Past Shock: Today E-Waste Event in Rutland Vermont

Today our company is holding a free collection event for used electronics in at the Rutland County Solid Waste District, from 9-1, at 2 Green Hill Road.   We are sorting electronics by brand, introducing a new coupon program (adding Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba and Vizio), and training new staff (we don't have too many of these events this close to home in Vermont - Events are kinda 2004.  We'll be playing Brittany Spears - Toxic!).

It will be interesting to see how "events" play 9 months from now, when all e-waste collections are free in Vermont, and you don't avoid a $10 drop off fee by waiting in line.  Will people still come out in the rain to demonstrate their Earth Day credentials?  Or will ewaste recycling become, as it should be, like laundromats and tire replacement?

"Grandpa, we've heard that story."

The secret is that for most people, used electronics recycling is as boring as a car inspection.  We can thank the newness of the field, and the blizzard of "aha gotcha!" journalism stories.  The truth is that the action is in the Indonesia coral islands (being mined for tin to replace lead solder), the Congo jungles (where coltan is mined for cell phones), and the mountains of the Afghan Pakistan border, where used cell phones are being purchased and jerry-rigged.

We tried to spice up the old recycling stories (newspaper recycling, office paper recycling, bottle and can recycling) with "ju-ju" topics, like "toxicity of landfills" and "toxic ash from incinerators".   Some recyclers are trying to do the same thing with electronics, and have a lot of people convinced that a TV is toxic and poisonous in your basement (it's far more dangerous when plugged in and working in your living room).

Mass production of grey market, contract management, repair manuals, etc. is BORING.  The rapid obsolescence of brand new products has blurred the area between new and aftermarket.  Designing laws based on selling shoes in wholesale bulk that are "used" or shoes in wholesale bulk that are "new" is going to be a real head scratcher to the grandkids.  Not just that Grandpa talks about when recycling or laundromats or gas stations were "new and controversial", but that people actually tried passing laws to so tightle command, control, and influence the used stereo, laundromat, recycling, RAM upgrade, muffler patching businesses.

Good Points Well Taken - By China

A day after I wrote another absurdly academic post, directed at Allen Hershkowitz of NRDC, the morning news made my point.

I questioned yesterday how drastically "poisonous" the interpretation of Basel Annex IX (allowing export for repair) could be, when everyone agrees that China can:

1) Mine the rare earths and leads for the monitors
2) Refine and smelt the rare metals for the computers
3) Melt and mold the (virgin/new) CRTs and circuit boards
4) Take back product they sold for "repair under warranty"
5) Take back their own domestic e-waste (which dwarfs USA imports)

Somehow if the identical Chinese factory takes back a monitor NOT under warranty, they are going to be a toxic witches brew child poisoning disaster area. I'm talking about well screened computers, ones shipped to an ISO14001 audited facility, not blind shipments without TAR removed.    It seems like the Fair Trade Recycling solution has not been embraced by ewaste advocates because healing the wound is a threat to their sale of medicine.

Actually, its absurd that China cannot be relied on to recycle, let alone repair monitors.  But China has banned used goods imports, so we cannot go there under R2 for that reason anyway.  But this campaign to get India, Indonesia, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, etc. to also ban used goods imports is sick and environmentally hideous and wrong, wrong, wrong.

So anyway, today several news sources announced that Chinese engineers have made the worlds fastest supercomputer, 40% faster than the USA's largest.

If they repair or recycle it one day, it's not going to be the worst thing that has happened to China.   Let's can the denigration, innuendo, photographic sleight of hand, etc. which is being used to convince mainstream America that Shenzhen is a polluted rice paddy.  China has huge pollution problems.  Recycling is a SOLUTION, not a problem.

Two Party Intentions: NRDC and E-Waste

Allen Hershkowitz of Natural Resources Defense Council writes:
"While there are undoubtedly some ethical actors, what far more exporters are really doing is hiding behind phantom policies that sound nice but in fact export poisons to some of the poorest people on earth..."
His NRDC solution:
"Only properly tested, working equipment may be sold into developing countries.  No broken equipment should be exported."
Allen writes this months after his organization unfairly labeled a progressive contract manufacturing takeback company in Indonesia as "primitive", and weeks after a constructive meeting between WR3A and BAN to pursue use of the "export for repair" capacity (BAN insists certain non-working parts be removed from some units prior to repair, but allows export for repair if the part is not replaced.  WR3A on the other hand would allow the replaced parts to be properly recycled).

The NRDC's post harkens back to the "Foxconn is Guiyu" balderdash from last winter.  Apparently, Asian factories can make new monitors, and can take back working monitors, can mine and mold new CRTs, can take back and recycle non-working monitors generated within their own country, but if they take back their own non-working product sold in the USA, it is criminally polluting, poisonous and primitive?  

The NRDC is a reputable organization.   There is some possibility to interpret Allen's post as allowing properly documented repair and reuse, something that WR3A not only allows, but actively promotes.   WR3A's documentation on actual reuse, and proper recycling in incidental breakage, is something even E-Stewards "tested working" exporters may not have.  But we are discouraged from pursuing these compromises with NRDC if they continue to promote a simplistic solution to a naive diagnosis.

Here are some short but important points:
  1. The Basel Convention says export for repair and refurbishment of used electronics is legal.
  2. The Basel Convention says that used electronics might not even be considered "waste" by the Basel Parties.  It defers the "waste and commodity" determination to dual party agreements.
  3. Warranty repairs, OEM refurbishment, and other obviously legal activity could be disallowed under Allen's description.
  4. Fair Trade programs develop proper recycling infrastructure in the developing nations - where most of the e-waste disposed is actually from their own domestic generation, not from imports.
Due Disclosure.  NRDC raises the question of motives and conflicted interests.  Am I too much of an interested party to challenge NRDC on this front?   Most of the remaining exporters have taken cover underground, and some who want to stand beside me I really don't vouch for.  It's a fair question.

I have properly disclosed my company's exports of intact units - 22%.  Some of those exports were tested working.  Most have a hard drive removed before we get them, and we cannot find enough hard drives for all of them.  All have been screened to remove unrepairable units.  We get a reconciliation report, and can tell our clients exactly how many were refurbished, and how many were properly recycled (about 10%) in the export country, and provide proof the recycled portion is something to be proud of, not just comfortable with.  BAN has insinuated that our 10% recycling rate is too high, but has not provided "tested working" reconciliations to compare them to.

The remainder of the e-waste (the other 78%) my company must de-manufacture and recycle in the USA.  Interestingly, most of that 78% is technically working, but does not meet the specifications of the buyer.  We could embrace the "working" standard, exporting more product (BAN has posted a NYTimes article quoting a Pledge company which says they export 60%, not 22%).  In fair trade, plugging in items the buyers don't want doesn't work, even if the device does.   What exasperates me is that our higher standard, worked out jointly in a fair trade agreement, is being ignored at best, and at worst impugned as a lower standard than "e-Stewards" who shred and destroy working units, passing the costs on to consumers.

The value of a unit can be a potential bad influence or bad motivation for sale.  But the value of a unit is also a better predictor of its destiny overseas than "test working".  If the market offers you more for a Pentium 4 laptop without a keyboard than for a "fully functional" Pentium 3, it's not because the Pentium 4 will be set ablaze (Pentium 3s actually have more gold and copper).  This does not excuse people who use their good product to force movement of unscreened or junk product.  But it shows that the secondary electronics economy is a little more complex than the abridged "Basel Convention for dummies".  The Basel Convention Parties discussed export for repair, and explicitly made it conditionally legal under Annex IX, section B1110.

Refurbished and Repaired PCs
  So if I disclose I resell some products overseas, and I express frustration with NRDC, is it out of conflicted motives?  I have also gone to great lengths to demonstrate that my philosophy about refurbishing jobs in the developing world brought me into the used electronics field, not visa-versa.

Allen and other environmentalists who impugn electronics export markets fail to appreciate the beauty of dual party intent.  They have not visited the Big Secret Factories, describing export demand with poster children taken at dumps, attacking the best and the brightest techs in the developing nations with innuendo.  They probably really believe that more than 50% of exports are junk, but haven't researched or obtained data.  Without data or contact with overseas markets, they repeatedly come back to the motives of a single party.  I do appreciate evaluation of motives and conflicts of interest... it contributes to my understanding.  A little horse-sense also goes a long way.

