"E'Waste" Repair: They Took the Road Most Travelled

Agriculture in developing worlds can mean starvation.   There are a lot of things better than starvation.  Perhaps they shouldn't have to make that choice.  But they do.

Roll up the window, you're letting the air out

  • Bush meat, hunting of endangered species.
  • Gold mining and gold panning, using mercury from USA's recycled lamps
  • Cutting rain forests.
  • Soldier.
  • Sex worker.
  • Kidnapper, pirate, and thief.
There are many paths once the starving leave the rural fields and move to the slums.

There are not as many ways out. (World Bank: Informality & Productivity in the Labor Market in Peru)

Scrapping and repairing are not on the lists of Ju-ju professions.  The strong concentration of scrappers in China and Africa is not a sign of exploitation.  These are good people who are trying to thread a needle, who are trying to create wealth in the most honorable way they can.   Scrap and repair is the road most travelled for the smartest kids in the slums.

Jorge is still fixing TVs.   Choma was not replaced.  See them in action in the 2008 video below

They cannot all be taxi drivers, cooks, and teachers.  There has to be a way to add value.  Entire economies are supported on the multipliers from scrap and reuse.  The money they bring in makes another career, like teaching or taxi driving, or pie baking possible.

Finally: The "Ayatollah of E-Waste" Apology

The Apology...  Happy Earth Day

[Photos here are from Cameroon, Africa, where I lived in Adamawa, a pluralistic area that was about 50% muslim, and everyone got along]

Half of my students were Muslim
This month I have worked, on and off, with the apology. Interest is high - the blog leading up to this apology got 200 hits in a short period.

One good piece of advice about apologies is to be specific (er.. and brief).  Find something you did which hurt someone, something you regret, and build the apology around that.

I'm sorry for calling Jim Puckett the Ayatollah of E-waste.  Here's why.

BREAKING NEWS: Mexican Immigration Solved

From the Wall Street Journal:
"Net migration from Mexico has plummeted to zero thanks to changing demographic and economic conditions on both sides of the border, a new study shows, even as political battles over illegal immigration heat up and the issue heads to the U.S. Supreme Court.".. 
"The net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed," says the report, which is based on analysis of U.S. and Mexican government data by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.
The standstill, according to the report, results from declining immigration from Mexico paired with a rising number of people returning south from the U.S. Those trends recently converged, and between 2005 and 2010 about as many Mexicans left the U.S. as flocked here. 

People aren't dying to cross our borders anymore.

People aren't trying to take our jobs away.

They don't really need our e-scrap, either.  They have enough "e-waste" of their own.

 It's ridiculous, people flying around, dodging Mercedes Benz's, trying to get a rare shot of the endangered, exotic, scrap merchant.

Going to a landfill and photographing junk TVs, and we ASSUME they must have been just imported.  AFRICANS don't have TVs!  They MUST have been imported!!

Guess what?  They are selling milk in plastic bottles now!!  And the Berlin Wall is down!

Blunt Apology: E-Waste's Zimmerman, Jonathan Green @MailOnline

Before my Earth Day Apology goes to print, I have to be clear about what started this war between export bans of "e-waste" and fair trade recycling of used electronics.  "Criminals corner e-Scrap market" was the headline which describes the witch-hunt triggered by BAN's fake statistics.  BAN accuses, photographers find poster kids, and police are called in... to ruin reputations and lives of the best damn thing the developing nations have going.

We are still waiting for the outrage over this despicable racist Interpol report, and the horrific reporting (based on BAN.org press releases) that led up to it.   The Basel Secretariat had already released its detailed, thorough reports showing 85% reuse of electronics imported to Africa, and that the junk being burned in the fields, for the most part, had been discarded after years of use... there was no excuse for this story, this headline, this assumption...  All this racial profiling was completely discredited in a merciless report published a year ago, blogged about here a year ago today.

