Basel Action Network Awarded Title, Cash, Prizes

soviet russia[Seattle, WA: April 1, 2012]  A hero's welcome was unveiled for an environmental watchdog group, to recap 10 years of efforts to reduce toxics, enforce international law, and close loopholes for dumping of used surplus electronics, or "e-waste".   The award recognized efforts of a USA NGO to represent unsuspecting victims in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Basel Action Network, of Seattle Washington, dedicated its award to struggling Africans in emerging markets.  These small African businesspeople, who spend hundreds of millions of African dollars on used computers, find out many years later that the goods they imported and use are actually "e-waste".

The "Environmental Revolutionary Steward" award was presented by Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Basel Action Network's leader James Puckett arrived by helicopter from his private first class Paul Gaughin Cruise Ship onto a red carpet at a military ceremony at CenturyLink Field.

Puckett approached the podium to a standing ovation by military rulers from a dozen nations.  He accepted the award as well as a check for 1% of the proceeds of customs fees seized for every container of used computers stopped at the ports in Tripoli, Alexandria, and other "developing world" ports.

Only Outlaws Will Export Computers
President Ahmadinejad held the E-Waste trophy high over his shoulders.  He called the BAN organization the "Real heroes" of the "Pledge of True Green Revolution", and the "Stewards of Stability".   This is the first time Ahmadinejad has used the term "green revolution", a term previously banned from use in Tehran.

Each of the generals and dignitaries joined Puckett to decry the pollution and toxic risks from the use of sites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Google+, Orkut, Stumbledupon, etc.

"Ok, Revolution 2.0 is over.  Revolution 3.0 has now returned things 180 degrees, prior to all of this Kaleed Said nonesense," said Saadi Gaddafi Qaddafy Kwadafee, the billionaire football star and playboy son of deposed Colonel Omar Quadafi of Libya.

soviet russia
Prepared for used cell phone fixer lab raids
"We will not have our children exposed to computer viruses, or poisoned by toxic fumes from affordable computers," said Bashar al-Assad, leader of Syria.  "Used PCs pollute our young brains with pornographic images of democracy."

The "E-Steward Award" recognizes the efforts of European, American, South Korean, or Japanese recyclers who shred the highest percentage of used electronics, or close the doors of affordable "white box" refurbishing factories.

"Good enough technology is not good enough for Africa," said Husni Mubarek, via a Skype call covered on the stadium megastream.  A chant of "Good enough is not good enough" ensued from the green-uniformed military battalion at center stage.

"Appropriate technology is completely inappropriate," said deposed Tunisian president-for-second-life Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali.

RIP: Choma, Lima TV Repairman 1946-2011

Choma, Peru Tech, 1946-2011

As we wind up our re-tour, revisit, and update of the Peru reuse market, we need to share some sad news.  Choma was a TV repairman and longtime employee of ACETV, a women-owned Peru electronics importer (one of our hosts).   

The import business had slowed.  Jinex's brother's monitor resale shop has been converted to a restaurant, and her repair business, while still plugging away, is smaller (one of her 6 employees now does repair).  Choma, one of her older techs, passed away at age 65 about a year ago.

Neither side of the e-waste/e-scrap/e-reuse debate is immune from overstating our case, or of using people as pawns in our war of imagery.  I've used Choma's photo a lot during the past 5 years.  I hope not to become a "parasite of the poor" myself.  This blog shouldn't try to exaggerate the technicians in the emerging world as being some kind of a lavish success story.  The shops are dirty, the work is hard, the workers are poor.  Choma died of stomach cancer, we can't know what difference more money would have made.

Trade, as opposed to the "business" of stopping trade, is by definition something we want to go on and on.  We want to continue to meet the people we do business with, again and again and again.  Success for a fair trade recycler is coming back and making another trade.  Success is when the exchange goes well, both sides make a little more money and get something they would not otherwise have gotten.  But no business is immortal, and as cheaper new (and refurb, and gray market) products arrive in Peru from China, careers like Choma's may pass away, as the TV repair business has in the USA.

When you take pictures of technicians in shops overseas, you are hoping to see them again.   When they pass, like Choma, you have a chance to remember them and be sad for their families, but happy to have worked together, even if you never spoke the same language.  I think there's a distinction between the photos of relationships, and the drive-by photos meant to impart shame, which raise money without ever sharing the names, much less the dimes.   But recycling tourism is also borderline exploitation, and with humility I can say only that I know who Choma was, and I know whom he worked for.  I cannot say he knows me or that I was his friend.   I'm glad for him to have had a sustainable career, and I hope his family knows the respect which some of us feel for the Geeks of Color.

I do have film of the younger (and one older) generation of TV and monitor repair geeks here in South America.  There is still another decade of tinkering to do.  The Tinkerer is Gone, Long Live the Tinkerers.

The theme of this recycling-oriented graffiti-mural, photographed yesterday, seems to be, to take our causes seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

EWaste Whiplash II: PriestaTollah, Reporters, Sex

"Why your daughter should not marry outside the village"
How E-Waste Trade is basically about Sex and the Church

Whiplash begins when you care, listen, "like", and "follow" people in a competition for your attention.

You are a farmer with 3 daughters.  One is educated, learned well in school.  A second is illiterate, she speaks only her native language, and she works in the fields.  A third daughter is only 10 years old.

