The "Good Point" blog is about "Ethical Electronics Exports, Fair Trade Recycling". Composed by Robin Ingenthron, founder of Good Point Recycling and the WR3A non-profit, the site discloses the company's position, policies, as well as the personal opinions of its founder. It has become an important source of inside information on the "e-waste recycling" business for academic research into recycling policy. The website invites dialogue, promotes discourse, and twitters recycling policy forward, using humor, music, and mind-bending analogies to convey important issues.
The recycling industry has been accused of misleading consumers. Ingenthron hopes that a "warts and all" blog which fully discloses the company's opinions and practices will temper cyncicism about green businesses. Frequently cited by the recycling trade press, the Vermont blog has been labeled "bracingly honest", a "creative approach", and a "refreshing" break from recycling dogmas.
As a passionate defender of "fair trade", Ingenthron writes, "Our company's first motto was that we are who we say we are, and we do what we say we do, which is kind of a sad commentary on the e-waste recycling industry." He hopes that in the future, people can once again take that for granted.
Meanwhile, a growing number of academics, entrepreneurs, and government recycling coordinators use the SEARCH function on the blog to mine answers to specific questions. They find external links to film of operations overseas, data on the company's Mexico operations, export policies, its domestic recycling capacity, hard drive data management, and more. The Good Point blog offers insights into positions staked out by EPA, ISRI, NRC, NGOs, and International institutions on mining, disposal, and recycling alternatives. Perhaps our most important followers are overseas.
Before creating American Retroworks Inc. and WR3A.org, Robin Ingenthron was Recycling Director at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. His division implemented the first CRT "waste ban" regulations, the first market research on CRT reuse and recycling, and the first state RFP contract for municipal "ewaste" recycling (a state contract is enforceable by the Attorney General, giving it more teeth than a "Pledge" or "Certification").
Ingenthron has a BA in International Relations from Carleton College, and spent a semester at the UN in Geneva. With the US Peace Corps, he trained in Congo and taught school in Cameroon. He was hired by Peace Corps to stay in country as a "cross cultural trainer" before returning for an MBA Peace Corps scholarship at Boston University. He worked as a consultant for operating systems software industry, and as a co-director of two recycling non-profit organizations.
Good Point Recycling is a member of Vermont Businesses For Social Responsibility, Association of Vermont Recyclers, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association [WR3A] an organization which establishes "Fair Trade" standards for surplus electronics exports, ensuring no "toxics along for the ride".
Yesteday's post wasn't well edited (I added some clarifiers this morning from my room in Salzburg, Austria). But I was happy writing it, because I felt something was coming together somehow, it felt like something crystallized. Sometimes those are the worst submissions, sometimes the best. But in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday in the USA, I hope that it channels Reverend King's letter written from Birgmingham prison, with pen and paper. No backspaces, no click and delete.
Someone I met and admire here in Europe stayed up with me last night (we arrived on the same flight), arguing and pontificating about Trump's election, e-Waste policy, economics, and family. It was a broad enough discussion, lasted well past midnight. He and I don't always agree, though he's reasonable enough that I hope he'll be able to look back and see the fallacies in the EU position in hindsight (or I will - I had to come back to my room and research some stuff when we left).
The next day, it all seemed to fit in 140 characters. Second, below the first 'pinned' tweet below.
Criticism of method or regulation isn't "attacking" the regulator. It is defending the innocent from unjust prosecution. And a regulator or prosecutor who persists in using methods or enforcement proven to be constructed on false premises is liable for environmental malpractice.
< That's boiled down to 140 characters at left.
Shouldn't we try to get along? Or is the false consensus built upon white privilege, and we need to represent the Geeks of Color, whose comments were ignored in PACE Initiative?
The discussion came in response to Jim Puckett's constant claim that this is an "attack blog" and that I am "insulting" or "attacking" his poor non-profit organization. This has been Jim's go-to response for several years now, since I wrote a guest editorial "We Shouldn't Have to Make That Choice" in Resource Recycling in 2009. It was one of the first blogs turned editorial, and it was cited by Grahm Pickren in his 2014 thesis, Political Ecologies of Electronic Waste: Uncertainty and Legitimacy in the Governance of E-Waste Geographies.
The editors of Resource Recycling liked it, thought it was nuanced. But Jim Puckett, in emails to me personally and to the editors (demanding a right to response, which they gave him) called it an "attack" which he could not let stand. In that email, he threatened to go after me personally, and my business and employees, if I did not refrain from criticizing his policy.
Jim followed up with a response editorial which said, among other things, that "fair trade recycling" was illegal, and directly said "Poisoning people is not fair trade".
I then got a lot of "friends" calling and emailing me asking if I was somehow reckless or crazy or applauding me for "poking the watchdog" as if it was all some kind of Junior High School dare. I decided to respond with humor, and posted my first "April Fools" blog. Written as a press release (before the term #fakenews caught on), it announced I had been bought out, hired by BAN, on condition that I stop speaking English. The inside joke was the quote from the Ayatollah of E-Waste that it was cheaper to buy me out than put me out of business.
That blog led to an angry comment section exchange with Don Summers, then employed by BAN. Don later let drop the total attack on Fair Trade Recycling in Chicago Patch. Puckett distances himself from the personal attacks on me (as crazy and "lying through my teeth") but did not approach the central debate in both the "Shouldn't have to Make that Choice" that Summers attacked. That the high tech, modern, honorable recycling and refurbishing facilities overseas were "a Myth".
In this case, Jim succeeded in getting Chicago Patch to "disappear" the article quoting Summers (the attack), but Patch left in the Apology.
In any case, what brings this history back up now is that the IERC Conference decided to put Jim and I on the same panel in 2 days, with no prepared presentation. My pal I stayed up arguing with is very much a supporter of Jim, who said he wished Europe had a Jim Puckett. (His salary is project funded, EU money to research the E-Waste crisis).
Anyway, in mid discussion the EU pal from Netherlands said that he and others had the impression that Americans like to personally attack each other, and compared the published dialog between Jim Puckett and Robin Ingenthron to Donald J. Trump's campaign of snotty insulting labels and gross exaggerations of American muslims - dancing on the rooftops during 9/11. I will never forgive Trump for that sinister claim of eyewitness, because many Americans weren't born then and will live the rest of their lives believing upon it - see yesterday's blog.
Let me wrap this up in this way.
Fair Trade Recycling is an anti-Defamation organization. Like other Anti-Defamation leagues, we focus on laws and regulations, and criticize laws and policies influenced by people who call our dear friends "a Myth", and who say that 80% of our overseas friends are somehow an embarrassment to trade with. The theme of Loving Vs. Virginia and Martin Luther King Jr. is strong here, though there are certainly differences (non-OECD is hardly a "minority").
Any good defense lawyer must attack the false witness. Basel Action Network has built an entire organization and certification program based on false statistics (80% of exports being shameful), such that all they claim now (Senseable City MoniTour, e.g.) is that export by itself, transboundary movement, is sufficient to demonstrate crime and shame. If I sold something used and it went overseas, journalists are told to assume it will be processed in the way BAN photographs or leads photographers to take the photos.
BAN obscured data in Monitour which we showed could have been used to track an LCD to EcoPark and to eventual reuse in a restaurant (apparently) at Tin Shui Wai. When I printed that, BAN made a deft attack on me, as if I had claimed a device MY company sent to Chicago (we did not export) had gone to the Modern and reputable facility.
As if by showing a device they can track to me proves that everyone overseas with modern, high tech, or reputable refurbishing, etc., is still, in BAN's words, "the myth".
I am attacking the false witness against Jaleel, Fung, Jinex, Hamdy, Wahab, Vicki, etc., all the Fair Trade Recycling WR3A members we represent. And so BAN attacks me, personally, my clients and employees by name. As if we ever claimed to have anything to do with the $550M expansion at Hong Kong's Eco-Park, and the hundreds of thousands of tons of import licenses for non-hazardous e-scrap (which Hong Kong EPD classified printer scrap as being) which came out when the new Modern High Tech Recycling facilities were announced.
In my case, the people who showed me the import licenses and the public announcements of the high tech facilities - and the R2 certifications to prove it - let us down or at least couldn't complete the play... it was too early perhaps. And I admit I feel I should have known that - but you see, the USA modern high tech facility we were sending printer scrap to the previous month cancelled our bookings that month. I made the space by sending stacked apparently refurbishable laser printers to the Chicago company we use regularly for copy machine refurbishing (we also admit we sent scrap ones to, but the one BAN sent us wasn't or the GPS would have been destroyed in our process).
But ultimately if Atticus Finch is a bad person and a hypocrite and a "big supporter of dumping on the poor", that does not mean that the false witness we cross examine is guilty, or deserves more scrutiny, or a curtailment of rights given them under Basel Convention Annex IX, B1110. That annex gives the Tech Sector in non-OECD countries the right to trade and import for reuse - and even for proper recycling of circuit boards.
EU took bad data during the PACE initiative - the 80% Insult - and altered rights under Basel Annex IX. The defenders of EU WEEE interpretation now say it is in support of the Circular Economy.
Which I'm all in favor of.
But, I told him, it's a lie that Africans are throwing away or primitively processing the circuit boards, whether they receive them 10 years after secondhand material was reused, or promptly following 10% accidental breakage. They aren't burning circuit boards. The eyewitness never even showed that, the BAN organization merely shows black faces with junk electronics and leaves us to assume something bad is going to happen.
The circuit boards are now being processed in Nigeria, under the oversight of Chinese chip buyers, who then send the circuit boards (stripped of high end IC chips) to Dowa in Japan.
And no, I won't tell you how I know that. Because they are presumed innocent, and the organization that says otherwise, however well respected their intentions may be, has the burden of proof.
FREE. JOE. BENSON.
I think that has already happened, and that he was given a gag order as condition of early release. But an apology, or a Dylan "Hurricane" tune, is still in order.
