2011: Four Truths and a Lie about EWASTE Exports

The "sleeper" study from Europe on Ghana's imports of used electronics is drawing more attention.  Jerry Powell's team finally read it and did a post on Friday.  It's a massive effort, lots of data, 2 years of research.  Finding is that 85% of the imports are reputably reused.  It has caused watchdog groups to rewrite some of their pronouncements on the trade.

This is only the second actual, in depth study of used electronics exported (previous was from ASU, Rhamzy Kahhat and Eric Williams)   Both reports express "surprise" that 85% (Ghana) and 87% (Peru) imports of used electronics were reused, refurbished, resold.

Germany is starting to catch on.  This Interview (German and English) shows the connections between Egypt's attempts to label used working P4s as "e-waste" as the Revolution began brewing.

Adam Minter of Bloomberg and Atlantic Monthly is also doing lots of work on the "myth" of "e-waste exports".

Four Truths:  The EU Report, ASU Study, WR3A Data (behind German interview), and Minter have independently arrived at the same conclusion.  The story of "primitive e-waste burning" has been hyped in the press and trade press.  While there are certainly many cases of "toxics along for the ride", and poor sorting, the economics have never supported the claim that 80% of e-waste exports or recycling is bad.

A Lie:  What began as a very well-intentioned call for due diligence and reform of the used electronics export market has become a juggernaut of planned obsolescence in hindsight, shredding, exaggeration, and anti-gray-market propaganda.  Here I sit in a river of junk, which I'm responsibly removing and properly recycling.   We domestically recycle 78%, which is pretty darn close to the 80% which anti-export watchdogs claim is exported to primitive informal recycling yards in third world countries.

Dia-blogging with BAN's Jim Puckett

To his credit, Jim Puckett responded to my comment (posted yesterday in my own blog, but also appearing today as a comment below his own blog post on Ghana).

Sorry Glinda, you're busted
Jim makes his usual response, that a "mobile phone guidance document" trumps Annex IX.  It puts everyone to sleep and obfuscates a very simple and practical legal fact:  Basel Convention says that Parties can consider CRT display device repair to be a commodity and not a waste.  It says that in black and white, and flow charts about cell phones simply distract and confuse.

The mobile phone guidance document, which was published several years after the Basel Convention was passed, says that if a technician buys a fully functional unit but electively decides to upgrade a part and make it last longer or work better, that the part that was removed was a transported waste, making that smart technician illegal to work with.  It's a white man's burden thing, not IFIXIT neutral.

This was the case BAN tried to make to the Secretariat about CRTs a decade ago.  Now they are making a similar case again in the still-live-document PACE guidance on computers... if something might get replaced in order to upgrade, it must be removed prior to export.
But this is where BAN gets conflicted between its role as an advocate to change (amend) the Basel Convention and its role as a supporter of the Convention as it is currently written.   I've accused BAN of becoming so blinded by that dual role that they have made ad hominem attacks on geeks of color, allowed journalists to believe and report that SKD factories buying CRT and LCD monitors for refurbishment are explained with a trip to Guiyu, which was never a CRT monitor refurbishing center nor even a CRT scrap endpoint.
All electronics importers are same

BAN lumps Glindas, the good witches with bad Witches of the East and West.  The average journalist, like Dorothy, does not realize Glinda is a witch at all.   Exporters are not all bad, and we need good exporters to make the world better.  Shredding fails.   A "Steward" with no reuse is a prohibitionist, who will call for more and more Elliot Ness enforcement rather than admit that Prohibition doesn't work.

BAN Launches Blog

Imitation, the most sincere form of flattery!

Basel Action Network announced hours ago that they have kicked off their own "e-Waste blog".  I'm happy to link to it, and hope it will help their blog rise in the google and bing rankings.  In the linked post, they are of course trying to paint over the data now coming out of Ghana, using weasel words to obfuscate the major study showing 85% of Ghana used electronics imports are legit...  No new info here, just trying to drown out news of the actual data with noisy angst.  Pay no attention to the data behind the curtain.

Still, BAN's welcome in the blogosphere. I'm completely supportive of debate, dialogue, dialectic, and reasoning.  I've never censored BAN's commentary on this blog, and why I invite them to comment here.

Anyway, fun is fun.  Below is my inaugural comment on BAN's blog, just left.  It's waiting moderation.  I hope they allow it!  It's about Functionality and the Annex IX of the Basel Convention, which says that export for repair and refurbishment is legal (and doesn't say "tested working" anywhere).

Recycled Content Ju-ju Words

Recycling causes tuberculosis, and other nasty reporting...

The Independent, a reputable UK Newspaper, reports with fanfare how nations are a step closer to banning the trade of used electronics to "non-OECD" nations.  In the future, western nations will still be able to mine their coral islands and rain forests for the hard rock raw and rare earth materials rich nations need to manufacture electronics.  But the emerging markets will not be able repair, knock off, refurbish or remarket our used goods... the truth about what happens to exported cell phones, as reported by The Atlantic in an article with IFIXIT.

