PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN? Brownwashing Hong Kong Moon Shot, NGO #Ewaste Mistake of Decade

As multiple reporters recited from the press releases from MIT Senseable City and Basel Action Network this year, we heard descriptions of Hong Kong's New Territories, Yuen Long, and Tin Shui Wai in particular, which were familiar to people who went to high school 2-3 decades ago.
"Rice Paddy".  "Primitive".  "Child Labor."
But they missed the largest, most modern E-Waste processing facility ever seen on earth.  This is an example of "brownwashing", the equal and opposite of "greenwashing".

WEEETRF stands for "Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Treatment and Recycling Facility"

MIT's central claim is that the GPS Tracking Devices revealed "Previously Unknown" things about the used electronics trade.   And they found "mistakes made" by R2 and E-Steward certified companies.

But the biggest "previously unknown" is still unreported.

Two years ago, the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (EPA) launched a "moon shot."  And Basel Action Network didn't just miss it.  THEY HID IT.  #brownwashing

But they had to say something about it... something in small print.  Actually this just describes the $45M of the investment, they didn't actually mention the $550M WEEETRF next door.

How is this NOT THE PBS HEADLINE?  NGO went to huge lengths to hide perhaps the largest e-waste recycling facility on the planet, led everyone to a puny junkyard as "representative of hundreds of similar dumps" (really?) in Hong Kong ... a statement they have to make because there's no significant truck traffic, nothing approximating the volumes BAN says are going there (the Agbogbloshie problem).  But they track stuff to the WEEETRF and to end users of repaired devices in Tin Shui Wai, and when I call them out... they attack ME?

Previously Unknown, or Continuously Unknown?

ED NOTE:  THIS IS NOT A DEVICE GOOD POINT RECYCLING OF VERMONT TOUCHED, EXPORTED, HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH.   We obtained the data from a third party.  BAN made a false statement that we are representing this as some kind of an "alibi" for a device that Vermont had something to do with.   We didn't export anything at all, and the device shown above was managed on the West Coast.

Geography Baiting 6: Granular Images of Recycling in Asia

My response to BAN's report "Scam Recycling" is not a criticism of tracking technology as a methodology.  And I'm not a critic of MIT or the Basel Convention.

Basel Action Network, using funding from The Body Shop Foundation, successfully added a lot of granularity to the discussion about exports of used electronics internationally.  The Data is interesting.   A peer review process, using scientific method, could have produced a great report, and could have protected the privacy of unwitting and unwilling test subjects in all the countries involved.  And to the degree that data is released rather than "obscured", it can be assessed by professionals like myself, and academics, and policy can evolve.

And that's happening. Josh Lepawsky of MUN's Geography department has repopulated many of the data points that were obscured on BAN/Monitour (though not all - Foshan is missing, as is EcoPark).

Is BAN playing games with the data?  If so, MIT Ethics office should recognize that its students (remember we have the names of the ones who placed a device in Somerville) are pawns.

I'm a critic of one thing.  Environmental Malpractice.  For a decade, this blog has attempted to offer an "anti-defamation" defense vs. Basel Action Network's game of tokenism, profiling, geography-baiting, race-baiting, and slander.  The people I'm most concerned about today are the Chinese printer technicians who make repair and reuse of laser printers as commonplace in China as automobile repair in the USA.  Or, put another way, as common as repair of laser printers was in the USA in 1995.  Because of the history economy printer cartridges - which cost as much as ball point pens to make, but sell for over $20 - printers are a specialty business which has been under attack since I first visited China's Nanhai/Foshan district in 2002, the year BAN visited Guiyu and Adam Minter arrived in Shanghai.

It's extremely difficult for Fair Trade Recycling to defend a printer economy which is kept in the "informal" sector by forces which defy Americans understanding of reuse economies.  Fifteen years ago, I assumed that anyone paying double the price of scrap for laser printers, but who refuses to buy inkjet printers, knew what they were doing, and had to be in the reuse parts business.  When I visited those markets, I was uneasy. They were very small, dirty shops.  Sometimes the work was outdoors. But you saw clearly that the sandaled brown and yellow people were sorting the printers by size and brand.  I found out that the reuse markets for certain LaserJet 4s had more to do with industrial machine repair (using the same memory cards) than it had to do with Laser printing.  And I found out about, and Arizona Cartridge Manufacturers, and Jazz Camera.

