A Rich Story Ends: Services for Yadji Moussa 1955-2012

Services for Yadji Moussa will be held at Memorial Baptist Church in Middlebury Vermont, Friday July 6, 6:45-8:00 PM. Another ceremony will be held in Howell Michigan, at a date TBD. Thanks to Roy Buzzell, Amanda Sheppard, Colin Davis, Rachael Gosselin, Renee Babcock and Thomas Barr for your help.

Yadji Moussa was a man.  When I met him in Cameroon, he told me he had problems in the past, that he had been at "rock bottom", and described those tough times in detail, with humor, making me laugh.  During the 30 months I lived there, he only seemed to do better and better.  I could write, and have written, about some times that he was a hero in the town of Ngaoundal in Adamawa Province.

Yadji has worked with me for 12 years in Middlebury.  He continued to do better and better after I left Cameroon, and Renee, my peace corps volunteer replacement, agreed he was something special.   They married and had two kids, Innah and Adamou, and returned to the USA to live in Michigan, around 1989 or 1990 I think.

He revisited rock bottom a few times, and the marriage broke up in 2000.   I owed him a lot from my time in Cameroon, and brought him to Vermont to start a business with me.

Yadji drowned last week, while I was celebrating my twins birthdays in Arkansas.  We returned to Vermont and assist with the arrangements for Yadji, who for many years I described as my best friend, and for many times I was furious with, as only a brother can be.

This isn't really the time to write and rewrite whole chapters about him.  But this one tells how brave he was, and how he used our underestimation of him to get away from things (for better or worse).   When I met him, he had a debt to a cab driver because he'd tried to save the life of a man stabbed in Ngaoundal... there was no hospital there, the closest one was Meiganga or Tibati, in different directions.  He put the man on his lap and paid the cabbie to go to Tibati, where they found the doctor was gone on vacation.  They turned and drove three hours back, at top speed, to Meiganga, where Yadji was covered with blood and the man was dead.   Yadji came back and found the stabber had paid off the town cops.  So he wrote a simple letter to the Governor of Adamawa, and told me how he had written in a persona, polite and childlike, asking "but why isn't this man being arrested," sounding like Cindy Loo Who asking the Grinch about the Christmas tree.  Three days later, provincial troops were sent to the town, the town cops were barricaded in their police station, and the knife weilder was arrested.   Yadji said that the police chief knew he had taken the victim to the hospital, and confronted him angrily, saying he KNEW Yadji was behind the letter to the Governor.

Yadji told me he opened his eyes wide, shook his head, and said "Patron, but I don't know how to read or write..." And the cop believed him, stomped his foot and left.

Here is an interview with Yadji from 2008.  He speaks about his home village, Yenwa, one of the most "ancient" or primitive mountain areas of Cameroon, with no electricity or running water.  Yadji describes how people move from rural areas like Yenwa, to the cities.  And this is really a glimpse of the man, who speaks in a simple and disarming way... so you might forget that he knows 5 languages and could wrap you around a tree if you underestimate him.

He would have been in the African Spring.

Growth of cities in developing world

This is a fascinating little tool, showing overlays of the the growth charts of the largest cities in the world.

590 Cities Charted:  Impure Blog

As Yadji explained in his video, people are leaving the backwaters of the developing world and heading to the city.   I've been writing a lot this year on the "pixelization" of wealth distribution, and how clumsy the "rich vs. poor" country debate has become.

The changing world means that companies like Sony, RIM (Blackberry), HP/Compaq, and Dell are receding, just as RCA, Magnavox, and Polaroid disappeared over the past decades.   But when I read that the "electronics industry" is in decline, I laugh.   That's like saying "basketball is in decline" because Larry Bird or Michael Jordan are unable to compete on the court. 

BAN Farewell: It's About Giving them Cash

The NGO Basel Action Network just announced they want to cash out on their "Stewardship" program.  This is what I predicted.  When they started, I said they are going to have to come face to face with real recyclers making real decisions, real uncertainty, and they would be FORCED to confront their pollyana unicorn-promise responses.  They just announced a retirement plan.  Submit your proposals to see them off.

Another Rich Story Ends: Yadji Moussa

Yadji Moussa was a man I met in Cameroon.  He became my most trusted friend there.  We spent many mornings speaking philosophy, over a cup of sugared tea into which I'd dip the fresh local bread. I trusted him to give it to me straight if I wanted to know the "African Street".  He kept me under his wing.