  • A well meaning party can export working product which turns out to be waste.
  • A bad intentioned party can export untested product which is mostly repaired and reused.
  • A well meaning party can destroy non-working product which is actually better (once repaired) than the working product they are exporting.

Are the intentions and profit motives of the shipping party a good indicator of what is going to happen to your donated or recycled computer?  If the intentions are all you have to go by, it's probably better to use a company with good intentions. (On that note, if someone is on the payroll of a large e-Waste recycler in the NY/CT area, and that company has selected the e-Stewards over the EPA R2 standard, one needs to disclose this right up front).  But if there is more than just "motives" to measure, if there is data from dual party purchase orders, reconciliations, and post-audits available, why not engage them?

Perhaps because of the "profits" at stake from E-Stewards?  Why else ignore calls for, and offers of, numerators and denominators?

For NRDC to really move forward, the organization needs to engage and learn with those Allen calls "undoubtably ethical" actors.  If you find a combination of a two-party transaction which is not just "free trade" but also "fair trade", you will always do better than either blindly exporting working product or blindly exporting non-working product.   

It would be far wiser for the E-Stewards to export more, better, tested product, at lower prices, than to install shredders as altars to shiny consciences.  If they do think that most exports are junk, then forcing the export market to get their good units from junk sellers isn't very productive. Try giving repairable stuff away, newer and better than the "profit motivated" exporters, and you'll have more effect using the free market to your advantage.

If you do promote and push E-Stewards to engage the export for repair market, you will get to know some really cool Geeks of Color.  Like the previous generation of the Neu family, who sold "scraps to Japs" and helped in the process to rebuild postwar Japan and to increase trade and working relationships between the USA and what would become the second largest world economy, NRDC needs to soberly look at the consequences of prohibition.   Interviewing non-exporters about the intentions of the export market is not sufficient.

Tears in Heaven:  By the way, when I'm occasionally called a for-profit exporter defending my capitalist business model, I generally ignore it.  My close friends know that Robin Ingenthron is one of the few people discussing the pictures of children in Africa, who has held a dead African child.  I carried the two year old boy by the legs, and lowered him into the dirt grave I helped his despondent father to dig.  We wrapped him bathed in sheets, without a coffin, and buried him.  I do not remember the boys name. I am not more important for having done this. I remember vividly trying to decide exactly how long to continue picking and digging when we hit hard pan clay, knowing we had not made it to two meters.

The boy's father, Monsieur Moussa, happened to be a teacher of "Technology" at CES Ngaoundal in Cameroon Africa.  His father owned a green Nissan pickup truck, which he did his own repairs on, and drove us a few kilometers out of the village to dig the grave and hold the ceremony.  I was 23, so the boy today would now have been 25.  Mr. Moussa's better, geekier students, would sometimes be reading their technology texts in my English class, preparing for a big exam, studying electric schematic diagrams.  I like to think some of them are now repairing cell phones in Paris.

I do understand crusades, and the grey area between sanctimony and singularity of mission, and holy motivation.   I have often pushed back against my Ozark religious relatives who believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  A two year old boy of a Muslim father is not going to hell, I know that.  Arguing with people who think they are better than other people because of something they believe, whether it is religion or intent or other sanctimony, is a distraction.  What we need is data.  You get the best data talking to professional techs of color overseas who import hundreds of thousands of used USA computers.

Legal Dual Party Intent: Ewaste Part III

When waste occurs in the used goods and recycling export trade, it is from the same causes as waste produced in "brand new" and "tested working" markets (described in "Legal Dual Party Intent" parts I and II).  The remedy for waste is 1) Intent, and 2) Communication, and 3) Cost internalization.  We call this "Fair Trade".

Fair Trade recognizes demand.   When you have very strong and very legitimate demand, it's best not to over-restrict trade, but to reward instead the "Best Available" practices and technologies. Profitable exchanges with "Techs of Color" will leverage the trade to achieve even better outcomes.

Fair Trade is not perfect trade.  The two parties must enter into an agreement which is transparently with intent to improve outcomes, but it's a business.  Exchange rates fluctuate, demand fizzles and soars, and longshoremen are known to handle goods roughly.   The world is better off when good people nevertheless attempt those contracts.  The World Bank, USAID, Peace Corps, and Kiva all know that there is risk to making loans, doing business, and getting your hands dirty.  But a surgeon who is afraid to pick up a scalpel may as well get out of the way.

A shiny conscience has as much value as an uncirculated coin... valuable to collectors only.

Whether the e-waste in the developing nation comes from brand new product which breaks down, new products returned to the (developing-nation) manufacturer under warranty, a material handler on a fast forklift, improperly inspected "tested working" products for exports, or lazy "toxics along for the ride", it's there.   Every one of these activities has the same result - a broken circuit board in a developing nation - it is foolish to say that each activity is equal. A result is not a verb, and is not necessarily a crime.  What we need is communication and dual party intent.

Environmentalists' challenge is to look at each activity closely, and determine if the importers and exporter are communicating correctly, and providing incentives to correct for cost externalization.  If neither party has the intent to pollute, then you can say that the "e-waste" was generated upon receipt, and must be dealt with properly.  It's unnecessary to say that an "e-waste" crime has been committed by the generator with good intentions, who is filling a need.

The biggest misconception in the "E-waste Industry" is the pretense that perfectly repaired-in-USA goods are available, and importers just cannot find them.  The USA doesn't fix things as well as Egypt or India or China does.  We invent new things.  Faced with a pile of working (but untested) computers, the "best available" practice is to allow Techs of Color to (at worst) repair them without resorting to underground smuggling.

When you enter this trade and record each transaction, patterns become clear when "transboundary" shipments of non-working product accumulate in non-OECD countries.  Failure to test the product is not high on the list.

1) Circumstances beyond control of the parties to the trade.

Acts of god and congress.   When a load of working computers is intercepted in Egypt, and customs officials seize the goods and dismantle them, waste occurs.  Storms, accidents in handling by longshoremen, etc. are other examples.

2)  Mistakes in planning, changes in markets

An importer may buy 10,000 televisions, working etc., which they have sold in the past, and find they can only sell 8,000 of them.  Diminishing returns on inventory happens in brand new product, resulting in "surplus property".  This is more likely to be discarded, but was never illegal or intended.  The same occurs when sellers of tested working equipment fail to understand that languages, hemispheric changes, voltage, and mistaken demand occurs in the tested working, fully functional markets.  Communication with the buyer is key.

3) Along for the Ride

When two parties agree strongly on 70% of a load, there is diminished concern over what "rides" on the last portion of a container.   If you have a large car trunk, you are more likely to bring more food on a camping trip, and will produce more waste at the campsite.  Same principle with a 40 cubic yard container of computer monitors... if you have spaces for 100 more monitors, you may be tempted to toss on monitors outside of the PO (Apple, Sun, 21", Trinitron which are "tested working" are common "TAR" items, not desired in secondary markets overseas).  This is the problem WR3A has focused on. 

Eliminating the good 70% is a tremendous blunder;  reducing the junk 30% is imperative.

In none of the cases above do you see "75%" or "80%" waste in the used electronics trade.  Those are simply not repeatable numbers. 

Rich nations must deal with "along for the ride" material without burying our heads in the sand, by grouping all Geeks of Color in the same "primitive" boat as children torching wires.  Dual Party Intent contracts have been created after visits to buyers, meetings with import officials, operation of a recycling company, years of regulatory experience, a degree in international relations, experience in the Peace Corps in developing countries, etc.

The best available practices and outcomes will be achieved if 1) more good and working equipment is preserved, rather than "cancelled", to give buyers more choice of supplies, 2) there is more communication (dual) with the purchasing market (don't drive them underground), and 3) good people are not afraid to deal with other good people.

As the Wall Street Journal's Alessandro Torello reports, the European Union has been unable to distinguish secondary (recycled) materials trade from trash disposal, and American e-waste advocates seem willing to emulate a bureaucracy which cannot distinguish between Beliden, Umicore, and waste management in Naples.  The perfect has become the enemy of the good.  In the case of computer reuse, the "perfect" has named the good as it's chief target.  Perfect, slow down on the friendly fire.  You have set up lofty goals which your followers are not even trying to meet.  Your stewards adapted "no intact unit" programs which renounce reuse income, ceding good markets to less scrupulous sellers.  In frustration, they are lashing out at those sellers, and impacting the Best Available Fair Trade markets.