Recall the 2008 "Blunt Instruments" Blog about the UK Mail Online story by Johnathan Green, which got the most detailed response back from Jim Puckett and the reporter Mr. Green himself.  Read what is said about me ("Robin") by name.   Read Jim's comments (which I did not edit or censor).  Green discloses his connection with BAN... he gets numbers from BAN, and then corresponds with Interpol about enforcing and arresting the African "e-waste" importers.

Now read the Basel Funded Reports from 2011, saying the AFRICAN GEEKS ARE INNOCENT.

SVP:  Don't go "Zimmerman" on black geeks
The "people with ethnic links to the destination countries" described by Interpol below are AFRICANS who "fly and buy", who test the equipment prior to export, and who communicate with the geeks in their home country.
  • People like Wahab.
  • People like Hamdy.
  • People like Miguel.
  • People like Souleymane.
  • People like Mariano.
  • People like Fung.
  • People like Jinex.
  • People like Vicki.
An apology does not mean I don't intend to hire an attorney, perhaps Frederic Fahiri Somda of Burkina Faso, to file a defamation lawsuit.  The accusation of "waste tourist" is based on the ASSUMPTION that they are burning 80% of what they buy, IE the ASSUMPTION that they are too stupid and too primitive to know what they are spending $10,000 for shipping and customs alone... IE the exotic primitives described by Jonathan Green.. who did more than Mike Daisey to stir the pot of white guilt and black insult.

The Interpol story, as covered in Jerry Powell's E-Scrap News is below, followed by Jonathan Green's comments about me personally, in defending his rant against the geeks we disagree about.

Xenon - Speculatively Accumulated Common Knowledge

Pinball Machines, Safety Dances, Styx, Mad Men and Roots:  Maintenance Memories

One of my favorite posts of the past season, "EWaste Entrepreneur Mad Man Meets Primitive Wire-Burning Robots"... tied to Mad Men, Season 3, "Episode 305: The Fog"...  Was surrounded in Vegas by people who would have remembered those references, but don't read blogs...

Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame Vixen
Vegas revolves around retro.  The music, the games, the restaurants, the shows... ISRI's conference recycled themes and images of good enough days.

This was the electronic woman known as Xenon, the newest pinball game at the Carleton College Sayles-Hill student union.  The arcade was nicknamed the "Peter Tork Memorial Game Room" for Carleton's most famous drop-out, Peter Tork of the Monkees band.  Xenon was hilariously erotic for a pinball game... "the game with the sticky cover".  The bumpers caused the robotic woman to exhale "Ahh!"..."Ahh!-Ah.. Ah-Ah!" as the steel pinball zigged around the slope of play.  If you lit enough of "her" lights,  um... something spread itself and you had to shoot the ball up the hole for a climactic free game (It was "Special").

At the same student union post office, I got my Peace Corps assignment for Cameroon (1984). In Africa, there were home-made "pinball" games (non-electronic).  The nails and springs and wooden pegs were, I guess, "primitive" compared to Xenon.  And there was an overall assumption pervading Africa that they were incredibly far behind the USA in technology.  This was 1984-86, before the personal computer or cell phone (they had bag phones in limos in the USA back then).  Today, Africa is far more wired than the USA was when I lived there... but as Louis CK describes in his Conan O'Brien interview, "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy" (and if you haven't watched that yet, yes it's more insightful than this blog, go ahead and follow the link).

Electricity in households in Africa has grown at a slower pace than television and internet.   Once you get access to energy, you have lots of things to plug into it.   But in the 1980s, TVs in Cameroon were extremely rare. If the Mad Men Show "The Fog" was having difficulty understanding why black Americans in the 1960s were buying "Admiral Brand" televisions, it was not as difficult to figure out why Africans were choosing used TVs from the USA and Europe.  It was that or nothing, and the amazing thing was the TV or the internet, not the shape of the bloody display device.  Once someone has a choice, getting picky becomes and option.   Reminiscing about retro is, in part, having common experiences with a generation that had fewer choices to stray from.