A wealthy man comes from the capital city.  He is dressed in a fine suit, he has expensive gadgets, he is obviously very rich.  He asks about taking one of your daughters hands in marriage.

You want to check the guy out.  You go to the Priestatollah.

The Priestatollah emphatically says that he knows about the men from the City.

The Priestatollah came himself from the City... he knows what goes on there.

The Priestatollah will save the one thing most important to you... your family.

. . .

According to the Priestatollah:

  • The marriage will be exploitative.
  • The marriage is illegal and she will be arrested.
  • Your daughters will be abused and treated like slaves
  • The City men will take the daughter too young for marriage.
  • The City men will poison your daughter's blood with toxics.

EWaste Whiplash I: Recycling Trade Between Rich and Poor

clap, clap, clap.
WHIPLASH and E-Waste Trade:  Good and Evil do battle in international markets, non-profit NGO rescues virgin natives from sinister computer exporter / exploiter...

Smile and wave, clap and nod... that's the instructions for ewaste recycling companies when we read the headlines of E-Stewards and EPA crackdowns.   We aren't asked to share data on what the markets, like here in Lima, are actually like.   That would be like discussing sex, religion, profits, and politics all in one dinner conversation.  Everything mom told you not to talk about at parties.

From time to time a regulator or researcher confides to me, that they read the blog, that they personally are curious about fair trade recycling, and the Geeks of Color.  But they don't want to be seen talking to me, or Dieu forbid, leaving public comments.  I get enough personal private feedback to keep writing.  But no one wants to turn over the money-changer tables with me.  Reminds me of private discussions about Christianity in Arkansas when I was growing up... fascinating and intellectual, but not too loud, keep this between us.

But so much of the news coverage is stupid.  Dudley-Do-Right-Stupid.

Coverage has been 81.3% black and white, victim and protector, Reefer Madness BS.  There is more-than-a-lot of grey area between "consenting adults", and the word "exploitation" is used to describe the concerns third parties have over the consummation.  We are indeed exporting garbage, but it's in the form of negative propaganda about the repair and recycling trade.  Pictures of children in poor countries!!! and and ETB have become like some kind of Save The Children campaign which eliminates the hassle of sending a dime to the kids in the photos.  They are surrounded by good people, but it has become a charity based on NOT doing something (buying and selling used electronics).  The more money you give them, the more they tell people what not to do?

Just remove parts prior to export
Parasites of the Poor.  And when I say that, I'm considered too far right, too radical, politically incorrect, and crazy ol' uncle Rob.  People suggest I say it differently, i.e. in a manner which doesn't threaten the fundraising.   "We wouldn't be talking about e-waste if it wasn't for these NGOs".

Maybe not.  Maybe we'd have been talking about mining rainforests and coral reefs with conflict mining child warriors sending tantalum and coltan money to Kony.  Maybe we'd see that the biggest lead poisoning cases in Nigeria have nothing to do with recycling, but come from rare metal mining.  Maybe we'd be talking about MEST and the actual choices people recycling scrap metal have in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Maybe we would actually NOTICE when BAN uses a photo from the outside of this cell phone repair shop to make its case that Geeks of Color are poisoning children, rather than the truth, which is that they refurbish cell phones for farmers in Africa, and reuse chips from phones - reuse even component level parts which took coltan from child warriors to make in the first place.

Why do I get so frustrated at the non-profits?  Why don't I be more diplomatic?  Well, maybe because here I am, once again in the emerging markets (South America), and geek businesspeople are giving up, buying cheap Chinese virgin made products.  The choices given them were to buy from the Americans who are willing to sell "e-waste" to them, which unfortunately includes no one with a conscience.

The people with a conscience are all drinking E-Steward Kool-Aid and boycotting the Techs and Geeks like they are some kind of cyber-leper.  They face shakedowns at customs, as duty officers threaten to seize the whole investment as "e-waste pollution".  They risk too much when they buy affordable used products.  They are told to buy tested working, fully functional equipment from shredding companies which produce "no intact unit" California-fluff.

They are giving up.  And when they give up, they open restaurants.  They need jobs.  Used computers and TV repair was a good job, but that got too political for them.

Here is my family having dinner in a shop which 4 years ago sold used computers and TVs from Middlebury.  These people are still my friends, but they are giving up and trying something else.  Used USA equipment used to be 100% of their family income.  They now buy "brand new cheap-o" Chinese electronics (which is getting better and better), and run restaurants.  Across the street, a former competitor's shop is still selling used TVs and PCs, but my friends threw in the towel.  This will be how Peruvians meet Americans now, as tourists not as traders.

PACE Yourself: Basel Logic of e-Waste Export

HP Blackbird 002 Crashes in the Dead of the Night.
An e-waste export crime in the making...

Basel Convention has a section on legal export which says that repairing electronics is not "Waste".  The ENGO Basel Action Network protested that from the beginning, but lost.  The ENGO now seeks to change this via a BAN "Amendment", calling the Convention as ratified as "an unfinished success story"...

In the meantime, while waiting for its amendment to be passed, BAN is fervently presenting the case that export for repair is indeed already waste.   While waiting to get its export-crime law passed, BAN is also trying to get "competent authorities" in importing countries to act as if repair is already illegal.