Stop the digital bloodshed.  This clip from the 1976  Allegro Non Troppo, the "Italian Fantasia" movie by Bruno Bozetto, is a tribute to what can happen to a Coke bottle, and what extraction and consumption is on a path towards.

Legal Dual Party Intent, Part II E-waste

A flow diagram has been circulated by the Basel Action Network which shows how illgal waste can move across international boundaries.  That organization's concern over waste cost "externalization" is genuine.  Hopefully, they will consider the advice of a fellow environmentalist with open minds.

In the "decision tree procedure" shared by BAN, a question posed under "Refurbishment/Repair" is:

Will the computing equipment be repaired, refur­bished or upgraded in the importing country?

To sell overseas, you need wholesale shipments.   It's extremely difficult to know whether the end user, a buyer (such as the owner of an internet cafe) will replace an English keyboard, or upgrade a stick of RAM.  The question is whether that person's decision, dictating the outcome of the part, is "generation" (the waste is generated in the buyer's country of possession) or whether the original USA exporter is the generator.

It's not just the disposal of small upgraded parts like capacitors, keyboards, and RAM sticks that make "elective generation" a challenging question.  If I live in Singapore, and I buy a used PC, and I decide to throw the whole thing away, who is the generator? What if human error occurs at retail store in Bangladesh?  Was the "e-waste" generated in Bangladesh, or by the person who originally owned the monitor?  If the latter, perhaps "no intact unit" is indeed the logical outcome of strictest Basel interpretations.

WR3A believes that communication, standards, and reconciliation of accidents/misunderstandings will lead to the best outcomes.  By last summer, WR3A had sold over 300,000 computer monitors.  Because we communicate and share data with our end market, we have a good idea what happened to each one, why it happened, and to reduce the incidents of unintended outcomes in the future.  We are "exporters" with consciences, repairmen without borders.

The test in italics above demands that a supplier predict the future.  In the previous post, I showed how the recommended "tested working" and "fully functional" labels can also produce waste.  If their argument is that "if waste occurs, the transaction is illegal", it is an absolute interpretation of the Basel Convention, and any of the following can also be "illegal".  If the resulting "e-waste" generation is not attached to the elective action of the buyer (e.g. to upgrade the device, could be considered "generation" after receipt), but to the country of origin of the material, the following would also be considered "movement" of material "generated" in the USA, Japan, Korea or EU:
  • Sale of brand new product.  BAN has argued that a non-working part which is present in the importing country can be traced back to the shipper, and constitutes illegal movement of waste.  Even if the replaced part is not discarded, having been shipped it has already a violation of the convention.  Therefore, brand new computers sold to an emerging markete under warranty will also have violated laws if the goods are indeed returned under warranty.   Returns of televisions and computers to Wal-Mart are approximately 10%;  if it's a similar return rate overseas, then it is worse than many shipments of screen electronics for repair.  And remember, any sale - of cell phones, of laptops, of satellite dishes - will someday become either a waste or an antique, and antiques only have value when they are rare.
  • Sale of tested working product with elective upgrade.  If you sell a tested working computer to a knowlegable party, they are likely to replace RAM, hard drives, power supplies and other components which work but can be improved on.   In the BAN flow diagram, those electively removed parts would fail the transboundary test in the same way as parts from refurbishing.  In fact, the SKD factories (a process BAN objects to) is itself an elective upgrade - those big secret factories buy tested working monitors, and they also electively choose not to SKD refurbish non-working monitors, selling them for direct reuse, according to monthly supply and demand.

Legal Dual Party Intent

When two parties to a reuse trade both agree on specifications, both agree on terms of delivery, etc., then the next step is to ensure the trade is profitable and legal.

The profitability of the transaction is best left to the parties of the trade.  There's no profit police.

The question in the e-waste trade is legality.  If the trade is transparent, then you can assume that the intent is to be legal.  However, transparency is not always profitable - competitors see what you are doing, and it can affect your head start and your markets.

Sea containers and "shippable quantities" and time constraints can lead to some unintended riders on the transaction, contaminants, etc.   If something is truly e-waste, i.e. discarded, then there would have to be significant avoided disposal cost for the two parties to agree to trans-ship large quantities of the material profitably.   Radioactive and chemical waste have that potential.

For used electronics, the avoided disposal costs are between 10 cents and 40 cents per pound.  The more reuse income is restricted, the higher the disposal costs.  (The northeastern USA rates are approximately half the rates in California, largely due to the SB20 "cancellation rule").

So how does "e-waste" get where it isn't wanted?  The simplistic notion is "high avoided disposal costs (externalization), poor enforcement".  The remedies proposed are more enforcement, reform or externalized markets, or lower internal costs.

What really clouds the discussion is the inclusion of de minimus quantities of unintended and negligible quantities of goods... like the two little capacitors replaced in the repair of a Dell Optiplex.  It distracts limited enforcement, undermines the most capable people who can reform recycling in external markets, and it increases internal costs. 

Slums and Recycling and Environmental Justice

I ended last weekend's post with the observation that rich markets don't nurture the skill to repair devices.  We can buy new and be happy.  Unfortunately, environmental stewards are designing export rules and systems based on what we (the wealthy) are willing to do, not what they, the Techs of Color, are ABLE to do..

Last Sunday I was re-watching Slumdog Millionaire, telling my kids about the societies that grow around dumps.  Like the Egyptian Zabaleen, the lower castes in Philippines, the Indian tribes in Brazil profiled in last month's New York Times, the repairmen of Bangalore, or the "slumdogs" of Mumbai... Whenever I see them, these illiterate, often orphaned, primary school drop outs, I think of the opposite. 

I remember the best and smartest students in my classrooms in Cameroon, Africa, reading "Technical Textbooks" in "technique" classes.  Beefing up on schematic diagrams, electricity, currents, and physics in a classroom without even a light switch.  It was the most stubbornly smart students, earning "As", that I thought about most when I left my post.  Where would they find jobs which would reward that creativity, knowledge and patience?

It is, in my view, God's plan that the smartest kids fix and repair and salvage value from the richest kids.  It's a far better vision than the rich kids donating working equipment to the poor kids.  You actually want the smart kids from the classroom in Cameroon to be the ones that next generations emulate, who succeed more than "functionnaire" classes, law enforcement, or criminals.  This is the way South Korea, Singapore, Japan and other nations went from backwards to emerging to developed nations in record time.

Better or worse, Americans and Europeans have some intense and conflicted emotions when it comes to the relationship between recycling and slums and "environmental justice".

Here is a story from a few years ago about the electronics repair culture in Egypt.  The same disdain the Indian authorities have for the boy in "Slumdog Millionaire" can be seen in all these other cultures where very large urban areas create a waste stream which scavenger cultures can earn a living in recycling.

I don't disdain people who work hard recycling.  I am able to control the "shame and guilt" reflex, which also serves me well among Vermont deer hunters, Arkansas chicken farmers, and people in wheelchairs.  The idea is that you don't let your own subjective paranoia irritate the life of the people you meet.  Dudes, we'll all be dead in a few decades, let's get along and trade and do neat shit together.

My first time in China, I stood at the back dock of the hotel in Guangzhou, looking at a 4 cy dumpster.  I watched as a small packer garbage truck with 5 uniformed men backed up to the dumpster - three were in the cab, two rode standing on the sides of the truck.  They were met by 7 uniformed hotel staff.  Together these 12 men rolled out a 30 square meter tarp, and tipped the dumpster over by hand.  They sorted out all the garbage by paper, glass, metals, food... and arranged them in sedimentary layers for the garbage packer.  I guess when it unloaded (which I visited later that night) they would find it easier to sort again.

So, I know both something about the extreme conditions people in these countries live in, and given those conditions, how easy it is to exploit their poverty and their need.  I also know their intelligence, their ability, and the importance of retained and added value in their income. Fair trade and reform is delicate surgery on the free market, and good intentions are not enough.