Debate, Dialectic, Diablog: IPhone #ewaste Graphic Misleads

Diablogs and Wiki-Greeks
A couple of weeks ago, I was sent a new set of graphics, in the spirit of "Story of Stuff", by umm... students? activists? artists?... seeking to raise awareness about the IPhone.   A woman named J.Rhee sent me an advance copy and asked for my comments.   I sent her some, in the spirit of cooperation, but did not hear back.  

Elizabeth Chamberlin of IFIXIT (soon to take away the crown for the "Best Scrap Blogger in the World"*) has written about the Apple-criticism piece, and does a good job of examining the case against Apple without taking it hook, line and sinker.

The Anti-IPhone-graphic-activists display a lot of talent, sincere passion, and make some very valid points.  They asked my opinion rather nicely, and I'm always looking for mature, grown-up conversations with environmentalists.  But I'm disappointed not to have heard back from the authors of the piece.  Below is a snippet of the dialogue, followed by my response and comments.

Hi Robin,Thanks for getting back to me. The graphic I was referring to lives here: http://www.mbaonline.com/cost-of-iphone/  Let me know what you think. I’d love to get your thoughts, and feel free to use it as you’d like!Thanks again, Jen
Hi Jen,

I really like the lifecycle focus on mining, coltan, etc.   I lived in Africa and was in Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo for awhile.   The natural resources harvesting business has been a curse. The Worlds Most Polluted Places (TIME) are metal mines, not recycling yards.

With that said, I think your graphic is pretty unfair to Terry Gou and Foxconn (Han Hoi Precision)...  The Taiwanese "Geeks of Color" like Gou and Simon Lin (Wistron) and Rowell Yang (Proview) have been "racially profiled" by the left in the USA, I think.  All three of those guys began as a "tinkerer" importing and repairing used electronics, then became a contract manufacturer (like Foxconn is for ... um... everyone not just Apple).  They have done a pretty good job of learning 100 years of industrial revolution lessons in a decade.

Foxconn is owned by the Taiwanese, managed by Hong Kong, employs labor from Cantonese Guangdong, and is regulated by Mandarin Beijing.   It's pretty remarkable.  The suicide rate is below that of similar scale operations (yes including the USA), when you have 1.1 million employees living in campuses the size of cities, you see rapes, robberies, and suicides at the same rate as you'd see in Detroit. 

Finally, the piece about Guiyu is completely inaccurate.   There are no Iphones in Guiyu.  Guiyu is almost all scrap generated in China.  Shenzhen, Guanzhou and Hong Kong have basically grown into one metropolis which has the population of JAPAN, and Guiyu is the scrapyard.

If you want to know what happens to Iphones which wind up in China, check out this blog.  http://techtravels.wordpress.com/shenzhen-phone-recycling-1/  Visit all 4 pages on the cell phone recycling in China.

I'm a socially conscious environmentalist.  In my opinion, we don't do ourselves any favors with racist depictions of the Geeks of Color.  It is a major embarrassment to the environmental community to have launched this "green scare" campaign against geeks and techs overseas.  I urge you to imagine how you would feel if you were Mowgli... when sex worker, coltan mining, child soldiering is 30% of your job market, and you learn to fix a cell phone, creating affordable connections for people in your emerging market,  or putting CRTs into internet cafes that become the center of Revolution 2.0, when you are recycling rather than mining, and green Americans portray you as some kind of a primitive, polluting, sorry, toxic victim.

Again, bravo on the first half of your piece.  But if I post it on the blog as is, I'm going to make some of the points I made above.  If you are interested in really conveying the truth, I'll spend as much time with you as you want.
If you want to see the piece we are both commenting on, find it via Elizabeth's blog... I don't really want to raise its pagerank if they are sending it out "looking for comments" but don't respond to the comments.  An MBA is supposed to be a masters degree program, and work is supposed to be subject to peer review, response and debate...