It's not about pollution.  We know that metal mining and refining, raw materials industries, produce 45% of all toxic pollution released by all industry.  We know that the coltan mining and gold mining bring the mercury and toxics, and creates the trafficked paths to bushmeat and rare species exploitation.  We know that recycling jobs are sustainable, lasting forever, but that veins of ores become dead ends and are abandoned to become the most toxic places on earth.

It's obvious that the free market prefers reuse and recycling.   If we are to maintain the marketing campaign of planned obsolescence, we need to convince these lesser developed nations that computer repair is bad.  We need to cover up the detailed data that shows 85% of the used electronics imported are reused and refurbished.  We need to convince them that they are hazardous waste.  The Independent Article takes a step in this direction, informing us that "tuberculosis" comes from "recycling".  I had always thought it was a contagious disease associated with poverty.  If poor people recycle, and poor people are more likely to have tuberculosis, that is "just enough information" to create an impression.

From the article, one would assume it's legal for Africans to stay barefoot and pregnant, mining coltan in rain forests for us to make brand new cell phones to sell them, but NOT to fix them for revolutions in Cairo.

How does our society, whose manufacturing system is sustained by exploiting rain forests, for metal for us to make into gadgets, market the word "Recycled"?  How do we let them manage the toxics from getting raw material, without letting them fix up our old product ("market cannabalization", another nasty term I learned for "reuse and repair", from the Obsolescence Class)?  We need a system to shred product prior to shipping it for recycling (shredded goods go to China), and to mine rare earths... something that doesn't get in the way of new product sales.   We find that dictators, afraid of the access to information the internet brings, and wealthy from sale of their nations raw material resources, are happy to classify used computers as "hazardous wastes", and bring the Basel Ban Amendment closer to passage.

Does it make any sense to define secondary material (reuse, repair, recycle) as a "waste"?  Waste is excrement... we have a natural revulsion...  good.  goooood.

CRT Cullet, CRT Cullet, Everywhere

How Environmentalists Killed CRT Glass Markets with Friendly fire.

The Rhyme of the Recent E-Waste Recycler is more about the demand for leaded cullet.   Recyclers are awash in the stuff, and the price at destinations (like Dlubak Glass in Ohio or TDM in Mexicali) is rising.  People are petitioning California to let the CRT glass be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.

At the same time, the lead and silica are in high demand.  CRT furnaces are still running, still using virgin leaded silica.  Closer to home, both lead refiners and copper smelters are using lead and silica ever day to run their furnaces.   Copper smelting demands leaded cullet, the molten silica acts as a river to carry the copper, gold, silver and zinc down the process line.  At our local copper smelter in Mexico, the engineers throw bars of lead into the silicate as part of the delicate chemistry of making hard rock mining.

In principle, there is more than enough demand, today, to consume all of the leaded glass in all of the warehouse, basements, concrete pads, and trailers in the USA.   Why can't anyone move it.

Blame friendly fire.

I have always, consistently written about the need to measure mining harm before regulating recycled metals.  American enforcement agency shut down 7 secondary copper smelters in the USA for polluting - that's ALL SEVEN.   Despite producing more pollution, ton per ton, the primary smelters which make ingots from virgin ore steam on and on.

The Superfund was bankrupted by hard rock mining, virgin metal mining.  The cyanide used to leache copper from ore, the process to make blister copper, the mining for lead and silica to run the smelter flux, all of this leaves a heavy mark on the environment. 

But unlike an environmentalist, mountains don't feel guilty.   Mountains and mines don't stop supplying, don't demand downstream diligence, don't require a hazmat transport permit.   Mountains require more energy to move, but they never complain, and haven't "changed the rules" since the General Mining Act of 1872.

Therefore, if you run smelter - like our friends in Mexico - which uses 220 tons per day of leaded silicate, you want to stay out of the spotlight.   If you are running a CRT furnace in China, Malaysia, or India, you don't want to be "a crane among the chickens".

I have a renewable PO to consume 1,000 tons of CRT cullet every 3 months.  It would displace mining, would reduce carbon, and provide a cheap outlet for e-waste recyclers.

Unfortunately, well meaning environmentalists have made the subject of "secondary material" radio-active at the legal department of the smelter.  The lawyers fight multi-million dollar settlements and lawsuits, and manage risk and insurance (2000 tons per day of sulferic acid, accumulated in train cars, is a typical day of "byproduct" to manage). 

The smelters are meeting the world's demand for copper as they always have.  They dig up silica and dig up lead from the mountains.   They make $16M per day in gold, copper, etc.   

Why risk all of this by dealing with "do-gooders" who have a history of increasing the regulations, transaction costs, diligence, tours, snooping, etc.?

Outcome:  The smelters will not return your phone call.  Don't bother.  Recyclers are persona non grata at the virgin smelting office.

The perfect, you know, is the enemy of the good.  Putting used CRT cullet to GOOD use is picking a fight with the Ayatollahs of E-Waste, who sent the following letter to Malaysia EPA when the CRT recycling furnace there was buying CRT cullet from American E-Waste companies.