To quote from Martin Luther King Junior's letter from Birmingham Alabama prison, when he was accused in the press of being an outsider (rendering suspicious his protests in Birmingham when he lived in Atlanta):
If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in"
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here ...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider ...
I'm just expanding on this... to include the Tech Sector, the NOT "primitive" recyclers, and the Geeks of Color, outside the USA and outside the EU and outside the sphere of Great White Privilege. We cannot establish a "circular economy" that doesn't allow Africa and China and Japan to play a role in the circle. And if the useful lifespan of the appliance is increased in the process, or its value used to create Offset / Takeback incentives in urban emerging markets, we should oppose anything else.
The circular economy includes the whole world.
And if you think "primitives in rice paddies" are 80% of the problem, you have been persuaded by your own myths, stereotypes, and false premises. And your best intentions and sincerest beliefs that you were donating to the holiest actors have no more legitimacy than the Catholic Bishop who set afire to Montezuma's Aztec library scrolls.
Whoops, you are doing it again.
submitted without edit, in the spirit of the Birmingham Jail Letter.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
80/20 Rule is useful enough... which is why we must be careful with it as is. Exaggerating that "80%" of someone or something is bad is over the top, the worst insult.
We all need to make simplifications, rules, and shortcuts to efficiently survive. The most famous and useful generalization is the "80 / 20 Rule", aka the Pareto Principle, which says that 80% of the value is in 20% of the transactions or stuff. It's a risk management principle as well - 80% of the danger is in 20% of something. I applaud this principle, and use it all the time in business, especially in training new staff. What we teach people the first month on the job is the 20% of things they need to know to get 80% of the work right. The learning curve is eventually going to kick in if training is regular and consistent.
But the 80-20 rule has a downside, too. Donald Trump is on his way to being infamous based to his brute appeals to this kind of generality.
We can all imagine how we'd feel if the generality was actually reversed... there is nothing that feels more racist and insulting than to have your own demographic group called 80% stereotype. Consider these horrible insults...
80% of men are rapists 80% of women are incompetent 80% of German citizens are Nazi apologists 80% of white Americans are racists 80% of black Americans are drug dealers
Most readers would agree that the statements above are difficult to even read. They are simplifications that appeal - in the worst and falsest way - to the human instinct to generalize. I'd call it hate-speech. When I even use these as examples in conversation, I can see my friends blood pressure rising.
Now imagine I make it about how professionals do their work. It's not racist, but a class of people nonetheless.
80% of doctors mistreat their patients. 80% of carpenters build homes that fall down. 80% of environmentalists perpetuate hoaxes. 80% of soldiers shoot innocent civilians. 80% of police falsely accuse innocent suspects. Ok, it no longer counts as "hate speech" if it's about a profession rather than a culture or race or demographic, right?
"80% of used computer importers dump junk to pollute their countries."
Imagine how Jaleel, 34, above, feels about that? Jaleel is a guy who worked very hard in school, excelled beyond expectations for people from his village. He was a great saver, a marshmallow experiment prodigy (see Standford Marshmallow experiment below for the "type" of person he is).
Or Jaleel's young son?
Or Jaleel's boss, Kamel?
Or his co-workers?
Or his father?
Or the people he buys stuff from, every day, in the market? See, just how the "white lie" pervaded Europe, it is pervading Africa in the opposite direction. The Africans all know the 80% lie. Just the same as you'd know it if something extreme like that was said about you.
The number of educated European policy students and professors and German photo-journalists may well be impressed. If your audience is the Privileged, you have safely made their discard decisions easier to navigate, and they will applaud you.
But the collateral damage to your organization from the people who know people who could not possibly have afforded internet, television, cell phone, or other teledensity measure if-not-but-for Jaleel and his world, is enormous insult. They have never actually lived in a world where they are a "minority", and they really don't have first hand experience with Racism against Minorities, which is the subject or most writings on the R-word.
But it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck. It's 80=percent=ism. I'm defining as "80%ism" the reverse of the Pareto 80/20 rule. It is the description of 80% of something in the worst possible way, knowing that human nature may confuse it with the 80% of the perceived risk that comes from 20% of the population. My hunch is that the 80/20 rule is used subconsciously by so many people that we perceive its 80% bad as a hyperbolic insult, and at the same time fear that people will "compromise" emotionally and consider 20% of us to be bad as a "likelihood".
So how do we harness the awesome power of the Pareto Principle, to simplify and economize the way we treat people, without triggering fear of generalizations and false identifiers? Like a gun, most of us want the simplification method to be in the hands of authorities who protect us. But we don't want it to be a short-cut or label for whole groups of geographies and demographics and religions and sexual orientations, etc. To some, "politically correctness" verges on "disarming the police". But none of us like it when it happens to us. As comedian Chris Rock said, if a guy goes ballistic and kills his co-workers, it's probably a white guy. But that's actually what occurred in San Bernadino, CA, and because it WASN'T a white guy, candidate Trump used the occasion to invoke the infamous "Muslim Ban". That's how sharp the 80-20 simplification knife cuts. Today it's pointed at a threat, and you feel a little safer that if only 20% of the people cut really were a threat (and 80% were innocent), that it's not your problem. But when you are the subject of the "great rounding of numbers", nothing feels more threatening.
So I'm out of time, but here are two very famous psychological studies from the 1960s and 1970s which can help you to properly generalize people... and not by race or culture. Not at all. But these are really the things that you should be concerned by.
Stanford Marshmallow Experiment - This study looked at kids who were tested as follows. They had to sit still at a table, hungry, and look at a sweet (marshmallow) for an hour or 30 minutes or something. They were told that if they waited the whole time and didn't eat it, they would get two marshmallows (double ROI return on investment). If they ate it, they would not. The Stanford researchers kept track of the students, and found that those who had NOT waited for the second marshmallows performed poorly (economically) the rest of their lives. Whether that's because they lacked discipline, lost accrued interest, or otherwise succumbed to instant gratification, is speculation. Perhaps (I have pointed out) they lived in a culture where the Authority Figure (the one who made the "deal" over the marshmallows) is less likely to be truthful.
If so, then the Authoritarian Regimes the Global South is notorious for (to generalize) have a long term effect on the citizenry and the economics. Accrued interest, Einstein supposedly noted, is the most powerful force in the known universe... nothing naturally observed grows at that rate since the Big Bang.
Milgram Experiment - this infamous experiment tested unwitting participants willingness to inflict pain on a third party if told to do so by an authority. Just to simplify, about one third of people will refuse to do harm to the third party on moral grounds, about one third will inflict the pain or harm on the third party if told to do so by an authority. And one third in the middle has to somehow be convinced, or it depends, or it's a little unknown.
What Nazis did was scare the hell out of that middle group by not threatening them directly, but by selecting a minority - should be kept at 5% or under - and applying the 80% Racist Stereotype against them. Kill them. Show absolute authoritarian power. The "follows authority" group will do so, the wishy-washy middle just want to make sure they are not IN that minority.
This is how we should catergorize other humans.
By what they do when told something by an authority.
And who is willing to tell the most vulgar, exaggerated lie - not that 20% of some people are unsafe to deal with, but that EIGHTY percent are unsafe. That's the hypnotic power of evil, taking the naturally assumed, frequently good-enough 80/20 rule, and reversing it so that privileged white people in Europe actually feel really good about putting TV repairman Joe Benson in prison for fixing TVs. They actually are hypnotized or persuaded that by doing so, they are agents of conscience, doing something good for the environmnet, saving the poor.
The problem is the false authority.
For Jaleel's network of humans, it's the Ayatollah of E-Waste. He doesn't know it, but he threatens them with poverty and all the death, destruction, lack of education, etc. that goes with it. And the most dangerous authorities are not evil people, they actually believe their simplism. They know perhaps it's only 20%, not 80%, of exporters are violators, but they write laws focused on their own fame, and the number of people who believe they saved Africans, rather that dropped bombs on them.
Sorry, "collateral damage" is not an excuse for reversing the 80-20 rule to create a stereotype that makes bomb-dropping more acceptable to the privileged third of people following your authority. You lied. You damaged people. And there is no way to cover this up, hundreds of students are doing forensics on it. You
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Really. It doesn't. And the economics of "e-waste" processing doesn't revolve around you, either.
Catholic Pope Urban VIII showed the "value added" by Authority. The Church of the Inquisition found Galileo"vehemently suspect of heresy". Galileo spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Today, most people know the name of Galileo. Not many can name Pope Urban 8. But at the time, I'm sure that was difficult to imagine.
It seemed natural, from a layperson's perspective, to think that the sun did revolve around us, and to take the Church's word for it. People really didn't have the time or lenses, resources or motivation to test the theory. If we wanted to know more about the origin of sun and stars, we were sent to an Authority Figure. The Pope served as Heliocentrism's "Denier in Chief".
The Dominant Organized Religion did a lot of cool things for art and engineering, if not pure science. Then (as today) people were impressed by the construction of huge cathedrals. The church charged money to manage your baptism, your marriage, and your parents bodies (or your childrens') at the cemetery or mosuleum... no doubt putting in a good word with the Man Upstairs at the "end of life".
In hindsight, it's pretty clear that Copernicus and Gallileo were better authorities than the Pope. But without the Pope, there wouldn't be a place to pray in or to be buried safely... or to be married without sin. And the system was greased with guilt and liability.
Environmentalists find themselves in a similar predicament. Basel Action Network's stories about TVs and monitors in Guiyu, and hundreds of sea containers per month dumped in Agbogbloshie, brought a sense of emergency and crisis, which leads to bigger budgets. Bigger for Interpol. Bigger for Basel Convention Secretariat. Bigger for UNEP. For EPA.
It's enough to make you want to close one eye when you're told to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain".