Leven, Rachel's Postcard from India

Interesting people I'm meeting here at ISRI.   I feel I'm falling behind on reporting all the good reports coming out on the repair, recycling and refurbishing trade.

Rachel Leven, a Fulbright Scholar who has just returned to Duke, gave a very good presentation based on her article in Foreign Affairs magazine (a Postcard version of her letter from Delhi).  Here is a teaser.  It would be terrific if some India scholars could use the report, and others like it, to get the Indian customs agents to stop serving the behest of manufacturers and planned obsolescence.   Repair and refubishing and the "informal" sector are not perfect, but the UNEP and Basel Secretariat reports on the actual 85% reuse of imports to Ghana and Nigeria should cause India to reconsider whether the recycling trade should really be kept untouchable, or whether Singapore's ingenious harnessing of the repair and reuse resources in the 1980s and 1990s represents a better model than the prohibitions on that trade.

Letter From Delhi

The Economics of Trash

The streets of India's major cities look dirty, piles of waste rot in the corners of buildings, and plastic bottles crunch underfoot. But the grit hides an informal waste collection system so effective that, despite an increase in the sale of disposable, non-organic consumer goods in India in recent years, the trash that ends up in the hands of municipal garbage facilities is over 50 percent organic -- that is, mostly food waste. In 2009, food scraps made up only 21 percent of non-recycled waste in the United States. India's ubiquitous trash-pickers may seem to some an unfortunate byproduct of Western-style consumption, but where others see garbage many Indians see opportunity. In an informal glass market in Bangalore, I was offered three rupees for a green glass bottle. By selling three bottles, I could have earned enough for a local bus ride.

Editor Wanted: Because Less Is More

Las Vegas, 4/18/2012.   Weather will finally hit the 80s today - it has been hotter at home in Vermont so far this week than here in Nevada.  Groups and small talk.  Tweet talks.

Had a long after-dinner discussion with someone whom I deeply respect in our little computer refurbishing community last night.  I know something in the blog wasn't resonating with him, thought we'd have a drink and he'd give me some guidance.   He's 11 years older than me, started out as a hippy scavenging from his job on a garbage truck, amazed by what people throw away.

File:Franklin the printer.jpg
Benjamin Franklin at work on a printing press. Repro of a Charles Mills painting
While he said he could respect the long-bomb "Foreign Affairs" posts, that he simply didn't have time for them, and said more importantly that my denser posts, digressions, and obscure historical parallels were losing people he hoped would be my allies.  He says that groups in the refurbishing community, in particular, could become a groundswell of support for the "geeks of color", the counter- obsolescence planning, and other crusades I'm engaging.

Sounds like a case for less is more.

Now, this blog began (if you go back to the first years posts) as a journal I was convinced that no one at all was reading.   I was shocked by the first comment ever posted... "Not quite no one."

Well, my secret desire is that I'm going to have time one day to tear all 2000 pages (including a number of as-yet unpublished posts that I wasn't happy with) down into 249 pages that say something that hasn't been said in a way that more people would listen to.  I don't happen to care whether that's during my lifetime.  I'm acutely, or rather chronicaly aware I could die next year.

My evening mentor said that's fine, but he'd like to see me pay $14 per hour to some college student or professor just to edit each post as it comes out.  After listening to him, it seems ironically more arrogant not to pursue the idea.

European Study Proves Hand De-assembly Superior to Shredding

Thanks to our Fair Trade Recycling Intern Adelaide, who is in Middlebury, Vermont, working on her Masters in Waste Management from France.  Adelaide cites ten separate studies in her morning blog to make the point that taking a circuit board apart by hand - separating copper coils from aluminum heat sinks, steel from plastic -  is environmentally superior to shredding in a lifecycle analysis.

Figure 1. Environmental assessment of treatment of electronic waste, Gmünder (2007).