He told me he had problems in the past, that he had been at "rock bottom", and described those tough times in detail, with humor, making me laugh.  

During the 30 months I lived there, he only seemed to do better and better.  I have written about times that he was a hero in the town of Ngaoundal in Adamawa Province.  He had a way of being covertly confrontational, leaving friends and authorities to puzzle whether he was religiously passive, or feigning self-effacement, or ready to cut to the chase with a direct challenge.

He continued to do better and better after I left Cameroon, and Renee, my peace corps volunteer replacement, agreed he was something special.   They married and had two kids, Innah and Adamou, and returned to the USA to live in Michigan, around 1989 or 1990 I think.

He revisited rock bottom a few times, and the marriage broke up in 2000.   I owed him a lot from my time in Cameroon, and brought him to Vermont to start a business with me.  Yadji worked with me for 12 years in Middlebury.  

Yadji drowned June 21, while I was celebrating my twins birthdays in Arkansas.  I got a lot of calls in the spotty coverage of the Ozarks.  I wrote most of the blog while sitting in my parents living room in Searcy County, trying to decide whether to take my kids canoeing on the Buffalo River.  We decided to return and assist with the arrangements for Yadji, who for many years I described as my best friend, and for many times I was furious with, as only a brother can be.  I've decided to give this rewrite, to give the record another shot, because Yadji Moussa deserves the best.

Second New "bad recycling" Practice: Plastic Recycling?

Recycling plastic by hand?
We know there are groups which would ban or prohibit a practice done well by 85% of people but abused by 15%.   Marijuana, alcohol, electronics exports...  And so we know that it's very risky to publish information about a recycling practice we all do which is 85% nasty.

The second "Bad Boy" trick, practiced by everyone, is a mind-bender ... plastics recycling.  Selling the plastic back to China to be remelted and remolded is classified by Stewards, R2, and free-market exporters alike as a "commodity".  Both Alan Hershkowitz of NRDC and a speaker at ElectronicsRecyclingExpo made the same point - it's different to take an ink cartridge and recycle the plastic than it is to refill it for reuse.

Now, inside our recycling industry, everyone knows that "the perfect should not be the enemy of the good".  We know that the worst shipbreaking and recycling is better than the best mining, pound per pound, of the same material.  We don't like to see ships sunk into the ocean as "reefs" when we know that somewhere else in the world, someone is investing in ocean floor mining (gee, I'm sure that will go splendidly for the environment)....
removing sticky labels BY HAND

They both made the point that the reuse and refilling is done by a brown person.  This seemed enough to imply that the shredding of the ink cartridge (ink is non-toxic in the OEM MSDS)... The problems with this logic are both obvious and subtle.  The subtle one - the problem with plastics recycling - is something that deserves its own post, in Part 2.

I've heard from very reliable sources that plastic recycling in China is the recycling industry which most needs to be cleaned up.   The question is, do we clean it up by boycotting China?  Or if most of the plastic recycled in China anyway comes from within China, are rich nations the only possible source of material for the best Chinese companies who must otherwise compete at pennies per pound with lower common denominator competitors?

The solution is to find the top 10% of best plastics recyclers in China and demand less money from them, to encourage other plastic recyclers to improve.  Banning exports of plastic to be recycled in China is NOT the solution.  This "plastic recycling" export is something all e-waste companies are doing, Steward and R2 and Free market, so perhaps it's the "new big issue", and perhaps Fair Trade Recycling can be the leader.

Two More Controversial Electronics Recycling Practices, Part 2

If we examine the practices for LCDs which require repair or disassembly, on line, we find two things:
  1. Importance of using a "certified recycler"
  2. Toxic properties in the LCD CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamps contain minute amounts of highly toxic mercury phosphors)
However, you find next to nothing about what "process" is actually being "certified" to occur.   Shredding?  Retort?  Safe handling?  Packaging?   Lots of "white man ju-ju words" and very few VERBS.