Arrogance is as stupid does.  This letter not only ruined the market for Malaysia, but most other lead silicate users took the hint.   Embrace recycling at your own risk.  No good deed goes unpunished.

So should California allow CRT glass to be landfilled?  After refusing the monitors to be reused under the cancellation clause (paying recyclers to break working monitors with taxpayer money), California depended on Malaysia for cullet buying.  Then the BAN letter effectively killed that market.  Then the Mexico EPA put "hazardous waste" cargo onto recycled lead silicate, labels that do not apply to virgin mined leaded silicate (a commodity).  220 tons per day is mined, releasing more lead, toxics, and carbon.  220 tons will be landfilled in recycled glass.  Who is to blame?  Environmental law.

The material carries the label "waste" not because of what it is, but simply because it's recycled content.

B r a v o  T e a m .     Own goal.

Frank Zappa On Certification: R2 or E-Steward

"Certification from one source or another seems to be the most important thing to people all over the world. A piece of paper from a school that says you’re smart, a pat on the head from your parents that says you’re good or some reinforcement from your peers that makes you think what you’re doing is worthwhile. People are just waiting around to get certified." - Frank Zappa
"The richest people in the world aren’t particularly smart or happy. And the happiest people in the world aren’t particularly smart or rich. "
"If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library. "
Without the internet, would Frank Zappa ever have been joined unto Wax Tailor?  Ceritified Wax Tailor video below.

9 Year International Optimist

Obama is withdrawing troops from Iraq, nine years after the invasion.

My cynical, liberal, Vermont friends (who I love) like to say that democracy cannot be imposed externally, it must come organically.

I think that's like saying becoming a millionaire doesn't count if you were born on third base (with a silver spoon in your mouth).  It may not mean exactly the same thing as organic revolution... but it "counts".

Tell that to Japan.  Tell it to Malaysia and Indonesia.  Just what percent of the worlds democracy, per capita, originated without outside help?

Women's equality +
Trade +
Reuse economy (not resource-cursed) =

With those three things, I'm really optimistic that the world will continue to improve.  My children will not just see a melting pot, but a passport-melting-pot, of interracial and international marriages, trade, trust, and exciting new history of peace.

The dictators are falling, wealth is spreading, per capita well being is improving.  There is still starvation and violence, but on a per capita basis, it's nothing like the centuries before.

The world is getting better and better....  We just need more equality, more trade, and not to destroy added value, let the best smartest poor students make the most they can of reuse and refurbishment in the "good enough" markets.

Its just the environment.  It's the environment we are destroying that needs attention.  Species extinction.  This is why so many people are turning to environmental studies.  The wars and democracies and economies and investments are all doing fine.  The wealthy nations shouldn't panic just because the neighbors who used to be ten times poorer are now only half as poor.

I hope there are international USA-Iraqi or USA-Afghanistan marriages and children.

R2 Responsible Recycler Certification Vs. E-Stewards Certification: Synopsis

What is the difference between Responsible Recycler (R2) and E-Steward Certification?

There are already several posts this year about the technical aspects of the Basel Convention, EPA Export Rules, and differences in perspectives on "fully functional", "tested working", and "elective upgrade" of used computers and components.  A list with links follows below/bottom.

I've been involved with "legalese" since my days as a regulator.  When is a product "discarded"?  What is "original intended use"?  Does Basel Convention Annex IX allow an overseas buyer to "electively upgrade" (replace and improve parts) and refurbish?  What is "major reassembly"?

Dialogue with the groups opposed to international trade was rational and factual during the R2 Stakeholder meetings, and so continued when BAN.org organized a competing "E-Stewards" Certification program.  However, when BAN's marketing of that campaign, and of their views about the contract manufacturing or SKD facilities, turned negative, I became negative as well.  I hoped R2 Solutions and ISRI would continue the level headed dialogue with the protest organizations, and from time to time I could use the blog to express the opinions of "geeks of color", which was increasingly disgusted with the way Watchdog groups equated their elective upgrades with "primitive wire burning".

The central difference between E-Stewards and R2 comes down to this:  In non-OECD nations (China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc.), can a material be legally recycled if no toxic constituents are released per Annex III? Who answers that question? The ayatollah of e-waste, or the competent authority (EPA)?    
For example, can a computer refurbisher in Singapore send upgraded circuit boards to Japan for refining, or send them to the same circuit board refiner in Singapore that off-spec newly manufactured product and warranty return product is sent? If so, the professional warranty-return, manufacturer takeback factory, in an ISO14001 factory, could keep its jobs, buy tested working product, and electively decide to replace working but worn parts, replace 110 volt boards for use in 220v countries, degauss cathode ray tubes for changes in hemispheric magnetic conditions, remove analogue boards and replace them with digital tuners, etc.

- R2 says yes but demands 3rd party certification that the non-reuse constituents were in fact legally recycled in a manner which did not result in release of Annex III constituents.