All Fair Trade Recycling wants to do is to make these hand-disassembly jobs (like our women in Mexico, below) de-criminalized.  Give them the proper tools and protection, stop open burning and other "ten worst practices".  There are no mercury switches, there is no "witches brew", hand disassembly is simply an alternative job to gang warefare in Mexico, pirate boating in Somalia, cocaine growing in Peru, sex work in Kenya, etc.

I've usually written about the Geeks of Color.  But the scrappers, too, have been denigrated and defamed in the American and European media.  There are bad practices by hand, and good ones.  Racial profiling is just not a very effective way of deciding, and the "safe" approach of shredding items before export is not a winning strategy for the environment.

Our company practices disassembly here in the USA.   But I'm opening hand disassembly factories in other countries.  They will recycle their own waste from inside their countries.  But if they can do that well, why not let them also take rich people stuff that can still be reused, which puts an even higher environmental outcome... one which is "off the chart".   Survival is the highest form of "end of life" when you're not dead yet.

Our Chicas Bravas in Mexico take a few extra steps and de-manufacture not just the PC, but the components like CDRom drives and floppy disk drives, hard drives, getting things like rare earth magnets and little gold things.  American companies which export intact power supplies, drives, and other "components" may ship them to a similar fate.  But they are all too afraid of the onus against export to visit and find out whether it looks like this or looks like a child sitting on a pile of circuits.

Most American recyclers don't know what this is on the left.  But they "recycle" them by the millions.  Reuse can get very small.

Environmental Justice in a Pixelized City Slum

Fences around slums, to keep out the rich? 

   Last weekend, "Useless Lists of Jobs", was about pixelized slums, a bookend to the "Rich City, Poor City" UN Pixelizes World blog from last January.  Each describes just how much wealth is in cities inside "poor" countries.   Following our Fair Trade Recycling trips to Africa and South America, I'm thinking about specific encounters with relative poverty and relative wealth.

IFIXIT and TechTravels have made also made pilgrimages to "recycling slums".  We all have great photos, but need better research and statistics (like this from World Bank) about the jobs that are realistically available in this neighborhood of Lima.  The photo of the multi-colored walls on the Useless Lists of Jobs post is a little too pretty... when you see the slum from the air, colored only by the brown dust on the roofs, it's a little more textured.

View of neighborhood from the sky... less colorful..  No yards, pools or streets.
Not all of Lima is like this.  But a lot people live here
Environmental Justice via Ban on Trade?   Environmentalists have made a very strong case that exports of computers for recycling should be taken "off the table", made illegal, either through an amendment to the Basel Convention.  Recycling jobs, they argue, are so intensely hazardous that even export for repair (clearly asset, not waste management) should be illegal.   If the factory that made your monitor replaces a bulging capacitor, they say, it's a slippery slope to recycling harm...  So they would have us build a wall around the slums, to keep rich peoples' used equipment out.

These restrictions may keep rich people from Europe and America out.  But cities like Lima, Rio, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Guangzhou are also places of tremendous wealth. Outside the OECD, and in Lima itself, people are on high speed internet, replacing CRTs and LCDs with bigger and better gear.

WR3A Adapts New Moniker

    WR3A is announcing a formal tradename adaptation and copyright of the trade name "Fair Trade Recycling".   WR3A has suspended its own certification and cooperative marketing strategy, and will instead offer its legal support and funding of R2 certification for overseas companies.  

    The cooperative marketing was a huge success from 2006 to 2010, but created conflicts of interest for members when purchase orders shrank.  For example, east coast members who were shipping to SKD factories which were offered California supply in the "California Compromise" discussion would have been negatively impacted.  

    The WR3A Board has decided that while experience and data collected from cooperative sales were outstanding, the future of the organization should follow the recommendations by University of Amsterdam researcher Brenda Wijnen, and establish independent rules and principles rather than acting as "shipper of record".   Individual WR3A members may choose to broker loads, but not under the WR3A name or umbrella.

