Education is Expensive, but the Cost of Ignorance is Higher

This expression was shared with my by Ow Yung, Su Fung.  She is VP at one of the contract manufacturing facilities we still work with in Southeast Asia.  She has been primarily responsible for following through on the Contracts and Agreements which Fair Trade Recycling runs on.

The two-party contract relies on Civil Law, not on international police or "competent authorities" of foreign environmental agencies.  The competent authorities can be a part of the contract - our first contract with Ow Yung Su Fung's company required them to have their national Dept of Environment tour their "state of the art" factory four times per year.   Later, she obtained ISO 14001 and ISO9000.

We wanted to address the potential for incidental breakage or bad units in our contract.  I proposed to Ow Young, Su Fung, that they meet with a CRT glass manufacturing company, and provided the contact name we had used to sell USA CRT cullet there (while working on the CRT Glass Test).  At first, she was apprehensive, as the makers of new CRTs generally are not very friendly to companies like hers, which used to buy new CRTs but had not replaced them on the factory line with 'gently used" CRTs from America.   But the meeting went well, and Ow Yung Su Fung obtained the first CRT cullet supply contract for that furnace.  She became the chief supplier of the used CRT cullet, even sourcing the broken monitors from her competitors.

As the years went by, the price for the refurbished CRTs dropped, and the shipping distance to sell the new ones she made increased.   By 2011, she could no longer sell any refurbished CRT monitors in her own country, and had to re-ship 100% of the fully functional working units elsewhere in Asia, or to Africa.  At the same time, the supply of used CRT monitors in her home city increased, and she really didn't need to buy from our Fair Trade Recycling contract any longer.   Because of the relationship, we kept contact.  Today she buys dual core Pentium IV computers, replaces capacitors, and sells complete systems, along with LCDs.

Ow Young Su Fung is just one person.  They have about 100 employees in two countries.  Her boss, Allen, was a Taiwanese engineer who pioneered the system for cathode ray guns to show Chinese and Korean characters on the phosphor screens.

One of the problems I had running WR3A as a "coop" was that there was no incentive for me to personally fly and find other buyers when I had one that was working well, and there was no incentive for me to share my buyer with other USA suppliers when the demand tightened.  I know that there are dozens of other people like Ow Yung, Su Fung, in the world.  But it takes time to develop a relationship, and it doesn't pay to be promiscuous, jumping from bed to bed in the recycling market.

Perhaps my exposure to the world is too narrow, perhaps I focus too much of my writing on a dozen or so friends and trading partners in the globe.  Perhaps I need to get out to Guiyu more, and see the ugly side which scares American environmentalists away from these fascinating tinkerer markets.

Ow Yung Su Fung is a single mother of two kids.  I know her to be a very good mother, as well as a good technician, and right hand / vp.  In China, you see stories of people with a child like this [MailOnline-EpilepsyRecycler], tied to a motorcycle, while the parents scrounge for scrap for recycling.  Fung is educated, a self-made executive, and can afford special schooling if necessary for her kids.  When she says "Education is Expensive, but the Cost of Ignorance is Higher", I understand the depth that this must have in her own personal life.  We want her to do well, and we want her kids to go on to become doctors or pilots or astronauts...

MYTHS in "E-Waste" Recycling: Chicago Defamation

Myths..  I was just approached yesterday about permission to re-print my Greenwala Editorial, Top Ten Common Myths About E-Waste.   My testimony to the Patch reporter about state of the art recycling in China was countered by BAN representative Don Summers thus:
Summers then criticized Ingenthron and Cade for promoting the "myth that there are all these wonderful high-tech facilities in China,' adding more harsh comments about Ingenthron's character.
In other words, while apologies should be accepted, beer with Obama and all, there remains a central dispute of fact about high tech recycling outside of the USA.  The defamation and character assassination is not against Robin, it's not against Brian, it's not against Willie.  It is against the geeks overseas, whom BAN seems to want to pretend to be mythical beasts.  They describe Africa, China, and Latin America as a kind of Heart of Darkness in recycling, they describe Guiyu's tech district as "E-waste Chernobyl".

See film of the people we are talking about below.

Mark Twain's Anti-Defamation Recipe

Mark Twain:  
"It's not what you don't know; it's the things you know, that are not so, that really get you."

Crazy Defense Against A Defamation Suit?

Last week I sent a virtual "postcard" from Dallas, talking about character assassination, in reference to news articles by Chris Paicely of  Paicely did a pretty darn good job of covering the mutual defamation lawsuits between Basel Action Network, and the jilted E-Stewards applicant, Intercon Solutions.