  • Fair Trade Recycling Intern Adelaide Rivereau has written about the step-by-step process that happens in MY company.
  • IFIXIT.org has a number of tear-downs
  • REPAIRFAQ.org has some good descriptions of LCD repair from the older models likely to be turned in to an "e-waste" program
  • Digitimes, the Taiwanese high-tech display industry periodical, remains the rosetta stone of understanding the display market 

What should an "e-waste" recycler know about LCD lamp recycling, and when should s/he know it? Time for an "environmentalist actuary" to follow the goods downstream, into the domestic and export recycling markets, to tease out the risks, harms, rewards and benefits.

- Handle with care
- Stop the "zero landfill" practices for CCFL

Student Aid Increases Tuition?

Interrupted by articles this week in Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal, on the cost of college and the federal Pell Grant program.   I wrote an editorial for the Carleton College newspaper in 1983 which made the point that we shouldn't blame Reagan for cutting the Pell Grant program, we should blame the colleges, whose tuition increased NOT in proportion to any inflation, but in DIRECT proportion to the federal grant dollars.

When the same point is made, 25 years later, and no one has done anything about it, it makes me wonder about "playing the system".

  • College is expensive.
  • Federal dollars offset expense.
  • Colleges mark up tuition.

  • People are told to "eat local"
  • Supermarkets see demand for local goods increase.
  • Supermarkets mark up local products.

It still makes sense to use consumer demand to improve the sustainability of production which we consume.  I'm not against advocating for environmentally sustainable purchasing, and still stand behind the boycott of countries which won't sign treaties protecting whales.

But entering my 4th decade of environmental activism, I'm really impatient with the way corporations play the  system.  I'm not anti-corporation... I think that it's human beings inside the corporation who make decisions to play the system.

If low-carb diets look promising, someone will sell you "low carb version" of mineral water.  That doesn't mean it's bad mineral water.  But it means that if we are willing to be stupid, people will sell to us as if we are stupid.

Will the call for ethical recycling make recycling better?  I hope so.  But just saying that another company is bad comes quite naturally to many competitors, and if there is a way to say it through an NGO, expect sponsorship dollars to flow that way.

Two More Controversial Electronics Recycling Practices

Greenpeace video - But Don't finger them
The ten worst "e-waste" recycling practices in Africa (March 5) is the highest read post of the year.  The pan-African Conference on WEEE in March (WR3A sent 3 representatives) generated a lot of interest in fair trade recycling.

Africans have inherited piles of junk electronics from decades of use (places like Lagos and Yaounde have had television since I lived there in the 1980s).   The "stuff" at Agbogbloshie was in use for years, traded in from residents in cities like Accra and Lagos for something "gently used" off the boat from Europe.

Still, the challenge of "Fair Trade Recycing" is to make recycling exports better, and to address export problems as soon as we see them.. We have to add two more environmental practices to the discussion of "exporting harm".

- mercury lamp recycling from the backplates of LCD screens
- electronics plastic recycling

The problem is, while the pollution from these activities occurs in Africa, South America, and China, it comes from our best recyclers... from R2 and E-Stewards alike.  At least with plastic recycling, there is no debate.  No one claims not to export scrap plastic, and no one has shown up close what that market looks like.

mercury CCFL
For that reason, this will not be a popular thing to write about... The issue must be handled with care.  When "E" stands for "Epic Fail", we don't want to feed the anti-environmentalist, climate-denying, trolls.

But it's better when we as environmentalists get out in front of the problem, rather than wait for a journalist to write a gotcha-man-bit-dog anti-recycling story.  My theme is that we have more confidence in professions, like medicine, which announce on their own that a treatment may do more harm than good, because they have research universities studying human health on a long term basis.

Tomorrow, Part 2:  Mercury lamp recycling from LCDs.

Just a peek at the good news - in LCD lamp recycling, and in plastic recycling, the more it is done by hand, the better the outcome.  If you are studying for your E-Waste Recycling S.A.T.,  "shredding machines are to lamp and plastic recycling as RoboCop nemesis Ed 209 is to stairs..."

Happy Loving Day 2012: Right to Share Lives

This is a terrific website, set up to celebrate the outcome of the Loving Case of 1967.  I wrote about the Loving case on Valentine's day.

Don't have time to write much more about it today.   Mr. and Ms. Loving were a real couple who fought for their right to marry regardless of race.