In the same way the Church sanctified the relationship of marriage, BAN.org seeks to sanctify the trade of used devices between Person A and Person B. Through E-Stewards, BAN has created a third party role for its organization, to make sure that "relationships" occur with the Church's blessings. And using the E-Stewards "certified" vendor absolves us - supposedly - from all kinds of guilt and liability.
At its core its based upon the same guilt of wealth that Jesus spoke of, and that the Church *ahem* managed for us.
PERSON A is richer than PERSON B - Is it ethical for person B to do work that Person A doesn't want to do? Of course!
- Is it ethical for person A to sell second hand goods to Person B? I would hope so!
- Is it smarter for Person B to accept "good enough" stuff rather than brand new? Mathematically.
If you look at the 16th arrondissement in Paris, you won't see many automobile repair shops or "e-waste" scrapyards. But you will see people uniquely worried about the liability and guilt over the "circular economy" and the environmental destiny of their used products.
The question is, should the reuse economy, and disassembly jobs, or mining jobs to make new product, revolve around them? Do the rich have the moral authority to decide what the poor can buy new or used, as is, or for repair? What gives them the rich this authority? What good has come of it, for the environment, and for the poor?
Are the Long Island Hamptons, or Kurfürstendamm in Berlin, in the position to "save" the poor by "extended responsibility"? How can they know, without walking a mile in the other persons' shoes?
The outcome needs to be negotiated with the Geeks of Color, the buyers and fixers, as equals. Even the lowly recyclers deserve a say. The dismantling job may actually be the most environmentally sound way to reuse parts, keep copper and aluminum separate (they tend to contaminate each others smelters). It may be the best job Elias can find. And if the hand dismantler keeps aside parts for reuse and repair, they may actually create even more value added jobs in the reuse sector.
LIKE THE PRINTER PARTS REUSE MARKET IN SHENZHEN, WHICH BUYS CAPACITORS, CHIPS, SUBASSEMBLIES, PAPER TRAYS, AND OTHER RECOVERED PARTS - FROM YUEN LONG IN HONG KONG.
That's the home of Mr. Lai's Printer Farm. See, in the time since the BAN Monitour GPS reports were released, I've had the time to look for reasons why a place like Hong Kong would employ hand disassembly, the way we do it in Vermont.
We know these parts aren't being made any more. Like the parts of 1990s cars, they come from the second hand "chop shops", the secondary market. Where does MIT suppose this $100M per year (a single example) parts distributor in Guangdong gets these parts?
Hint: It's not from a shredding machine.
The men and women who work here were never interviewed by BAN or MIT, or by Interpol, or PACE, or UNEP. But dollars to donuts, I bet you they know way more about printers than any of us do.
The Chinese website even has a troubleshooting guide to help you find the right fix for the printer you already own. They have a map of distribution centers around the world... in India, Thailand, South America, Africa, etc. And purchasing offices in Europe and the USA (so I'm not sharing their company name or direct link here... I was told by the attorney of the tenant at the $500M Hong Kong EcoPark - whose site turns up in "hidden coordinates" - that they don't want to be part of the Robin v. BAN pissing match... they are busy making money.
"It's Not About You"
So my thesis or analogy today is that everyone who participates in applauding BAN's Authority Solution are like the cathedral engineers, fresco artists, and paid philosophers in the court of Pope Urban 8. The people who attest and pontificate at EScrap, ISRI, and ICM conferences, verily I tell you, they have their reward.
To the Church's enormous credit, Galileo was allowed to continue working, and to publish, and his work was preserved by the Jesuits. I'm able to cite this entire example because the Jesuits had the the sense and decency to preserve the "heresy". How many hundreds of other genius were beheaded, or their works burned, for a crime of heresy which we have no record of today?
The Maya Codices were set ablaze by Bishop de Landa, the Franciscan monk of the Spanish (Cortez) conquest of the Yucatan, who wrote:
"We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction."
We are just lucky to have a recorded history of Galileo and Copernicus... we even owe a wee bit of thanks to Bishop de Landa, who at least saved three codices, and recorded his decision to burn them.... because they weren't about the Church.
If their counterparts spoke "inconvenient truths" in the Halls of Montezuma's Mexican pyramids, or those of the Pharaoh in Egypt, or the Ayatollahs grand Mosques, it's pretty doubtful we'd know about it. I don't doubt Montezuma's lineage made examples out of a few victims, and who knows if they recorded it. The list of destroyed libraries doesn't include people, like Galileo or Joe Benson.
Authorities tend to make examples of people who speak out against the system that gives them money to buy cathedrals. And people in the cathedral engineering business wind up in this awkward position.
And they are putting people like Joe Benson in a prison, and telling journalists rotten things about the Guiyu chip sorters, and the NON-Guiyu semiknockdown factories, and calling the importers in Agbogbloshie "orphans between age 13 and 17".
This is happening right now.
See, if you had a good engineering or chapel ceiling painting job, like Micheangelo, you'd probably be disturbed that "Sun Revolves Around Earth" headline authority was putting pal Galileo in prison. And if you heard the Church's prison goons rationalizing - Maybe Galileo also masturbated? - to make themselves feel better about the guy being in jail, you'd dislike that, too.
But these rationalizations of the treatment of Copernicus and Galileo are now pretty recognized human behavior. The Tyranny of the Majority, or the Powers That Be, or City Hall, often will put construction and engineering projects (using science and engineering) out as ends justifying the means. And they close one eye, most of the time, on the Galileos in jail cells. And certainly on the Tom Robinsons (colored man accused of rape in Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird").
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was about a punkish redneck kid who felt sorry for an African American Negro slave father, who he saw as a better man than his own father. Huck sets off on a raft with "N**r Jim" and defies the authorities who kept the Church going in Southwest Missouri (where Mark Twain's novel is set).
Ok this is all blah blah background for how I see the position I'm in, going to the ICM Conference in Salzburg. Hurricane Joe Benson's statements about the "Bullyboys" who seized the assets of his used electronics business and put him in jail are really expressing doubt about the Authority. And that's scary to a lot of people, who feel more at ease thinking that the Pope knows more about the solar system than the tinkerer of glass lenses.
"WE wouldn't even be here (in this conference space) if it weren't for [The Ayatollah of WEEE]".
- - - ~ ~ - - _ [blog end] _ -- ~ ~
Haven't left a rambling "blog end" in a long while. The story told by the Basel Action Network was not half-truth... it was mostly false. But it involved pictures of children at sad places, images of poverty, juxtaposed with second-hand goods and scary words about toxics and witchcraft. The science says that Chinese people didn't pay to sort out containerloads of JUST 15" and 17" CRT computer monitors. The explanation that they did so to "paw" apart copper "with their bare hands" in Guiyu was a lie. BAN knew it was a lie by 2005.
I'd already shown BAN the pictures of the Foshan and Klang and Jakarta and Guangzhou City SKD (semi knock down) factories. I had told them about the plans to recycle the bad glass in these factories, and by 2006 we had a purchase order for the bad CRT glass recycling at Samsung Corning glass recycling factory in Klang, Malaysia. We had a decent relationship then - just as Galileo originally had with the Catholic Pope. I'd helped them publish (with Sarah Westervelt) the CRT Glass Test, trying to find compromise on the worst actors (who I knew about based on my visits to Asia and explanations by the CRT factory operators there).
I actually made the pitch to Jim Puckett that perhaps he should look at a market in Lagos, where they really were going to be victims of any "toxics along for the ride". I told him about the investments going into the Asian factories - like the one in Semerang, Indonesia - for recycling CRT cullet. I told him about how quickly Asia was modernizing and urbanizing, and that frankly Asia was generating more of its own e-waste than we were. I told CBS 60 Minutes team, during an hour of phone interviews, that the CRT monitors they observed in Hong Kong were going to SKD refurbishing factories, not to Guiyu, and that the origins of the CRTs there were as likely to be from Japan or South Korea or Hong Kong itself than from the USA. I tried to explain to 60 Minutes that MOST of California's CRT waste was in 19", 25" and 30" CRT televisions, which were being replaced by flat screens. I told them that mathematically and economically, there was no way that thousands of separated 15" and 17" CRT monitors, absent any printers or TVs or keyboards, were being separarated by "avoided disposal cost". I told GAO the same thing. That the sun didn't revolve around us. So now I have this job of telling hundreds of people whose jobs and research is funded by the Pope of WEEE that his highness doesn't know what he's talking about, and is making it up as he goes along. It's a little bit scary. I don't see myself as a Galileo. Not even as an Atticus Finch. I guess I'm somewhere between Atticus and Huck Finn, or Scout (Atticus's daughter). The best thing about Western Civilization is the way that we respect innocence and reason. BAN's GPS trackers weren't put inside 21", 25", or 30 inch CRT televisions, or in projection TVs. Those represent over half the E-waste. But not a single GPS went inside one. That's because I explained this to BAN back in 2005, and to CBS in 2008. That if the sin of externalized environmental costs were really the driver, that we'd see that kind of junk in the Hong Kong orbit. So BAN knew that. The fact that no random CRT TVs were sampled by the GPS is all that MIT's Ethics Committee really needs to know. Even the 15" CRTs BAN tracked, it turns out, were only exported 15% of the time, and the places they were exported to - Foshan and Pakistan - were DANY TV and SKD remanufacturers. They were probably being reused (or intended to be, before the MIT undergrad goblins got the Ayatollah's instructions to open the device and sabotage it and put it back together like a statistically good unit). It's as if BAN wanted to prove that 80 percent of NBA players have blue eyes. Then didn't sample any black players. Then announced 40% of NBA players (whites and Asians) have blue eyes, preparing a fig leaf of compromise (it wasn't 80%, it was 40%) Thing is, this is in academic hands now. If BAN abused the test of unwitting, unwilling test subjects, if BAN selected samples of overseas end markets which avoided Big Factories and reuse markets, if BAN "disappeared" the data showing the CRTs at the SKD factory in Guangdong (originally on MoniTour but missing from the August printed report), if BAN told MIT students which device (a laser printer reselling for $349 in used condition on Amazon) to sabotage internally, and sent them to knock on the door of a Somerville office with NO public collection point in order to get it to my staff, and then somehow our shredder in destination in greater Chicago - a funder of BAN - cancelled our deliveries and we redirected the printer to another Chicago area recycler, who had a purchase order for a new facility at Hong Kong's EcoPark.... all of this is in academia now. This can all get researched. Students around the globe are reading BAN's report, and my blog reads have gone up 400% See, it wasn't actually critical that Galileo physically get out of the prison. Copernicus had already demonstrated the earth moves around the sun, not vice versa, in Poland. The Pope and Ayatollah and Montezuma's soldiers aren't going to keep this from getting out. So my message to regulators is going to be that it's a little scary to find out that the project you are hired to work (like "Project Eden") is a tale of the Emperor's New Clothes. But look at the numbers. Look at the research at Memorial University, PUCP, ASU, RIT, USC. See where the numbers take you. Then look at the BAN funding. Follow the money. Big Shred. Planned Obsolescence. Payola. You will find out that the tracked devices were selected and placed on tarps at a facility that BAN recommends based on that facility paying BAN a portion of its income. The Authority is in the cathedral business. FREE JOE BENSON
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Here's an idea for 2017. Through the FairTradeRecycling.org web address, we receive research questions and internship applications from undergraduate and grad students around the globe. This year, I'm going to publish some of those questions, with my answers (or external experts) in the blog. I'll be the Dear Abby or Miss Manners of E-Waste. If you have a research question about recycling or waste or export for repair, send it here.