Blackbird crashing inthe dead of the night
The NGO has already been very successful when either A) the importing country manufactures new products and sees protectionism value in BAN's interpretation, or B) is a dictatorship trying to stop affordable internet.  89.7% of e-waste enforcement I've seen may be within one of these two categories [tic].  Now they are trying to get the interpretation enacted by USA Congress.   This is what HR 2284, the Green Thompson #Ewaste Bill, would do in the USA.

While waiting for export for repair to be made illegal, how is export for repair already in fact illegal?  BAN explains the logic, in their own words. From the BAN Library:

Nairobi and Lima Prove Pixelized World Theory

From the patio above 28 Av Julio in Miraflores, Peru, I can see I've been through 5 different worlds in 12 hours.

The old cliche "first world, second world, third world" was adapted in the 1970s to make the distinctions that "OECD" completely and utterly failed to make.  Within "non-OECD" there were two entirely different worlds.  The "third world/second world" was then dropped by the 1990s, and the term "emerging world" and "emerging markets" was coined.  It better described the BRICK nations (Brazil Russia India China Korea) or BRIC (when it was pointed out that Korea didn't even belong is that pack, it was an industrial superpower like Japan by then).

What we are witnessing in Kenya and Peru is that the entire concept of "nation" and "country" is completely inept at describing movements of recycling, raw material, and waste.   Geographically, it's like trying to fit Youtube into your TV Remote.  It used to be enough to talk about "what country".  Information is pixelizing the world.

Miraflores resembles Barcelona, Penang resembles Miami, Nairobi resembles Guadalajara.

When it's a super-populated nation, like China, the cities like Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong conglomerate into something which is so far apart from "OECD" definitions that Basel Convention becomes an NBA referee in a kickboxing ring.

We drove through some very tough barios last night, and our car was accosted by a legless man at an intersection.    I'm not suggesting that the SuperMarcado (Gringo Supermarket) represents the reality of life across Peru, or that the hotel in Nairobi erases Agbogbloshie.  There is a Tech Mall in Nasr City as well as a Goma Market.   There is Guiyu and there is Foxconn.

Most of the waste in the dumps at these cities, and yes I mean e-waste, comes from inside these countries.

I'll try to get pictures of everything.  Everybody in Lima.   We'll feed all their faces into a computer and spit out a trade policy.   Well geez, it makes more sense than CA SB20.

How we think about  Peru:

How many people live in Peru

How others live in Peru

How people recycle in Lima

How Lima Sees Lima

Judge Competent Authority: EPA or Commerce?

Mom decides Moms are the Competent Authority.   If Dad says you can play ball with your friend, Mom says you have to ask your friend's Mom first.  Dad says he already spoke to the friend's Dad, and they agreed that the kids can play ball.

Environmentalists (Moms) mean well and are often right.  But they are not correct or "competent" by virtue of them being "Mom", at least not more so than "Dad'.   In the event of a dispute, the ruling is by a judge, not simply that Mom says that Moms decide.

Whether a good is a commodity or a waste is not just a matter of opinion.   Chinese Mom has been caught saying that things made in America are "waste" and saying, by definition, that if one person sells something they have "discarded" it and it is now waste.   That's nuts and the USA Trade Office needs to look into just how incredibly nuts it is for EPA to say that the decision is "competent".

I love my mom.  In this context, I am more of a mom than I am a dad.  But Chinese Mom is a crafty little devil.

Recycling scrap is a commodity exactly like mined ore.  If it's allowed for virgin material, it's allowed for scrap. Chinese mom can't say that only boys can play on the international field.  Environmentalists need to stick up for the right to recycle (or repair) the same as Moms and Dads need to stand up for the rights of our daughters to play ball.

EPA drafts new "Reuse Sale" Rules for CRTs

(Late additions in red)

When does "closing a loophole" crossover into "prosecuting the innocent"?  What are the legitimate reuse applications for CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors, and when do concerns over their high disposal cost make it an EPA, rather than Department of Commerce, issue?

These are the questions that EPA's Newly Proposed CRT Export Rules are meant to resolve.

When the EPA CRT Rule was first issued in 2006, after a couple of years of investigation, it rightly allowed for the "determination" of waste to be made by the recycler, followed by EXPORT based on that determination.

At that time, despite false and fabricated claims that 80% of the CRTs exported wound up in primitive recycling operations like Guiyu, the commerce was mostly driven by three factors:

  1. Original CRT Manufacturing Plants (same as warranty repair) were buying back CRT monitors with key functions
  2. These refurbishing factories were selling the SKD CRTs to 3B3K nations - the 3 billion people who are neither richest or poorest, but who were gaining internet access at 10 times the rate of growth of OECD nations.
  3. The only places the factories could get decent, newer CRTs (at the time) were the wealthy countries, which were rapidly turning them over to replace with flat screens.

The ubiquitous photo of the Chinese woman hammering the yoke off with a hammer raised peoples concerns, but in the end EPA allowed export for reuse on two conditions:

A)  One time notification
B)  Maintenance of 3 years of records showing actual reuse.

The problem in implementation was B.  I have kept meticulous records, and can't get anyone at EPA or Region I to show any interest in them.   They aren't getting them from any of my competitors, either.  This is how "reuse" becomes a loophole.

The EPA is now trying to close this loophole by creating an EPA-to-foreignEPA dialogue tracking the CRT to make sure that their sale is recorded and tracked.  They also want the same reports to be generated by everyone in the transaction - buyer, broker, and seller.   Excuse my lack of enthusiasm... but is the solution to never having reviewed the 3 years of records really to demand more records from more people?