"Without mandatory testing and controls, re-use can be pretext (intentionally or not) for exporting junk."

So true, dudes.  WR3A strongly agrees with BAN on this statement.  We differ on what the "tests" are, in some cases, but will accept numbers and data about which method got the most good stuff for the least environmental cost.  I mean, we KNOW mining and refining and manufacture and disposal..  We got that beat with our recycling eyes closed.  But whether the WR3A audited-end-market or the BAN audited-shipper works best, let's look at some control groups and some numbers and figure this out. But where BAN and PACE went astray was in failing to include the importers, the "Tech Sector", in defining those tests.  The best and brightest should be writing their own purchase orders.

We know that WITH mandatory testing and controls, re-use can be pretext for exporting junk, as demonstrated in the previous blog.  Or the exporters just declare it all "tested working".   Or the recyclers shred it and don't bother testing something that "might" fail.

"Export for repair can involve export for disposal."

Well, yeah.   Export of brand new product can involve export for disposal.  Sending a gift by mail can involve export for disposal.   WR3A agrees with this statement, that repair can or might involve export for disposal.  Like, Halloween candy might be poisoned.   If the cases of poisoning get very high, I'll stop accepting any candy and bob for Vermont apples in my house.

Sometimes imports don't work out, new, tested working, or not.  Brand new devices are returned about 10% of the time in the USA.  WR3A has sought to establish progressive policies encouraging or requiring recycling of the parts that are replaced.   This is commonly required already at contract manufacturing factories which assemble and test new products (some fail or are damaged in assembly, and are recycled), and required of these factories when computers and monitors are sent back for warranty repairs.   As posted in the "Capacitor Wars" blog, the parts BAN objects to can be extremely small and non-toxic.  Some repairs, such as degaussing and bypass, require no replaced parts whatsoever.   Therefore, the conclusion that "fully functional" is the definition meant by Basel Convention's language "repair and refurbishing" (allowed) is an overreaction of dramatic proportions.

"Exporting toxic for re-use to poorer consumers constitutes "passing the buck" and environmental injustice."

Unlike the statements above, BAN does not qualify this statement with "can", "may", or "might".  "Loves watermelon and fried chicken" might be a true statement.   But if BAN states that this is the outcome in all cases, they are prejudiced.  Retroworks de Mexico offers $5 off of any working TV (re)sold if the Mexican consumer brings in a junk one, in our "coupon for clunkers" program.  Our partner in Asia started out recycling incidental breakage for WR3A (which the shipper pays for), and they are now collecting from in-country in pretty large quantities.  ITIC -  I Think It's Cool!

If I export a used electric guitar to my friends Fela, Franco, and Aurlus Mabele, and they replace the amperage to meet 220v current, replacing the 110v switch, and I take the old power switch back in the USA and dispose of it safely - according to BAN's schematic, I have committed an environmental crime.  It's too mad that these soukous musicians know way more about electric guitars than I do.  I need to hire a white American soukous guitar expert here in the USA to make sure the guitar is tuned. 

"Exporting toxic equipment for reuse to poorer consumers equates to 'passing the buck' and environmental injustice."

"Equates"?  I think brand new ones also eventually "equate" to needing repairs, which may equate to a part being replaced or upgraded, which will equate to recycling.   Ok.  So I stay barefoot and pregnant until you get around to LEASING me a brand new computer?

Locating an itty bitty capacitor which was replaced, or a 128k RAM stick that was upgraded, and pointing to it as the "outcome" of trade is such a hyperbolic description of fair trade that it makes me crazy.

If an Egyptian hospital intern buys a brand new $800 PC on his $3k per year salary, is that a better outcome than if he can get online with a $80 PC? "Let them eat cake"? The solution is 1) get the student online, and 2) get him a recycling infrastructure.  In that order, dude.  Like USA and the developed countries did.

"Repair and recycling are very likely to INVOLVE a recycling or disposal destinations"

Any form of ownership, of tested working or brand new, eventually "involves" recycling and disposal.  Here,  "recycling or disposal" are grouped in the sentence as if these are morally and environmentally the same outcome.  So whether a Lagos doctor recycles or disposes of his computer, it is the same?  When I recycle rather than dispose, I am a good person.  Whether the person in the developing world recycles or disposes is NOT the same outcome.  Recycling is NOT disposal.  And this brings us back to the Slumdog Millionaires, the informal scrap sector we opened with.  While they are not as educated as the Tech Sector which arranges to purchase and import used electronics, they are not shameful or "primitive".  I've said many times, white boy scouts and girl scouts earn medals for recycling, it beats the heck out of mining jobs in Africa, or worse places orphans and drop-outs could wind up.

Fair trade advocates, like WR3A members, care which outcome, repair or recycling or disposal, is going to happen.  It matters a lot.  I look forward to the receipt reports and reconciliations of the 300,000 Steward "tested working" units, to compare them with the outcome of the 300,000 units WR3A has managed export of during the past 3 years. Saying a "black person" or "Asian" winds up with the second hand goods is not an "outcome".

The entire debate begs the questions:  Can poor people recycle?

This is surreal.  Good God!  If recycling is disposal, and a part removed during repair is recycled, therefore repair is equal to disposal?  The only possible explanation for BAN's insistence on this standard is financial.  Start watching the organizations IRS Form 990, there is something fishy going on here, and it probably involves Planned Obsolescence or Big Shred.

Going back to the introduction of this post, I've been promoting recycling since high school in the 1970s.   I studied international relations, and went into Peace Corps in the 1980s.  The very best outcome God and the Free Market provide, to reward the best and brightest geeks in the poorest countries, is at risk if reuse equals disposal, and the explicit right-to-repair clauses of the Basel Convention are forgotten.

Compromise is overdue.  Our e-waste recycling industry has a mandate to address the environmental concerns which have been raised.   There is more at stake than pollution or affordable electronics recycling.  When good things happen naturally in a free market, it is vital that whatever market corrections we need to implement do not hamper or retard the Good.

It is time to find middle ground between the Perfect and the Good.

[edited 2018.01.14 for clarity and spelling]

Laptop battery secret

Laptop batteries are made with extreme violence to the earth, extraction of rare earths, disturbance of fauna.  I use a laptop and I like it.   Here's something I learned at the ICRS Summit.

If you leave your laptop plugged in when it's fully charged, you are keeping its battery in an unnatural state.  It's actually designed to try to discharge itself as you are charging it.  The heat of being fully charged is tough on the battery.  If you like ordering $30-50 replacement batteries, plus shipping, I guess it's no big deal for you, but the environment would appreciate you taking the following step.

The best solution is the remove or kick-out the battery if you are sitting down and leaving it plugged in for awhile.  You can extend the battery life by a few years if you make that a habit.  Of course, you want to save your work more often.  And don't kick the cord out of the wall like I do.

Thanks to Paul Bessey of BatteriesPlus (Addison, Illinois) for this helpful hint towards source reduction of "e-waste".

"Whatever Happened to WR3A?"

When we incorporated the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association ( in 2006, we had visions of managing all the good material from all the good companies, and using the cooperative tonnage to supply good tonnage, below cost, to flush out the sleazy exporters, who we found the export market doesn't really like very well to begin with.  We got great response to the "Fair Trade" concept, from EPA, BAN Pledge companies, companies who were rethinking their shredder purchases,  and especially from buyers overseas.

After 3 years of attempting to broker display devices, I can report what has worked and what has failed. 

Fair Trade Recycling as a message has been enormously successful - primarily overseas, and among people who know the markets overseas.  The choices of "all or nothing" are still stupid and anti-productive.  We have members who don't trade through us at all, but want to support Fair Trade.

WR3A does speed the process.   Established members take risks on new buyers, and once we've visited, they've visited, we've audited each other, etc., we can move on and shift another vendor's material to the market we are confident in, and move on to develop a new market.  I can use my own loads as "blind shipments" so that we know what's likely the truth in the event of an argument. Buyers and sellers both appreciate getting away from the "fly and buy" inspection process, inspecting every load, and pooling auditing resources.  It's not perfect, but I've found it enormously rewarding.

However, the orginal vision for WR3A as a massive coop was just too difficult, given the fluctuations of CRT values.   Members were "jumping in and out" of purchase orders, shipping through WR3A when prices were down, cutting WR3A buyers off when prices were up.   Not evil, but the outcome was that I became more of an agent for the buyers than a representative of the sellers.