- E-Stewards says that even if the part is properly recycled, and no toxic is released, that the part must have been removed prior to shipment.

It's Gone

My Blog has Disappeared from Google.

At least, I'm at page 25 of google search for "e-waste", and no sign of the blog.  It was page 1 six months ago.  Who killed it?  I noticed a massive fall-off of pageviews back in May or June.  I attributed it to a strong April, but it never resurfaced.

I've done nothing ornery.  If anything, I vastly reduced use of video and photos from online sources.

Has my writing suffered?   Or is there a third party interference?  (See the blog on "comments").   I  am sure Google is working on this and is finding who torpedoed the blog.  Here you go:  I'm typing in "John Shegarian" simply to increase google search hits, not because he has anything to do with it, he just searches his name a lot, I've been told.  If the rank doesn't go up, it's gotta be conspiracy, baby.

First:   A Blog Self-Audit.   I've been reviewing my posts from the last few months, by readership and content.  Do not blame conspiracies without first checking the most obvious source:  bad content.

The destruction of the Indonesian and Malaysian display device refurbishing market was possibly the most important E-Scrap story of the past decade, and I've tried to give voice to it.  The people who lost their jobs, the environmentalists engaging in "friendly fire", the environmental consequences...  Mainstream press (Motherboard, Scrap, Recycling International, 3Sat.de) picked it up, but it has been nowhere as successful as the story in CBS 60 Minutes, which conjoined the same refurbishing factories with unrelated wire burning operations in Guiyu, China.  But did I write about it too often, and cause pagerank to decline?

Rat on a train ditch.  Caught on a limb.  YOU know better - but I know HIM.

If you were a green bullet

What kind of bullet would you be?

One that stays in the air the longest before coming to rest?

One that lands in a safe spot?

One that is 100% accurate, directed by God?

You would not want to be fired by someone who simply believes he is directed by God.

"My aim is true."   Truth must define the aim.  The choice of target is in your head, but the target must be in your eye.  If I am to be your bullet, know that faith is gravity, truth is light.  I can believe in the faith of your goal, but do not want to be shot in the dark.

Headline: "Medical Waste" Exported to Brazil

So I read the headline (thanks to Raymond Communications) and thought, export of hazardous, infected, red-bag waste...  Now here's an example of truly bad exports of truly hazardous material.  I'll have the story translated (from Portuguese) and write about how we should not be distracting legitimate enforcement...

Oh.  Translated document.   "Medical Waste" means used uniforms and beds.  Stuff we used to call "reuse" back before the witches-brew-hunting, non-tariff-barrier, exaggerated harm, anti-reuse lobby took control of waste policy.  The container hasn't even arrived at  port or been opened yet.

A war on reuse is a war on the poor.  Frightening rich USA hospitals from donating clean uniforms and bedding to emerging markets... Is that the key to "leapfrog" economics?  Take the used equipment away, and new stuff appears?

Missing Michele Raymond, who passed away in April 2005.  She used to invite me as a presenter to a conference she held on electronics recycling.  I was trying back in 2005 to balance between BAN.org, who I was friends with, and the contract manufacturers, who I had gotten to know and was excited by the potential for.  Michele said she invited me to speak because I was saying something important, and not "selling" something for money.

Environmentalists need to be reminded that malaria kills 2414 people per day, and that death from bloodloss during childbirth is the number one killer of women in Lagos and Cairo.  These nations aspire to worry about things like toxics and cancer, but for now, need jobs so they can create the market for malaria vaccines, which will create investment in people like Joe Cohen.

Treating the sale of hospital beds as a "hazardous waste" story is sick.  We need countries like Egypt, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, etc. to be able to afford new malaria vaccines which we invent.  Their hospitals need more people to export to them, so they have more choice of people to buy from, and quality goes up.  Creating yet another "liability" for hospitals to worry about, forcing them to shred surplus hospital equipment, is murder.  Conversely, letting geeks and doctors trade and work together, to repair and recycle, creates value, creates hospitals like the Five Star hospitals today in Singapore and Malaysia and Japan.  Allowing the tinkerer economy to grow is win-win.  Our USA health care gets more money from sale of used equipment, which in turn creates the means for hospitals in emerging markets to "leapfrog" from malaria death to malaria vaccinations.  

Good people need to stand up and show pride in trade.   Trading with people in Brazil is no more shameful than hiring a woman truck driver or marrying an Asian man.  This episode of environmental ayatollah-ism will not be remembered any more fondly than making Rosa Parks go to the back of the bus.

What gives me the authority to question these "reports" of "waste" in "unopened containers?"    Remember, I had 3 containerloads of Pentium 4 computers seized by Egyptian customs in 2008 as "e-waste".  I'm a criminal too.   My partners in Egypt were doctors who sold the computers and monitors to med school students in Cairo and Alexandria.   One of their clients was a blood bank.  