Link to the original Chicago Patch articles here

Reporter Paicely describes the damage suffered by Intercon Solutions, but also gave BAN its due say.  He interviewed me in his final article.  The conclusion was that maybe exports aren't that bad afterall, and if they aren't, that it would be a shame if Intercon had told its clients they never exported.  There isn't very much about actual recycling in the articles... it's about people talking about recycling.

BAN had to respond, and another article appeared:

BAN vs. Intercon:  Watchdog Consultant Calls Export Supporter "A Really Crazy Guy"
Summers sent an email to Patch calling Ingenthron and Cade huge supporters of "dumping on poor people."
... Summers then criticized Ingenthron and Cade for promoting the "myth that there are all these wonderful high-tech facilities in China,' adding more harsh comments about Ingenthron's character.
"They will lie right through their teeth," Summers said. "It's amazing — I've seen it. Robin Ingenthron is known as a really crazy guy — sorry, I don't like dissing folks, but he is a huge outlier."
Summers went on to refer to Ingenthron and Cade as "green-washers," which are companies that falsely portray themselves as environmentally friendly. 
Yes, this is the same Donald Summers who threatened to sue me for libel a year ago ("BAN NGO Threats Lawsuit vs. Vermont #ewaste Blogger" - I was a whole percentage point off in describing E-Stewardship fees), and who found my first April Fools Day Episode of 2010 "scurrilous", "irritating" and "beneath contempt" (Ingenthron Hired By Basel Action Network).

Well, in Donald Summers' defense, he called me personally Monday morning prepared to eat serious crow.  He was doing the fully monty apology.  (It was, after all, a rather curious way to defend your organization when the headline is about DEFAMATION.)  I couldn't help it.  I want to help the guy out.

Huge Outlier
Now, am I crazy, or is this a potential breakthrough...?

Our company's response was to invite Don to visit us in Middlebury, and to speak with E-Stewards he trusts who have been to the "mythical" high tech facilities in China.  If the "big secret factories" don't exist, then get rid of the manufacturer and warranty in HR2284 exemption, I say.  If they do exist, then calling them a myth is the serious libel.  And if they exist, and have been seriously libelled, maybe that's what was driving me crazy.

My hope is that this could be a genuine moment of compromise.

Remember the Geeks of Color, and six billion people ("outliers" of the OECD).

"Because of Gordon Chiu (common export shipper to the Indonesia CRT refurbishing factory for both BAN accussee and BAN donor ), I had to defend the honor or the voiceless importers overseas.  Because of Joseph Benson, the Nigerian arrested for shipping used electronics - which were later found to be 85% good.   I was forced to choose friends I didn't want to choose between."

Revolution Number Nine: Apple, Google, Taiwan, Korea...

From Digitimes:

4Q12 trends in the Greater China touch panel industry

In the global touch panel market, handset applications will account for the highest proportion of shipments at 76.2% in 2012. In second-half 2012, the main change in the handset touch screen market is the release of Apple's iPhone 5 that uses in-cell touch screen technology. The supply chain for Apple's panels will be shifted from Taiwan-based panel makers to Japan and Korea- based ones, which will cause shipments for panels used in handsets to decrease for Taiwan-based panel makers from 41.3% in first-quarter 2012 to 26.9% in fourth-quarter 2012.
Global touch panel shipments by application, 2010-2012 (k units)
Additionally, China-based panel makers will benefit from low-priced handsets in China. Due to such handsets having strict cost requirements, they will be beneficial for China-based touch screen makers. This will allow the makers' shipments of touch panels used in handsets to increase from 32.7% in first-quarter 2012 to 39.4% in fourth-quarter 2012.
This is about the split between Taiwan Display Engineers and the "old rivalry" between South Korea and Japan.  Apple will probably try to keep developing more expensive touch displays with some micro-improvement.  They will try to use Apple software to make sure people use it.  It was the Apple way of the 1990s, to shun "cheap" PC-clone manufacturers which manufacture for the "Good Enough Market".

The Basel Convention: Bayesian Soup Nazi Episode

Ok, Another E-Scrap Conference, and another allusion to an American comedy.  I hope my international readers will be patient.
R2 or E-Steward?  Who has the best recipe?

Yesterday's E-Scrap 2012 Conference in Dallas had two sessions worth writing about.   John Lingelbach of R2 and Jim Puckett presented on the two certification programs for Electronics Recyclers (along with auditor Kelley Keough of Greeneye).   Later, Travis Reed Miller of MIT presented on the use of Bayesian predictors to refine data, and Laura Bloodgood of US International Trade Office reported (without data) on the survey work on 900+ e-scrap firms.