I also found out that these markets are virtually untraceable and impossibly unaccountable. If I met a printer scrap buyer in person, and managed to communicate in Chinese, I learned that from his perspective scrap was "liquid". If he found the same printer I sold him closer to him, he felt he'd fulfilled his obligations and what happened to my physical printer was irrelevant.  From his perspective, it was as if I was trying to track the serial numbers on a hundred dollar bill I'd used to transfer money by Paypal.

Geography Baiting 5: How Can You Say No?

You are approached by an R2 Certified Chicago Recycler, who has decades of experience in copy machine refurbishing.  You have seen and photographed copy machine refurbishing, overseas, yourself.

The Chicago company has news about a state-of-the-art recycling facility in Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is wealthier, per capita, than the USA.  You know it's near the center of printer parts repurposing, and demand for recycled plastic - the plastic that you know is being lost in big shredding operation.

You check the downstream.  Hong Kong Environmental Department considers printers non-hazardous waste.  The facility identified in Hong Kong is also R2 certified.  You request verification of where the focus materials (circuit boards) go, and track them to Dowa and Umicore...

"You should have refused to ship there".

Really?  Why exactly, given the information above, should we have said "no"?

Deflection Option:  You can say you sent it to Chicago, not overseas.  But the fact is that you knew it could have gone overseas.  You just don't believe what BAN tells us about "primitives" in Hong Kong.

If you were to say no based on the Hong Kong facility, advertised as being state of the art, able to make the highest and best end use of the printers, how would you justify boycotting them?  How can you say no?  On what basis?

I could think of only one reason.  Bigotry. Racial profiling of Hong Kong as a place with "hundreds of junkyards" and "rice paddies".   Fear of the other.

Geography Baiting 4: BAN Investigates Un-American Recycling Activities

Well, this guy must not be a credible source...

"Just a few days after arrival, the printer left Vermont and travelled to the Chicago area and then onwards to the port of Long Beach, California. It next pinged off of the coast of mainland China before arriving at the port of Hong Kong. Two days later it was in Mr. Lai’s Farm. " - Jim Puckett

He's talking about ME.

Sounds very "Un-American".  Sounds like Evidence that we are exporting 40% of our waste, according to BAN.  Or worse, sounds like companies that PAY the NGO tribute money are a "safe" solution to the Un-American problem, we must be shipping more than 40% just to buck up the average.

Caution:  Wet Taint

Sounds like.  This NGO makes a lot of noise, but the report they issued says in one place that 50%-80% of devices are exported, in another place over 80% are exported, and in the press release says 40% are exported.  In Geography Baiting #3 we showed what the actual MIT data say, and when corrected for the sampling error (not GPS tracking the 60-80% of e-waste that's almost never exported), what they actually have is data that is pretty close to the 7%-15% range of other vetted studies.

But this is about sound.  Jim doesn't want people to listen to me, he wants to discredit the blog.  So he's got a GPS on a device purchased by an R2 Company in Hong Kong, traces it to an R2 Company we sold it to in greater Chicago, and traced that back to us, who was downstream for our client in greater Boston - the one with no public drop off point - who someone told MIT undergrads to deposit the normally reuseable laser printer they were told to sabotage inside.

They did probably expose something we didn't know - that the buyer of our buyer in Hong Kong is using Hong Kong EPD's non-chemical non-hazardous waste classification of printers to outsource those devices on the cheap.  That's information, and we began acting on it last May.

But the "Geography Baiting" is making all Asian recyclers - all "Un-American" recyclers, seem primitive.  Telling readers that what happened to Robin could happen to you.  If a device might be reused, might be repaired, but someday eventually gets disposed, it will impugn you for doing business with someone who does business with someone who does business with someone overseas in the first place.  That is why they name the client in greater Boston, who is 4 transactions away.  