The other issue is that EPA appears to be leaving out Department of Commerce and US Trade Offices out of the discussion.   Those entities know that when the Communist Party owns a factory making brand new CRTs, that they have a bias or incentive to ban USA Commerce.   Working CRTs which are sold for refurbishment are USA products, governed by Commerce.  The USA shouldn't set a precedent simply allowing a foreign nation to label our goods as a "waste" if they are not being discarded or speculatively accumulated.

See past post "Red Scare: Competent Authority Decision Trees" 

If China bans import of a computer which could be used to display a photo of the Dalai Lama, does violating that ban really trigger USA EPA enforcement?  These are "color orange" laws... a foreign nation can ban the color orange, but the USA should not draft a law which incorporates that into USA law by simple reference (making it illegal to export orange goods to a country banning the color orange).   There needs to be a clear environmental case against reuse.   Otherwise, another nation may use environmental laws to subterfuge WTO free trade agreements.  

China is already being investigated by WTO for doing this with rare earth metals.  If USA EPA makes it illegal to violate China's "environmental law" on trade in the commodity, then it doesn't matter if China loses the WTO case - you have now violated USA LAW by buying the "environmentally regulated" rare earth metals, which the USA made illegal based on the foreign nation's "competent authority" rule.  Reuse of CRTs is not an environmental crime, and second-hand goods are not "waste"... the Department of Commerce knows the distinction, and needs to be involved in this.  

But is CRT reuse still an important market?   That is a bigger "question mark" today than it was ten years ago.  The biggest difference is that foreign markets can now shrug the USA suppliers off... there are more displays in more places, new and used, than ever before.  If the USA wants to cut off its own nose, off with it, say the long-insulted CRT refurbishing factories.

Daisey Chain, Foxconn, and Export Policy

I want to strongly recommend listening to the podcast (or at least reading the PDF) from the retractions in This American Life.

Ira Glass of This American Life has done a good job of trying to undo the ficticious Mike Daisey reporting about Foxconn.  In this episode, they try to correct the mistakes without excusing past abuses, or defusing legitimate concerns over fair trade with the workers who make Apple and other products.

The moral, to me, is that if an accident happens at a different factory in China (not Foxconn), 1000 miles to the west, two years ago, that it's not ok to say that you eyewitnessed the same accident happened at Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen.  This undermines the good factory, by making them the same as the bad factory.  The fact that both factories have brown people in them does not really excuse the shortcut.  The lesson is that if you are a journalist, and you give someone a soap box, you have to act swiftly to prevent a daisy-chain of bad journalism from taking route.

This is what CBS 60 Minutes allowed to happen, relying on Basel Action Network's Jim Puckett, in reporting that CRT monitors were scrapped in Guiyu, China, and not at the refurbishing factories I showed them pictures of.  They set into motion a chain of daisey-claims, infecting PBS Frontline, and Terry Gross' Fresh Air program, with fake statistics about e-waste exports.

Confessions: Foxconn Hoax by APM Mike Daisey

Fake Foxconn story on This American Life

While I don't want to exaggerate Foxconn as a wonderful place to work, I said from the beginning that it was nowhere nearly as bad as places like mines and textile factories in China, and the story by Mike Daisey didn't strike me as unbiased reporting.  I wrote two posts about how Foxconn is foremost a cooperative effort between Cantonese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Mandarin Chinese, which is kind of a coup by itself, and I provided film from Financial Times.

But it's worse than I thought.  Not Foxconn - Mike Daisey is worse than I thought.

This afternoon's press release from American Public Media:

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey's story, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn't work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.

"At that point, we should've killed the story," says Ira Glass, Executive Producer and Host of This 
American Life. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."

So when Mike Daisey says this,
...and all these people have been exposed [to N-hexane]...Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them...can't even pick up a glass.
What he meant was... well Marketplace asks Daisey in this interview which sheds new "dark" on his tale... [] :
Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.
Mike Daisey: That’s correct.
RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?
MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.
RS: How would you express it?
MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.
Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?
MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.
IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.
MD: That’s correct.
Now maybe people will remember the great "E-Waste Hoax" of Africa, and ask themselves, when does passion do more harm than good?

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When I say "You destroyed peoples lives"...

... what I meant was, "You are destroying peoples lives."

From Nairobi, I got a message from BAN.   Here's my answer.

You think I'm talking about YOU?

You describe it as a personal attack against YOU?

You are 1 percent of the equation when you destroy 99 lives.

I was talking about them.  The factory closed down because you told the government they were polluters and illegal and primitive.  They have families.  They made display devices out of working CRTs and sold them to other islamic countries which set up internet cafes and had revolutions.

Ad hominem attack?  Is "dip@*&" an ad hominem attack?  I guess so.  But you tell everyone you are a good non-profit crusader, but all you are doing is wrecking the only sustainable jobs these people had, in nations where sex trade, drugs, mining, and warfare make up far too much of the employment already.

We wasted years explaining this to you nicely.  You want a better relationship?  Stop shooting kids in the face (with your camera) and get real about how internet is growing at ten times the rate in nations earning a tenth of our take home income.  A lot of people should be very ashamed of using your marketing campaign. If my state passes a law obligating me to pay a percentage of my gross income for you to spend attacking geeks of color, I'll set myself on bloody fire.  This isn't about international law, or pollution, this is about taking jobs and internet away from geeks and giving the money to YOU.