The session with BAN E-Stewards and R2 was very amicable.  Sitting in the audience, I couldn't help but feel bad for having taken Puckett tiredly to task the day before in the blog.  They seemed to narrow the "disagreement" between the two programs down as follows:

  1. E-Stewards is expensive.  And R2, while cheaper, is unsustainable (it needs to be more expensive).
  2. BAN - a little unclearly, I thought - described their belief in evolving WITH a Basel Convention group.  The Basel Ban Amendment - not passed - should be incorporated in the standard because they are confident it will be passed.  The E-Steward position on export of goods for repair, while CLEARLY on the list of Annex IX "non-waste" activities, is that they should be held to a standard of a recent committee at Basel Meetings... ie not to International Law, but held to the amendment of the international law which the non-profit NGO promotes for a living).
This "adherence to promoted future law" of course is what frightens the USA away from Ratifying Basel Convention.   The USA Congress might agree with everything in a convention as written, and then Jim Puckett may make a presentation in Jakarta or Columbia, and the non-elected international group of attendees may vote that repair, allowed in the Convention, should no longer be allowed.  In that case the USA has passed a law which gives a non-elected international  interest group, effectively, regulatory power over USA companies.  UN Treaty 101.

Open Postcard to E-Waste Watchdog Jim Puckett

 "You Are Here"  -DealeyPlaza_RoomWithaView
Dear BAN,

Two New articles appear this week from Chicago reporter Christopher Paicely, centering on Basel Action Network's role in accusing Intercon Solutions of shipping "toxic e-waste" overseas.

1) Protecting the Earth, Or...
2) Heights Company Builds Case Against Seattle Watchdog
3) Where E-Waste Lands: Stigmas, Laws and Truths (added)

It has come down to a lawsuit.  Why did it come down to this?

For Me:   Because of Gordon Chiu (common export shipper to the Indonesia CRT refurbishing factory for both BAN accussee and BAN donor ), I had to defend the honor or the voiceless importers overseas.  Because of Joseph Benson, the Nigerian arrested for shipping used electronics - which were later found to be 85% good.   I was forced to choose friends I didn't want to choose between.

My hotel has a view of Oswald's Book Depository window.  Dealey Plaza wasn't about character assassination, but I know people who deserve an apology, and if you ever want to find them and express your regrets, you know where to find me.  Character assassination isn't as bad as "poisoning people", you may say.  But character genocide has a different name, when the accusation is based on race and nationality.



China (over) Produces $45 Tablets - Commodity Deflation!!

Looks like a job for Light Bulb Repair-Man
Last weekend I wrote about Apple founder Steve Wozniak's take on the "Samsung vs. Apple" patent battle.  Yesterday we looked at the billionaire Asian Titans, Lees, Lins, Lis and Gous, who took reuse and spun good enough gray market and refurb items into the dominant modern industry of our times.

Are display devices becoming like light bulbs?

Today, I ran across an article by Jay Goldberg in VentureBeat about his latest trip to Shenzshen, China.

Android tablets are selling in Shenzhen at $45 each, brand new.

"Hardware is dead".
This was a 7-inch tablet, Wi-Fi only with all the attributes of a good tablet. Capacitive touchscreen. Snappy processor. Front facing camera. 4GB of internal memory and an expandable memory slot.
I later found out that these devices are now all over the supply chain in Shenzhen. At volume, say 20,000 units, you can get them for $35 apiece. My device ran full Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and had access to the full Google API, including Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Google Play (not quite sure how that works either).
Once my heart started beating again, the first thing I thought was, “I thought the screen alone would cost more than $45.” My next thought was, “This is really bad news for anyone who makes computing hardware.”
The title is misleading. The hardware isn't dead.  In the industry, it's called "commoditization", where yesterday's unique must-have hardware becomes mass produced, and competition renders it the price of an ear of corn.  Apples may truly become apples.   Even as Apple and Samsung fight over the patent on the tablet and touch phone, the fact that the critical component - the small touch screen - was not owned / invented by either, has taken over reality.

This is not a small deflation.

Yes, it is still aggravating that OEMs seem to manufacture devices NOT to be upgradeable or repairable.  But if they are producing them at 10 percent the cost of a year ago, that may undermine the tinkerer blessing.

