Litmus Test for E-Waste Legislation

Having freshly drafted an unsigned compromise, I'm a bit hesitant to comment on the big news, the E-Waste Bill filed by Gene Green of Texas.

My analysis is always based on answers to 4 questions:

1) "will more mining result?" 
2) "will less reuse result?" 
3) "will recycling practices improve?"
4) "will dictators use this to f**k with my freedom friends?"   

Cleaning up recycling operations is very, very important.  I'm pretty confident number 3 will be answered affirmatively, though I am not positive that my company will earn more and be more competitive if this bill is passed.  We'd be better off than many of our competitors. 

I do think that metals mining waste (see picture to left) has been left out of the lifecycle discussions about recycling... the dirtiest recycling rivers are cleaner than the cleanest mining rivers.  But that should not be an excuse for recycling not to improve.

The biggest concern at this point is that countries of TRANSIT must be notified prior to shipment and must assent.  That means that the transit (moving containers from one ship to another) major ports - Dubai, Rotterdam, Hong Kong - gain a kingmaker status.  If you mail something to a friend in India, and the mail goes through a post office in Shanghai, you have to notify Beijing if there are electronics in the package.

China has already declared the words "second-hand" to be "waste", whether or not something is discarded.  People thought I sounded paranoid, so at the Interpol meeting in Virginia last summer I openly asked whether I can sell a barely used, working, Pentium 4 dual core laptop to a friend in China.  The answer from the Chinese "competent authority" was NO.   If I had owned it, I was now "discarding" it, and it was "secondhand" and therefore "waste".

Everyone knows laptops are made in China and that this is pure "obsolescence" interference to hamper the secondary market and "right to repair".   We discuss it openly with the Chinese.  They admit it.  They say we put tariffs on their electronics, this is what they do to us.  It's a commerce debate.  There is not a stitch of environmental protection in the discussion.

Think of how many Iranian students used second hand computers to transmit news about the election during the green protests.  Now ask yourself, if you are sending a fully functional used computer to the school for blind Tibetan monks in Penang, Malaysia, whether you are ok that you must notify the nation of China that you are shipping the computer to Tibetan monks?

And I the shipper must notify them it's me shipping it.  What if Beijing has a database and the fact I posted a picture of the Dali Llama on a blog results in banning my shipment?  How would I know? What if the country objects for some other reason which has nothing to do with the environment (as the Pentium 4 laptop demonstrates?)  What if the country says I must have tested the used working computer never contained a cartoon of the prophet?  Does the competent authority in commerce get to consider Sharia law?

I think it's downright creepy.

It's still early.  I think the bill will be stronger if some of the layers of "certainty" of environmental good are peeled off.  If you keep adding every single environmental guarantee you can think of to the shopping cart, the risk of unintended consequences increases.

Sometimes "less is more".   The Green/Thompson bill will be better with some of the hyper-protection clauses removed, or put in check.  We must look to make sure that the innocent are protected.  Test the bill by assuming an absolutely clean, environmentally safe, good item has been properly inspected and repaired.  Fill out the paperwork.

How many enemies of the good does the shipment encounter?

It's a fair question.

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