I don't know for sure whether this export sale of surplus hospital equipment to Brazil was legitimate or not, but seeing the press automatically report every incident as if it's proven leads to shameful racist profiling.   Automatically reporting Gordon Chiu for selling computers to Indonesia... it could have happened to me.  Shaming ERI into a "no intact unit" model will cause death and poverty.   Accusing Intercon of shipping three containers, without taking the time to report what's in the containers... Reporting a story from Europol that geeks like Wahab and my partners in Cairo are "organized crime" because they pay for working equipment.   This is slander.  This is journalistic laziness.  This is planned obsolescence, in hindsight.   This is profiling.   This is wrong.   Who else is going to speak up?  Has the recycling community no goddamn shame?

The Blind Mis-Leading the Blind

Basel Action Network attacks ISRI, both in a press release today, and last week in E-Scrap News.  Quote from BAN on the ISRI Data presentation:
The ISRI-sponsored report doesn’t pass the smell test,” says Jim Puckett, BAN's Executive Director.  “Basic analysis reveals it to be even worse than a case of garbage in, garbage out.  ISRI puts its fingers on the scale of even the flawed data. The resulting conclusions are both inaccurate and irresponsible.
BAN.org, once again, makes "profit and payment" the villains.  If ISRI is for-profit, and BAN is not-for-profit, and neither has good data, should we trust BAN or ISRI?  If Ghana Tech is making money selling working display units to internet cafes and hospitals, how can we trust him?  Smash the value and refuse to export smashed goods, BAN says, is the only way to be safe.  E-Stewards say "I know my goods should not be exported - not because I tested them, but because I've already shredded them."  

But, how do they know Africa Geek's exports are bad?  What does my decision to shred material I don't test say about his decision to pay money to buy, pack, ship, import, and resell?

This is getting really old.   The Ghana Report, along with the ASU study, shows that payment for used electronics is one of the strongest indicators of value.   WR3A interviews with importers show BAN is making a killing on a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Discourage exports among e-stewards, and the buyers have fewer choices of supplier.  Good data is hard to see in dark alleys.

BAN has created the Al Capone, and now lines its coffers with "non-transparency" attacks.  Do I agree with some of BAN's statements about ISRI/IDC methodology?

When BAN has spent a decade making up data from whole cloth, a completely FALSE claim of 80% primitive recycling, any decent data moves the discussion forward.   I score this one for ISRI.  Despite the flaws in the study, BAN is wearing nothing.   BAN is completely naked.  And real people in Indonesi are hungry tonight because BAN's self-serving fatwah.  Declare geeks primitive, poison the well, tell people that ISRI members are poisoning the children.

Instead of data, the press release reminds us that journailsts saw dumping grounds.  Been there, discussed that.  Hospitals have morgues.   The alternative to recycling is mining, more poison than the worst recycling.  The dumping grounds are generated by the nations self-generated e-waste, and by 10-30% residue in imports.  Both those problems are better resolved by fair trade recycling than by shredding working product.

Shame on you Basel Action Network.  All you ever do is attack, you never apologize for a false accusation, despite pictures and proof of your lynching and shredding.    ISRI will not be the first or the last data to show that "recycling is good".  If BAN wants to make them the enemy of the Perfect, they are leading environmentalists into a long, dark, back-alley of non-transparency and prohibition, which of course has been demonstrated to work as well as did the bans on interracial marriage, abortion, alcohol and marijuana.

Accusation is easier than rebuttal
Sure, ISRI's data is flawed.  If you cannot come up with alternative data, keep your press release to yourself.  That is not a rebuttal.  Come on, tell people why the Boston Globe March 2010 article now has BRACKETS [ ] inside quotation marks.   Why does the online article no longer say "primitive wire burning" in describing the former contract manufacturing factory which reused, refurbished, and put in glass washing?  Lynching liars.  Mel Brooks "Inquisition" musical may be remade some day for the Ayatollah of e-Waste (and no, I'm not putting in a youtube clip here... but trust me, it's sadly funny).

ISRI's report provides a service by providing data.  BAN has provided only racist photos that repeatedly, as nauseum, show poor children when they KNOW for a FACT that they have attacked th Samsung Corning glass-to-glass operation in Klang Malaysia and the warranty-OEM-manufacturer-takeback operations in Indonesia, and that a major study has shown their false, misleading, fictious statements about exports to Ghana to be laughable racist bullshit.   Come on now, BAN... where's YOUR data?   Methinks thy press release doth protest too much.

Below are some observations about BAN's "rebuttal" to the IDC Report.

To Kill an Indonesian Mockingbird

"Republik Indonesia" is the third largest democracy, and the largest population of muslims (India is second, with more Muslims than Pakistan).  The country shares stewardship of the tropical islands of Papua New Guinea and Borneo.  It's the 4th most populated nation, stretching over island and archipelago... about three times the size of Texas.   It has some of the most densely populated cities, and some of the most sparsely populated forests.

Indonesia could go either way.

It could succumb to the "resource curse".  The same volcanic history that brought the tidal wave tsunami disaster of 2004 has also left copper, gold, and rare earth metals.  The rain forests are being systematically cut down, like the Amazon, to plant commercial crops - like timber and palm oil plantations.