Top of the Tops: Li, Lee, Romney, Kate Middleton


Meetings of the Kings of repair and refurbish and semi-knockdown and shipping in Asia could tell us much about the "mystery" of Chinese imports of used electronics.   If they talk about old times... if walls could talk! Shipping line magnates offered cheap sea containers to electronics shangzai mock-upiers in Korea, who had  new plastic cases minted by Taiwanese molding companies, who had the wares re-assembled by contract labor commanders.  The history of development of the Asian Tigers, told through the eyes of "e-waste".

Kate Middleton found it missing
Here an article by By Jung-Ah Lee and Jeffrey Ng, via the Korea blog of Evan Ramsted of the WSJ.  It shows a rare meeting between two rich, wealthy, billionaire LEEs.. Li Ka-shing of Hong Kong's Cheung Kong Holdings, and Lee Kun-hee of South Korea's Samsung electronics.  Both are from the generation where Asian entrepreneurs learned to cloak used and repaired electronics (radio, stereo, tape player, computer) in new plastic garb, putting used CRTs into new "television" boxes, etc.  As young men, each lived in a country as poor as Africa is today.

Li Ka-shing is now one of the world's 20 richest men. He can get containers into Hong Kong.  Lee Kun-hee started out buying used Sony and Phillips gear, and found he could sell it for more if he got brand-new plastic cases, perhaps from (Taiwan) Simon Lin's Wistron, who began in the business of molding plastic for computer monitors and TVs.  Terry Gou, also of Taiwan, was able to assemble assembly lines to put it all together in Shenzhen's Foxconn, and Rowell Yang's Proview turned them into monitors for Dell, Panasonic, IBM, etc. at Proview...

Missing woman found on beach, after safe search, not to be Princess Kate Middleton

These tycoons wrote an end to Monopoly and patent troll boundaries when Japan, USA and Europe were extending trademarks and patents at the urging of established tech manufacturers.  They took a lesson from Japan, "A Network of Tinkerers", and built companies from "good enough" into global brands [Economist].

Wistron's Simon Lin, Proview's Rowell Yang, and Han Hoi Foxconn's Terry Gou represented the Taiwanese ownership Beijing Chinese generals wanted to fail.  But the money brought into southern China by those men, and the billions made by Li Ka-shing, and the rise of South Korea, proved irresistible.  Communist China couldn't beat 'em, and today has joined them.  But these guys are all of the age to remember the wars, the battles between Mao and Cheang Kai-Shek, the Korean War, all living in lands at the edge of starvation, dominated by Japanese and USA industrial giants, trying to just copy their way out to make a living.

Fallacy: Correlation and Causation

The debate about Electronics Recycling is about a correlation with poverty.   From Wikipedia:
"Correlation does not imply causation" (related to "ignoring a common cause" and questionable cause) is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that a correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other (though correlation is necessary for linear causation in the absence of any third and countervailing causative variable, it can indicate possible causes or areas for further investigation; in other words, correlation is a hint).[1][2]
The opposite belief, correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause-and-effect relationship. The fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") and false cause. It is a common fallacy in which it is assumed that, because two things or events occur together, one must be the cause of the other. By contrast, the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, requires that one event occur after the other, and so may be considered a related fallacy.
Most of the debate about globalization comes down to trade between "rich" and "poor".  Yes, there are certainly economic incentives to move lower wage and higher polluting activities to places (note a place is not a nation) where unemployment is high and environmental enforcement is low.  Basel Action Network and Greenpeace have this as a foundation in their proposal to ban trade in used recyclables and repairables between OECD countries (roughly 1 billion) and non-OECD (roughly 6 billion) people.

There is a lack of organic waste from food leftovers in poor nations... Perhaps if we waste more food, we will increase wealth.  The fact that the poor eat every scrap of food does not mean that eating increases starvation.  It is a stupid, banal example.  But it also demonstrates ten years of debate about scrap recycling, and why scraps are exported from rich to poor countries.

Here is a link to a site "Poor Economics", which I've found but haven't exploited yet.
Think Again, Again
Poverty and development can sometimes feel like overwhelming issues – the scale is daunting, the problems grand. Ideology drives a lot of policies, and even the most well-intentioned ideas can get bogged down by ignorance of ground-level realities and inertia at the level of the implementer... 
In fact, we call these the “three I’s” – ideology, ignorance, inertia – the three main reasons policies may not work and aid is not always effective.
But there’s no reason to lose hope. Incremental, real change can be made. Sometimes the change seems small, but by identifying real world success stories, facing up to real world failures, and understanding why the poor make the choices they make, we can find the right levers to push to free the poor of the hidden traps that keep them behind. 
The dialogue is refreshing, the discussion seems to be open minded.  I found it while searching for a map of world poverty (by nation, not pixelized by slum-to-ghetto-to-emerging city).  The map is also a pretty good predictor of where someone would invest in hard rock metal mining, and where you'd find scrap recycled down to the bone.

