What Poor People Do, Rich People Define?

The "Informal Sector" is a term I have never seen among the 6 billion people in the market it refers to.

The big mining companies are all in the "formal sector".


vocabulary lesson - of unwitting racist environmentalists... Your antithesis of recycling is mining, forestry, fracking... all of which earn gajillions from unearned public royalties.\

14/15 Superfund sites were the opposite of Recycling.

Elective Upgrades Supply Good Enough Markets

Elective Upgrades Supply Good Enough Markets

Is imitation the sincerest form of apology?

There is a guilt dilemma in "First World" aka "Wealthy" aka OECD consumer markets.  While there are repair and delayed gratification reuse trends (my company sells about $25k per month worth of TV parts to USA repair shops), there is also a lot of guilt about "elective upgrade", which remains the driver of most new sales.

Organizations like Basel Action Network and Greenpeace made a false assumption about 2 decades ago that "e-waste" was a product of equipment failure and inability to repair. That Americans, Japanese, South Koreans, Germans, Brits and Italians patiently wait for their CRT televisions, flip phones, and Pentium 4s to become hopelessly unrepairable before buying a plasma TV, smartphone, or i-Series laptop. 

The fact that it is patently obvious to nearly everybody that it was not the case, in hindsight, has been a point of reflection of this blog since I started it in 2006. 

Unnecessary elective upgrades, if indeed they are discarded as "waste" (or sentenced to a desk drawer, attic, or file cabinet) are indeed a wasteful use of mined, refined, extracted raw materials. But if they are reused, they create access for poor people to establish a "critical mass of users" to justify investments in TV broadcast, internet cable, and the estimated 170,000 mobile phone towers today that connect the continent of Africa... all financed by secondhand flip phone sim cards, replaced by black technicians on streets like Lagos, Accra, and Kinshasa.

It's a story older than this bad head gasket... sold to a Cummins motor geek in Florida, who re-exports trucks to rapidly emerging markets. Roads were paved in Appalachia and Ozarks by hillbillies like my grandparents, who could only afford vehicles they were smart enough to buy and fix.

The Battle for Reuse "Good Enough" Market: Solar Panel's "Primitive" Recyclers

There is a nascent discussion at SERI R2, 
at EPA, and E-Stewards 
about what the "maximum life" of solar panels are. 

I've had several discussions with experts like Cascadeem.com's Curt Spivey, Veolia's Paul Conca, and solar panel manufacturing experts on what "specification" a panel must meet before a buyer is allowed to be "legitimate". 

Curt and Paul are smart, but they are nervous about their own "accountability" - that they may be held to if they sell their clients' electively upgraded panels overseas.  Other recyclers are taking a strong a priori stand against export of solar panels for reuse.  Note that these are potential sellers of used equipment, discussing which buyers are "legitimate" or "primitive". 

It's a continuation of privilege. No one seems to worry about the mining of raw materials in developing countries, despite the fact that the cleanest virgin material mining is worse than the worst possible recycling. But are the others good enough people to get their electricity from a reused solar panel? If in doubt...

The video above is a 42 year old solar panel sent to Good Point Recycling for end of life recycling. It's widespread "truth" that panels function for 30 years. But that "30 year estimated life" statistic was put in print before any panel was more than 10 years... it was (like "80% of ewaste" stats) made up by someone with zero knowledge of the future life of the panel... ostensibly I'm told it had something to do with a procurement specification or waranty request.  But "30 years" is hocus pocus, not reality.

The "Informal Sector" knows more about your electronic devices than you do ...

Watching @Vice series 1, episode 1, of Hamilton's Pharmacopeia, and it's a fascinating history of the shamans of LSD.  One of my closest friends, the late Brother Dave, followed Grateful Dead Shows selling these concoctions. But he also sold cocaine, and when he had to do time, didn't want to get shot by the coke dealers, so he turned on some of the hippy LSD psychadelic peddlars. This Vice series tells their stories.

I didn't give up the geeks of color to save my own skin. But the perspective of Casey Hardison "don't yap", keep your mouth closed, rings true. The factory film above is closed, I only share about Brother Dave because he passed away about 14 years ago. Retroworks de Mexico is closed. Net Peripheral is closed. They were the best environmental recycling facilities I've ever seen, but they weren't white people, and the so-called "formal sector" came down on reuse the way it came down on LSD. Narcs vs. Shamans. 

If you are one of the 55 people who still follow this blog, the mind experiments and meditation of my late teens is perhaps as important as my grandfather's "Rich Person's Broken Thing" chapter (of Adam Minter's "Secondhand"). The Vice story about psychedelics is very much a triggering memory for me.

Now about the electronics informal "e-waste" business... It's a story of formal sector big OEMs using dimwitted environmentalist do-gooders, like slavers using Jesuit colonialists, to crack the skulls of brainiacs.

Since the assault on the legal import permit of my partners and friends at Net Peripheral in Malaysia, I've been pretty guarded about sharing information on "big secret factories".  After Allen Liu and Su Fung Ow Young opened their doors to @AdamMinter for his 2013 Recycling International article on Fair Trade Recycling, which had also opened its doors to Kelley Keough of GreenEye Partners and Craig Lorch of Seattle's Total Reclaim, Jim Puckett contacted the Malaysia Department of Environmental Protection to protest the legal import permit. Malaysia officials verified the permit was legally issued, but cancelled it, and the factory closed. My company lost $24,000, but Allen and Su Fung and their employees lost their jobs, lost everything.

"No good deed goes unpunished". 

We remain friends, but I no longer expose the Tech Sector to Basel Action Network lynch mobs. Jim's vision is that white countries define what is waste, and the tech sector workers overseas are "rice paddy" primitive recyclers. 

The Circular Economy of "e-waste" Parts: Opening Our Eyes to Value Added

The European theory of the "circular economy" focuses on the final value of metals, minerals, and petrochemicals. Today I'll try to explain, as succinctly as possible, why this "Ptolemy" circle (stuff revolves around us) wasn't recognized in Emerging Markets.

While researching the CRT Recycling Infrastructure for the Massachusetts DEP's first-in-the-nation statewide e-waste disposal program in 1999, I was told about Dr. Yuzo Takahashi (by Panasonic rep and Japan history buff David Thompson). Dr. Takahashi had published a brief book titled "A Network of Tinkerers: The Advent of the Radio and Television Receiver Industry in Japan."

As a "cross culture" professional (hired by Peace Corps to train incoming Americans in 1986), I found Dr. Takahashi's brief history lesson to make complete sense. Japan's electronics economy - and its imitators to be in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and eventually mainland China - was in one special way COMPLETELY different from USA and Europe. It was a cultural difference.

... and reading about how Asians traded parts and components (readily visible on Alibaba, Exporters.com, RecycleINME, and Recycle.net back in those days) are seen by Asians starts in the Japanese living room.

When a society is building it's devices from components, the value added of the parts is far more important than the scrap value. Most USA and Europeans buy a pre-assembled electronic device sealed in a box and sold under warrantee. That blinded us to the parts and components trade, which is FAR more valuable than raw materials. Like aftermarket car parts, 20% of a scrap device is worth 80% of the money.