Indonesia could also follow the path of the "Network of Tinkerers".   Like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, Indonesia's economy is building on the "geeks of color", the repair and refurbish and shanzhai knock-off economies.  Contract manufacturing has a leg in the economy.

Organic Recycling: Compost Happens

compost windrow - wikipedia
A 16 year old recycling worker was pronounced dead, and two others unconscious, at a compost operation in Bakersfield California yesterday.

Evidence suggests that when the three went into a drainage ditch, that heavier-than-air gas hydrogen sulfide had gathered there from the decaying compost windrows, and sunk to the lowest point in a ditch.  Employees went into the ditch for some reason, and were overcome by fumes... see Bakersfield Californian report, which interviews company, colleagues, and regulators.  It appears a "Lake Nyos" accident, heavy air pushing out oxygen.

Death from compost would be exceedingly rare, though NIMBY interests generally oppose them as neighbors (due to odors).   Allowing organic matter to gradually decompose seems about as passive a waste recycling activity as one could imagine.  There are no "witches brews" of unnatural electronics circuit toxics involved... though the regulator quoted notes that a ditch is a "confined space".  This is strictly organic recycling danger.

Too early to draw conclusions.  But much of what I've focused on in this blog is how people make law and policy from a bad impression... photos trip a "cognitive risk" lobe in our brain, and environmentalists might forget that mob law and sanctimony (sancti-money) are not something we are immune to.

Bait and Switch: Gag Video Issue

File under Bandwidth, Blogrank, and Rank-poison...

Video, like "widget fever", reduces blog readership.  I noticed last year that putting new "widgets" onto the blog reduced views.  That, I believe, is a bandwidth issue.  Since a small but important part of the readership is coming from Africa, I think the widgets and video additions are slowing the page load.

I've enjoyed reading and writing posts with video and music embedded.  Like the one at bottom... hilarious "switch gag" video.  But the post it had been embedded in was one of the most important I wrote that quarter.  I was looking for a reference, and found that the post was 25% lower in readership, despite being important.  So I had to switch out the video to improve the pagerank / SEO of the profound-er post.

Speaking of SEO and tricks...  Someone is posting "spam" comments which have links to google-statistic red flag targets.  That link, even in the comments field, might reduce google page rank to this blog.  I've chosen to leave some up, because Google is aware of this use of comments to link to negative-page-link farms.    I'm taking the chance that loss of page rank is worth preserving the evidence of the activity.  Google is aware that comments to blogs can trigger the "nofollow" algorithm.   The people leaving the "punish host" comments are trying to say very bland things so that they cannot be tracked.

The "red flags" are innocuous approvable comments, with a link back to a site with zero (google-nuked) pagerank.  Not just to low ranking, but to one already tagged as pagerank poison.

"Interesting site.  Your blog is thoughtful.  I will watch this important issue"

IFIXIT, ISRI: Waste Recycling Sanity

Pelts:  Non toxic, recyclable, organic, and not "waste"
Two important efforts are underway to defend sustainable consumption, vis a vis the Solid Waste Hierarchy.
  1. Reduce 
  2. Reuse 
  3. Recycle

Today's heroes are IFIXIT.com and ISRI.org.  The first is a reuse via repair organization, the second is a recycling association.  Both get it.  The worst recycling is better than the best mining.

This is environmentalism 101, going back to the first Earth Day (1970), and it is central to the definition of "waste".  Waste is defined as discarded by a consumer, ie post consumption.

Simply, the hierarchy is based on the central, undisputed fact, that mining-consumption-disposal is non-sustainable and carbon-belching.

However much a recycled paper mill might be improved, it is never worse for the environment than sending trucks up mountains to cut down trees and bleach them into pulp.   However cranky a scrap metal or junk dealer may seem, he never does as much harm to the environment or rain forest as the most polished metal mining company.   No matter how many photos you take of a barefoot child, repairing a cell phone beats the hell out of making a brand new one.

IFIXIT is picking up where WR3A left off.  I'm exhausted, happy to pass the ball.  We were trying to document reuse and refurbishment in developing nations via cheap cameras, with film uploaded to www.viddler.com (search term WR3A).   IFIXIT is going to do what we couldn't, which is to get professional filmmakers to study the reuse market overseas, and give voice to the parents of the shoeless children obnoxiously photographed, like harp seals, by watchdogs who give nary a penny to improve the kids lives.  Like a Greenpeace ship that burns harp seals as fuel, the watchdogs have done immeasurable harm to sustainability, democracy, environment, and law.  IFIXIT has heard the debate between us, and is sending journalists to see for themselves whether the Good picked the fight with the Perfect.  IFIXIT is the voice of sanity.

ISRI, meanwhile, is defending Recycling on the Waste Definition Front.   ISRI has the history and legal skill to counter-define the mission creep of EPA into raw material Commerce.  ISRI. Defending. Basic. Recycling. Good!   The war against the hierarchy is the definition of "waste".   If "hazardous waste" regulations apply to recycling, but do not apply to mining, then the perfect is the enemy of the good.  The mission creep is based on well-meaning "environmental justice" advocates, who respond to the momentum caused by real estate interest and property values.  I don't care if your recycling process saves baby seals, I don't want it in my neighborhood... AKA NIMBY, or "Not In My Backyard".  This was the conservative-anti-recycling barrier of the 1970s.  It led to a compromise of recycling going into less affluent real estate.  That seemed unfair to poor urban people.  The compromise - kill baby seals, who are in proximity to neither the wealthy nor the urban depressed sites.   The total pollution or hazard is divisible by property definitions.  Use waste law to kick the mining back into the rain forest.   ISRI is the voice of sanity.  From their recent call:

Regarding Proposed Definition of Solid Waste
Using its authority under federal hazardous waste laws, EPA has proposed to start regulating recyclers of scrap metal, shredded computer boards, and possibly other similar non hazardous materials. This proposal, if it becomes final, is likely to have very serious impacts on our industry, and on recycling generally. It will not only increase costs considerably, but it will also make people think that recycling scrap metal is the same as disposing of hazardous waste. ISRI needs your help to convince EPA that this is the wrong thing to do. Attachment A contains suggested questions and comments for you to send to EPA as a comment to this proposal by OCTOBER 20. Please do not simply copy these comments and send them in. To be most effective, please read them and, if you can, tailor them to your operations. You can fax, email or upload your comments directly to EPA at the following addresses:
The information in this message is intended to help you write a comment letter and talk about this issue with your suppliers and customers. Please encourage your suppliers and consumers to send similar comments to the EPA as your suppliers and consumers may be adversely affected if the materials you handle are suddenly deemed to be wastes or hazardous wastes.

I will try to spend more than the 30 minutes I spent on this blog and follow up on both the ISRI and the IFIXIT efforts.  The point is, it's not just me.   After 5 years of playing nice with the Watchdogs, esp. Basel Action Network, I believe they have become corrupted, much like a church, by a combination of their holiness and blindness to the interests of shredding and planned obsolescence.  They have in the end increased carbon emissions, lost working devices needed by democracy movements, and wasted rare earth metals, and their response is "we are a small non-profit and we mean well".  ISRI and I are branded "business", and many people in environmental justice, journalism, and jurisprudence are leaning towards stopping trade.  "Trade is bad" trumps free and fair trade and alter-globalization.

By taking my gloves off, I have not strenthened myself or my own organization.   But I believe we have empowered organizations like TechSoup, IFixit, and World Computer Exchange to go about their business. If Malcom X is not getting locked up, Martin is emboldened.

Shanzai Vs. Patents: Future Stock

Tip of the hat to Adam Minter of Bloomberg/Shanghaiscrap.com, who gave an even-toned but illuminating presentation on Chinese "E-waste" recycling at the EScrap Conference here in Orlando.   I hope he will put it online, though it would be missing his verbal critique.

Adam listened to my theory of patents...  That the USA and Europe have been so important a market to sell INTO that it was relatively safe, ten years ago, to let Taiwanese and Chinese subcontractors and contract manufacturers, such as Foxconn and Wistron, make everything you sell.   An American gadget company, like Dell or HP or Apple, is in many more ways a retailer - selling "shelf space" inside a box with their logo - than a traditional "manufacturer".     Even Japanese companies, like Sony, are letting China's contract manufacturing giants make the TVs.

My theory goes, that as the "Dell" box contains a Frankenstein of Corsair, Seagate, Intel, etc. parts, sewn together by Foxconn assemblers, that they increasingly rely on the patent to remain part of the equation.  The patent enforcement was access to American and European buyers.  If you violate our patent, we can stop letting you make our products, and without Dollar and Euro holding customers to sell to, mutually assured destruction would ensue.    My theory then says that an important milestone has been reached - China is buying more new products than America is.   While the USA market remains important, the leverage of a major OEM brand is declining.   Selling copyright-infringed or knockoff products solely in Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai, etc. is not the "desert niche" it was a decade ago.

My question to Adam was whether the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) would step in, and wield their own power of patent enforcement.  How would that power be used?  Would CCP become a member of AGMA, or a power broker?   Recalling how HP gave $6M to the Chinese EPA in 2002, and how it resulted in seizures of printer cartridges, ink cartridges, printer repair shops, and repairmen, could a CCP-AGMA bond become a future sci-fi villain?  Or would the CCP "forget how to speak English" and ignore western patents, letting their own private companies wield the free market power once enjoyed by USA brands?

PPV - Shanzai Mona Lisa
Adam taught me an important word - Shanzai.

This isn't an exact translation, but my understanding is that in the same way Westerners have a "soft spot" for underdogs, that Chinese culture has an applauding respect for "one-upmanship" in "improving" a great product made by another.    If I could improve on da Vinci's Mona Lisa, I might share a space at the Chinese Louvre.   If the "knock off" is an improvement - like the "Iphone V" discovered in Shanghai (an unauthorized copy which actually improves on any Apple Iphone sold before it), that the reaction among the Chinese public is like a rock audience to a guitar riff.