The incentives for the trade / exchange between rich and poor do not necessarily represent the cause the problems associated with poverty any more than medicine causes (correlates to) disease.  When I lived in Africa, the most likely cause of death for children was fever (malaria), and the most likely cause of death of women was childbirth, and the most likely cause of death for men was accident, violence, or trauma.

People recoil from photos of children in poverty, and we recoil from the word "exploitation".

Fundamentally, however, the trade in recyclables and repairables, like the purchase of medicine, originates inside the emerging markets.  People need, people look for, and people find opportunity.  People from over there fly over here and buy stuff with their own money.

If "exploitation" applies at all, the act is initiated by the buyer who, I argue, is "exploiting" a weak repair market in a wealthy nations.  Poor neighborhoods in the USA "exploit" used cars which they purchase from neighborhoods who buy new cars before their other car is worn out.  The car seller is not "exploiting" the used car buyer, nor is the transaction of trading the car causing the poverty of the poor neighborhood.

Just When I was Starting to Hate Apple

 'Photographer Credit: Nichollas Harrison' - thanks

File:Steve Wozniak, 1983.jpg
I am not a Troll
Steve Wozinak Speaks to Bloomberg about Smart Phone Patent Wars.
“I hate it,” Wozniak said when asked about the patent fights between Apple and Samsung. “I don’t think the decision of California will hold. And I don’t agree with it -- very small things I don’t really call that innovative.
“I wish everybody would just agree to exchange all the patents and everybody can build the best forms they want to use everybody’s technologies.”
Steve Wozniak, the engineer-geek who co-created Apple Computer with Steve Jobs, was ever the good cop.   Yes, Jobs was a visionary, yes he was an orphan, yes he climbed up from the bottom, and yes he got blindsided by IBM when richie rich kid Bill Gates' Parents (who were on IBM's Board of Directors) got Gates a personal meeting to pitch Windows... Perhaps those tender moments influenced Jobs, perhaps he grew up tough.

But Steve Jobs also sued 14 year old bloggers, parked in handicapped spots, and (my beef) took credit infamously and greedily for other peoples ideas.  See Wired News articles... (but beware of flame-baiting your blog)...

My position in this industry was built by reading Digitimes, a Taipei-based tech journal which I started subscribing to about 10 years ago.  It was mainly about displays, displays, displays then.  I was able to predict and ride the sales of CRTs when the demand curve was outpacing the LCD supply curve, due to increasing demand projected in emerging markets, I was able to find Taiwanese-owned contract manufacturers, and I became who I am by riding Taiwanese coat-tails.  And here's the truth - Windows and IBM released their hardware, the PC clones, rather than open-source their software (as Google has now done) and the deal worked.  The Asian Tigers engineered and tinkered and produced PC Clones into a massive industry.  And the biggest thing you wanted to clone, 50% of the cost of a computer, was the CRT monitor.

Apple had to outsource their displays, they had nowhere near the market share to produce their own, not even close, in the 1990s.  And they outsourced them to Japan (Sony Trinitron), and did not develop the ties with Proview, BenQ, Wistron and Foxconn which others in the industry developed.  Apple tried to keep control, when Windows and IBM were PC-cloning, and tries to keep control as Google is Androiding.  But eventually, they had to come work to discover the IPhone prototype.

The Taiwanese became to display devices what Japan had become to automobiles.  In fact, it drove Beijing nuts that Taiwan was becoming outsource-in-chief to Japanese manufacturing, drove the Communist Party so nuts that they tried to corner the entire CRT manufacturing market, buying out all the furnaces and dumping subsidies into the manufacture... in 1999.   (Newbies).

Popularity Cowards: We Prefer to Be Around Someone Who Cares

Mother Teresa in Calcutta Orphanage, holding future Tata Dealer
I was rereading the "Cognitive Risk:  EWaste Cell Phone Cancer!" blog from 2011.   I am kind of proud of it, its one that reached pretty high and could have wound up stuck in the weeds (like so many others in my "draft" box).

In this evolutionary brain "thought experiment", I put western civilization on the couch and explore how political movements - such as free trade or anti-globalization - take root.