There were several cases when an overseas factory had tremendous potential, but we didn't have a fit between supplies and demand.  Three factories I visited had credentials as original equipment manufacturers for huge OEMs.  One had glass-to-glass recycling of bad units, an import permit, and ISO14001 and 9000... but they needed 100,000 CRTs per month.  WR3A wanted them to stop buying from exporters who our members thought were shipping TAR.   The factory said they needed 100k units.   If we supplied them, they'd rely on  WR3A.  But if WR3A only had 50k and were selling 35k of those to a different factory, they didn't have time for it.

There is also the adage, "don't be a crane among the chickens".   Some factories do good work but don't want any publicity.

As the market shrinks, WR3A finds it easier and easier to meet entire factory purchase orders.  Unfortunately, at the same time, WR3A lost suppliers.  The most common reason cited when a supplier adapts "no intact unit" policies is that they are afraid of being accused as an exporter.  The second is that they prefer private, quiet transactions, and don't see the value of a high profile relationship with WR3A.  Then there are some who are shocked and embarrassed to see their reconciliation reports... they thought their staff was testing everything, but have never seen an actual report back from the buyer.

The most common reason people try to join WR3A is that they already export whatever they want, and they like the message "Exports Good!"  Which isn't exactly what we are looking for.

So why join WR3A?
  • To support responsible recycling practices.
  • To speed tramsactions
  • To obtain the best possible reports of actual reuse (per Federal CRT Rule).
  • To get invited to cool operations overseas.
  • To provide talented
  • To pre-vet your operation using desk audits (CRT Glass test, PCB test, etc.)
  • Free consulting expertise
In a future post, we'll go behind the scenes, and document both SSFFs*

(Started, Sprinted, Finished First)
(Started, Stumbled, Farted, Fell)

"E-Waste" Is Never Reused

In 100 percent of cases, we do know this.  "E-waste cannot ever be reused for its intended purpose." 

How am I so sure?  Because if it is reused, then it was not "e-waste" to begin with!  Waste is by definition discarded, disposed material.  The problem is to ensure real reuse, so that junk isn't sent as "toxics along for the ride".  WR3A's approach is to warranty our exports.

This requires ongoing dialogue with the buyer, not for one party to perform tests and then ship blindly. We don't say "we met someone's definition of working, now it's your problem".  In fact, the highest warranty claims on WR3A monitors were for working items that the buyer couldn't digest because we shipped more than they were prepared to handle, and they had to rent additional warehouse space until we cut off suppliers.  The suppliers we cut off?  No mystery, the ones with the worst reconciliation reports.  The free market is like "Survivor", the buyers keep the relationships that consistently deliver the highest quality.

The decision tree WR3A uses is a demand-centered diagram It does allow repair in non-OECD countries, but produces fewer discards.  It refuses tested working product which is in excess of capacity, or which has no more market.   It recognizes the incidental breakage and parts replacements, like those BAN's decision tree cannot stop (hemisphere, voltage, elective upgrades), but requires documentation of proper recycling of those incidentals.  In so doing, we are creating a recycling infrastructure in the developing nations, which are the largest source of discarded "e-waste" in their own countries.

Importers do not pay 10 dollars for a piece of equipment which has only 1 dollar worth of copper or plastic scrap, no matter how cheap the shipping.  So we start with the assumption that net payment for uniform products is a commodity, and then deduce what unintended, unwanted junk might be "toxics along for the ride". If the product is commingled, you are less sure.

Here is a decision tree, as it is written in a fair trade negotiation with Techs of Color.


We recognize that flows of tested working equipment may be waste, and do not consider the "working" or "functional" test to be a reason to avoid any of the questions below.  Our decision tree is based on the final outcomes, and employs factors like demand, skill, and demonstrated capability of the buyer, not just the tests and opinions of the generator.

1) Is the importer capable of recycling electronics created by incidental breakage or eventual end-of-life?
If yes, continue

2)  Are the recycling processes for the end- of -life parts and takebacks legal and safe?
If yes, continue, if no establish returns program for trans-shipping (we consider the incidental breakage and takeback to have been generated in the importing country, the same as import of brand new equipment for assembly may be damaged or faulty and is considered generated at the assembly plant, not an illegal shipment of waste).

3) Does the exporter agree to cover the costs of reconciling necessary post-reconciliation?
If yes, continue
4) Does the importer maintain inventory and purchase orders forecasting demand and reuse potential for imported electronics?
If yes, continue

5) Does the importer notify the exporter to stop shipments which are in surplus / out of demand?
If yes, continue, if NO, go back to #2.

6) Does the competent Commerce Department* of the importing country consider the imports to be commodities, not waste? 

If yes, continue*

* Note, whether or not your goods are new or used, fully functional or for repair, another nation may classify them otherwise.  Once the goods are in a country that labels them waste or discards, EPA is the competent authority, unless you are ready to file an appeal with WTO (which does handle these issues - countries have tried to use waste laws for protectionist reasons in several other commodities, and WTO has heard cases about the control of steel and copper scrap, for example).

While the "commodity" is still in the USA, so long as you keep the goods dry (treat them like commodities) EPA cannot easily enter your home or business to seize goods.  And this is also true in many other nations.  Unless the nation considers the goods to be waste, trade treaties under WTO govern the material.

However, some nations (like China) classify all "second-hand" products as "waste" (regardless of whether they pass the Basle flow diagram).  Nigeria has protectionist laws to protect shoe manufacturing factories, and considers used shoes imports "illegal".  Even in the USA, if imported working electronic goods are considered black market (e.g., violating intellectual property laws), etc., the Customs Department may insist those working goods be destroyed, creating waste.  There have been some countries which create a separate category for CRTs refurbished for re-export;  even China allowed certain contract manufacturers to continue used CRT refurbishing within special "trade zones", like Maquila Dora areas of Mexico (where Mexico Customs does not consider the product to be "imported", but requires it to leave Mexico.

This long footnote on legality is not specific to either R2 or E-Stewards or federal CRT Rule.  R2 insists that the exports be legal in the country of import, even if the legality is not based on environmental reasons.  If a dictator seizes working equipment to keep citizens off of the internet, and they are discarded, then they will have been discarded and be waste.  (As a stakeholder at R2, I protested non-environmental laws being incorporated into R2, but lost the vote.)

If another nation considers working CRTs to be waste, it's a grey area for USA EPA... since they were shipped legally for reuse, but you cannot have the 3 years of record keeping demonstrating they were indeed reused without creating problems for your buyer. You creat a problem for yourself if the goods are seized and destroyed.  The safest thing is to make sure BOTH that they will be reused AND that the country of import is not calling second-hand-goods "waste".  When our USA customs seizes and destroys black market goods, they become waste, and your exports may suffer a similar fate.  This is why WR3A does not export CRTs, working or not, to China, even though we have qualified excellent CRT factories working there.

(Where were we?  Ahem ..If yes, continue)

7)  Does the importer agree to pay more for the commodities than the net value of scrap minus transportation costs?

If yes, continue. 

If no, the load should be witnessed by a third party to make sure that the goods are not being brought in for cherry picking of copper and possible discard of toxics along for the ride.  I would not disqualify all buyers based on this, as they sometimes simply want to compete with competitors who have lowered their prices.  But it should demand more scrutiny if you are exporting for less-than-or-equal-to scrap (e.g. copper) value.

8)  Does the CRT contain cadmium (review MSDS records)?
Because Basel considers glass recycling to require hazardous phosphors be removed, and CRTs might be damaged in handling, WR3A has created a database to exclude any CRTs that contain cadmium phosphors, working or not, from export out of OECD.

If no, GO AHEAD 

If all of these questions allow the export, you still aren't clear with WR3A.   We require a written purchase order which lists individual items which the importer does and doesn't want.  If the CRT importer wants equipment we know to be non-functional, we visit and site audit to determine they have the capacity to repair, reuse and properly recycle the equipment.

WR3A financially incentivizes importers who take extra steps, e.g. getting ISO14001, ISO9000, insurance, or who take back ("cash for clunkers" style) junk electronics in their own country... but we would not consider those legal requirements.