It reminds me of my Carleton College (MN) internship at the United Nations in Geneva in 1983. I was a long-haired activist and agent of conscience who was promoting the 1970s "Nestle Boycott" over infant formula sales [NYT 1981]. I'd circulated a petition at the college to keep Nestle brand candy bars out of Carleton vending machines, etc. In Geneva, I had the chance to meet with the head of INFORM the Boycott NGO, with the US representative of the WHO, and the Vice President of Nestle, Geoffrey Foochs. A lot of what I learned that summer put a permanent spin on my career. A lot of that summer appears in this blog.
The misuse and aggressive marketing of infant formula was indeed a horrible period. I won't go into the pictures of malnourished babies, contaminated water, "samples" which lasted long enough for a mother's breasts to dry out (leaving her bound to the bottle)... this was clearly a heroic battle in the early 1970s. But in 1983, there was as clearly an "industry" around the "boycott" and the main product being traded was ego gratification among long haired liberal arts students.
A year later I was teaching in Adamawa Province in Cameroon and I brought in Nestle powdered milk for a lesson. I'd drawn a nice cartoon of a mother breast feeding and asked the class which was better.
A slight majority raised their hands and said the powdered milk was better. All boys.
Then something rare occurred - the few young women in the class were adamant. Standing. Raising their voices and pointing their fingers menacingly at the ceiling, as if testifying before God.
No, they cried. Breast is best! All of the girls knew better, and were - uncharacteristically - LOUD about it!
It turned out that many of the boys knew it too, and said afterwards that they had assumed that because I was white, and that infant formula was white people food sold by white countries (and some even knew it was controversial), that the answer I wanted to hear was that powder was best. - The people (young women) who know most about infants knew already - Several boys who raised their hands were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. - Africans were in the process of filtering the same "modern" marketing that we filtered in USA in decades past (with no external "Action Group" to save us)
Those three things apply to the e-waste export saga. The tech sector in Africa manages 100% of the purchases, all the money, and knows exactly what the cost of testing a product is, and what the probability of the product not being repairable is. And the Africans tend to try to politely nod to the NGOs who are "saving" them from the trade, and can be less direct than they should be in calling out NGO bullhockey.
The Nestle Boycott was declared at end by the USA group (INFORM? or INFACT? I can't remember). But the marketplace for white saviors and liberal causes is still alive. While powdered milk is now sold in cans without images of babies in Africa, and I haven't seen evidence that the problem continues. But there's an NGO for That: Baby Milk Action (UK) which is still in the business of targeting Nestle. I don't claim to know anything about the Baby Milk Action Network or to be up to date on the "crisis", but I'll bet it's run by 50 somethings who are trying to Make Africa Suck Again (vs. #theAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou which, for the most part, makes intelligent consumer decisions about used electronics and infant rearing).
The Watchdog Action Networks do serve a role. But they will never find "acceptable" de minimus quantity. Like a sci fi Robot they will keep firing at infant formula and e-waste sales because they are single-issue NGOs. They aren't diversified. They will keep piling up collateral damage (like Joe "Hurricane" Benson) because they have painted themselves into a corner. Like a buggy whip maker or Kodak Film salesman, they have been made irrelevant by educated African women of child bearing age, and by Africa's Tech Sector.
The computer buyers of Africa are who I write about today. They buy TVs taken out of hotels all at once (when they are replaced by flat screens). That should have been obvious to Greenpeace when they filmed the sea container being unloaded in Accra - all uniform size and brand? What "e-waste" externalization does that resemble?
The buyers send buyers who know what to look for in brands that are not likely repairable, the look for problems (screen burn, other screen damage) which is not economical to fix. They do the math and ask for somethings to be tested working. Other things they actually prefer to get as cheaply as possible, because they know that statistically 90% of them are "elective upgrade" by the wealthy (replaced because the price of nicer new ones came down), and that statistically 9% of the remaining are easily repaired.
They know that if they buy the product as "certified tested working" a) they will pay 30% more for the same outcome b) they will probably not even have been tested, because the seller knows the same thing
That represents inefficient use of money by people who don't have much of that to waste. If someone had tried to "save" my hillbilly grandparents from buying and repairing used tractors and cars, and they spent their money on "new", perhaps I'd never have gone to college and Big Shred and Planned Obsolescence would be funding Action Networks with no referee to answer Progressive Questions.
African Technicians aren't eager to buy my Samsung Note 4 with the stuck "SAFE MODE" volume button issue because fixing the hardware requires the (working) screen to be removed. The screen is very likely to break in the process (the way it was glued). They will take it, but the price reflects a real risk that the screens are tricky. They do want Samsung Note 5, and will pay more for one (even if the screen is damaged) because the screen is more easily repairable.
WHY ON EARTH DID PACE, BASEL CONVENTION'S GROUP OF "EXPERTS", NOT INTERVIEW THESE TECHNICIANS IN THE FIRST PLACE?
If you are writing a research paper today, my advice is that if you see a bunch of 50 year old white people posing as experts, and don't see any actual people from the countries engaged in the trade, you will find serious research gaps. Like "where is the water sample UPSTREAM in Guiyu, showing that the toxic pollution found in the 2002 river sample came from e-waste?" Action Network failed to do that, and so never mentioned the tanneries and upriver pollution sources in Guiyu. That led to the SAME mistake being replicated in Agbogbloshie studies, even though numerous published reports decades earlier HAD tested the Odaw River upstream, and HAD documented that not much of the pollution occurs at Agbogbloshie. That research (which would also have shown that flooding wasn't caused by Agbogbloshie recycling) might have spared thousands of people from being evicted from their homes in Old Fadama in 2015, the last time I was there. (I'm returning in 2 weeks).
The Tech Sector Africans are grown ups. Like 16 year old gals in my African High School class, they are not dumb about the stuff they know and trade in.
And that his how the psychology of this business became so interesting to me. The white savior. The savvy tech (or infant) expert. The parroted opinion - cultural - to tell authorities (like Peace Corps teachers - or NGO filmmakers) what you think they want to hear.
There was a lot of misinformation about the sale of infant formula that led to a lot of harm. What the irony today is, is that repair and reuse and recycling is the natural thing. That is the breast milk. Big Shred solutions and bans in Europe are today's "Infant Formula" sold to Africans by White Experts who claim to have the health of Africans in mind.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
It's 6AM and I'm packing the car for another annual cross country road trip from (red state) Arkansas to (blue state) Vermont. I was hired as a cross cultural trainer for new US Peace Corps volunteers arriving in Cameroon in 1987, and sometimes feel I never stopped.
Can't resist posting my note to the AirBNB host where we stayed in lovely Leslie, Arkansas. She was the child of a hippie who grew up in the Ozarks and now lives in Seattle.
Finding yourself in liberal Seattle must be like me finding myself in Vermont. Generally I'm very relieved to be away from "ignorant and proud of it" politics here in the southern midwest. But also I find myself very aware of my coastal liberal friends and our own confirmation bias and "profiling" of conservatives, and attributing to 'denial' what may be legitimate skepticism over 'solutions'. Consider yourself a Peace Corps volunteer from a red state.
ebony and ivory stripes (wikipedia chain gang)
Confirmation bias. Profiling. I'm not immune to it. None of us can be. But when you walk a mile in another man's shoes - as I've done for a long time with the WEEE export entrepreneurs in emerging markets - you can sit on their jury. The blindness of NGOs to the studies that show nuance is nothing new. It's Captain Ahab. It's Scarlet Letter. It's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It's in To Kill a Mockingbird. It's Huckleberry Finn's crime. These great works are all about people who start a mission based on justice (like environmental justice) and consider themselves jurists and agents of conscience, but are deafened by their own conclusions.
We need to keep it simple. If I'm skeptical of your trade ban on used electronics as a "solution" (to what? poverty?) that does not make me a "denier". Let's find something else to agree on, a simple message that might appeal to rural and urban and OECD and non-OECD.
We all need to focus on ONE THING. Extinction and habitat loss. Mining in coral reefs and rain forests is the culprit, and recycling buys time until new inventions can source reduce the demand.
Judging and jailing geeks of color is such a bad idea, we have to really question why it took us all 15 years to understand it. SERI, NERC, Union of Concerned Scientists, UNEP, StEP... everyone played a small part in this Oxbow Incident, this mob justice. We took Africa and Asia and Latin America's very best and brightest reuse and repair nerds, the valedictorians, and elevated their "waste crime" to a par with ivory trade. Let's not distract INTERPOL with bogus "ewaste" chases. There are plenty of REAL environmental crimes. Joe Benson was a victim, and his prosecutors were, too.