This pertains to Fair Trade Recycling very simply.  The case made in defense of the Virginia law banning their marriage was based on statistics and fear.   They tried to justify the ban on interracial marriage with horrible anecdotes about all the things that can go wrong.

That is how the backers of HR2284 describe my trade with Las Chicas Bravas, refurbishers in southeast Asia, and geeks in Africa.   Because it might go wrong, I should be banned from doing business there.

So we ban Peace Corps volunteers from starting small businesses aimed at proper recycling, repair and refurbishment in the countries they lived in.  Perfect thinking.  It helps you to imagine the attitudes of the people, long passed away, who argued against women's suffrage, argued against voting by non-land-owners, who argued against popular democracy.

We are lucky to be arguing about fair trade recycling, at least from our side of the ocean.  The people being accused of being primitive idiots and having their containers of computers seized by dictators in Africa - not so much.  A ban on the export of used computers, as "e-waste", is based on what someone else is accused of doing, not what we are doing, and not even what most exporters are doing.  The right to share my life with people who repair and recycle computers in countries which need it is not something EPA or Congress or Vermont ANR should attempt to infringe on based on photos of black children taken at landfills.

What Romney and Obama Need to Legalize

America's Denial:  Demand for Immigration and Marijuana vs. Modern Prohibition

Zarakia and Bloomberg are correct about immigration.  Immigrants create jobs.  They have taxes withheld which they never recover.  Stopping immigration puts the USA on the path that stifled Europe a century ago, drawing lines and language barriers which defy our past success.  Legalize Immigration.

At the same time, Arizona is also right.  My friends in Vermont attribute the anti-immigration, anti-Mexico laws there to racial fear  Certainly the racists would support those laws.  But there is a very scary, very violent bunch of drug gangs who have invaded Phoenix.  I'm very pro-immigration, but I have also heard gunshots in the background when talking to my employees in Arizona, and understand that people turn to Sheriffs in Maricopa for a reason.  Protect our children.

Why are the drug gangs coming into Arizona?  Arizona, once again, is subject to the winds of California law.   California is practically de-criminalizing marijuana.   De-criminalization has been called "the worst of both worlds" in that it allows (encourages) consumption but does not allow the development of clean and legal channels to produce the marijuana consumed.

California, of course, is also right.  The cost of imprisoning people who smoke pot is ridiculous, and people are going to keep smoking it.  Creating a "medical exception" to cheat through is better than cheating in other ways.   Criminalizing marijuana is not a solution.  Marijuana, which I have smoked but do not smoke now, is nowhere nearly as dangerous as alcohol, which I do consume, and which has taken the lives of people close to me.   Marijuana is not a "gateway" drug, any more or less than underage drinking is a "gateway".... the gate is law violation, moving the gate to eliminate the gateway has been tried in both directions, permissive Amsterdam 1990s and prohibition Chicago 1920s... moving the gate does not stop the supply and demand.

The cost of arresting, detaining and deporting immigrants from Latin America is estimated by ICE at $122,000 per defendant, approximately the same as the cost of imprisoning a pot smoker in California.  Just as California created an escape hatch for smokers to avoid prison costs, ICE has come up with a way to reduce the cost of deportation (or to create "self deportation).

Today ICE focuses on employers, to reduce the supply of paychecks.   It will not increase the number of Vermonters (at 4.8% unemployment) who will milk cows or perform cleaning services (or recycling work).   But it will make it less attractive for Latinos to come work here.  It's less expensive to frighten 10 employers into terminating 5 employees each than it is to arrest, detain, and deport a tenth as many.  And ICE doesn't get its hands dirty.

Outcome?  In Arizona, the outcome is that fewer people cross the border to pick fruit, clean metals, repair cars, or do any of the other "list of jobs beneath white people".   Those jobs aren't worth it.   However, the California illegal marijuana market remains, and remains very lucrative.   Statistical Outcome? The Latinos who do come up are more likely to be drug gangsters and less likely to be milkers and apple pickers.   The net migration from Mexico is down, but the type of Mexicans taking residence in Arizona is more scary than it was 30 years ago.

