloweeny words.

Racketeering often involves a conspiracy, a complicated system of money laundering, even through charities (USAToday). If the IRS investigates this NGO, through a complaint form 13909, there might be a domino effect. If billionaire corporations are privately benefiting from false claims, they could wind up at the sharp end of the Lanham Act. And million dollar settlements may ensue.

Take a look at the photos (below) Jim is taking now....

Certification and Racketeering: Part 2 The Guardian Deceit


"We don't want to have to go after you." - JP to yours truly during California Compromise negotiations in 2010.

"I'm not hiding anything, and don't think much of your threats" - My response.

Basel Action Network "goes after" people through the press. This week, The Guardian's environmental desk proves just how easy that is.  Sandra Laville's headline "UK worst offender in Europe for electronic waste exports - report" diligently puts out the hit, failing to interview a single African or Asian technician or importer.

Free Joe "Hurricane" Benson, much?

Mistaking Africa's Tech Sector (importers) for Africa's Scrap Sector (city wheelbarrow scrap collectors) is like mistaking a surgeon for a janitor because he's black.  The only proof BAN provides is a photo of a janitor.  

There are several other really really simple things to find on the internet which should have given The Guardian's editors pause. I'll tick them off briefly, but stick to the point. BAN has created a problem that wouldn't otherwise exist (false reporting, sabotaged equipment, fake statistics) for the purpose of generating millions of dollars from BAN E-Stewards. BAN not only threatens companies that don't pay them, but makes examples out of those of us who defend the Geeks of Color. It is the valedictorians in the Tech Sector who suffer the worst consequences of BAN's sabotage.

BAN doesn't just sabotage their equipment. It sabotages their reputation, and the reputation of anyone with the courage to trade with them, rather than boycott them. (In Part III, we'll look at who finances this sabotage).

Certification and Racketeering: Part 1 Ahmed Hussein Suale RIP

International Crime does take place.

"Racketeers offer a deceitful service to fix a problem that otherwise wouldn't exist."
Let that definition sink in.

"On 16 January, Ahmed Hussein-Suale, a Ghanaian investigative journalist who had collaborated with the BBC, was shot dead near his family home in Accra. Ghanaian police believe he was assassinated because of his work." - BBC

His work exposed bad calls from African referees, paid bribes to control the outcome of soccer matches. It's a textbook racketeering case, with a deceitful service (bad calls) sold to change the play that had occured on the field. People were convicted, resigned, or fired as the truth spread. And Africans who had watched the matches on TV and seen the bad calls with their own eyes, grew to esteem the Tiger Eye Team of Hussein-Suale and Anas Aremeya Anas.

Apology From Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle - Entrapped By BAN

Last week, E-Scrap News and Recycling Today ran an Op-Ed Letter and story about the upcoming sentencing of two electronics recycling company owners from Seattle, Washington.

Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle's letter starts with their background as young freon recovery do-gooders, who got into fluorescent lamp recycling, and then into "E-Waste", becoming the largest TV, computer, and electronics scrap recycling company in the NW USA.

Open Letter: Learn from Total Reclaim’s mistakes

Got a call from Craig a few days before the letter, and we had a pretty long talk about the situation. Had a shorter exchange with Jeff just afterwards. Around New Years, I had talked to Charles Brennick, another Seattle area electronics guy spiked by the GPS tracking scandal in Washington. And I've been in regular contact with Bojan Paduh, founder of Canada's ERA, who is in a defamation lawsuit against Basel Action Network for their report describing GPS device trackers they put into electronics dropped off at his site in Canada.  I was a paid expert witness for a fraud case on e-waste recycling in Chicago last summer.  So I have a lot of perspective to share.

It is an ugly business to grandstand, or use a friend's painful prison sentence news story as a soapbox to pontificate on environmental policy.  But in some of these cases, I've been given a green light.

Let's start by acknowledging that fraud is bad.

Let's finish by talking about Total Reclaim's biggest mistake.

10 Years Of Good Point Recycling Blogs: What's Been Learned?

Ten years ago, most of the mainstream press in Europe and the USA had accepted the cartoon thesis that if electronic waste is expensive to recycle, that shipments of used electronics to Asia, Africa and South America were to avoid those expenses. At least, 80% of the time.

We took that on here, before anyone else would touch the controversy with a 10 meter pole. Here's a retrospective on what was, and still is, relevant in the Good Point Recycling Blog.

When poor people are paying for something (including transportation), it is not "because" the rich are willing to ship it.

We demonstrated that with the "Big Secret Factories" and 60 Wasted Minutes blogs. The sea containers of CRT monitors headed for Asia were never, ever full of large CRT televisions, even though large CRT TVs had more copper and costed more to recycle. In fact, the purchase orders did even accept Sony Trinitron 17" desktop monitors or screen-burned desktop CRTs or pre-VGA.  When someone is paying you $10 each for something specific, and refusing to accept other similar CRTs even if you pay them, it probably has nothing to do with (ahem) "rice paddies".

Brad Collis [CC BY 2.0]

Bombshell Interview with Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network - leaked!

Let's start the 2019 Blog off with a BANG.

I have gotten a copy of the ~10 minute interview Jim Puckett did with a documentary filmmaker from Spain, on the subject of Agbogbloshie, Ghana. At the end of the video, Jim evidently didn't like his answers, whips off the mic, and leaves, saying he refused to authorize the use of his video.

He repeatedly used the term "biased questions". As is, is the percentage of bad material imported to Africa 15% or 80%? But my favorite "biased question" is...

"Do you know the name Joe Benson?"

No. That is a biased question....?


Someone asks you the name (John Smith, Mary Johnson?) and if you don't know them, is it a "biased question"?

Jim got his wish, and none of his interview made it to the documentary. But I have managed to get a very bad raw copy of it from an online upload site. The clips were uploaded in the USA (en route to Europe), and I have a copy of what the European documentary maker received (but did not use). If anyone is sued, I can testify that I obtained this directly from a third party cameraman hired from Florida, and not from the Europeans.

I will try to get some of this video out this weekend.