Today's post is another "thought experiment", about how we have evolved to embrace both justice and mercy, and how that affects the way we hire or fire people.   I think it is good to be compassionate, but cowardly not to terminate when elephant extinction is at stake.

As a business person, I can identify something that is uncomfortable... the need to fire people who are not contributing.

As a parent, I prefer the coach who doesn't cut my kids from the team.

Here's where the rubber meets the road.  My generation was inspired by Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and Diane Fossey.  They made us feel empathy for weaker species, and to feel in our hearts a passion for earth's environmental diversity. The lure of empathy and critical thought is vital to our movement.

I felt the same heart-wrench when NYT journalist Jeffrey Gettleman wrote last week about the surging, militarized poaching of the African Elephant.  It stirred my passion, and my frustration.

Environmentalists are dropping the ball.  We are chasing e-waste and a war on reuse, and every time a dime of our attention is wasted on the fake story, we lose credibility.  We need to learn from our corporate species, and fire environmentalists who are misdirecting finite attention and money towards bogus hoaxes and myths of the harm and danger of reuse and recycling.

When I say I want to fire someone, I get a strange look from most of my friends who are also inspired by Goodall, Cousteau, and Fossey, and who feel genuine sympathy for the "E-Waste Poster Children".  I'm urged to balance and compromise, I'm told that "we wouldn't be here" if not for Basel Action Network and Greenpeace.   Well... I can say with 100% certainty I WOULD BE HERE.  I got here first, both to the movement for sustainable development of the southern hemisphere, and to recycling, and to reuse and repair, to exports, and to Africa.   And if someone has to tell they are fired from the environmental movement, well might as well be me.

What is the balance between cooperation and conflict?  How do we shift a movement from mercy to justice without losing the empathy that brought the people we love to work with us?

Oblique Notes: South Park Intercon Basel Action Network Reference

PS, I did not link the video to the South Park - Russell Crowe episode, in part because video slows readers in some of the blog's subscription markets.  Also I'm not sure of SP "fair use" policy, they offer streaming of complete episodes online but not on youtube.

But some people don't know the episode, so below the fold there's a link to the episode and a link to the Russell Crowe song "Fighting Round the World".  Also, some people aren't aware of the Intercon CEO's video, which partly inspired the South Park reference (and any reference to "defamation lawsuit", South Park Studios, and a Hollywood star, gets points in my Ingenthron scorebook).

Read the weekend blog, the defense of Intercon. It's important.  BAN is the one "fighting 'round the world", picking on people in exotic locales.  Brundage is the guy who finally says "might as well be me".

Clip, episode link, lyrics, and Intercon CEO kung fu videos below.

Friend Of The Court: BAN Defamation of Intercon

Below is why I think the case of defamation against Basel Action Network is long overdue.

The defamation case I'd suggest is as follows.  Whether or not Intercon exported hazardous waste, BAN did not know what exactly Intercon supposedly shipped at the time they notified China's EPA.  BAN also knows that China considers used tested working laptops to be hazardous waste.  BAN also knows, that when they broadcast the Chinese determination, that most people will assume the "crime" to be shipping raw unsorted junk, 80% waste, to a yard where children will burn it.  BAN knows about "profiling" the export market - because BAN invented the profile, and makes all their cash from it.

This may be Little Big Horn.  BAN may have finally bitten off more than they can chew.  The Intercon Case looks to me like STRIKE THREE vs. the Basel Action Network

It is Criminal in China to import "second hand" material.  The Chinese Communist Party owns factories which make new goods, and is not shy about enforcing its plans for obsolescence.  If BAN were a local activist group, they could be forgiven for making the assumption that an unknown - working laptop, repairable monitor, or bale of Christmas Tree lights, might be hazardous.  But they play it both ways, as the foremost most knowledgeable, certifying authority, and the well-meaning activist "just asking questions".

BAN shifts nimbly from legal expert, to paid representative, to a hyping watchdog.  In this particular case, of the Chicago Heights recycler, BAN knows that the container may have contained A) working equipment, B) scrap sent to an honorable professional recycler, or C) perhaps hazardous waste for children to burn... but BAN did not know which one when they made their announcement... because the Chinese source (whom they notified to inspect) makes NO distinction between these "second hand" goods.

In this particular case, when BAN informed the Chinese that Intercon had shipped the containerload, the determination by the Chinese official to call the second-hand goods (working, repairable, recyclable, or waste) a "hazardous waste" was a virtual certainty.

