Super Bowl of Reuse: Nabil Nasr, Adam Minter, Josh Lepawsky vs. PlannedObsoleteScience

Last weekend, we had a reflection on the previous decades of blogging, and our ability to declare successes and failures with the war against global reuse, as waged in the press.  There is a trifecta of 3 books - two of which the blog influenced, and one of which it was inspired by.

Three Most Important Re-Use Books of the Decade:

Reassembling Rubbish by Dr. Josh Lepawsky does an incredible job of surgically dismantling arguments widely cast by Basel Action Network and Greenpeace and other "do-gooders". He researched their IRS 990s, exposed the financial backing of Planned Obsolescence and Big Shred, and provides data to eyewitness the spray of filthy gossip about repairpeople in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While not an emotional read, that was not what we needed. If stoic in delivery, Lepawsky rubbed shoulders with #ownvoices. His team spent weeks living with emerging market recyclers and repairers, including several long visits to Las Chicas Bravas in Sonora Mexico (Retroworks de Mexico). Lepawsky re-thinks the incredible geographic scars of mining industry, comparing risks to the hand-wringing concerns over removing screws in slums like Agbogbloshie. It is incredibly well documented, footnoted, and sourced.

Secondhand by Adam Minter is about "Travels in the New Global Garage Sale". For a more visceral look at the "collateral damage"to the global good-enough markets, this is the best.  Adam turns the corner from being an extremely well-regarded trade journal writer, covering the scrap industry (first book, Junkyard Planet 2013), and dives into the mosh pit of reuse diaspora in Secondhand. Cleverly written, he first makes the used possessions personal - estate sale by estate sale, Goodwill by Goodwill, and his own grandmothers' basement chachkas. He then follows the billion dollar trade to the tech sector in India, China, Mexico, Benin and Ghana, and introduces us, face to face, with the talented and inspiring "others", letting the people in the USA, Europe and Japan hear the #OwnVoices of the racially profiled "primitives" we've been told are too ignorant and stupid to do more than burn the devices they carefully select, test, and purchase. He is a great listener.

Remanufacturing In the Circular Economy is the newest release by Dr. Nabil Nasr of RIT in Golisano Institute for Sustainability (Rochester, NY) Unlike Lepawsky and Minter's books, I cannot say I've yet read Nasr's Remanufacturing, but I'm ordering a copy now.  I have been a fan of Dr. Nasr for decades (though he probably barely knew me until the 2013 Fair Trade Recycling Summit in Middlebury). Some of the oldest Good Point Ideas blogs have hyperlinks to Dr. Nasr's stats on remanufacturing, the industrialized growth of scaleable repair (I remember having to learn "hyperlink" code, copy and pasting). As I applied principles in the 2007 Harvard Business Review article "The Battle for China's Good Enough Market" to explain what Asia's tech sector was really doing with the desktop SVGA CRT monitors that CBS 60 Minutes claimed were burned in acid in Guiyu, I could always find sanity in Dr. Nasr's data.  Like Lepawsky, Nasr provides Datajournalists a place to fact-check "80%" of the slop sprayed at us in alarmist NGO press releases.

The team provides Super Bowl stature in the defense of reuse. The table is set for Fareed Zakaria (CNN Global Public Square) to invite these 3 authors and deliver the dagger to racial profiling.  He may want to invite Dr. Grace Akese, who has just recently moved to take a position at Bayreuth University in Germany. Grace provided key insights to Reassembling Rubbish, in particular an "OwnVoices" fact check of characatured Agbogbloshie. Good luck, Grace, in turning Germany's (Kevin McElvaney's) "mirror on itself" back in the right direction. Emmanuel Nyaltey of Fair Trade Recycling would also be a good score. This morning I twitterwarned Fareed (a personal hero from "Foreign Affairs" editor days) that I'd be sending him snail mail to pitch the episode.

2020 Vision: What to Expect In Good Point Ideas

While the population in Africa is growing very quickly, it is not growing nearly as quickly as the number of televisions (and phones, computers, other electronics) per household.

When you study the number of years that Africans have been watching TV (see Dr. Graham Mytton's "Mass Communication in Africa" 1983), the shocking thing about Agbogbloshie is just how bloody few TVs are at the city dump. Africans keep fixing and fixing them, using them over and over, longer and longer.

Somehow, however, the world has been fed a story that places Africans as primitives surrounded by burning waste electronics delivered by evil people in the west.  Somehow, good reporters are sending a message to boycott and arrest citizens of Africa's Tech Sector.

Here's a 2019 report from France 24, by Franck Hersey... no evidence of any research of % of Agbogbloshie waste from electronics vs cars, no "baseline" research of how much a city like Accra normally generates (not imported waste, but eventual waste). No interview with Grace Akese, Emmanuel Nyalete, Adam Minter, Robin Nagle, Jenna Burrel, Josh Lepawsky, Ramzy Kahhat, etc. Our pal Awal Muhammed of Savelugu and Tamale - the most photographed man in Ghana - gets plenty of screentime. Franck Hersey actually films Awal pointing to a 1990s Sony TV and pretending to read that it was Made in France...

Accidentally bigoted reporting has been a theme of the blog. And its still a problem. But I'm not feeling that important to the fight any longer. Is it time for Obi Wan Ingenthron to lower his light saber and join the blue ghosts?

How Agbogbloshie Should Have Been Presented (Katie Jane Fernelius)

Once you get the sensationalist headline out of the way, this week's article in The Nation provides stunning contrast with the reporting that began 5 years ago about the so-called "Largest E-Waste Dump On Earth".

"The Global Garbage Economy Begins (And Ends) In This Senegalese Dump"

The tamer subtitle, "How Dakar’s trash depot became a battleground for Chinese industry, the World Bank, and Senegalese organized labor" reflects a deeper assessment by New Orleans based writer Katie Jane Fernelius

I'll kick off the New Year by posting a few excerpts. But it's better to read the whole article, as it contrasts incredibly sharply with the lazy photojournalism which depicted African scrappers as helpless primitive victims. Fernelius obviously listens, and either wasn't being fed any Mike "Fishing As A Boy" Anane nonsense, or took the time to research and collect the type of data that would prevent the kind of journalism malpractice applauded a decade ago.

Interview with Ghana TV Repair Veteran, and Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt

A Great Gift - The Ability to Interview Elders

Why do some of us become very attached to our grandparents, and others of us secretly dread the holiday base-touch?  Why do some of us spend thousands of dollars per year flying back and forth to visit elderly relatives, and others don't bother to make a ten minute drive, more than once a year?

The gift of boredom.  It's something perhaps lost on the current generation of non-fisher, non-hunter (I'm neither, either), non baseball-watcher generation.  The ever-ready internet is at our fingertips. The cell phone has balmed our boredom so thickly that even minutes lead to fidgets.

Will this reduce book reading?  Great books have made me better than who I am. Could I have finished reading them if I'd had internet in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?  I appreciate many people who know history and still read books (many far more often than I do). But in wondering at my own weakness for distraction, I fear that great books will not die in fire... but in ice.

Master Baba of Tamale Ghana, retired Tech Sector, on the history of West Africa Television