500 years from now our generation will not be remembered for its landfills or toxics. We will be remembered for wars and extinction of other species. Creating affordable good enough teledensity for the critical mass of users in poor countries will help them have ACCESS to the information on things like Ivory. The internet cafe and affordable cell phone geeks who import used equipment (that yes, 15 years later winds up at Agbogbloshie city dump) should be on a pedestal, not in a jail cell.
End Environmental Malpractice, and good things may happen.
Affordable displays (rebuilt OECD CRTs) led to wider internet use, which allowed messaging on ivory, which led to massive awareness of elephants in the largest ivory market. And those were the CRTs BAN flew 60 Minutes around in Hong Kong, which they said led to Guiyu, which had NO CRT monitors at all, because they didn't go to a Guiyu dump in 2007, they went HERE.
I found out about the "Big Secret Factories" by listening to the Chinese who were buying and importing them. It's called DUH. Walking in the other dude's shoes, people.
Looking for a bluegrass cover of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's 1982 Hit "Ebony and Ivory" I found this instead. Seems more seasonal. Happy New Year. And Free all the Joe "Hurricane" Bensons this year. Amnesty. All of them. Even if it IS inconsistent with your past declarations (always the excuse of the Ayatollah of E-Waste). Ebony and Ivory. Peace.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
The number of blog visits is up in 2016, compared to 2015. Hopefully that is a sign that I've been engaged more relevant topics. Views from Europe, India and Africa grew in number and duration.
"Why We Should Ship Our Electronic 'Waste' To China and Africa" ran in Motherboard Vice five years ago. Klaus N. read it in Germany and decided to do a piece on it for 3Sat (German language equivalent of PBS, I'm told, which broadcasts in several countries). That led to a pretty steady dozen or so readers in West Europe. This year, the number is close to 100.
Some of the attention is probably "reflected from the mud". Kevin McElvaney published the arm-flailing Mike Anane's absurd claims about Agbogbloshie ("the biggest e-waste dump on earth") Sodom and Gomorrah? Fishing as a Boy?..."), which led to interviews in all kinds of German news, and led to a flurry of follow up visits to Ghana by other aspiring documentarians. A textbook case of photojournalism running off the reservation without a hint of datajournalism to support it. The posts here which provide links to World Bank and other data seem attractive to the photographically inspired.
Landscape shot of the small small site at Agbogbloshie where close ups of kids perched on monitor casings takes place
I offered to do a presentation on how incredibly small and insignificant our topic is. How bland, how navel gazing our concerns are from the perspective of the slum dwellers we wring hands and handkerchiefs about. The background of the landscape photo I took shows the Old Fadama slum in central Accra. The dump is across the lagoon. And the most photographed, if not the largest, ewaste dump on earth is there in the center, on this side of the lagoon.
No kidding, folks. This is it for wire burning. I got photos of photographers on that tiny, barren spot, posing young slum ruffians on top of some of the few dozen devices found scattered on the lagoon bank. See the "close up" of the same site at bottom... same tent in the background.
Above is another (landscape) view of this exact site and the 25 people burning wires there. Note tent behind girl
So the photographers, Bellini, Delvaney, McElvaney, Essick etc. brought western interest to the wires burned on the mud, and I blogged about the data. And so I get the consolation prize, the invitation to present in Salzburg. I'll be next to Jim Puckett, the man from Seattle who has reaped literally millions of dollars off of the photos taken at this very site, which he described hauntingly as "thousands of orphans" in his piece "A Place Called Away"... which inspired my counterpoint in Motherboard (this appears to be deleted finally... but thanks waybackmachine.org). Thousands of orphans. 400 containers filled with 600 computers which arrive daily, burned (working or not) mere days after arrival. A river the people of the city are afraid to go near, because of e-waste dumping....
It borders on comical, on the absurd. No doubt BAN.org has finally pulled the piece because it's written by the Executive Director and it is the worst pack of lies written about Africans since Leopold. BAN got major dough with this story and never spent a dollar of it on anyone in Africa. It is an embarrassment to the environmental community, a stain, a chink in the armor we must repair.
I'm sitting on a panel with the man, and will have been to the place he described, and will be able to call ANY of the "boys" anyone in the audience points to, on my cell phone, from the panel. Because the site is so incredibly small and insignificant, because the quantity of computers dumped there is counted in wheelbarrows per week, not sea containers per day, its fairly easy to identify everyone there and to stay in touch with them, as I have since I visited.
Here are links to 3 short datajournalist documentaries on Fair Trade Recycling, which BAN has recently claimed is not even an organization. Jim's been trying to get me thrown off the panel, I'd bet.
3Sat/TV-Beitrag https://vimeo.com/53719841 Compares old computers that still work to sex between older functioning adults. Interviews yours truly and has several shots of our WR3A associates in Egypt.
Clean Hands Teaser https://vimeo.com/116852349 Poignant interviews with European do-gooders who meant well, but did not know what they were talking about, and the Nigerian born TV repairman (Joe "Hurricane" Benson) they put in prison (Collateral Damage). Al-Jazeera E-Waste Republic http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2015/ewaste/index.html Data Journalist Jacopo Ottaviana travelled with us to Agbogbloshie and presented both sides of the case - for and against - used WEEE exports.
So while EU and USA have more TVs "per capita" than the developing world, the developing world has, in total, FAR, FAR, FAR more TVs in its waste stream today. Some reports have recently declared this... but it's completely obvious now, and was completely obvious a decade ago.
Oh, and if you really need a picture of children suffering in sordid conditions to get your e-Waste mojo going, here's a 10 year old photo of poor Vermont children exploited by a heartless Ewaste Magnate.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
As we near the end of 2016, and I review the engagement of the published blogs this year, it appears I need to update readers on the apparent stonewalling of our requests for information and review of MIT Senseable City Labs "collaboration" with Basel Action Network's GPS tracking of used electronics.
I slowed down on the reporting in part because I had to engage with actual attorneys... MIT's, one of the "collateral damage" processors at Hong Kong's Eco Park, and my own. Obviously Hong Kong Environmental Department attorneys must be involved in responding to BAN's accusations (in China Daily) that their legal opinion - that printer scrap is not hazardous waste and not illegal to import - was against international law (according to USA-based BAN.org). Also a few of the companies mentioned in the report as being in the "chain of export" cautioned me about the "Streisand Effect". If reporters were by and large (other than PBS and Time) ignoring BAN's study, why risk elevating it?
Well enough time has gone by for an update.
MIT did not confirm or deny that a copy of my letter was given to its Ethics Review Committee. They sent it instead to Basel Action Network, the organization we thought entangled MIT in the ethical research questions to begin with (and who I did not address in the letter for that reason).
Evidence has come to light that BAN had the ability to control the outcome in real time. This risk was not addressed by Carlo Ratti's team. BAN admits they knew where the devices were at intermediaries DURING the study.
My company shipped printer scrap to another shredder, on several occasions, which pays BAN e-Steward royalties. We shipped printer scrap to that company immediately before the load (also to the Chicago area) the month before the tracking device came to Good Point, and a month after the device was shipped to the company that exported it.
DURING THE MONTH IN BETWEEN the company which pays BAN royalties stopped accepting our material! We had actual cancellations of deliveries of printer scrap while the tracking device was at our property!
At the very least, this seems a strong reason not to publish the names of unwitting and unwilling test subjects involved in the chain. While we don't know about this particular case, we do know some in the chain were more "witting" than others. I revealed last summer that at least some E-Steward companies knew the trackers were in the field, and at least some were involved in selecting which devices to track.
This does not prove that BAN colluded with or warned their sponsor company that we had a device on our property, or that the information resulted in the delivery being cancelled until the device was off our property. That information is "continuously unknown".
It does show the need for MIT's existing rules on testing of unwitting subjects, and rules on conflict of interest. And there can be no bigger example of a conflict of interest than between Basel Action Network and Fair Trade Recycling.
And it raises a lot of questions about BAN's subsequent report, which named me personally as "in the export chain" but not writing about the information I provided them about the percentage of that material we delivered to (their) shredding company vs. a potential exporter.
It's not as if Jim Puckett has any conflict of interest with Robin Ingenthron, right?
Likewise, BAN knew that a device was at [the vicinity of] Hong Kong's EcoPark (the LCD we showed you was apparently repaired and sent to a part of "NewTerritories" characterized by high rise office buildings and modern elevated subways. Long term readers may recall that those facilities were "obscured" by BAN at the MoniTour site. BAN knew whether a device was in a "farm" or was in a facility, and withheld that information while MIT had our letter demanding that information. BAN held it back while preparing reports on who they would "out" as "export chain" participants. Active Nature
The "active nature" of BAN's GPS data raises new questions for MIT Senseable City Lab, the attorneys at our upstream and downstream and "intended downstream" clients. If information about our tracked device was given to the company that pays royalties to BAN, while it was en route tom or in process at, our company? What if that company as a result cancelled our attempt to ship scrap to them, and BAN already was preparing to write a page specifically about our company and clients, this would not just be a matter for MIT's Ethics Committee?
This would be a matter for the Attorney General, and possibly, the FBI.
If I were the parent of the MIT student who taped a GPS tracker into an apparently repairable device, range the doorbell of an unlisted office in Somerville, and the device was then actively monitored and its information used to affect the commerce at the site, I'd be very upset.
And I would have expected that it would not take MIT an entire year to respond to the questions about Senseable City Lab's tracking project.
Look, I'm not an academic. I don't blog full time. I would have thought that I just had to raise questions about such a broadly reported research project by MIT, and that scientific method and peer review would take over.