At a conference in Washington DC, EPA, Interpol officials met for a special session on "e-Waste" exports.  Jim Puckett was in attendance, and was a speaker.  On the same day, a speaker from the Sino EPA in Hong Kong spoke to the group in English.   He spoke about "green wastes", a listing China was going to propose to improve imports.  He also spoke about China's intention to stop "trans-boundary" movement of containers which change ships in Hong Kong's port.

[The latter was quite disturbing to me... China may be the competent authority for what is defined as "waste" and "hazardous" within China (though it may not, the courts in Hong Kong would allow a suit to bring Department of Commerce in to challenge a "non-commodity" or "non-property" ruling).  But for China to say it can declare a commodity to be "waste" when it is shipped from Party A to Party B, and enters the port of China (Party C) in transit, is an alarming precedent to announce.]

I raised my hand from the audience and was called on to ask a question.  It was a question I had asked Chinese EPA officials in Hong Kong a few years earlier.  I had been told that China identifies ANYTHING "second hand" to be waste.  I asked whether, if I brought a one-week old fully functional tested working laptop with me to China, and decided to give it as a gift to a Chinese host, whether my prior use of the laptop rendered it "waste" and "hazardous waste".  The Chinese Official (I can find his name) said I was right, it's an environmental crime.  That the laptop was second hand, and contained circuit boards, and therefore it would be an illegal transboundary movement in China.

Second-hand is defined as "waste" in China.  So a Chinese "discovery" of second hand equipment may sound  a lot worse than it is.  You just don't know until you get the contents of the container.

BAN's leader Jim Puckett was at this meeting, and he and I have had this discussion in person, and he knows full well that China would identify any tested working equipment as "hazardous waste".  According to his website, he's been an expert in these laws for over a decade.  By contrast, Basel Convention (Annex IX B1110) considers even non-working second-hand equipment to be potentially commodity and not waste (if sent for repair), and the USA considers the intent of the buyer and shipper in the determination.   BAN has its own definition involving removal of parts prior to repair (no one in the world does this, to my knowledge).  The point is that the "determination" is used by BAN in its press release to confuse journalists, just as they confused CBS, PBS, and Terry Gross about the "80%" of the world which generates half of all e-waste on their own.

BAN is an expert on these issues of determination and trade barriers, and yet claims they relied on the inspection of a Chinese authority in making a public announcement about Intercon.  BAN cannot claim not to know that the definition of the Chinese authority included non-hazardous and even working items.  (In fact there is a WTO lawsuit over China's use of environmental labels as a non-tariff trade barrier).   By telling China that Intercon had shipped a container, and that Intercon was a trader in second-hand electronics, BAN had basically set in motion a test which Intercon would fail no matter what the contents of Intercon's containers. If BAN didn't know the contents to start with, it was a reckless act to sick the Chinese enforcer on the container in the first place.  And the signs are that BAN couldn't wait to announce what they were going to announce... they launched at Intercon the same way as they launched at Asian and African businesspeople in the past.

China's interpretation of second-hand makes it a watchdog that bites everybody, criminals, children, and mailmen.  I know that, and BAN knows that.  But the American public is going to believe that there was a criminal involved, based on BAN's "information" that 80% of all USA second hand goods are wastes burned in primitive conditions.

Did BAN defame Intercon?  We know for a fact that BAN is in the defamation business.  It's what they do. They defame people every day... this was Strike 3.   Perhaps this time they defamed the wrong guy.

Guilt, Technology, Race, Women, Photography & ZANZIBAR II

A very brief second part.

This is a fair use criticism of the film by Isaac Brown.


This is not the highest resolution available... but how many computers can you actually COUNT in this photo?  Of the number you count, how many were imported 15 years ago and in use for years?  How many were taken off a ship and burned?  Is it 80%???

My goal isn't to sanitize the exports, but to treat the importers as equals, humans, and to improve trade via free trade where buyers have fewer sellers boycotting them.

More about photography and guilt and women and race and technology in Part 3, which is much longer and needs editing.  Just ponder the power of a simple photograph until the weekend...

At Retroworks de Mexico, we call this "SAFARI".   When people come to photograph the "primitives" recycling computers "by hand"....

Modern day photographers are making me think twice about Edward Curtis... a friend of my great-grandfathers'.



When contacted by The Independent, Mr Benson yesterday denied he had been arrested and insisted his company followed the relevant regulations. He said: "I have done nothing wrong. I operate a legitimate business and we operate within the rules. We dispose properly of anything that is broken."

Racial profiling + photography.  BINGO.

Free the reputations of Joseph Benson, Gordon Chiu, Ow Yung Su Fung, Jinex and Hamdy.

read more about the "e-waste hoax" at allvoices.

Guilt, Technology, Race, Women, Photography & ZANZIBAR

Key facts (World Health Organization)

  • Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  • Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%
The same time that internet access increased ten fold, death in childbirth dropped worldwide, and acceptance of gay rights became a hallmark of OECD nations.

Two recurring themes of this blog are the student of mine who died from bloodloss in childbirth in Ngaoundal, Cameroon, and the three loads of Pentium 4 computers seized from a medical student and hospital electronics company in Alexandria, Egypt (called "e-waste" by authorities).  When I'm accused of "not caring about toxics", I say I care about peoples lives.

The last day I handed out grade cards in Cameroon, I felt like a fool for calling her name .. the last student, the worst grade (grades were read out like a competition, in order of performance). Another teacher came and whispered to me that she had died that night.  She came from a relatively privileged family.   Her father was the Sous-Prefet, he was a fat cat, a grand legume.

The 1% in Africa also rely on the "good enough market" at the hospital.  There is no special hospital for the upper middle class, the prefectures.  But the good news, above, from WHO, is that the hospitals are getting more modern, and mortality of women in childbirth is declining.

The chances of dying are declining as Africa modernizes... but at what cost, this modernization?  Should the "precautionary principle" cause us to slow down on our exports of used computers and hospital equipment exported to emerging markets?

Another theme of this blog is the use of photography.  Photography has attracted artists, whose dream is to do something which brings justice, peace and equality to the world.  The photography of war, the photography of child labor, and the photography of injustice have helped change laws and helped improve peoples lives.

Tomorrow:  How the West learned the Poisonous Fruits of PHotoGraPhy.

But first... a little digression This 5th Day of September.  Why the photo of Zanzibar?

Saving the Recycling Business, 2009 (continued)

How I Saved My Company in 2009-10: Yearbook 2

I described yesterday the precipice I found myself on in January 2009.   I'd just purchased 50,000 s.f. of overhead.   The renter who paid (the other) half of the mortgage had gone out of business.

Learning to enjoy the desert
Scrap prices from almost everything we tore down, except for chips and boards, were at pre World War I lows.  I had a business consultant tell me to liquidate everything and try to rent the building, and a couple of VC (vulture capital) deals come circling around.  A competitor started offering all my VT and NH clients 1 cent per pound recycling on CRT televisions, something unheard of, supposedly financed by an international company overseas - but mysteriously carpet-bombed at all our New England clients - no similar interest by the Asian company in Arizona (where we also did business), and as mysteriously, the Asian company disqualified it if it was collected in Good Point trucks and delivered to the same place...

And this sounds like a joke, but some people out there know the guy - a scrap dealer from outside the state started calling my cell phone and saying the F word and saying I was screwed and he'd locked  up ALL my accounts, and I was going to regret not having sold to him.  I'd hang up and he'd be the next call, 30 seconds later.   (I think he must have had a brain aneurysm, it wasn't normal, even for scrap dealers.)

All I had going for me was Chicas Bravas - the NPR discovered our fair trade recycling banquet in Sonora Mexico.  And our long-running partnership with the SKD (contract manufacturer) in SE Asia was still alive.  And both had CRT glass cullet end markets for free nearby.   We were hitting 22% reuse then, which was not as high as off-lease computer dealers, but it was 90% of our income in January 2009.  We just had to believe in it and make sure our clients could believe in us.

How I Saved My Company in 2009: Yearbook

Snapshots of the 2008 crash, 4 years of Education

In 2008, after 5 years of outgrowing space and adding trucks barely in time to keep clients, and after outsourcing hundreds of thousands of pounds of shipments to other companies  because I didn't have the space to do it "in house", I got a tremendous opportunity.  Next month will be "graduation", the end of 4 years of this wonderful opportunity.

We were paying roughly $8K per month to rent 1/3 of a plastic factory, which was still producing.  Another tenant was renting 1/4 the space from the plastic company for $9K per month.

View from 5000 feet... and falling
The plastics company went out of business, and the mortgage on the building was available for roughly $15k per month (quite roughly).  I had an opportunity to take over 100% of the place, meet half the mortgage through the other renter, double my space, and be paying into equity rather than just a rent check.   It took 5-6 months to get the loan approved, to empty college funds, put my house on the line, and borrow from family.  It was about $330K down, and we bought the whole enchilada in late October, 2008.

Crash...   What was that?  That was the banks, the stock market, everything hitting the fan a few weeks later.