Pat Robertson at the National Press Club February 15, 2005 in Washington, DC.This plays well to our innate "think of the children" and "separate the colors" fears and phobias, and playing to fear and phobia takes up 18 months every 4 years - during the election campaign.  So families in Arizona who are legitimately afraid of gunshots in their school districts vote for tougher immigration, even as immigration declines as a percentage.  Cost of car repair, fruit picking, milking, goes up, which puts more pressure on the jobless.   This makes creating jobs for the jobless a political issue, even though they are only 4.8% of Vermonters... including some of them who may be (illegal) pot smokers and (legal) drunks and have trouble keeping jobs for other reasons than competition with Mexicans and Central Americans.

There is one solution.  Legalize Marijuana.

Legalize marijuana at the federal level.  Not because I want to use it or intend to use it, nor will I advise my kids to use it (except as a social alternative to binge drinking).  But we need the tax revenues from marijuana, and we need to spend less money enforcing and imprisoning Californians, and when the drug cartels lose the business, we will have fewer gangs, and Arizona residents will stop being obsessed with immigration.

Everyone will get a unicorn.  (Or at least the opportunity to imagine they see one.)

This is the truth darn it and the republicans and democrats all know it, they are just emphasizing disagreement at all possibly junctures because they do not care as much about the deaths and lost lives in prisons and deportations of cow milkers and apple pickers, or the jobs (as Fareed will talk about) which are created by the immigrants who want to do great things in America.

Productivity and invention and intelligence creates jobs, and this is a very nasty political funk America has gotten itself into and I'm shocked by the cowardice of both the politicians and the electorate.  Immigration needs to be legalized, and for that to be politically acceptable, we have to end the "drug war" if we have decriminalized the demand side.   Marijuana needs to be completely legalized and grown domestically, and taxed, and free our law enforcement officers from chasing down hard working immigrants and Californian smokers, empty our jails, and get our budgets balanced.

Maybe if it becomes a health care law or social security tax revenue issue...   Shoot the meth dealers and let the marijuana dealers buy licenses and be regulated like liquor stores.  Pat Robertson has my vote on this issue.

[Postscript:  More graphic detail on cannabis at TheEconomist 2012/06 "BongoLand"  USA, Canada, Spain, Italy, Nigeria, Australia, New Zealand represent X% of consumption... They need to form a "Fair Trade Marijuana" consortium.  Time to get motivated tomorrow.]

Scrap Boys i mean are not refined

The Scrap Boys i mean are not refined
they scrape the copper from the steel
they pick the plastic off the ground
they pick the shards out of their heel.

they burn and whack the parts apart
they haul the heavy and the light
they do not give a fart for art
they do not want to pick a fight

they sell to those who want to buy
they buy from those who need to sell
the scrap boys i mean are not refined
they save the mountains in their hell.

written 6./11./2012. with deference to e e cummings
see below if you don't know the boys i mean are not refined poem.

the link above is to a uganda minister.  i don't know him and don't know whether he's legit.  but my guess is he's got to be more legit than the other people making money off these scrap boys pictures.

Chris Martenson and Exponential Growth

Video:  Chris Martenson's presentation to Gold and Silver Mining conference in Madrid.   This is fascinating... the metals companies know that recycling and sustainability are not the enemy.  The challenge is reality.  I respect metal mining companies, even if everthing I do is done to stop them...

This is not going to be an entertaining or pithy scrap blog.  I need to write about this video for some personal reasons... it is revisiting, in much more sophisticated way ..

My career as an environmentalist and my choice of recycling was cast in high school, in the late 1970s.

I won the NFL (national forensics league) "double ruby" for public speaking with the points earned from a 1980 speech to a Northwest Arkansas Garden Club conference... with a speech about exponential growth and consumption, comparing resource and energy consumption to a closed ecosystem petri dish experiment.  No one but me recalls it.  But while it was amateurish redneck attempt by a teenager, it was basically the same speech as Martensen gives above.

My call to action worked... perhaps not on the Garden Club, but on myself.  I went to college and ran recycling programs, I studied international relations based on the mining and oil extraction which was headed for rain forests and coral mines, I saw recycling as the most efficient way to save both land resources and energy and to reduce the mining and logging roads that brought humans into rain forests in proximity to bushmeat and species extinction points.   I underestimated how much rain forest was falling from meat consumption, but I did understand that human population growth, and consumption per capita, was heading the direction that Chris Martensen describes in his book, and in this Youtube video presented at the Gold and Silver mining conference in Madrid.

Martensen seems to still hold my teenage skepticism and alarm.