 Do you know the names of any geeks in Ethiopia?  You pose there and say they are happy because they aren't importing, that they get only tested working older PCs, not newer ones they can fix.  Take your success story and shove it, we talk to hundreds of geeks and give them more choices, and the more choices they have, the better off they are as PC refurbishers.

You should thank me for telling it to you straight.   Taking money from people who "see the light" and abandon their geek friends to rot is not my idea of "stewardship".

What hurts the most from Kenya is the word of the official who said "we wouldn't be here talking about this if it wasn't for Jim".  You know that you wouldn't be in Africa if it wasn't for ME.   I brought you there, like a kind of smallpox, and I feel personally responsible and ashamed.  They wouldn't be there in Africa discussing the BANs if it wasn't for you, and you wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me.

WR3A - Live From Nairobi, Kenya!

The Great E-Waste Hoax of Africa is Falling!

Live from the ground in Nairobi, where WR3A has 4 people watching the proceedings. 
These are each links to the individual presentations. 

I'll try to give titles and presenters names later, in the meantime, hunt and fish and flag.

Concluding Remarks, final presentation 
"Avoid the import of e-waste and near-end-of-life equipment without
hampering the meaningful and socio - economically valuable trade
of used EEE of good quality. 
Refurbishing of EEE and the sales of used EEE is an important
economic sector in some countries of West Africa (e.g. Ghana and
It is a well-organized and a dynamic sector that holds the potential for
further industrial development. 
Indirectly, the sector has another important economic role, as it supplies
low and middle income households with affordable ICT equipment and
other EEE. 
"In the view of the sector’s positive socio-economic performance, all policy measures aiming to improve e-waste management in WestAfrica should refrain from undifferentiated banning of second-handimports and refurbishing activities and strive for a co-operativeapproach by including the market and sector associations."

General Custer Reincarnate in Africa

You know who I'm talking about.  Enforcer of International Laws, in the form of unpassed amendments, the bringer of change in his vision.

The bringer of western ways.   Until the savages learn not to repair and recycle, because it just isn't safe.

The e-waste IT recycling should be done by whitie.

By the way, this internet thing is really cool.  Blackie should take some IMF or World Bank loans and leapfrog into the 21st century, and pay the interest in sweaty coltan mining jobs, to buy more new Stuff.

It's a whole package, it's all planned.  Obsolescence brings jobs to our factories, which we outsource to the people who are too primitive to fix or disassemble our stuff.

What he's destroying are the Geeks of Color, who are the best hope for places that otherwise offer kids employment in the sex trade, or who become thugs like KONY.

The image of the thugs like Kony is what gets the press, which further ingrains the image of an Africa too backward and too poor to fix a cell phone or CRT monitor.   Pounding and pounding the image of primitives into the press in Boston, just as period writers wrote of Custers heroic battles against the savage Apache.

The truth is now out there.   Ghana has 30,000 repair technicians, earning 10 times the average wage, creating places like MIST and intenet cafes like the ones in Cairo.

The threat to Custer yesterday would have been images of women and children laying on the "battlefield" outside their teepees and tents.  The threat today is an image of Chicas Bravas, an image of Geeks fixing, repairing, tinkering, debrouillards patching a new laptop out of two throwaways.

The threat to the ENGOs is that they will be caught having telephoned the EPA in the country of this (Indonesia) refurbishing factory, having told the competent environmental authority that it's a hazardous waste facility.  They are cutting down geeks at a rate that would make Custer proud.

Little Big Horn, Nairobi, Kenya...

Why All Good Recyclers are Exporters.

There are many good recyclers, and we are all exporters. 
The purpose of certification is to "out" the liars, not to debate the outliers. 

During the past week (blogs below), I've written several essays concerning marketing themes which are "attacking the category".
Negative campaigning, also known more colloquially as "mudslinging", is trying to win an advantage by referring to negative aspects of an opponent or of a policy rather than emphasizing one's own positive attributes or preferred policies. In the broadest sense, the term covers any rhetoric in which one refers to one's opponent in an ad hominem manner. [ wikipedia 2012.02.08]
Negative imagery of competitors' export practices probably accounts for "80% of advertising" for ewaste recyclers (a statistic I just manufactured... see how easy it is for Americans to make things - up?)

Export policy is important, it does matter.  Below are five distinct export categories, and the niches they serve.   How we manage and certify the first four will help us all to control the 5th (see post "Ewaste Travel in Scrap Metal" 2010).   Mixing CRT glass and mercury bulbs into bales of scrap metal is one dumping problem, but ship captains stranded with cargo refused at port is another cause of the same "export for dumping" problem.   Basically, there are five ways for your "e-waste" to get from Here to There.