I started my company by plugging in and proving each monitor worked.  Then I made a site visit, and discovered that one common type of monitor I had been shipping, while fully functional, was not in demand in the country I'd shipped to.

Sitting in an Asian buyer's car, as he drove me to the airport, he said,
"I won't lie to you.  We will throw those away.  I don't care what happens to them, I don't want them.  Don't send them to us, and we won't throw them away.  There are people who will tell you they reuse those, but they don't.  I don't lie, I don't play games."

That was a year before WR3A held its first meeting.  I wanted to establish an association which was more transparent and open, which encouraged fair trade between buyers and sellers.  The solution was not for me to pay people to test monitors, but to find out how the reuse market decides what to buy and send only that.  And we came up with the idea to get reports back on every shipment, and to pay the full cost of recycling anything that we missed.

This method of export reconciliation has not been warmly received by BAN.  But it cannot be said that we are exporting 80% illegal waste.  We have the entire records of reuse of every shipment, and we have blind loads shipped as "tested working" from several suppliers.  We have "CRT glass test" results on the delivery of CRT cullet, etc.  The question has been, do we just declare our exports are "tested working"?  Or do we give credit to the skills of Techs of Color?

The decision tree .for used battery exports doesn't work well for laptops and CRT monitors."Working" does not mean "non-waste" and "non-working" does not mean "waste"... given the choice between the price offered on two different laptops, and the declaration that one is working and one is not, the price predicts the waste.  We need geeks to describe the flow of material from the point of view of nations who repair.

Decision Tree: Basel Convention on Functionality

Worst Reuse of a Computer
With the best of intentions, NGOs and representatives of Parties to the Basel Convention have designed a "decision tree" or flow chart to regulate the sale of used and surplus computers to emerging economies in developing nations.  The strongest opinions expressed about the "Decision Tree" were submitted by Basel Action Network (BAN) an industry watchdog which describes its opinion of "export for repair" in this 2008 paper, Preventing the Digital Dump:  Ending Re-Use Abuse.  It lays out the basis for BAN and other NGOs breaking away from the interpretation of "repair" language in the Basle Convention interpreted by EPA, WR3A and R2.   It's well written, and its flow diagram case for "tested working" and "fully functional" deserves scholarly attention.

The flow chart in BAN's paper appears to be based on a battery flow chart or a fluorescent lamp flow chart.   Test it and see if it works before you sell it.  That's where EPA started in the 1990s, before the more recent CRT Rule.  It's attractive for its simplicity.  When implemented, it would indeed reduce the number of bad units in a random load of collected computers.  Unfortunately, it fails where it should stop the export of bad PCs, and also arrests exports of some good equipment.  A computer is not a light bulb.

Electronics are more complex in their functions - involving software, magnetism in different hemispheres, upgrade availability, and demand fluctuations.  Because of the complexity, the degree of human skill level becomes the determinative factor in whether a PC results in "waste" (disposal or discard of components which bear Annex III toxics, forbidden in Annex VII).   I'm going to split this blog into two parts.  First I'll look at how "functionality" tests fail to stop some wastes, where testing doesn't guarantee that no waste is produced.  In a future post, I'll describe how "functionality" tests create false positives for waste - there are many repairs which produce no discards at all, and treating these repairs as exactly the same as dumping will cause the USA to destroy working products in high demand.

The BAN decision tree may be better than nothing.  But in at least in some cases, shocker of shockers, the free market does a better job of preserving value and limiting waste than the "command and control" of used electronics exports.  We hope to arrive at export rules 3.0 in the coming year.

The question is, can we safely depart from a simple test, like BAN has prescribed, without opening the barn door to rationalization, fraud, pretext and abuse?   WR3A's proposal is to take a system which doesn't even reuse material BAN would accept, California, and then properly track the equipment California companies propose to ship, and see which materials got reused and which ones were junk.  If we ship California monitors to the same refurbishing factories, replacing WR3A supplies, we can then look historically and compare how well the new E-Stewards suppliers do compared to historical shipments, tested for repairability and need (getting the right volume is half the battle).  Both organizations will make progress if we rely on people smarter than me.  Techs of Color. 

Part I:  Tested Working product produces waste.   The BAN paper, in reaction to piles of e-waste on foreign shores, correctly describes how repair can become a pretext for exporting harm.  My problem is that if they shut down supplies and don't replace them, it's a "war on drugs" approach which creates bad traffic.  But aside from that, if the decision tree works as it is designed, can't it also provide the same pretexts?

To illustrate how well the BAN rules work logically, lets take some examples.  I'll just grant that a smashed or cancelled tube with the vacuum released - as is required by California law - will not get exported, and that BAN's rules will capture the worst examples of junk exports in its net.   But let's also look at 3 computers which pass all the functionality tests designed by groups such as E-Stewards.

"Internet-free,  color-blind" market
Software Issue:   The first computer is a working, functional Macintosh SE computer, made in 1992.  All of its programs work.  But it does not run java script, which means it is useless on most web sites.  A few may sell, but these are not going to be sold by the thousands in a nation which needs internet, and an importer who winds up with them is more than likely going to scrap them.

If you can read this you're too close
Degaussing Issue:  The second computer is a fully functional, tested working computer with a 2003 computer monitor which has had a good 3 hour burn in test.  It worked when it left the USA,  but  it won't work when it arrives in the southern hemisphere. CRT manufacturers made CRTs for either northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere, or neutral (equator), and there will be a picture distortion that makes text  illegible.  There are several fixes for this, from putting a magnet near the monitor to taking the monitor apart, flipping the tube, and reversing the wires.  The point is that if the CRT is not sold to a technician (like WR3A works with), the person receiving the computer may think it doesn't work.  Computers which are fully functional may still demand repairs.

"Los gringos agradable dejado algunos desechos funcionales para nosotros"
Elective Upgrade Issue:  The third computer, also tested and fully functional, is sold with two sticks of 256k RAM memory.  The retail buyer, unknown to the USA / EU shipper, is savvy about computers and elects to replace the two sticks of RAM with two sticks of 512k RAM.  He doubles the memory of the computer and discards or recycles the two sticks of RAM.

These are not the only three examples of a repair, a recycling, or disposal "slipping through the cracks" of the decision tree model insisted on by Basel Action Network.  TVs with analogue signals for USA can be exported to PAL or SECAM countries.  Power supplies designed for 110 volt USA current may all be working, but they won't be used in a 220v country.  And warranty repairs for used electronics manufactured in China cannot be legally refused under WTO agreements.

We do not want to panic and try to redesign a flow chart to further restrict trade as a solution to these problems.  The best outcome is a "fair trade" agreement between prospective suppliers (e.g. R2 or E-Steward "e-waste" recycling companies) and repair people (e.g. WR3A and TechSoup Global parterns) in the developing world.  WR3A drafts very detailed contracts, explaining how many of THESE and how many of THOSE computers a buyer can handle, and requiring the buyer to prove they can handle the types of refurbishing that may be warranted.

Binding civil law contracts are used to avoid sending obsolete but "working" products (example A), to ensure the buyer in the south has capacity to degauss the CRTs (a routine and simple repair for WR3A partners and contract manufacturers), and to require proper recycling of electively replaced parts, like the RAM in the computer they have upgraded in example C.  These techs can be given incentives to do these things correctly, and to recycle properly in safe and humane conditions.

What I have learned, as a student of international relations, as a Peace Corps volunteer, as director of a non-profit recycling organization, as a recycling regulator, and as a small business person, is that the skill of a person creates value in an object.   No matter how perfectly working a computer is, it will be useless in a village without electricity.  And no matter how few Americans refuse to repair a cell phone, more people in emerging countries will choose to repair it.  One man's trash is another man's treasure.  But the use of a decision tree makes the "trasher" man the judge.

Good intentions set up a decision tree which treats a computer like an light bulb - good or bad, black/white.  But the process of marketing that model of improvement involved denigration of opponents, casting the world in a black vs. white map of "exporters" and "stewards".   The truth is that repair and refurbishing is sometimes NOT a pretext, and the buyers are smarter than you think.