We do allow some printers to be exported.  Not very many.  Less than 6% of the printers that arrive at Good Point Recycling are intended or approved for reuse, and it was one of those BAN tracked to the R2 buyer whose R2 buyer sold it to someone at MLPF. 

Our problem at Good Point is that we believe in, and want to support rather than boycott, the best practices and state-of-art recycling in emerging markets.  We now know that the downstream 2nd tier audit didn't tell us everything, but we'd have no more info about that than if we had used an E-Stewards company, and BAN/MIT have not demonstrated that E-Stewards is superior to R2 in their study.  (But look at how my pal Craig Lorch is portrayed in an inset, compared to me).

Geography Baiting 3: Retribution Strikes Press Release from BAN

While we wait patiently for answers from MIT about the ethics questions we have on Senseable City's "joint project" with Basel Action Network, BAN strikes.
"40% of  e-Waste given to Recyclers gets Shipped Illegally to Polluting Operations Overseas" - Jim Puckett, Basel Action Network
Since we have sent multiple letters to MIT and emails to BAN, offering to meet to show our processes and all downstream information, we know that BAN is conscious of the false and derogatory information embedded in this statement, explained below.  The question is, do they do it purposefully to cause harm?

1.  It is NOT 40% of e-Waste given to Recyclers.

BAN never tracked 65% of the weight (CRT and projection TVs that practically never get exported).  They sample tracked 3 types of device (printers, CRT monitors, LCDs) and found - of those - that about 36% were exported.   36% of 35% is not 40%.

2.  Most of the 40% tracked was NOT shipped illegally.

We showed here on the blog devices tracked to reuse and refurbishing operations.  Also, Hong Kong doesn't consider printers hazardous waste and BAN attacks them for classifying them as non-hazardous waste even as BAN calls them "clearly" hazardous waste in their report.

3. Most Overseas Operations are NOT Polluting.

The one BAN focuses all their attention on - Mr. Lai's Printer Farm - is visually concerning, and it was NOT identified as a destination on our downstream tracking.  So kudos on that.  But to say it is representative of the 40% of 35% is racist and insulting.  Other devices went to places overseas anyone should be PROUD to work with.

But the point of BAN's report is clear.  They do not go after companies that pack and export.  They do not track most of the destinations.  They track my company in several pages.  It's because I spoke out about them.  I believe that is the message here, to make other recyclers afraid to speak up on behalf of the geeks of color, to intimidate those of us who object to racial profiling, who do NOT pay them tribute money via E-Stewards (using an E-Steward company shows prominently on the press release, though the GPS tracking didn't show that to be determinate).

My company baled 95% of the printers we received for shredding - some by E-Stewards, all by R2 certified companies.  Of the FIVE (5%)* our crew found potentially reuse and repairable, we either tested them ourselves or more likely sent them to another R2 company which listed reuse as a potential outcome (not 100% shredder).   It was one of those 5% nice-looking ones that we sent to a USA company, which had listed certified Hong Kong destinations as their partners.  And, notably, one of those BAN and MIT chose to send to us.

When BAN and MIT hide the data we requested since last May, it just makes it hard for us to respond.  BAN plays the Bilbo Baggins Riddle "What (data) have I got in my pocket?"   We did find some of the tracked devices DID go to the Hong Kong EcoPark. If ours did not - and I accept that now - we have to find out who misdirected it (the USA company or the Hong Kong certified company).  Even if it was legal, it may not be acceptable.

For all we know, the device WOULD have been reused and repaired if not but FOR BAN's Sabotage.  I don't open all the halloween candy I buy to make sure no one sabotaged it.  Until now, I doubt anyone has opened a repairable printer and cut up the guts to make it unrepairable.  There's a word for that, but it's not a polite one.

The point is that BAN is a bully and directs its Reports and Press Releases not to enlighten, but to casuse people to fear them, and to pay them tribute.  It is because I read the Report, studied it, tracked devices to different places, made 14 pages of comment and critique, that my company is profiled in the report.  What I want to know is why people at MIT would not see this for what it is.