1.  Export No Intact Unit Category:   Some of us feel safer exporting raw materials only, and market the "no intact unit" standard as an option.  These companies attract business from OEMs concerned with reuse (market cannabalization), counterfeiting, or the "grey markets" somewhere in between.  It's a legitimate recycling category.  These companies represent an excellent choice, for example, for an OEM with faulty parts taken back under warranty that they don't want redistributed.  These recyclers export bales of steel, plastic, copper, aluminum, and circuit boards, sold openly on the commodities market.  (slideshow of China's metal recycling companies, which buy shredded material for hand sorting - The Atlantic Monthly 2008)

2.  Export of Tested Working Category:   Some of us sell to retail markets, such as schools or direct retail shops, which are not in the repair business and are willing to pay more for something "fully functional" and "tested working".  The recyclers who sell to the direct-reuse market tend to wipe hard drives, reinstall MAR licenses, and do other things to ensure their exports are what the buyer ordered.  (Slideshow of Egyptian repair / direct reuse markets, 2008)

3.  Export for Repair and Refurbishing Category:   Within the remote corners (83% of the world), there are mind-blowing repair and remanufacturing companies.  Some of these began as contract manufacturers (e.g. CRT factories) and performed warranty repairs as well as assembly.  Some have turned to full-fledge cores refurbishers, creating thousands of jobs in emerging markets, taking back things like old CRT tubes or smallish LCDs and recutting and re-vamping them.  They make things like monitor-television-DVD combos, which are sold in vast quantities to people earning $3,000 per year, who cannot afford to buy all 3 separately.  They tend to be very picky, but not about things like 120 volt power supplies... whether the power supply works or not, it's getting replaced for sale in a 220 volt country.  It's a very legitimate category.  The fact they buy non-working power supplies as well as working power supplies is evidence that they are the opposite of primitive.  Slides of the factories I've visited are available here.

Redemtech Explains (Attacks) R2

Singapore Internet Cafe
Basel Action Network says that my criticism has been mean-spirited, sometimes "ad hominem" attacks.  My friends see this blog as a purely defensive force.  If BAN and E-Stewards stops with the attacks on refurbishers, a la California Compromise, we could do great things together.  But classifying all 83% of the world in "non-OECD" nations as primitive wire burning victims is just wrong.

Here's a case in point.  E-Stewards are mounting their own blogs.  Here is one, sponsored by Redemtech of Ohio, by professional writer Carol Baroudi.  I'm not attacking Redemtech here.   But using Carol's own words, by agreeing with them, are we attacking her? Or is this a ricochet wound?

Redemtech is an electronics recycling company in Ohio.  They are an E-Steward certified "ewaste" company.   Bob Houghton, the CEO, has been in the business for a long time, and is a respected IT recycler.  This is not an attack on Redemtech... but this is the only way to reply.  When Redemtech started a blog, I left some comments.  I don't recall the comments ever being approved by moderators.  So, I'll try to get my point across here.

Redemtech blogger Carol Baroudi sounds off on R2, EPA's "Responsible Recycler" certification, and why E-Stewards is superior.   Note the tone...
First and foremost – No non-functioning equipment is ever exported. Got that? Never. R2 makes no such claim.
Got it.

This is certainly true.  I don't think anyone disputes that.  What is disputed is whether an E-Steward's working P2s are somehow superior to the P4's with replaceable capacitors which Wistron or another Asian subcontractor wants to buy.    Or whether the USA creates more jobs shredding those P4s rather than selling them back to the company that makes capacitors, for 5 times more money.  What is disputed is whether the same factory that takes back product for repair under warranty can also buy the exact same computer at surplus and do the same thing.  E-Stewards, according to the quote, considers warranty repair and manufacturer-takeback to be a crime.

There are more examples of "non-functioning" but good exports.  Empty ink cartridges for refilling ... no one claims those are "functioning"... there are lots of things in the "cores" business, for which "fully functional" is not an important criterion.   And it's all legal under Basel Convention Annex IX.  Lots of OEMs want us to shred the ink cartridges, rather than refill them, because they sell new ones for $20-30 each.  Maybe that's why some OEMs are the biggest contributors to E-Stewards.

Redemtech shipment
CRT monitors.  Why is "non-functional" so important to Carol, when it's not what the buyers are screening out?  I have personally seen Redemtech containers being unloaded in Jahor Bahru, Malaysia, when I went to visit a buyer there.   The Redemtech CRTs may well have been "tested working".   But the buyer's specifications were not "tested working".  The buyer didn't want "working" R4 tubes (trinitron).  But the buyer would be happy to receive other tubes that did not have a working power supply, because that's what the buyer does - refurbishes tubes.

These Redemtech PCs are being reused, and Redemtech should be as proud of trading with the Malaysians in this photo as I am.  If they refuse a tested working 21" tube because it's too big, or a 17" because of a surplus backlog or raster test, and pay $10 for the others... how could they be burning them?  It's obvious without visiting them.  But I did visit them, and was impressed.

I am the one who raised "warranty repair" as an issue, thinking that might cause people to think a little bit about who the contract manufacturers were.   I worked with ones which did both warranty returns and purchased refurbish-able ones on their own.

I thought that might really bring people closer together, explaining how warranty repair is the same factory as purchase certain (but not all) "non-functioning equipment".

But it's true.  First and foremost, warranty returns are non-functioning equipment.   They are made almost universally in factories which are not OECD.  Redemtech asks if we "got that"?

Got it.

When my company ships to the factory, we read the specifications in the PO, we remove what they want us to remove (including working equipment which is in surplus, or low demand, or wrong size/spec), and we get a feedback or QA/QC report explaining exactly how well our staff prepared what they shipped, and whether any of it was outside what they needed.  We had the factory inspected to meet R2 processes, and as a result of our contract, they became a CRT glass processor, taking back bad ones from the places they sold good ones (think needle exchage or "computers for clunkers").