But then, I thought Joe "Hurricane" Benson would have been sprung from prison, or his case reviewed, simply because I blogged about it publicly.
What I'm learning is that Carlo Ratti, MIT Ethics, Hong Kong EPD, BAN Board of Directors, etc., have something in common. It's not about ethical questions, like whether unwitting unwilling test subjects should be publicly named, whether students should get course credit for committing tort law violations, whether a declared activist "watchdog" should have access to real-time tracking information, etc.
CYA That's "See Yah" next year. (or "cover your ass")
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Collateral Damage 2. Small scale (Informal) repair and recycling of home generated scrap Several NGOs made "informal sector" a bad word. Search "e-waste" and "informal" online, and you find that it's a polite word for a lot of pictures of brown people earning a living the way white boy scouts earn medals - by protecting the environment, adding value, and supporting a circular economy. Infamous example? How about the COVER photo from the 2015 UNEP Report. What exactly do you see here? A lot of people have been hypnotized to see something nefarious going on. This is what I saw happening when I visited Chinese buyers more than a decade ago. It was informal. But it was also sustainable. The environmental harm of producing chips from mining, refining, smelting, and manufacturing created small integrated circuits worth more than the gold they held in them. If it was about the gold, the refiners in Japan and Belgium would have no competition here. What I saw the Asians doing was memorizing each chip and sorting them, painstakingly, according to their reuse value.
. If my children were born in a poor rice paddy village, and they learned to do this, creating thousands of dollars in secondary market value, I'd be proud. It would remind me of how my Ozark family went from subsistence farming, no running water, no electricity and no paved roads, to OECD status in two generations. And no thank you, it wasn't from big city charities. Fixers do "git er done" in every culture, and often become the founders of the world's most successful enterprises. They see stuff for what it can do, not for what it cannot do. They find treasure where others saw trash. The "informal" market in Asia, Africa and South America isn't perfect, but if you want proof of racism look at the cover photo of the UNEP article and ask how something which reduces carbon, creates wealth, and is a less toxic process than European refining gets elevated to poster child.
Collateral damage in war often comes from mistaken targeting. Environmentalists targeted a "friendly" as a polluter. If you have time to read this, I'll try to explain to my friends at ICM how their best intentions, combined with racial profiling, do not produce good outcomes. Not for the environment, and not for the poor, at least. You see Waste Crime, Waste Risks. I see Spectrum, and Your Perspective.One man's trash is another man's treasure, they say. But the man who sees trash has a sense of liability (and privilege) which carries more weight. The "informal sector" has been crushed by environmentalists who are blind to their sense, and who can no longer distinguish between "need to have" and "want to have" commerce. What's at risk is the moral licensing and environmental regulatory framework constructed by people who never asked the geeks of color what they were doing when they sort chips into 50 different bowls and categories. Let me tell you, as a descendant of hillbillies (and a peppering of slave), what the people in the informal sector see in the tech sector. Smaller refurbishers are actually the best value-creating, hopeful, and sustainable job creators in emerging markets. They made possible the "critical mass of users" necessary for cell phone towers, internet cables, and mass media broadcasts possible. Without which, there will be no increase in living standard, or increase in property value, and therefore no improvement in environmental protection standards. I know about this from the paving of roads in the Ozarks as a boy. The more cars were repaired, the more Missouri and Arkansas citizens were willing to pay for roads. And I saw the same thing living in Cameroon in the 1980s. These Fixers and "geeks of every color" are most vulnerable to white savior enforcement standards. It's no coincidence that an African born TV repairman #freejoebenson was netted in Lord Chris Smith's EA WEEE sting. The EA's inspectors were given a list of "bad" things to look for... a list drawn up by privileged, wealthy, white people under the PACE initiative. Collateral damage of the worst kind, aimed by UK's Environmental Agency, based on the call in of NGOs who saw black people and e-waste and assumed the worst. See, what's making BAN target me is that I'm jeopardizing their retail sale of moral licensing. Like Little Big Man, my biggest threat to General Armstrong Custer is to his pride.
What should I say to the ICM delegation next month, when I sit on a panel next to Big Shred and my chief NGO critic? If you are looking for a good movie to watch with the grandkids and the grandparents this holiday, rent Little Big Man, and watch for the speech by Dustin Hoffman's "Muleskinner". Lord Chris Smith and his agents saw CRT TVs in Joe Benson's containers. They saw something that costs a lot of money to shred. They saw money going out... "strategic minerals". And they saw avoided disposal costs, and externalization. It was their perspective. The cause of the collateral damage is usually surrounding yourself with people of similar perspectives, and not listening to what Joe Benson was saying. He was saying "habeus corpus"... where is the pile of waste? What is it, how long ago was it imported, what is my motive. Unfortunately, the TV repairman had never been to primary school, and spoke in pidgin English. What they heard was "informal sector", so they assumed it was waste, and didn't ever bother to prove a crime had been committed. Instead they offered a choice between a grossly unfair 60 month sentence and time off for good behavior. You make that offer in a court room to an African with a public defender, and you get a guilty plea. Look it up. They saw CRT as - by definition - a "waste". Whoever didn't want it any more was an OECD resident. Profiling occurs when the odds don't matter because the risks are to you. They wanted to protect themselves from liability, so whether it was 80% waste (as they told the court and newspaper) or 19% waste (as they told the House of Commons committee on strategic metals), it didn't matter because Joe didn't matter. I see a working display device that will last 10 more years. You see something 10 years old, that was replaced with a flat screen, one that will last 10 years. I need an SVGA cable, you are willing to let me buy "bluetooth". You call it "leapfrogging". I say it is "letting them eat cake". Institutional racism is when the assumptions pile up from one group's perspective, gaining a consensus around "well what's less risky to us?" (sorely tempted to reference recent elections here)
Who should decide? A European PACE committee? Or the actual geeks who actually put their own money down, rare money, and made a call YOU never made with your own money?
Privileged, Well-intentioned, Morally-Licensed Do-Gooders have the best of intentions. Their very intentions are so good, in fact, that these do-gooders have a moral license to write their beliefs on trash and treasure into law. Now let me get technical, for the attendees of ICM, who I like. I don't think they are General Custer. I don't think Lord Chris Smith is General Armstrong Custer. Let's talk about the science behind the decisions which led to the prosecution of Joe "Hurricane" Benson. And I'm talking about the science of perspective, behavioral science, and persuasion. My fellow panelist, Jim Puckett, wrote a paper about Europe's PACE Initiative. His side of why the risk of exporting to the Informal Sector was too great, and should be made a crime. I've often written here about Jim's persuasion language - Halloween Images of Scary Black People (2012) comes to mind. WR3A too submitted comments... collected from technicians in several poorer importing countries. PACE didn't simply apply the "Privileged" Standards without testing them in the developing market. PACE rejected 20 pages of comments collected by WR3A geeks on 4 "other" continents (not Europe). It's the "other" comments, from the "informal" sector, which best predict environmental justice. That's what happened to Europe... they reacted to NGO photos of a "problem" (black people burning 30 year old crap) and designed an Export Standard ("fully functional") which was designed to protect Great White Conscience. The standards were designed to reduce liability of the Privileged, not to let Africa Git Er Done. Time for cultural analogy. In Eastern Europe and Southern USA, repair ingenuity was inversely proportional to Privilege. But fear of lawsuit, blame, and loss of Moral License was directly proportionate to Privilege. Positive indicators (value of real estate) predict not only environmental enforcement itself (subject of umpteen blogs), but the TYPE of environmental enforcement. It has become derivative - not protecting against net pollution, but protecting of who can feel blamed for it.
The word is "Stewardship". Stewards Have Privilege. Follow these rules, don't let your asset tags be found among the riff-raff. Keep your conscience shiny, and don't cross the tracks. The reputation of the "used car salesman" in the USA stems in no small part from the Types (social class and color) they sold rich people's used cars to. Dirty repair guys. Like my grandfather. The spectrum between "nice to have" and "need to have" [WSJ] is visible through the Lens of Privilege. Europe wrote rules without the perspective of the Global South. One man's treasure became another man's liability. Images from Ray Marston, publisher of Nuts and Volts. and Phys.org http://www.nutsvolts.com/magazine/contributor/ray_marston He's a Display Spectrum Geek.
one man's trash is another man's treasure one man's treasure is another man's liability
In 2008, WR3A submitted 20 pages of comments on the new EU rules on computer export. We submitted terms like "elective upgrade" which (we thought) rather precisely captured the point in the spectrum where one person's choice or decision to buy new rather than reuse or repair could differ from another person's decision. That StEP, UNU, UNEP, and Basel Secretariat were trying to come up with an objective term to describe the device itself, rather than the human factor. What I would do with a 15" CRT monitor was different from what an Egyptian would do with the same device.