War on Reuse 2012

Vermont:   Our exports in 2010 and 2009 were 22% (both years).  Last year was 15%... the second half of the year saw reuse rates fall through the floor... as predicted in our testimony for S.77 to Vermont's legislature two years ago.

Part of the cause is the apparent declining demand (price) of reuse product, which I've described recently.  It's actually a steady demand, but a supply imbalance from rapidly emerging markets who are now switching from CRTs to LCDs themselves (seeing used Chinese CRT TVs in South America, omg)...

As the price of reuse commodities fall, resources to defend or maintain our markets are limited. Competition from Steward-Shredders in the USA, and competition from Chinese used supply, makes this seem like a losing battle.

Vermont's legislature defined "local reuse" to be restricted (to keep OEMs from having to pay for the same TV, over and over again).  But then ANR defined "local" as "USA" (Honolulu is local to Middlebury, by Vermont statute).  Ok, we then removed any reuse from the program to make sure it wasn't charged and was outside the program.  As of now, ANR has said even that is NOT ok, and material that we didn't charge to the program is sitting in a legal limbo, collecting in boxes in the plant... or more often we just recycle it and tear it down.  We buy product for the reuse markets out of state - the 16% includes material brokered from other states into export-for-reuse markets.

Economically, it's rather short-witted for Americans to take a billion dollars of assets and ban them from reuse.  It makes recycling more expensive, makes for a criminal's "sellers market" for the remaining reuse, forces export markets to buy loads which are of lesser quality, or to source their loads from Shanghai, Seoul, and Kuala Lumpur.

Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People

Do Wealthy Nations dump on Poor Nations?  
Are e-Waste Exports an Environmental Justice Issue?

By "wealthy", let's keep it simple.  There are seven billion people.
The wealthier half have different jobs than the poorer 3.5 billion.  But environmental justice is about geography, locations, and property value.  Where do the poor people live?  Why do they have different jobs than wealthy people?  Foster the people...

Not all the wealthy live in the OECD... Mathematically, that would be impossible, as the OECD nations combine to form about 1.3 billion people.  But the OECD nations account for even less than 1.3 billion or the "richest half"... because people live in places like this - slums - within the OECD.

Kamagasaki, Japan. A slum in Nishinari-Ku one of 24 wards in Osaka, with a density of 30,000 people in every 2000 meter radius.
Kamagasaki, Japan. A slum in Nishinari-Ku one of 24 wards in Osaka, with a density of 30,000 people in every 2000 meter radius.

Now, it may be a cheap shot to compare the Japanese slum of 30,000 to a slum of 1 million in (non-OECD) India:

Dharavi, India. A slum in Mumbai with approximately 1 million people.
Dharavi, India. A slum in Mumbai with approximately 1 million people.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the OECD countries like Japan have fewer ultra poor .. below is an even larger slum than Dharavi, with 4 million residents.  It's in an OECD country (Mexico).

Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, Mexico. A slum in Mexico city with approximately 4 million people.
Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio, Mexico. A slum in Mexico city with approximately 4 million people

The camera angles get wider as you try to capture bigger slums.  The source of these photos also has the slums of Kenya, Ghana, Columbia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Brazil, and Iraq.   Not only is wealth "pixelized"... poverty is pixelized as well.

But the cities are developing.  The poor come to the slums from the countryside, as if attracted by the lights. They see electricity.  They see wifi.  They taste the internet.  The fruit of knowledge brings them to the barrio.

Wi-Fi will be in 42% of all households worldwide by 2016.
Wi-Fi network use will nearly double in homes around the world come 2016, according to new Strategy Analytics research. Already used in some 439 million households worldwide, equivalent to 25% of all households, Wi-Fi home network penetration will expand to 42%, reaching nearly 800 million by 2016, according to the “Broadband and Wi-Fi Households Global Forecast 2012” report.
According to the International Energy Agency, over 80+% of the people in the world already have access to electricity.
Based on this updated analysis, we estimate that in 2009 the number of people without access to electricity was 1.3 billion or almost 20% of the world’s population. 
Juan takes two LCD TVs, makes one (Lima).
The percentage of individuals with access to internet is lower than the percentage of households with wifi... because poor people have more people per household.  Still, internet access is growing much faster than electricity did.

So if the majority of the 83% of the world which is not OECD has electricity and internet, just where are the photos of primitive, informal recycling taking place?  The slums.  The NGO cameras show, close up, what the satellites keep us safely apart from.

One of the best things you can do to set the table for formal reconciliation is to focus on something you both care about.   I care about children in slums and rural poverty.  At bottom are slides of satellite photos of the largest slums in the world.

Here are my pictures inside.  Closer yet.  Names.  What people are doing. Who they are.  Who we are.

Earth Day: Pre-Apology to EWaste Watchdogs

I've been working all week on a formal apology - or rather, a "Separate Peace" letter for Basel Action Network.   I'll never try anything like the California Compromise with them again.  Whether the "outing" of the Indonesian SKD factory was the direct result of my sharing the information about them with BAN, or not, they were callous at best and continued to not lift a finger to help my friends...

But I learned last week that the Indonesians are shrugging it off.   They appreciate my attention to righting the infamy.  It hurt, the stupid anti-reuse policy cost them tens of thousands of dollars and forced shutdown of a recycling operation for Indonesia-generated e-waste.

But they are getting over it.  Seeing them calm and laughing and making do reminds me of what I loved about my years in Africa.   People didn't hold grudges so much, didn't take themselves all that way too seriously.

And so the point has come that I need to move on.  If USA wants to keep thinking Egyptians are burning the computers they bought for $30 in a landfill and that Egyptian authorities in 2008 were concerned about the environment, well, we think plenty of stupid things and that's number umpteen on some list.

The trick writing-and-rewriting an apology is that it has to be done well.  If you are not really ready to apologize and are going to work in some blame-deflection, then don't do it yet.

This was my family's hostess, a really beautiful young South American woman.  She used to import used USA electronics, and built a business with 6 employees.  Then she bought used Chinese TVs as Chinese cities all moved to flat screens.  Then she bought cheap Chinese-factory refurbished flat screens.   She'd like to start a factory making new product in Peru... but for now she's helping her brother open a restaurant in the shop they used to sell CRT monitors in.


Sobering Next E-Waste Decade

The "e-waste trade" was mis-characterized from 2000-2010.  While about 15-30% of exports were scrapped, the scrap was not particularly dangerous (not found to cause the water pollution in Guiyu, and most lead poisoning comes from burning heavy insulated electric cable, not lead solder or CRT glass).  There was a lot of fodder to write about, in a debate whether the export glass was 80% empty or 80% full.

There is a change I can report on, from my trip to South America.

da pond ain't so small, eh?
During most of the past decade, the USA, Europe and Japan represented "the only game in town" for large scale refurbishing factories.  Contract manufacturers (takeback) operated 3-shifts per day, refurbishing and upgrading white-box computers and displays for "good enough" markets in India and China.  They depended on wealthy nations with 10 years of surplus in order to operate at scale and meet demand, just as they had depended on those nations as consumers for their scale of manufacturing in the 1990s.

When California took itself off the market, it had supply-demand effects on NJ and VT, because there were only so many places a buyer could go for the supply.   Forced to buy from less reputable suppliers (as during any prohibition), quality of imports actually suffered due to the West's anti-export campaign.

During that period, China and India did indeed have their own e-waste and surplus, but it wasn't enough to actually export out of country.  What was generated domestically was used or recycled or disposed of domestically, in Dharvi or Guiyu.

That last part is changing.  We are not the only game in town.  My trip to South America really brought the changes home.