Future of Stock:   If the public in China do not hold corporate stock in the OEMs, they are unlikely to care whether a contract manufacturers "forgets english" and marches off to its own drum.   Even the CCP would find it hard to enforce against Shanzai.  That ultimately means that America needs to stay rich in order to leverage China's manufacturer sector.   And the more America outsources its manufacturing, the more difficult that will be.

I for one welcome the new Shanzai overlords.  If taking "cores" and used product to refurbish to like-new and better-than-original, it means using fewer natural resources, and producing less carbon, to make life better for more people.  The more we shred product to prevent "gray markets" the more America shreds its wealth.   A less wealthy America is less important a market to lose over a patent pissing match.

Cheap, reused goods, open new markets.  Ford Motor Company had the best reply to Vance Packard - people learn to drive on used cars, and the more people learn to drive, the bigger the car market.   Internet access in places that earn $3k per year is important to the future of American producers.    Let Africa, India, China, Indonesia and South America have cheap used goods - we should sell ours to them.  That is how the neighbors improve their houses, and the property values of my own house will go up with the neighborhood.

Perspective at EScrap 2011

In the 1990s, I learned from a mentor, Sheldon Appel, of Perkit Folding Box Company (a small paper mill, incredibly still operating in inner city Boston in the 1990s) that in the recycling industry, we think we are recycling paper, plastic and metals.   Actually, he told me, we are recycling people, by creating jobs and patiently working with people desperate enough to work for us.  He said he had stopped making money running the paper mill years earlier, but still ran it in Mattapan, because the people who worked for him would have serious trouble finding blue collar work if they ever closed.

Shelly, Baynard Paul, Jim Harvey, Milty Shaeffer, the Golds... a generation of recyclers who had been around as the Massachusetts paper mill industry survived by recycling.  The larger and larger scale paper mills were moving closer and closer to the trees, up in Maine and Canada, and proximity to the urban areas which needed the paper was now easy to do with Eisenhower's system of interstate highways, undercutting the advantage of having paper mills close to cities.  While the recycling mills like Perkit and Newark Paperboard and American Tissue were indeed "saving trees", they didn't do it on purpose...   They were accidental environmental companies, turning to a feedstock that came from the city, in order to survive and compete with a maturing market.

WR3A Is Fair Trade Recycling

This morning, at the Resource Recycling "EScrap 2011" show in Orlando, the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association will disappear.  In its place will be a new name, //FairTradeRecycling//

Like Kiva, Peace Corps, and Fair Trade Coffee, WR3A members will be people who see other people in other countries for what they can do, not just for what they cannot do.

Logo will be in the shape of a heart, drawn in chasing arrows, with patterns of continents on the heart.

CRT Glass to Glass Recycling: Down For the Count?

Since the 1990s, environmentalists have had a strong preference for CRT glass to be remelted into new CRTs.  It preserves the value added by the barium and lead which is vitrified into the solid glass, and avoids mining of new lead and silica.  Given a choice between making a CRT television out of mined material, and making one out of recycled glass, it's no contest.

But word is that China is pulling the plug on its 20 year obsessive CRT manufacturing campaign.   They are sufficiently entrenched in LCD and LED display production, that they are turning off CRT glass furnaces.  "Time to move on."  We never really had access to export to those CRT glass to glass operations, and so China never really developed phosphor washing (at least, that they allowed anyone to use).   Now those markets have gone away, having never done anything but make CRTs out of mined material from Kunming and Mongolia.

The USA of course lost its last CRT furnaces a decade ago.  Europe lost CRT glass manufacturing 6 years ago.  Samsung Corning in Klang Malaysia did not retool and is giving out their purchase orders for cullet on a month to month basis.  That would leave India - which still sold as many new CRT units as flat panels this year - as the sold CRT glass to glass option in the world.

We Could Help... Praise Us, Praise You

About a year ago, Jim Puckett and I spoke about how upset I was over his organization's accusation, and subsequent closure of, a perfectly respectable CRT refurbishing factory in Indonesia.  He said he wanted me to calm down and ease the criticism over the closure of this reputable factory.

Jim offered that he could help.  A letter from him, he said, would go a long way to helping the factory.  But that I would first have to lighten up on my criticism in my blog.  I stop criticizing - he puts in a good word to the government closing the factory.  Quid. Pro. Quo.

That means either:

A) It's a bad, illegal, polluting operation, which BAN is willing to spare in return for my being nicer in my blog, or...

B)  It's a good, reputable, Basel Convention Annex IX B1110 operation, legal... but he refuses to correct the false accusation unless I'm nicer in my blog.

Either way... A or B.... You are not a good person.  I choose to help the factory buy what it needs elsewhere, USA be damned.

Praise or damn the factories for what they are, not for what I say.  I got to praise you like I should.