On the one hand, I still agree.  I'm witnessing a disaster. On the other hand, some of this consumption is accounted for by bringing resources to people who never had them.  80 percent of households today have electricity, worldwide.  Cell phones are in use across Africa.  The rate of consumption per capita has been expanding, and that consumption per capita accounts for much of the consumptive growth.  If the per capita consumption rate of the early adapter consumer drops, it means the size of drops of water in Martensen's eyedropper become smaller with each drop.

The rate of consumption, in other words, is not just people being born, but consumption being offered to more people who never aspired to it.  While the population of the USA tripled (from 93 Million) since 1910, the access to things like electricity, refrigeration, and running water also expanded.  So 2/3 of the next century's consumption came from increased population, but another 25% came from offering that consumption to the 1/3 of the population which was already here.  So the rate of increase in consumption is not going to continue at the same pace... the rest of the world is catching up 4 times as fast as the USA did, and much of the "new" consumption is going to "old" population numbers.  That means the rate will slow.

This is only going to soften the blow somewhat, kind of like reaching a level rate of speed before a car crash (Martensen.com refers to it as a "Crash Course").  But it buys time, and technology solutions are time sensitive.   As the water reaches us in the top row of bleachers in Martensen's flooding stadium, it rises less and less quickly.

Bad news for the species on the ball field, or the people living in the dugout.

For me, the indicator of our generation's success at environmental sustainability is not a degree of Fahrenheit or Celsius on a calendar.   It is the rate of species extinction.  In that way, I feel total failure, even if I no longer believe as certainly in a doomsday consequence.

My hopeful solutions, though, are sad ones.   They are not about saving the Great Barrier Reef, or restoring the OK Tedi River in Borneo.   Now I imagine that DNA may get sequestered, and can we sample and save and sequester species rapidly enough to create a lifeboat, a modern Noah's Ark.  The rate at which we are learning about DNA is also exponential, and if we are learning about species loss at a rate faster than species decline, there may be hope in 30,000 years that we'll figure out how to repopulate the desert planet we are creating.

At 32 minutes Martensen describes the diminishing resources for ores, how copper becomes more expensive to extract from the ground each year.  But the percentage of households with electricity - worldwide - is 80% today, something unimaginable to me in the 1979 speechwriting time period.  As copper gets more expensive, people move to slums which are closer to the source of energy, economizing the copper use.

Must grow, can't grow... I basically agree with much of Martensen's presentation.  But I think that what he misses is the rate of credit card consumption (I'm still listening, he may come round to it).  The percentage of American's future income which we borrow against has been growing, which actually depletes that future income through compound interest, and believe we have reached an economic tipping point where incomes will not continue to grow.  Well in fact incomes stopped growing awhile ago, but the amount of the future income we can borrow is going to stop.

More has been written than I can edit.  In fact this isn't worth reading or posting if I don't get around to part 2 or 3... but the lecture by Martenson is worth posting.   I have more to say in regards to how economies do grow, in an adolescence which hit the Asian Tigers and BRIC nations.   Their rate of consumption, and how it occurs, is now the key task.  And we white people look like the Oncler, offering them a truffula seed.

Perhaps I'll get around to editing the second half of this post, in a Part II and III.  But there is so, so much recycling work to do around me.  The scrap waits.

More at CNN Global Public Square (Fareed Zakaria) http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/category/global-lessons/

And is Rwanda Africa's Signapore?  Have to stop writing and listen... 

"Drivers who switched from..." "saved..."

Duh.  That's why they switched.

If ten people buy from my competitor, and nine are saving money because I suck, but one saves 10% by switching back to my company, then those "who switched" likely saved 10%.  The ones who didn't save, didn't switch... I'd presume.

Just another example of cognitive dissonance marketing.  See your local e-waste statistic.

"How E-Waste Benefits Your Children"

It has always been "think about the children", perhaps.

Programming was made for children.   OEMs used it to sell the appliance to the parents.



So, the electronics get sold to us via "cognitive risk" - that our children will be left behind socially and intellectually if they don't get the electric gadget.  Then, if we sell it for reuse (so someone doesn't buy a brand new one), we are sold the cognitive risk the "e-waste" poses to the poor black children.