Technicians in Ghana, Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan need to meet the people drawing the diagram.  The problem is Americans with strong opinions on either side - pro export or anti-export - may never fly over to Guiyu or Shenzhen or Accra or Semarang or Mumbai or Cairo.  They may never meet the people who are going to burn or degauss the monitors, and never get feedback on the quality of goods - either "as is" or "tested working" - which they ship.  If they have their cell phone repaired in New York or Paris, of course, they are extremely unlikely to encounter a WASP.

The Basel Convention allows Parties (countries) to interpret whether a repair is definitely legal under Annex IX  B1110, or counts as "major reassembly" (not allowed).  The environmental officials in these countries have other choices than to keep their people offline (though some I suspect consider that a benefit), or to continue to rely on white people to make new computers for them. The representatives of the Parties are getting to see lots of pictures of kids sitting in ash piles, but they are not getting to meet Techs of Color.

Without question, the people I trade with in developing nations are smarter about technology, reuse and repair, and in many cases recycling as well, than the "nanny state" regulators who try to protect them from buying the equipment they need and can afford.  The fact that Hamdy knows more than Robin Ingenthron or Shiela Davis or Jim Pucket about laptop repairs is a fact, not an opinion.  The mistake is to treat Hamdy as equivalent of the people who burn computers for copper wire.  Had we spoken to Hamdy before designing the diagram, we would have less scrap being burned in the first place.

Free and Fair Trade between educated people in different countries is kick ass.  What we need is hard numbers.  I can state with precision how many of the 300,000 computer monitors I shipped needed repair, how many were working, what the value was of each, and what happened to accidental breakage in shipping and human error.

I'd like to see those numbers from the Stewards.  How many "tested working" did they ship, and the breakdown of how the residue was managed.  If their system is better, and I'm wrong, California will show it.

In Part II, I'll share more of the details about how the WR3A's sophisticated trade model provides data, and that the data allows us to respond to minute changes in market demand, and that reduces net discarded waste.   WR3A sees people for what they can do, not for what they cannot do.   Vicki in Mexico, Jinex in Peru, Souleymane in Senegal, Su Fung in Asia - they are not my equals.  They are my superiors.   I have equipment they want, and they are willing to pay far more than the value of metal scrap for that equipment.  This demands rigorous and enforceable fair trade contracts.  I'd like my buyers to be able to call BAN if WR3A ships them junky product, without fear that their sophisticated repair and recycling capacity will be held against them.

I basically think that the complexity a repair job  gives advantage to skilled people in emerging nations.   Rich nations don't need the skill, and are designing systems based on what we are willing to do, not what the Techs of Color are ABLE to do..  Too many recyclers prefer to put money in a shredding machine than to hire an American to plug devices in - and in California, if they do sell a working device, they are punished severely through lost subsidies.  This is where BAN and WR3A have an opportunity to work together... taking California's big stupid system, and running computer monitors tested to e-Steward specifications, and running them through WR3A Fair Trade vendor reconciliation programs.

Ghost Tonnage, an E-waste Recycling Powderkeg

    Unicor's E-Waste Stewardship Director?
This ewaste legislation prediction kind of went unnoticed, but I've seen, heard, and smelled this activity...   As described last year in a Good Point Blogpost "Ghost Tonnage", E-waste "command and control" programs are skewing the marketplace:
  1. State requires Manufacturers to account for an Arbitrary E-waste recovery number per year (e.g. RI, MN, VT), based on current or past sales.
  2. OEMs obtain bids from several recyclers.
  3. Recyclers who collect more actual e-waste ("sweat tonnage") than OEM require are stuck with "orphan tonnage":  Ewaste they don't get reimbursed for.
  4. Recyclers who 'close one eye', i.e. accept non covered tonnage or state border tonnage have both a price and risk advantage (e.g., I have to pay guys to remove printers from loads in Rhode Island, if I eliminate those staff, my weights go up).
  5. Recyclers who make up ghost numbers (add a zero on a truck weight) can sell their "tonnage" to OEMs for less money and have no actual risk of orphan material.
  6. The Recyclers who make up numbers increase the risk of those actually collecting. Ghost tonnage displaces sweat tonnage, creating "orphan tonnage".
  7. Result will be states increasing OEM obligation to take care of orphan tonnage???  Go back to 1
The winners will be companies who broker tonnage. It's like Bernie Madoff needs to get into the E-Waste business.  Unicor, you have a big opportunity here!

It's a vicious cycle, created by arbitrary "command and control" legislation.  It will quickly reach a point where recyclers are surrounded by "OEM Assigned" commitments they need to fill, or be put out of business.  At that point I'll probably sell Good Point Recycling to leave with my integrity intact, as it will become impossible to collect 100 tons of TVs and charge 20 cents per pound when another recycler CLAIMS to have collected 200 tons of TVs and charges 10 cents per pound, and a third recycler claims to have collected 400 tons of TVs and charges 5 cents per pound.

If an honest recycler blows the whistle, he/she is injuring a group of Manufacturers who never asked to get into this business, they were legislated into it.  They watch growing market share of new electronics products made by unknown or invisible Chinese companies who don't have a clue.  If I own stock in the OEM, I guess I'd want them to shrug, buy ghost tonnage, and hope that the Stewardship Laws serve as a Japan-style non-tariff barrier to entry in USA sales markets.  If the secondary market loses material that might have gone into the gray market, it wasn't my intention but I'll take it.  If stuff gets recycled, cool.

The states with these "command and control" version Stewardship Laws will soon be stuck in the position that CIWMB / CalRecycles found itself in, chasing after pieces of paper... or just declaring victory and publishing they have collected 400 tons at 5 cents a pound and recommending other states pass the same laws.

Safe Search for Ten Year Olds

The internet image search... I can spend hours.  The clip at bottom is from a Nasa 2010 closeup of the sun.  (No! below the dog.)

My youngest son yesterday was asking me about dog breeds.  He said he liked the one in the movie "Babe 2:  Pig in the City" which, he said, had the face "like this" (he makes a face thinking it will look like the dog's face... ok right), "You know, Papa, the dog whose face was thin and long."

I wondered if it was a poodle or an afghan, he said no (he knows those).   He said it was the dog that falls in the canal, the mean dog that Babe the pig rescues.

So I thought, I'd go to google images or bing images and search "babe" and "dog" and see with my son what popped up.

"Babe" + "dog" = Oops.
I'm now a convert to "safe search" option.  Talk about unintended consequences!   I closed the laptop in time, I think.  (It's a bull terrier).

China Mining Deaths: Another Reason to Recycle

Recycling an aluminum can saves enough energy to fill the can 2/3 full of gasoline... it saves 95% of the energy it takes to make the can from mining and scratch.   And that's true whether the can is recycled in China, India, Japan, Europe or the USA.  Yes, Recycling is good for China.
  • Recycling reduces energy use in China.
  • Recycling reduces toxics from metal mining in China.
  • Recycling reduces coal mining deaths in China.
  • Recycling creates jobs in China..

The table below offers more data, courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC].  The energy and carbon reduction make recycling one of the most important activities we can undertake for global sustainability.

Add to that yet another report, from BBC, on how horrible mining is in China.  Chinese mining deaths, per 10,000 miners, is 100x the fatality of the USA.  Chinese today are awed that Chile is going to such effort to rescue metal miners stuck underground - in China, miners seem almost disposable.

Question:  If the Chinese are dying by mining for the coal energy, and if metal mining releases hundreds of times more toxicity than metal recycling, and the Chinese are the best at reuse and repair, and they need jobs... just exactly how bad can "recycling in China" be?

It is essential that Fair Trade programs roll up their sleeves and invest in Chinese recycling, clean up their acts, give them incentives and training, and get recycling into order.   A boycott condemns China to mining and refining, coal and smelting.

Why not reward the best recyclers China has (and I have seen incredibly good Chinese recyclers), and overcome the worst recycling practices with free market, fair trade, incentives and training?

China has 16,000 active mines - most of which are illegal   Saving energy and providing recycled metals seems a lesser sin than making them use the coal to cyanide/smelt the metals for the products we buy, made in China.

I prefer to "buy recycled", even when "made in China".
Top of Report


Table 1: Energy Savings and CO2 Impacts
Recycling and Incineration

Energy Savings Per Ton Recycled

Energy Generated
Per Ton Incinerated

Materials Grade % Reduction of Energy* Million BTUs Equivalent in Barrels of Oil Tons CO2 Reduced Million BTUs Equivalent in Barrels of Oil
95 196 37.2 13.8 -1.06 -0.2
Paper** Newsprint
Glass Recycle
61 14.3 2.71 1.52 -0.34 -0.06
Plastic PET
Mixed MSW
na na na na 10 1.9
Estimates derived from data supplied by Argonne National Labs (1980, 1981), DOE (1982),
Franklin Associates (1990), AL Associates, AISI, Phillips 66, Wellman (1991). Conversions
based on data from Love (1974), CRC (1978), Perry (1984), EIS (1990).

* Relative to energy required for virgin production
** Energy calculations for paper recycling count unused wood as fuel
na = not applicable

Anti Gray Market Alliance, Counterfeit Abatement vs. Computer Reuse?

In Democracy in America (1840), Alexis de Toqueville noted the rise of "planned obsolescence" in the United States:
"I accost an American sailor, and I inquire why the ships of his country are built so as to last but for a short time; he answers without hesitation that the art of navigation is every day making such rapid progress, that the finest vessel would become almost useless if it lasted beyond a certain number of years."
This is the most legitimate case for "planned obsolescence", and it definitely applies to a lot of electronics goods.  There is less gold in a Pentium 4 than there was in a 386 PC, because manufacturers no longer build the PC like a battleship meant to last 30 years.  Less gold = less gold mining.  GOOD!

There is also such a thing as theft, and a black market is the term for the economy of illegitimate and stolen goods.

There is definitely a black market.   Black markets include sales of stolen goods, sales of counterfeit goods, false warranty returns, fakes and faking.   Electronics companies and software companies, according to a recent AGMA story, lose $250 billion dollars per year in sales to the "Gray Market".

But wait.   I thought we were talking about Black Markets.  How about the term "gray market"? 
"A grey market or gray market also known as parallel market[1] unintended by the original manufacturer.Grey markets are the trade of a commodity through distribution channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized, or unregulated.
In wikipedia.en [English], the entire grey market is described as "legal" (now that I pointed that out, how quickly will wikipedia get edited by an OEM law geek?)  I doubt it is described the same way in Japanese wiki.  It's a grey area of the law.

Black can't be grey without a White to stick it in....   There are more civil law (contracts and agreements) than criminal laws at at issue.  To attack a gray market, you will need to display efforts to limit collateral damage on legitimate reuse.  {I visited the Nanhai printer cartridge market, after the jack-booted thugs with $6M shut down and burned black, white, and grey cartridges and printer repairs in the street... that left an indelible impression on this blogger}

A gray area of the law basically means you can try to sue someone, but you may not win.  It's alarming when countries enact laws to protect specific manufacturers against resale of their products in the secondary market.  If the goods are MADE in your country, and you get the jobs benefits (Fuji won against Jazz camera refurbishers in Japan, and Fuji contributes a lot to the Japanese economy), it makes sense in a protectionist way.   But when Kenya passes a law against the import of used computers, it's idiotic.   

National laws are not supposed to protect "manufacturer intent". If a manufacturer plans for obsolescence - e.g. selling a toner cartridge with a 3D killer chip - and a savvy repairman tricks the cartridge into being refillable, then the subsequent sale is indeed "unintended by" the OEM.  But it is not, in the USA, illegal, despite millions of legal bills aimed at making it so in court.

The legitimate resale and reuse of product, aka the "secondary market", is hugely important to our economy.  The secondary auto market is larger than the total new car market.   Legitimate used auto dealers and auto repair shops know they must keep their distance from "black market" chop shops and stolen cars.  If America has $250 billion in added value equipment, shredding that up so that Chinese can sell us more is uneconomical, anti-environmental, fiscally irresponsible, and stupid.  We are not in a position to say "keep the change" with added value.

To be fair to the Anti-Gray Market Alliance, Samsung, HP, Cisco and other AGMA members and founders don't have a sheriff to call.  They are forced to find the balance between protection, protection-ism, and vigilante-ism. If someone is removing "name brand" labels and sticking them onto inferior products, that's a crime against the consumer as well as the OEM.  It's more than adding insult to injury if the consumer brings the item back in for warranty repair at the cost of the BOEM.

But collateral damage to the legal repair and resale markets is also a cost to the consumer.  Repair and refurbishing shops are underdogs in this fight, and it would be good if AGMA made an effort to give grants and recognition to repairpeople and used goods dealers who do the right thing and DON'T commit fraud.   AGMA could actively support repair and refurbishment in places like Cairo and Accra.

When the added value is "punted" into a market with little "new" sales potential, the jobs developed there grow an economy which creates a future market, both for contract assembly jobs and new product sales.  That is how Guangdong province did it.  You want Africa to develop, get online, and become a market.

Trying to criminalize the lighter shades of gray market will backfire in the long run.  The Peoples Republic of China has lavishly tried to protect manufacturers which the Chinese Communist Party always owns shares in with "planned obsolescence in hindsight" regulations.   

China outlawed all "second-hand" electronics goods, working or no, simplifying "grey".  A week old, tested working, warranty laptop is considered "e-waste" in China if it wasn't sold in China.   China probably has too many poor people to make repair and resale laws enforceable.  I was told by a Chinese regulator, in confidence, that the cat was not just out of the bag, but had several generations of kittens in the trees.   In the long term, China's efforts to suppress natural reuse and refurbishment will come at a cost either to the People deprived of "good enough" used equipment, or to the Environment, if they are all supplied with mined new product.

This is the intermingling of "intellectual property" crimes and innocent resale transactions.   Outside the OEM's "intended distribution channel", yes.  Market cannibalization?  Perhaps in the short term.   Selling a barely used camera in China is by definition "a crime".  But it is NOT an environmental crime!   NGO's have repeatedly conflated "illegal sales" with "environmental harm", and it's simply not that simple.

Japanese music... Dir En Grey... UnpluggedJapan treats gray markets a lot like China does.

What is the effect of curtailing used product sales on the USA economy?  $250 billion here, $250 billion there, pretty soon you are talking about real money.  Used car sales are bigger in both units and dollars than new car sales.   We have a "right to repair" in the USA, a right to resell, a right to refurbish. Retained value is as real as added value.  Turning Goodwill Industries into an anti-reuse tool is bizarre.  If poor people are denied the choice of used goods, they are screwed.  

I tell myself I'm doing AGMA a favor, the same service I'm doing for BAN... bringing unintended injuries to the attention of the injurer.  Look at the way Hitachi was embraced by NESDA, the National Electronics Service Dealers Association.  In the 1990s, Hitachi went out of its way to make TVs easier to repair.   Will Sony and Samsung and Panasonic's efforts to increase recycling be remembered ten years from now, or will they be remembered like Hitachi, by a few people who were very very close to the issue?

OEMs should not fight reuse when the exports are to emerging markets.  They should embrace WR3A's efforts to get refurbished goods to the United Nations schools program (UNGAID) - which is "punting" the product far away from their defended goalposts.  They should support used goods going into developing markets which can't afford new, not sacrifice 100 used sales to protect a single rich purchase.  The Big OEMs need not belittle the ambitions of small refurbishers.  The really great make you feel that you, too, can be Great.

Used and resale goods are tilling the soil, creating future buyers and future markets for electronics.  They are getting working used goods into the hands of poor people who will one day aspire to buy new products.

Oh.. about the musical reference.  The Japanese heavy-metal band "Dir En Grey" is performing in Japan this month.   The music clip I posted above is the softest acoustic tune I could find.  If your ears are not squeamish and you want a better taste of what the soda-pop looking DirEnGrey market really listens to, here a link to their ballad "Agitated Screams of Maggots", with a rather impressive charcoal animated video that recalls Eraserhead.  Actually, even the "unplugged acoustic" version of Agitated Screams of Maggots makes Ozzie Osborne sound like Sinatra.

Music like this gives me hope that American yankee reuse values, and the nutbrown bowl, will prove the strongest man at last, even in Japan and China.  I don't like to listen to it very much, but I like to know it is out there and that other people are listening to it.  I feel safer living in a society where gays, Jews, women and punk rockers are safe... even if I'm more of a Grateful Dead, Touch of Grey man myself.