This is the point where INTERPOL got involved in enforcing the new EU rules to "save the Africans" from reuse and repair. David Higgins at one point seemed to see the flicker of reason in the free market, but the overwhelming photojournalism from places like Accra City's Agbogbloshie district was pulling public opinion away from the informal sector, and into the gravity of "Big Shred". This led to a new term in the blog - "environmental malpractice". Like a doctor who means the best for the African patient, but who lacks the eyesight to distinguish waste transport from elective upgrade, EU regulators prescribed a recipe of inspections and arrests which culminated in a 60 month sentence for Joe "Hurricane" Benson #freejoebenson, an illiterate Nigerian born TV repairman living in Essex, England. I was at the 2010 INTERPOL meeting in Washington DC when UK Environmental Agency head Lord Chris Smith, Jim Puckett, and Michael "swimming as a boy" Anane told the amassed group of regulators about Agbogbloshie, the "Biggest E-Waste Dump on Earth". I was 100% certain this was nonsense, based on the economics of shipping containers and my personal knowledge of African geeks. Where most of the amassed regulators saw environmental injustice (externalization of expensive recycling work), I saw protectionism and the barely implicit racial profiling of tech repair work. Branded as "informals" by Big Shred, African Import Traders had been described in terms of Priviledged. Words like "against international law" and "externalized environmental costs" had barely any meaning to Joe Benson. He just heard words spoken by Bullyboys. This was a cross-cultural calamity, collateral damage against the best and brightest, an assault by a Platoon of environmental regulators on villagers importing "80% waste". Villager is artistic license. Most of Africa's markets were cities, which were urbanizing exponentially, as Africans left rural areas to pursue TV signals and "development". Many economic migrants wind up in the same place that migrants from Eastern Europe wound up in Montreal... scrap and repair joints. The market these informal tech sector workers work in is dirty and poor and noisy. But the effective boycott against these technicians by E-Stewards and even R2 is the worst example of collateral damage. Forcing African, Asian and Latin American small scale tech-sector to buy from fewer OECD suppliers creates "back alley" recycling, just as most prohibitions and boycotts do. And America has a unique perspective on exactly how the business works, in our history of second hand stores serving hillbilly rural and inner-city negro urban markets. America's poor emerged from the Great Depression through second-hand sales, which bear striking resemblance to "informal sector" in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. "Selling used cars to n****rs" was a business sneered at in a way quite apart from the sneering at Hurricane Joe Benson. But in my experience, no one looks at themselves in the mirror and realizes how absurdly racist their ideals may be. The sheer blindness to racial distain has infected colonialism, faith-based charity, military, and trade. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Food Stamps. Christian Missionairies. Why environmentalists think ourselves immune from it will be a haunting question decades from now. What we can hope to achieve is to see the collateral damage we wage first, to admit it, correct it, and draw lessons from it, faster than any self-righteous movement has ever done before. We can change this in years rather than suffer our blindness for decades. When I show this film of barefooted Dagomba Africans making jewelry from recycled metals, I am puzzled by the reaction. Back at the beginning of this blog, I referenced my own perspective. The perspective of my great grandparents, two of whom spent 22 years (colleagues of John Niehardt, Black Elk Speaks) in the USA Bureau of Indian Affairs. The others spent the 1920s and 30s in the Ozarks, subsistence farming, a world away from electrified running water cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, and St. Louis. I grew up during the holidays listening to old timers talking about how much the world had changed in thirty years. The informal Sector is a story of 4 Ozark Farmers, trying to buy their first car. Farmer 1 gets no car. Rides a horse and wagon. That's my great grandfather Fisher. Farmer 2 buys a new car on credit. Pays interest. Dies poor. Farmer 3 goes to the city and buys a used car. It's hard to afford, but he keeps it tuned up. Farmer 4 goes to the city and looks for broken cars. He knows the sound of a bad timing belt. He knows what bad parts he has access to at the junk yard. And he knows that rich people discard cars that have things wrong that he knows how to fix. Guess which one died a millionaire. Never went to college. And this isn't really important, but my DNA tests came back... and he's the one with West African ancestors that passed as Cherokee. I had no idea about this until 2015, 6 months after I returned from Ghana, and it's nothing but trivia... But there was a little bit of Joe Benson in Farmer 4 - my grandfather, who tried to teach me about repair and reuse.
We can start with our own history. Computers and cell phones are relatively new consumables, but the "digital divide" was once a car divide, a telephone divide, and a TV divide. You can skip the following. Unless you want to profile me better. What I really encourage everyone to do is to think about the 30 year period from 1925 to 1950, in the Ozarks and Appalachia, and in East Europe, and even villages in France, etc. In 30 years, things changed incredibly. My wife's Catalan French family pictures from that time period look like they could have been taken in Cameroon. At our wedding, we translated stories about mules between my grandfather (Farmer 4) and her grandfather Gabriel. In 25 years between when I went to Peace Corps and Jim Puckett went to Greenpeace Amsterdam (mid 1980s to 2011), when Joe Benson was arrested, World Bank data shows that African and Asian cities became more connected to the internet, cell phones, and television (teledensity) than the Ozarks did in the period I learned about. What my grandfather taught me about cars - that knowing how to fix one makes you smarter about how to buy one - is what the valedictorians of Africa learned about cell phones and laptops. The label of "informal sector" made these people Collateral Damage. If you have grandparents around, it's not too late to ask these questions. I'm now the age my grandfather was when I married. I don't have personal stories about mules. But I could tell my kids about cars.
Instead of reading about my cars and TV experiences (which do shed light on profiling and assumptions) I encourage you to spend this time with your own families. I've been sitting and working on this post for 2 months, it's really kind of personal to me, but I'm going to hit post now and hope that I have time to polish this diamond in the rough - and other Collateral Damage drafts - over the holidays.
- - - - - I was born in 1962. I am blessed with very early memories, perhaps because my mom and dad moved (3 different homes in 3 states by first grade, but every long summer and every holiday spent in Taney County Missouri). In Columbia, Missouri, we lived with my Auntie Maude while my dad got his Ph.D in Journalism (and Mom her BA in German). I remember learning about cars.
My parents used my Auntie's American Dodge Lancer. Next door neighbors had a station wagon. These cars were "familliar". I asked about the Mustangs and Stingrays. Those made a big impression on me... why did those cars look so much racier and modern? My dad told me that they cost a lot of money and were not a good investment. In Taney County, at the Ridgedale farm where my mom grew up, Pa Fisher (grandpa) had all the cars and tractors he had ever bought, and was often fixing them in a double garage (which mom told me had been the house she lived in while he was building the one he and Grandma lived in then). So I kind of thought of a car as an "investment" which you'd own for the rest of your life. And he had a horse, and in the "back 40" (acres) there were remnants of the horse-driven wagon Pa grew up with, and the one-room cabin my mom lived as a baby. Care of horses, I was told, used to be really important. But it wasn't important for me to learn anymore, because that was something from my grandparents childhood. What was important was how to change oil, fix a tire, change spark plugs, and not to "ride the clutch" on the tractor I rode on with Pa. That would be vital. Follow me to 1972. We were starting to notice and point out "Japanese cars". My dad (and my friends - by that point I was learning USA culture from peers in school) said "Jap cars" were very inexpensive and very poorly made. Cheap. Bad. Break down. Laughed at. Datsuns were around but seemed about as common as a Mini Cooper. And everything I was learning about the "Japs" was that they lost in WW II and made cheap radios and cheap toys and lousy cars, and "Made in Japan" was a punchline. But then, in 1972 or 1973, my dad brought home our 2nd color TV. SONY. And he raved about it. It was cheaper, it was better, it had better color and got better reception. He said he would never buy another American TV in his life. SONY.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
What's the value added of an apparently contemplative tweet?
Does it persuade anyone? My latest theory is that 100% of what we publish will be analyzed by artificial intelligence (either supercomputer or a genetically modified giant human brain) in 50-100 years, and that every single tweet and blog will be filtered through a consciousness we can't imagine. More on that below.
In the wee hours of the morning, I lay thinking about other people, and how they became a part of me. How I learned from people's personalities, kind of like you learn words or vocabulary, or a foreign language, by listening to others. Focusing on them. Getting what they want us to get out of what they are saying, what they value.
It can take hours to do the inventory of all the individual people I know who gave me insights and reasons and ways to value things. Value added, the common denominator in most of my research into recycling, is determined by people's demand. In determining value, a few very wealthy people can create more economic demand, and value, than a million poor people. And as wealth is increasingly shared across the globe, the values people give to objects changes.
So it's about people, and why people want stuff enough to pay other people to arrange to go out and make or create or dig up the stuff. Or build machines - robots - to do that work, to make stuff which humans give value to.
Some of the most important people in my life are ones I never met, but whose writings or teachings had profound influence on what I give value to. Before I was 20, I'd read the Tao, Bhagavad Gita, Plato, New Testament (red letter editions, both King James and modern English), and a lot of etc., and have to give them all credit without doing what 20 year olds do - subtle or not, brag about how worldly and travelled and intellectual and spiritual you are. Maybe to impress young women. Maybe to increase your status among friends.
In both the case of material goods value, and spiritual value, there is a "selling". If you accept a currency for your goods, and no one accepts that currency, you've lost net value. If you buy a collectible and no one else is collecting it, you have a finite value (yourself), and might be seen as a "hoarder" to everyone else who doesn't get that value.
So we are kind of selling our values to others. We want others to value the things we think are valuable (at least, once those are in our posession, not before a bid for heavens sake).
So back to the leadoff, as I sit quietly this time of year and remember the people who put spin on me, who I borrowed from, who I learned from, emulated, etc. - living or dead or read-only - I try to think of a way to appreciate and value the people I met. But to do so would be wordy.
Sure, I tell my kids about their great-great-grandparents. I think that they will value the memories of those people, because they can claim descendency, know their ancestry. I even tell them about certain people I learned from, because the lesson that I learned means more if I describe other people involved in that lesson.
But this morning I lay thinking, vividly, about dozens of people I lived with, worked with, laughed with, argued with, listened to, talked to, in Ngaoundal, Adamawa, Cameroon, Africa. The experience of Peace Corps is different for each of us, but when I was hired as a Cross Cultural trainer for new volunteers, at the end of my term of service, I was able to distill some commonalities about how one culture values something that another culture doesn't value, and how some values are shared universally.
Perhaps I have been able to draw on the shifting of mental gears required to stay on good terms with both intellectuals at a liberal arts college (Carleton), high school friends who had entered the illegal drug trade (carrying guns, Jesse Pinkman friends), cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents in "redneck" Ozarks, and still trying to remain loyal to friendships I made in Cameroon. Perhaps I have learned both the values I share, the values of economics and math, the added value of having a narrative involving mutual respect with people you care about.