We did not, NOT export the device.  We send printers we have DETERMINED to be unusable to a shredder, and that is MOST of the printers.  If BAN intended to show we export, they'd choose a printer that sells for ten times scrap value on ebay and Amazon, and they'd make it unrepairable with internal damage.  We did not export even THAT (Jim stated we "exported to Chicago" in his email).  This is a spray-paint job by BAN.  And while our Chicago partner has offered to just let me "push him under the bus" (and claim it wasn't us), I prefer to out this Senator Joe McCarthy.

At long last, NGO, have you no sense of decency?  Have you no shame?

(Ed correction -. first edition of blog mistakenly reported on 95% not repairable by omitting the word "not". Only 5% of printers at my company have been set aside for potential reuse in 5 years)

Press Release Below.

Secret Tracking Project Finds that Your Old Electronic Waste Gets Exported to Developing Countries
40% of  e-Waste given to Recyclers gets Shipped Illegally to Polluting Operations Overseas
September 15, 2016. Seattle, WA. Utilizing high-tech methods to track high-tech wastes, the environmental watchdog, Basel Action Network (BAN) as part of their e-Trash Transparency Project, funded by the Body Shop Foundation, planted GPS trackers into 205 old printers and monitors and then delivered them to charities and recyclers. The new report, entitled Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers, revealed that of those that were handed over to American electronics recyclers, 40 percent did not get recycled in the US as expected by customers, but were instead exported to highly-polluting and unsafe operations in developing countries -- mostly in Asia.  

"The American public continues to be scammed by unethical companies greenwashing themselves as 'recyclers'," said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett.
"The toxic chemicals released by the crude breakdown of our old electronics in the junkyards in Hong Kong not only harms workers and communities abroad, but comes back to hurt us as well. We are the only developed country in the world that ignores this problem. It's time to stop say 'enough is enough'."
Among the findings of the report, BAN found that:
  • 40% of the 152 deliveries to US electronics recyclers went offshore -- mostly to China
  • 96% of the exports are likely to be illegal under international or US law 
  • 93% of the US e-waste exports moved to developing countries
  • 75 companies were involved in a chain of transactions that led to export of e-waste.*
  • Many recyclers involved in export made website claims of never exporting
  • "R2" Certified Recyclers exported at greater than average rates, e-Stewards
    Certified Recyclers at less than average
  • Hong Kong electronics junkyards expose workers and the environment to dangerous toxins such as mercury. 
The exported tracked devices, travelled to Hong Kong (37), Mainland China (11), Taiwan (5), Pakistan (4), Mexico (3), Thailand (2), Canada (2), and one each in United Arab Emirates, Togo, Kenya, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic. MIT's Sensable City Labs worked in partnership with BAN to produce an interactive online map
 to show the pathways of all of the 205 trackers.
Most of BAN's trackers had found their way via ship and truck to 48 different sites in a semi-rural part of Hong Kong known as New Territories. BAN travelled there and visited the precise locations where the trackers ended up. They found massive volumes of LCD monitors, printers and other electronics being smashed each day and broken apart by hand in hidden junkyards, allowing the release of printer toners, and mercury phosphors easily inhaled by workers both unprotected from, and unaware of, the hazards.  
BAN also looked at the electronics certification programs designed to improve ensure recycling management. The "R2" certification program created as a result of an EPA convened multi-stakeholder process has about 5 times more certified recyclers than the e-Stewards program (a more rigorous standard), but it was found that "R2" members had a higher rate of being associated with export than even uncertified recyclers. Recyclers certified to the e-Stewards Standard had the lowest export rate. The e-Stewards Standard was created by the Basel Action Network together with industry leaders. It is designed to be fully consistent with international law and is the only e-recycling program that utilizes tracker technology to verify conformity with the standard.
The BAN report calls for the following key recommendations:
  • All consumers and businesses concerned about preventing pollution of the global environment should make exclusive use of e-Stewards Certified Recyclers
  • President Obama should sign an executive order to prevent US government e-waste from being exported overseas.  All others can sign petition for this
  • Manufacturers, governments and recyclers should commit to full transparency of where they send all of their hazardous electronic waste.
Hong Kong government should ban all imports of hazardous e-waste and close the informal New Territories junkyards.

Download the report here:

For more information:

Jim Puckett, Executive Director, Basel Action Network