It's all about consumption, selling consumption any way they can.  We own stocks and retirement IRAs in their corporations and can't complain too loudly about the way they market sans sustainability.  And ENGOs are really not any different at all in their use of this "think of the children" marketing.  But we can be smart about what panics us.

I'm from the WWF generation - that's "World Wildlife Fund".  That's when Greenpeace was powered by Jacques Cousteau, and caring about endangered species and whales.   It's a dicey topic to debate which we should care more about - whale, tiger, orangutan, and rhino extinction vs. toxics in a child's environment.

But let's start by being smart.  What are the real numbers?  What are the real risks?  Is this about children's health, or is it about planned obsolescence?  Look at the enormous resources spent on non-toxic ink cartridge refilling.  Grinding those cartridges into pieces of plastic to be plastic-recycled in China is a lot worse of a job than refilling those ink cartridges with new ink for the "grey market".   But look at the attention given to ink cartridge refill risk vs. plastic recycling.

It's howdy doody time, it's howdy doody time...

Put Yourself In the World's Shoes

I got some positive feedback on the slide I put up two days ago (from my "Fair Trade Recycling" presentation, which has been given at CES and Colleges in 3 countries during the past 6 months).

Here are a couple of other slides from the same presentation.

The first shows the relative size of the market for computer displays.  People earning $3K-12K per year are getting online at 10 times the rate of growth of wealthy nations since 2001.  But the "boycott the poor" advocates shows pictures of primitive dumpsites to describe 6 billion people.

And even the poorest of the poor deserve a bit of a break.  Recycling isn't THAT bad a job for the very poorest people in the world.  If we control the three worst practices - burning wire (little of which comes from computers anyway, that will not be affected by the HR2284 boycott), dumping broken CRTs, and aqua regia acid baths for circuit boards (another rarity), then recycling stacks up pretty well with other choices - like sex worker, miner, Somali pirate, child soldier, etc.

The term "parasites of the poor" and "accidental racist" are a little tough.  But the longer this stupid idea of boycotting poor people and shredding metals into smaller un-fixable pieces goes on (without any intelligent comment or response to people like me), the louder I have to get.

Press Sinks Ship Recycling

There are two ways to get metal.

Bangladeshi Workers Risk Lives Recycling Ships... thanks to Adam Minter for the nod.

One is to get it out of the ground.  Here is an example:  The OK Tedi Copper Mine on the island of Borneo.  Metal is found in many places, but it's impossible to gouge and dump cyanide tailings anywhere close to a populated area.  The USA has vast federal lands, remote from cities, so we can still mine red and hard rock metals (gold, copper, silver, etc.).  They generate 45% of all toxics generated by all USA industry... but it's not close to property values.   It's the same economic logic discussed in "environmental justice" blogs last weekend.

Australia has a lot of remote places, and is in the metal mining business, as is Canada and Mexico.  But when you try to do it in a place like Europe, there are risks of toxic spill disasters, like this one in Eastern Europe in 2010, or recently, in Liuzhou, China.  A city of 3.2 million, its drinking water system nuked by a cadmium spill into the Longjiang River, released by the Guangxi metal mining industry.

The press does occasionally cover these polluting practices, but only when an "abnormal" disaster strikes.  Bloomberg reports in 2010, China's Shenzhen Zhongjin Shuts Zinc, Lead Smelter After Toxic Leak Found.  Or here is another zinc smelting spill, of cadmium from metal mining, of the Yangtze River.
 In January 2012, Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: Chinese emergency personnel are erecting barrages and pouring hundreds of tonnes of chloride into a river in southern China in a desperate effort to prevent a toxic spill from contaminating the supplies of a major city. The flow of cadmium - discharged into the Liu River earlier this month - has continued despite three previous containment operations, and now threatens the 3.2 million residents of Liuzhou city in Guangxi province. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, January 30, 2012]
I've previously reported stories from the Danube, and from Guangzhou's massive zinc-lead smelter spill in 2006.  And don't forget about the conflict metal mining... today, this blog is sadly the top of the google ranking if you are looking for news about it.  I find that tragic.  I'm a nobody.  But the Guardian writes about stopping ship recycling, without asking, anywhere in the article, where the metal will be replaced from as the shipping industry increasingly sinks the ships rather than risk the wrath of environmentalists.

There are two ways to get metal.