So my problem with E-Stewards?  I think we can agree:
First and foremost – No non-functioning equipment is ever exported. Got that? Never. R2 makes no such claim.
So I haven't said or implied Redemptech is a bad company.  I think they are a great company.  I just happen to think that the people we both sold to in Malaysia had a great company, too.  And from in depth, face to face meetings, I am pretty sure I know what they need from us to make the world better.

What I don't understand is what the heck the factories Redemtech and I both sold to have to do with the primitive child photos in burning ditches which E-Stewards displays on its website.  Mr. Ong said "hi", by the way, when he gave me a ride across the bridge to his home in Singapore.

USA's Finest Supreme Court Ruling for Reuse

One of the places where the USA truly is a guardian of freedom and a defender of opportunity is the US Supreme Court and defenders of patent exhaustion policy.  The USA's defense of Jazz Camera in the seminal "first use" law case says....  If you buy it you own it.  If someone doesn't want you to own it, they have to offer you a LEASE, and there is a contract.   When the manufacturer has no lease agreement, and tries to claim that because of their patent or trademark, that you don't really own it and cannot resell it, the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in the buyer's favor.

Congress I'm not so sure of.

Electronic Fronterier Foundation needs an international office...

Stay in the company, Willie
China's courts, like Japanese courts, are extending patents to OEMs in a payola scheme which takes advantage of most people's ignorance of the issue.  Japanese law was bought by OEMs decades ago, and established many of the "cash for clunker" and anti-refurbishment, anti-reuse policies which are spreading to Korea and other countries.

"Judiciating Obsolescence" worries me more than anything else... but seems like tin-foil hat paranoia to most of my friends and co-workers.  But that is exactly what is happening in other countries, and we have had some close calls here in the USA.
Jazz Photo Corp. v. United States International Trade Commission264 F. 3d 1094 (Fed. Cir. 2001), was a case in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit clarified the law of repair and reconstruction (permitting the owner of a patented item to fix the item when it breaks, but not to essentially build a new item from the parts of an old one), holding that it was not a patent infringement for one party to restore another party's patented "one-use" camera to be used a second time.

How China Kicked Our Asses in Africa

Photo and post inspired from London School of Economics Africa Blog, 
Africa and China: How it all began

What I'm doing with Fair Trade Recycling is perfect.  It's appropriate technology, it gives Africans affordable internet, and the repair jobs which pay too little to do in the USA create 10 times the per hour wages for Africa.  It's the "tinkerer blessing", the opposite of the Resource Curse.

Thanks for the Business, Uncle Sam
It seeds and creates and pays for an appropriate technology recycling system.  While only 15% of imports of used equipment are bad (Wal-Mart returns are 11%), paying for the proper disassembly and recycling of incidental breakage, elective upgraded parts, etc. creates a recycling infrastructure.

In Retroworks de Mexico, that creates a "computers for clunkers" trade in program where the ones they refurbish for resale can be exchanged for the domestic-generated e-waste.  That's the system already in Africa, people trade in the ten year old ones for more recently imported and upgraded, which is the link between the importers and Agbogbloshie.  BAN and Greenpeace and Interpol would have known this if they'd given Souleymane, Wahab, Hamdy, Somda or Miguel the courtesy of a discussion rather than just profile them as "waste tourists".

USA would be smart to be selling the repair and working display devices etc. to Africa.  We create more income and more jobs through reuse.  We cannot afford to have an idiotic 48 cent per pound California-destroy-all SB20 system.

USA has former Peace Corps volunteers like me, African immigrants like Wahab and Souleymane, and a history as a melting pot which our biggest competitors - China, Japan and South Korea - didn't have.

10 Most Toxic African E-Waste Recycling Processes

UNEP Study:  The Dangerous 15%

"Risks and Opportunities of E-Waste"
("BAN-shes, cullet, aqua-regia... Oh My.")

Again, it's too bad that UNEP gave "Opportunity" second billing.  I suspect it keeps peace with the OEMs they are fawning over, papers over the embarrassing assumptions about "waste tourists" and "African criminals", and slowly re-acclimates us to the fact the glass is about 85% full.

There is indeed risk.  Not as much as mining, or dry cleaning, but the Center for Disease Control and OSHA do have rules.  Africa needs to gather the CDC and OSHA rules, as Retroworks de Mexico has done.  We all need to prioritize risks and benefits, and do so without hysterics.  Fair Trade Recycling doesn't want to be apologist for toxics.

So let's talk about the toxic risks.  What are the most dangerous recycling processes for e-waste in Africa, India, etc?  How do these compare with, say, dry cleaning, painting, or automobile repair?

At the Pan-African Congress WR3A is attending this month in Nairobi, the deal on the table is the same as Product Stewardship in California... stop import/exports in return for OEM money to recycle.

Africans would stop importing newer material, enforce "e-waste" planned obsolescence laws, and in return Europe will pay them top dollar for a cocktail recipe of sea container scrap... printed circuit boards, power supply, copper, and other scrap.   Something Europe would have paid for anyway, without any such anti-reuse compromise.

Let's look at the 9 or 10 very worst e-waste processes in Africa, and whether Africans can fix those themselves, on their own terms, before taking OEM devil deals.  Mining the metals like lead and coltan for the OEMs produces most of the harm in Africa.

Top 10 E-Waste Recycling Toxic Concerns for Africa:

ODM - Opportunity is in the Wind

First, here is a May 2010 film from Financial Times, which was done during the wave of 10 suicides at Foxconn (Han Hoi) in Shenzhen (click "MORE")

Playing Nice With "eWaste" Geeks

I sort of get wound up sometimes.  I really believe in Fair Trade Recycling, and it's really sad that our biggest opponents are "environmentalists".  This post is dedicated as a reminder of some of the people I've been very, very proud to have met in developing nations.  See my friends pictures, below the "more" fold.

Simon Lin, Wistron chairman
Photo Simon Lin, Wistron chairman
Photo credit: Digitimes file photo
What is a shame is that I have no slides of, or friends in, Chengdu, China.  It's just a little bit smaller than Cairo, with 14 million residents.  It's in Western China, which has lagged in development.

How is China trying to develop and advance this part of their country?  By partnering with Wistron, (the contract assembly company that owns ACER, number 2 in world PC sales).   The mainland Chinese government has turned once again to a Taiwanese billionaire with "tinkerer" roots.   Wistron began as a maker of plastic cases for computer monitors, and continues to supply SKD factories.  I'm sure there will be Western pessimism about Wistron and environmental stewardship, as there is with Foxconn and other Taiwanese-owned manufacturers.  But do they know that Wistron is also opening a major plastic recycling plant in Texas?  In fact, Wistron funds my company to collect computers from schools, free of charge, in New England.

I have met several people in the refurbishment business who bragged of knowing Simon Lin (one SKD factory owner was a nephew named after him).  Will I live to see one of my friends below, from Africa, Latin America, or South Asia, use the same refurbishing springboard?  No more far fetched than the idea of China's Shenzhen beehive would have been (to most) two decades ago.  And Taiwanese and Chinese investors are buzzing around Africa and South America like bees on daffodils.

What dreams can we have for the developing world?  I learned a new vocabulary word, ODM (original design manufacturer)...

These are great stories, about sustainable reuse, intelligent refurbishing, and geek and tinkerer economies, and recycling takeback, worldwide.  When I heard Allen Hershkowitz of NRDC, speaking on the Diane Rehm Show, say "I have been there, I have seen it" to describe "#ewaste exports" to 83% of the world, I shook my head.

I think I've been to a lot of different places.  Yet I could never imagine myself saying "I have been there" to describe the rest of the darn world.   I've never been to Chengdu, I've never even been to India or Pakistan.  But here are some places I have been to, and some people who have electronics knowledge have in common, with each other, with Wistron, and with FreeGeeks and Refurbishers here in the USA.

BAN NGO Threats Lawsuit vs. Vermont #ewaste Blogger

BAN:  Worst NGO in the world?
"Robin— this conversation is about one thing: removing the false and misleading information from your website.   It is my hope that you will agree to remove this libel and not attempt to “trade” its removal for any other action.

This is our final request.  Should you fail to remove this libelous information about our fees from your website immediately, the next communication you will receive on the subject will be from our attorneys. 

Please advise."

Ok, here's my advice.

BAN objected to my calculation of their fees for licensing "E-Stewards" Recycling.  My number was within 1%, not a glaring error like "80% bad exports" when the fact is "85% good exports".  This time, happily, BAN provided the real numbers, so I was happy to remove what I'd been told second-hand.

It's good to see BAN become such a stickler for correct percentages.  Boycott E-Stewards?  As I said yesterday, I wouldn't go that far... they are all good companies, even if the alternatives are not anywhere as bad as they say.  But here is my case for why Basel Action Network needs people like me to do them favors like this... Tough love from a fellow environmentalist.

First, let's be clear.  You wouldn't be suing me for saying that overseas refurbishing factories were ruined without evidence, or that the African dumps were not filled with imported material, or that you have a monetary incentive to recommend one company over a company that has the exact same (R2) system and markets. You won't sue me for mis-representing Basel Annex IX.  Of course not, 90% (a statistic I just made up) of what I write is true, which is a pretty decent defense.

You are threatening to sue me based on a decimal point, a percentage, somewhere between 0% and 2%.  You, who said that dirty Africans primitively burn 80% of the computers they buy, that they are waste tourists and criminals... You want to sue me over, plus or minus, a decimal point.  Hmmm. FY SUE ME?  No.  You should hire me.

Boycott E-Stewards Recyclers?

Here's an excerpt from the latest press release from Basel Action Network, which has announced that R2 (Responsible Recycler Certification) is accepted by E-Stewards, but not sufficient:
"BAN created the e-Stewards Standard after the R2 Standard failed to prohibit exports of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries"
Jim Puckett, BAN, sells E-Steward Certification, 
receives % of gross from E-Steward Companies

"After the R2 Standard FAILED"?  E-Stewards rolled out before R2 ever went to press.  R2 has not even been accused of anything specific except not being the choice of BAN, a choice BAN made before R2 went to print.   Now even "not being the choice of BAN" is in question, as BAN's announcement was that it was adapting R2 standards...

In any case, the studies have been released... even non-certified exports to Africa were 85% reused.  Just how bad could R2 certification be?

For 10 years, the non-profit NGO BAN said that 80% of the goods exported to Africa were e-waste burned in terrible conditions... the conditions prior to either R2 or E-Stewards Standards.  They showed us pictures of the kids in the dump, working on "allegedly" imported computer junk.  They said that the contract refurbishing (white box re-manufacturing) factories were "poisoning people" and "illegal"...

Now, seems it ain't so.