For some reason, I hate gold, I hate the amount of pollution and habitat destruction that follows in gold's wake. I hate the cost of extracting a non-ferrous metal which is then hoarded and sold to old people on TV networks. I hate that my dad, a Ph.D, keeps thinking that gold is special and worth more than stock market shares (no, Dad. no, it's not. Land either) over decades. I hate the idea of Chinese peasants using aqua regia to harvest gold from circuit boards. I don't especially like the recycling industry that expends carbon to pulverize 286 computers, part of our history, to refine the chips into elemental gold.
But here's the insight here. I know that human beings are capable, as a society, of changing what they value. The values of people and cultures across the world have changed at a dizzying pace. A female truck driver was once a novelty, an inner city food stamp collector was once an embarrassment to have on your payroll. An autistic guy worked for my great grandfather (Luther Youngblood) on a subsistence farm I often visited as a young kid. I was scared of the guy, named "Sack". Luther hired Sack because no one else thought the kid had any value whatsoever. But the farmers in those clay-covered, rocky fields had so little, they had to find value where they could.
A poor society has values, and has valuable people. They don't own much gold.
So rambling here, what I was thinking about this morning was a notebook I kept, a journal, in Cameroon. No TV, not even much choice of radio, only an hour or two of electricity a day, no entertainment other than neighbors, friends, and nature (the sound of songs played on cassette player with a dying battery has a special place in my heart, as the slooow slogggy pull of the weak player deepened the voices and strung out the cords, giving a special background theme to the entire place). I would doodle, sketch, and make characatures of my African acquaintences, and write what I called "personality abstracts", trying to summarize background of a person in one or two short paragraphs. To help me remember.
I lost the journals of course. But having taken the time to write about these people, by name, helped me learn and remember so much more about them. I've written in the blog a few times about a few special people, like Yadji Moussa and my grandfather Clarence. But there are so many dozens of other people who I've learned good and bad habits from, have borrowed from and given to.
If we are all products of the society we live with, then I'd postulate that the best way to take a guy like me from a county with a reputation for a tendency towards white supremacy to go through the phases of not sharing racist ideas, then opposing them, then taking pride in not being racist, and trying to prove your not racist, and then coming to the point of self consciousness about having art or whatever that seems to try to prove you're not racist and why are you broadcasting that, to just really feeling multi-lingual in cultures, tastes, and values.... not sure how to complete that sentence. But I'm saying there are analogies and commonalities we all have, and the derivatives of what give value to ideas and objects are subject of mass psychology.
So what I do as a businessman is create personality abstracts for markets (including labor markets) which will give value, and read psychologists like Steve Pinker and Capaldi, terms like confirmation bias, types of logical fallacy, and then try to bring those things into a blue collar warehouse environment that doesn't show off book-learning.
It's challenging to communicate all that. What we need to do is communicate the hope that I feel from all my travels, the hope I learned from people who protected me and watch my back, the hope I feel about how people with practically nothing, the poorest people I've known, can value another person and create a value for that person.
I gave up on practicing most of the religion when I realized that the more I meditated on the infinite greatness and intelligence and compassion of God, the more I saw God as being so omniscient and above us that we were like a society of mice or insects, beings whose brains were just too small and lives to short to ever comprehend the logic and science behind the universal values God represents. That doesn't mean I stopped believing in God. My kittens believe in me, they know me, they just can't read and write or understand my values. If they could, if I could give a kitten a serum that gave it the brain of a human, we could talk about it. But God hasn't injected me with such a serum, so I'm just - relatively speaking - an outspoken kitten here on earth.
But my closest friends and family know that the value of hard work and sacrifice and listening and helping others, of feeling enthusiasm for people in totally different places and situations, are something I believe enriches me. I've added value to the life I would have led in the South 50 years ago. Greed over gold, or fear over terrorism, I feel completely inoculated and immune. Losing poor values is part of what we learn by trading with others. And I hope somehow that a lot of our positive western values are flowing the other direction, when we meet and trade with people who see value in something our society does not value. Like a CRT screen.
So in 50-100 years, when some giant superintelligent being or hive of interconnected processors reads every tweet and persuasion and opinion and fact and falsity ever written, puts it through a giant blender for association and synthesis, will that being be able to share our values? Or will the superintelligence discount temporary outbreaks of "greed and fear", or "nurture instincts" that turn out to be false negatives (#ewastehoax), and simply create a dump file for everything fake or hyperbole or hysteria-driven? Will it sift through the military industrial complex marketing to fear to pump gold into pockets spilled from profitable defense budgets? Will the AI or super GeneticMod Brain feel compassion for misdirected passion, for fear of the other, for argument and negativity driven by incomplete information? It will understand every language, and filter every information through contexts we cannot even be self-aware of.
That sounds like God.
Did I just become a techno-prophet?
When I'm on the fence whether someone will find any value to my psychobabble or philosophy deep dive, I figure maybe Alexis de Tocqueville also thought a lot of his journal entries would never be found valuable. And the mere possibility of a future filter super intelligence encourages me to hit "post" and hope my critics don't read it.
I hope whatever it is loves us, and that's the value of these personality abstracts. We hope that whatever synthesizes all the song lyrics and poems and ranting comment fields will hate the sin and love the sinner. Even if it sees us all as kittens. I pray that God has sympathy and finds or confusion as cute as a kitten chasing a ball of yarn.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
But Original Equipment Manufacturers aren't really collateral. They are are active players, for better and for worse, in the battle over recycling policy. Their role has been extended to finance recycling of products at end of life. Or not at end of life. Product support, software upgrades that turn "obsolete" into a verb, negotiations over broadcast changes (Telecommunications Act of 1996), VHS or Beta, copyright law...
They are targets, and they are targeters. They are allies and adversaries. Interested parties with a stake in the game.
It's just business.
Some manufacturers are my company's clients, directly or not. I'm way too small a player to factor into corporate strategy, but have a history with the writing of the first CRT waste ban in the country (MA DEP) and some consulting for EPA on the 2006 CRT Rule. I've tended to distrust Extended Producer Takeback laws (testified against Vermont's, until it was a done deal and then advised on some of the rules and bid on the contract), though I promote reuse and secondary markets.
With all that on the table, I advise manufacturers to cooperate in the takeback business. There are four reasons why manufacturers of original equipment should contribute to programs to lower the cost of recycling their material. Guess Which One is the most important?
1. Goodwill value for the Brand
Example, Dell Computers was threatened by an NGO 15+ years ago for using a recycling program (Unicor) which employed prison labor. Unicor had taken contracts from a rather wealthy and savvy private electronics recycler in Florida. He contributed money to the NGO and told them to go after Unicor. NGO went after Unicor by going after Dell. That was bad brand karma for Dell, so Dell did a lot of voluntary events and hired NERC (who hired me) to run workshops on recycling. At the last workshop, Dell VP asked me what Dell could do, I told them what MA DEP did that was successful was partner with Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army. That led to Dell ReConnect, which for years put Dell's brand in front of people who were donating computers to a charity (and writing off some insane estimated value for the computer on their taxes). Anyway there is more history in that example (and explains animosity of the NGO that went back after the Dell Goodwill program this year in the infamous MoniTour project). But it's still a good example of using ADVERTISING budget in a takeback program. 2. Responsible management of potential future liability
Some NGOs (SERI and E-S) and OEM groups (MITS, MRM) have advertised their "added value" to the OEMs as working as an "insurance" that their product would not be improperly recycled or exported in a way which created either a) real or perceived downstream liability / responsibility (NGO takes photo of Brand label at Africa dump) or b) shreds up stuff so it isn't resold in the secondary market. The latter is "planned obsolescence in hindsight" and led to the preponderance of Big Shred in some OEM plans. The former reflected a legitimate concern by OEMs that creating a responsible downstream reverse supplychain would normalize recycling and remove the need for legislation making them responsible for it. See #3.
3. Access to and Involvement In Policy Formation
When an OEM has a paid representative who is active in the recycling activity, they meet regulators and NGOs and influencers. Maybe one day they get a chance to influence a simple decision like, "should market share be calculated based on what is sold now (future waste) or what is collected now (past sales)". If you are an older, legacy manufacturer like IBM who isn't participating much in making personal products since the "white box" revolution, a decision to attribute financial responsibility based on current collection or current sales could be worth tens of millions of dollars. Being around and involved in the "game" is a great ROI - if your person does it right and has an agenda and knows all 4 reasons you are involved. If they are going to meetings and glad-handing and not aware (I have seen that too), the OEM misses this opportunity.
4. Defuse the Billion Dollar Extended Responsibility Bomb
As mentioned, when electronics are expensive or difficult to recycle, NGOs and regulators cook up solutions which are usually funded with some kind of advanced disposal fee or tax on the OEM. This is by far the biggest problem. Once you become part of the local government tax base, it's over. Forever. The cigarette tax and gasoline taxes may have been passed to fund something in some referendum, but no one remembers what it is and the gasoline and cigarette manufacturers will pay local government, like Mr. Wonderful, "royalties in perpetuity". This is why it is in the enlightened self interest of manufacturers to keep the cost of recycling CRT displays under control. Most Americans only dispose of a display every ten years, and will shrug off a price point that's say, less than the toll at the George Washington Bridge. But if the cost of recycling a TV becomes too onerous, legislation is likely to follow. I'm not threatening it, I just thing that a shared cost, shared responsibility model is a beautiful thing. And to the environmental NGOs who want manufacturers to be permanently a part of the takeback system, you are wrong. It does not result in manufacture of more recyclable devices. There's nothing an OEM could have done to make cassette players and black and white TVs upgradeable, and no one could have designed a 486 computer to run Windows 10. What the devices are made of is a concern for the mining of rain forests and coral reefs, not landfills. We should be more concerned about rare and conflict metals extraction than about what vitrified CRT leaded glass does in a landfill (hint - absolutely nothing).
If you do look over the Collateral Damage blogs (which I hope to finish over vacation), ask yourself how many of the unintended consequences came from passing laws when the advocate did not know what he/she was talking about, and was making it up as they went along? The "80%" statistic did more harm to more people than anything I've witnessed. Including OEMs.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill