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".
Our expectations couldn't be very high. But whether because of our pressure, or despite it, Europe has blinked. Bullied for years by Basel Action Network to implement the "Ban Amendment", Europe had shown a pattern of stimulus-response which I had failed to note ten years ago. So WR3A got less diplomatic in our language, to match the "ghoulish witchy skeleton toxic" language of Basel Action Network and Greenpeace. Where they claimed "Stewardship" we called out "Africa Boycott". Where the NGO's called out "waste tourists" we gave voice to "geeks of color".
"Most of the illegal e-waste trade is taking place next door rather than far away in Africa," said Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, scientific coordinator of the project that included police agency INTERPOL and other partners.
That's right. Europe finally got a clue this summer. It took awhile, but the Dennis Moore analogy holds. This redistribution of environmental costs was trickier than thought.
European Environmental Advocates really must be "word war weary" at this stage. Poor Pascal LeRoy and David Higgins couldn't help but bristle at being named personally in blogs to account for the environmental malpractice of the WEEE Guidelines, as implemented. Basel Action Network is known for developing "tests" which appear to allow trade - like allowing laptops with batteries that show 80% of original charge - a charge gone on many laptops after a few weeks. Or like allowing SKD factories to buy "fully functional" CRTs with parts removed. The proof in the pudding was that exactly 0% of their E-Stewards would export a CRT monitor, they were all pounded into toxic rubble following the breakdown of the California Compromise. But the point of sharing these technical anecdotes is to show the level of obfuscation faced by UNU, UNEP, PACE, StEP and other Euro Acronym Agencies in the Puckett Armada.
They believed the lead ship knew where it was going. But after 10 years, short of supplies and weary of the "collateral damage" of Africa's Tech Sector, Europe today has blinked.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
(Soweto South Africa choir)
Since I had reviewed the agenda of CWIT (Interpol and EU's WEEE forum and United Nations University) meetings in June, my expectations were low. I had attended a previous one in 2010 (Jim Puckett presenting with Lord Chris Smith and Mike Anane), and saw Puckett and Anane on the list of presenters. I reviewed the four power point presentations online.
So it was a huge relief to see this admitted in today's press release.
This looks like an agenda shift. Whether it is because of our Fair Trade Recycling efforts, or despite them, Europe's Armada of anti-export agencies appears to have trimmed its sails.
It's a modest effort. It doesn't begin to undo the recent damage by UNEP report, which I attacked in a few blogs (most recently yesterday). Telling hundreds of news outlets that 90% of e-waste is mismanaged, and showing full page photos of #povertyporn in Agbogbloshie, was unforgivable. And so far, the only response from ANY European expert has been "That (UNEP) is not my agency's acronym." Photography and bias are a two way street (Harvard Project Implicit / PBS).
But clearly, some of the European "ewaste" agents are reading the reports that show 91% reuse by Africa's tech sector. Clearly, the forced evictions of Old Fadama rang a bell. Articles by Minter, and op eds by Wiens and ReStart Project were read and heard. And clearly, participation in the discussions by academics (like Josh Lepawsky and Josh Goldstein and Reed Miller) has had an effect.
The participation by African born critics - Emmanuel Eric Nyalete, Grace Akese, and Wahab Odoi have done a lot to water down Mike Anane's kool aid.
So kudos. And my apology and tip of the hat to Pascal LeRoy, who I admittedly was pressuring.
Yesterday, there was a telling comment from the General Secretary of EU WEEE Forum to yesterday's blog , foreshadowing the announcement above.
Dear Robin Ingenthron. You say "For one, the 8 photos of Agbogbloshie in the UNEP Report from the photo essay samples at top, used to depict African Importers (who are 100% Tech Sector, 0% Scrap Business) is inexcusable. UNEP and Pascal LeRoy and David Higgins should issue an apology. I stand by that." Please remove my name from this blog, for I've got nothing to do with those photographs or with anything related to UNEP and its reports. Thank you. Pascal Leroy
Until the Business Insider article quote by Jaco Huisman, a day later, my reaction was to find it both rewarding and frustrating that Interpol, WEEE Forum Sec, StEP and UNU all want the Africa techs to draw distinctions who used the Ghoulish photos and which report (UNU, CWIT, UNEP) said what exactly. Ruediger Kuehr similarly pointed out that UNU is not UNEP, but had published a report a year earlier which made all the same fallacies of linkage between Africa Tech Sector (who export and import) and the scrap sector. And it seems I'm not the only one confused. Le Monde seems to agree with Business Insider, that Africa dumping is exaggerated. But DerSpiegel this morning cites the same study and points to Ghana e-waste dump photos and says that's likely where it's going... citing the same SAME AGENCY report! Clearly we are not the only ones lost in translation. (And Pascal LeRoy just reposted the Der Spiegel link) They should realize that if I, and Minter, and Lepawsky, etc. cannot follow the acronym alphabet soup game, that Africans would spell it with two letters. "White People" or "Nasarah". Oh, wait, those aren't letters. Even USA and EU fail to distinguish themselves on the streets of Agbogbloshie.
Speaking of letters... The VCR with the asset tag photographed by MIke Anane should be a symbol. Africa's Tech sector purchased and - if necessary - repaired the VCR 20 years ago. Africa's scrappers, like the lads of Agbogbloshie, gets VCRs - with the asset tags - 20 years later. Nigeria-born TV Repairman Joe Benson went to prison in England. The UK VCRs at EU recycling depots had more copper and metal in them, but Benson's 100 pages of Bill of Lading and customs itemization showed no VCRs, only DVD players worth a fraction in scrap. The UNEP Report gave a value "per tonne" for "e-waste", and said it was based on metals, but per ton what Benson avoided buying was worth more than what he shipped. Explain how the "driver" for the trade again?
StEP or UNU or WEEE Directive or UK EA or SBC or EPA or some ABC should have spotted the "driver" missing in the seized goods a decade ago, and Benson's public defender should certainly have introduced the age of equipment as evidence of Benson's innocence. But the agencies asked us that each EU Acronym Armada ship be treated individually and separately. So finally we have a first, and I should spend the time thanking them rather than explaining my past browbeatings. The results of Harvard's Project Implicit Test (see chart) apply to all of us.
Really, the least Africans would expect is for someone to say what Jaco Huisman has finally said. Africans and Americans surely made the same false equations between EU Agencies that the Europeans made between Africa's Tech Sector and scrap sector. But until today, no one was showing anything but cannons aimed at sea container ships laden with gently used goods demanded by Africa's Good Enough Market. Did I go too far, rhetorically, in pushing for this change? Was raising the spectre of "accidental racism" a bridge too far? I'm sure I won't get a warm embrace by Jaco or Pascal or David H. when we next meet. Lord Chris Smith must surely have heard/read me by now. So here again is my defense. I hope that if we meet 10 or 20 years from now, my tired blog rampage, like the VCR, will be seen in a different and more friendly light.
Since I grew up in the south as it was defending itself from a cacophony of racial laws, I'm familiar with the feeling behind Mr. Leroy's objection. If my uncle or grandfather says something racist, or supports a ban on interracial marriage (I remember vividly the arguments about the Loving vs. Virginia case at family gatherings), it seems unfair to me that I'm assumed to share his view just because I grew up in the south.
There is of course, a remedy for that. It's called speaking up. If my uncle were to accuse Tom Robinson (character in To Kill a Mockingbird) or Joe Benson of doing something vulgar or primitive, by associating Robinson or Benson's color with another black man's crime, it's one thing to say "that's my uncle, not me". It's another thing to say Robinson and Benson are innocent and that my uncle's comment is unsupported at best, or sloven.
J'accuse by Saez ain't a river http://tinyurl.com/pnffla4
The Bottom Line is that many different agencies in Europe have blamed a lack of testing procedures and impugned Africa's Tech sector as "waste tourists", "waste criminals", and even "organized crime" for far too long. They have spent European taxpayers money on an arms race against reuse. Which agency used which McElvaney photo in which report is not really leadership? Press could not keep track. And so I focused on David Higgins and Pascal Leroy because they are leaders.
None has a racist bone in his body, I'm certain. For that matter, Jim Puckett either. But the pictorial association of Africa's Tech Sector with Africa's junk/scrap sector was a blatantly out of bounds. But Benson says it was in bounds, over and over again in court, and he's still called upon to meet the EU's "burden of proof", which is that he must prove he didn't dump the material he paid thousands of dollars for in Agbogbloshie. The age and color and brand of the ball shown out of bounds is 20 years different from the ball Benson kicked.
At our March/April pilgrimage to Agbogbloshie, a scrap VCR like the one Jacopo, Isaaco, Adam and I watched smacked apart at Agbo been "fully functional", tested, its asset tag removed, properly followed all WEEE guidelines, and been exported by E-Stewards, it would have been imported 10-20 years earlier and it would have wound up in the same place, and using photos of the scrapyard to imply that Wahabs and Bensons testing decisions are the root cause of the problem is fallacious (and insulting and ridiculous).
When we saw the VCR at Agbogbloshie with the "wedding" tape inside, I first assumed - just like everyone in the Harvard "Project Implicit" test could forsee - that it was some Westerners VHS wedding tape. After the trip to Tamale at Chendiba, where I met a guy who does wedding videos with a 1990s VHS recording camera, I realized I'd done the same thing, and most probably it was an African's wedding (or multicultural wedding). In that way I'm saying that I'm no better than anyone else at Harvard's "Project Implicit" psychology test. We all must take it just to know the limitations of judging economies and geographies by photojournalism.
Explain how "intelligent design" of WEEE works?
There is nothing that "manufacturer design" could have done to anticipate streaming video and MP4s or DVDs, which caused the African to sell the VCR to a scrap peddler.
I think the LinkedIn/blog dialogue can be constructive. It's probably not a great career move for me to insult UNEP, UNU, Interpol, etc., and I can understand how dear readers may not want to wade in. But I hope you also recognize that bigotry is usually not confined to assholes. My extended hillbilly family in the Ozarks loved me very much. I was reading Plato, not the Bible, but they mote in their neighbor's eye and beam in their own eye was pretty similar to Socrates wondering why he felt joy to lose an argument, that he had had a wrong idea removed from his head like a splinter from his finger.
The public policy lesson is that those hired to paid #whitesaviorcomplex positions, in church or NGO or government, don't have any incentive to change their positions when evidence comes to light that the boycott and guideline is doing more harm than good. And I note that Huisman and LeRoy haven't actually gone that far in the press release. I had a cordial conversation with David Higgins about 8 years ago, and WR3A submitted 25 pages of comments on testing and elective upgrade to PACE, and not a word of it was responded to or incorporated. So like my family gathering at Thanksgiving in the Ozarks, where I saw my young mother try to argue in favor of the Loving vs. Virginia news but back off well before we said grace, let's celebrate our environmental family. Let us see Europe's regulators as we see Africans. For what they can do, not for what they cannot do. And there, but for the grace of God, go I.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Yesterday I mentioned Mr. Jim Puckett's Op Editorial in Resource Recycling - Exporting Deception: The Disturbing Trend of Waste Trade Denial. I will have a chance to respond in Resource Recycling next week, in simpler terms than I traditionally write by blog. The blog is directed at the best and brightest in our field.
The masthead photo of Agbogbloshie, by Amaia Benito, shows three young men, standing near the side of the Odaw River Lagoon, burning auto harness wire. A 1990s CRT monitor case, used to carry the wire after burning, implies that there is e-waste, too.
No doubt. When Wahab and Emmanuel and I interviewed the wire burners (27 at the site) last April, they estimated that 20-50 pieces of electronics arrived there each day.
That is in the largest slum of a city of more than 3 million people.
The hard working, poor men are not a hoax.
The "e-waste" is not a hoax.
The toxics are not a hoax.
The import of second-hand devices isn't a hoax.
These are specifically what Jim rebuts, and it appears he purposefully misses the point. I have never claimed the Odaw River is clean, or that we should ignore the environment in African cities, nor that Africans import second hand goods.
What is a hoax is that 400-600 sea containers full of western waste is dumped at the site each month.
It is a hoax that the goods that Africans pay to import are quickly dumped 80-90% of the time.
It is a hoax that the Basel Convention has been amended and the trade in repair is illegal.
It is a hoax that Agbogbloshie's a very large dump, much less one of the largest in the world for "ewaste".
And it's a hoax that "e-waste" ruined a pristine, lush, Odaw River. The exaggerations of Agbogbloshie trump the reality. I objected to the exaggeration of African import crime in an interview with Jim Puckett in 2005, but no one had yet studied his claims of "75%-80% dumping" (and he had then as yet to later deny his claim). Finding something I didn't say and responding to that, instead of what I did say, will fool some of the people, some of the time.
Extensive peer-reviewed studies and World Bank reports on teledensity in Africa can't simply be labelled "denial" and "associated" with tobacco and climate change skepticism. And citing news sources that cited your own *claims* hardly matches wits with extensive research by Memorial U, ASU, MIT, and the UN.
In his editorial, Jim Puckett has repeatedly accused me of "ad hominem" attacks. The claims he makes about Josh Lepawsky of Memorial University, Reed Miller of MIT, and researchers from US International Trade Commission aside... Jim would have a legitimate complaint if I have, as he implies in the article, called him a racist.
If Jim has really misunderstood me, my apologies and condolences. But as likely he hasn't.
I tried to deal with the confusion exhaustively in several posts in 2012 (Defining E-Waste "Racism"). Stating that Jim does not have a racist bone in his body was apparently not enough. But lest I retreat too far, here is what I have said. For one, the 8 photos of Agbogbloshie in the UNEP Report from the photo essay samples below, used to depict African Importers (who are 100% Tech Sector, 0% Scrap Business) is inexcusable. UNEP and Pascal LeRoy and David Higgins should issue an apology. I stand by that.
[FOOTNOTE: Pascal LeRoy, General Secretary of WEEE Forum in the EU, says he has nothing to do with the photo in the UNEP Report below and asked his name be removed. Similarly, Ruediger Kuehr of UNU sent an email disassociating himself with the UNEP Report. David Higgins of INTERPOL hasn't responded, but generally doesn't (it's a non-political organization). I'm going to take this Oxbow Incident up in the next blog. Suffice to say that if Africa Tech Sector importers don't like photos of decades-imported equipment asset tags at end of life scrap yards used to describe their work, and therefore should try to make distinctions between NGOs, Photographers, and various EU Agencies.]
I'm not making up the outrage of the people photographed. I have it on film.
If BAN speaks for us as environmentalists, it is representing our view of Africa with these images. We aren't denying they exist, we object the claim that they depict recent imports, or any significant percentage of Western E-Waste dumping. Other than shared nationality and race, these photos have no intersection with Tech Sector exporters like Joe Benson. (In his Op Ed, Jim acknowledges this explicitly, explaining a tortuous process of paying to clear itemized units through customs, to ship as junk to dozens of retailers, in order to "launder" it for Agbogbloshie. See April Fool's post, E-Waste Matrix).
But more to the point, our choice of images affects society, affects mass psychology, and affects our belief systems. Jim once again uses a photo of 3 people burning auto wire to buttress the ridiculous claim that millions of tons of e-waste are being continuously and illegally dumped in an African slum. Once again, he is using Halloween Images of Scary Black People to rebut scholarly articles which provide to us what he himself has failed to provide - a percentage, a number. He lost his. Now he has none, and he resorts again to boogeymen.
There is a heavy price paid by using photos of kids at dumps, photos like McElvaney's and Benito's, and attaching bogus statistics to them. And it is a serious price which will endure long after "e-waste" has gone from the language.
___________________________________________________________________________ The psychological effects of repeatedly associating African children, tire fires, fake stats, and ghoulish words are well documented, each association makes the reaction to photos stronger. This art of dissociation, or "otherization", is an "easy sell" which gets easier with each photoessay. To say that reminding readers how few computers per dirty child are in the Agbogbloshie photos is "playing the race card" grossly oversimplifies the nuance of social education to risk aversion. Harvard's online experiment, "Project Implicit", is an interesting study of the subconscious effects of negative propaganda. ____________________________________________________
The survey link is not to "ewaste deniers" making up questions. This was in the news the year that BAN broke the story that "by far" most African imports were simply dumped. (See ABC coverage of psych studies of implicit racial distrust, 2006).
Take the online test at Project Implicit.You won't find that you are a racist. But you will find out the psychological toll propaganda takes on society (internalizing fear of "rapist immigrants", "racist southerners", "snobby French", etc.), and you may appreciate why my African technician friends feel the way they do about the Basel Action Network and its armada of photo journalists. Artists who do not know what they are talking about, and make up the statistics as they go along, draw us in with their photos of poverty. Too many make a trip of 5 days, visit a site 9 minutes from Accra's nicest hotel, and take selfie photos (dust mask on face) for accolades to bravery. Upton Sinclair this ain't.
If it's repeated often enough that Mexican immigrants are rapists sent by the Mexico government, people will start to cross the street when we meet construction and agricultural and custodial workers. If it's repeated enough that Africans burn the laptops they buy, Stewards will refuse their calls, and EU customs agents will put "Hurricane" Joe Benson in prison.
But your constant game of associating and dissociating is outed. The jig is up. It's like a kids game of spitting at the other child and then calling "Mommy!?" before she can even respond. It's gutter politics, sir.
The photojournalists keep arriving, following the footsteps of National Geographic's Peter Essick. Essick's photos of refurbishing factories in Grand Prairie Texas and Penang Malaysia were of tens of thousands of monitors (stuff) being repaired. But his photos of Agbogbloshie were of less than a few dozen monitors, and such better view of the people... poor people. Essick got the photography award because the landscape was barren, and the sad wet eyes glistening near the flames... or the shot through the frame of a single monitor, of a young man standing near smoke. And in his own essay, he talks about how much more meaningful were the pictures of kids at dumps. Even though they show practically nothing but anecdotal waste collected in a city of 3 to 4 million people. He does not mention the factory he photographed from near the ceiling, which reused 54,000 CRT monitors per day, meeting the demands for TV and internet in emerging markets like Accra.
We have evolved to have a psychology of nurture. And we have evolved to have a psychology of revulsion. And the art of manipulating society's opinions with images spurring nurture or spurring revulsion herds us into pastures of guilt, where we are milked by a charitable industrial complex. They take just enough donations to keep the NGO payroll and photos coming, never enough to seriously clean up or "transform" the site. Europe's guilt over colonial Africa's situation is harnessed. Americans guilt over slavery, or guilt over consumption. It's a perfect storm or white guilt, toxic fear, and black resentment.
I know Peter Essick, he's no racist. Nor is McElvaney, nor Delaney, nor Benito, etc. But the Africans they forgot to interview are expressing grave displeasure. Being self aware of your camerawork, and its effects on society's implicit stereotyping, is part of the job. So is looking up an export statistic which has no darn source.
The photos distract international police from ivory, guns, and slave crimes.
The photos cause people to think of Africans as victims of capitalist cartoon characters.
The photos make Africans think that their technicians are criminals.
And the photos make Europeans think that Africans technicians are "Primitive" recyclers
As college students, and European customs police, and policy officials, and news editors are repeatedly exposed to these photos of anecdotal waste, surrounded with Jim's "ghoulish" and "skeletal" and "primitive" and "witches brew" language and phoney baloney statistics, the reputation of African technicians, programmers, geeks, and tinkerers is being irreparably damaged.
Essick is a University of Missouri J-School grad, like my father. Perhaps one day a blogger can win a Polk, Pelley, or Pulitzer. I have no such aspirations. I just want people to recognize that the junk VCR filmed at Agbogbloshie today was imported by an African Techie 20 years ago, used longer than the original user, and that the fact it has an asset tag is not evidence of a waste crime.
Things fall apart. It's life. Fair Trade Recycling at least offers a solution.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
" Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.
"Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.
"As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
"But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."
This #charitableindustrialcomplex meme, and #theafricathemedianevershowsyou, and #povertyporn and #parasitesofthepoor memes are not something I made up as an "ad hominem" attack on the Basel Action Network, which renewed the claim in an Op Ed this month at Resource Recycling.
"Exporting Deception: The Disturbing Trend of Waste Trade Denial" by Jim Puckett
Jim makes some kind of association with climate change deniers, and tries to make the case that his poor non-profit is the victim of some kind of right wing conspiracy. If his #EwasteHoax is denied, and Climate Change is denied, then obviously .. uh what?
He goes through 3 studies that I've featured here on the blog which focused on exports of second hand electronics to cities in emerging markets, studies which found about 9% of what is exported may not be repaired. That "fallout rate" is documented in every industry, in "spoilage and breakage" statistics. If you export 100 tons of corn, and 9 tons spoil, did you "illegally dump" nine tons of corn waste?
What is maddening is that Jim himself acknowledged the value of the study two years ago (before Hurricane Joe Benson was sentenced) and made the claim that it was better now thanks to his organizations "reform" of the trade. But when it was pointed out that the studies were done on the very containers his organization accused, leading to seizures, (BAN Spins: How the Basel Action Network "Saved" Africa) he never replied. We have had to attack the #ewastehoax, because he wasn't answering any questions or making any corrections, calling Joe Benson "collateral damage".
In the latest version of BAN SPINS, we see a curious loop.
"The media messengers that are now presumably in the cross-hairs of a new chorus of deniers include the most prestigious journalistic outlets in the world, including CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, AP, CNN, CBC, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times." - Jim Puckett
So in defense against "deniers", he cites the very articles I cited... the ones which reported him making the specific claim that 80% of what Africans and Chinese buy isn't reused but illegally dumped and burned by orphans.
"Despite your reading diligence however, it is unfortunate that you did not start by questioning the baseless assertions made by Adam Minter in his reckless article. Never has BAN ever stated that 80% of US e-waste is exported." - Jim Puckett (-Bloomberg News)
Jim cites the organizations, which claimed the Hoax Statistics, citing Jim, which he denies giving them? Jim defends himself with the statistics quoted by those organizations citing interviews with Jim Puckett, who denied giving them the statistic? And this in an editorial calling African Technicians, calling Joe Benson innocent, "deniers".
If Africans now have TV, radio, internet and cell phone use at rates competing with Europeans, it must be with brand new devices, since the used ones were dumped?
Here are the guys going to jail.
The major media can be forgiven for not getting into the weeds about the disputed facts around secondary market electronics imports and scrap metal policy. But what about Interpol, and CWIT, and the UNEP, and United Nations University?
Unfortunately, the sense of guilt of Europeans in the post-colonial world is herding them into a Charitable Industrial Complex with no equal - a war on the secondary market.
As I perform the final rewrite on the long-due Agbogbloshie 2015 Report, I've turned to one other tome of research. Readers should recall that immediately after our return from 3 weeks investigation in Accra, Tamale, and Tema, that the UNEP and CWIT issued "reports" that either emphasized Agbogbloshie or described trade in used electronics. Following my blog, academic scrutiny on those reports resulted in this peer-reviewed debunking of the UNEP Report titled "Criminal Negligence". Still there's curious, deafening silence from the European experts.
In BAN's defense, I'd cite not the mainstream press which quotes Jim Puckett's baloney statitics. His main defenders are in Europe.
From the "Forward", the report singles out Agbogbloshie as one of two examples of "global trading" leading to "environmental catastrophes".
"There is a large portion of e-waste that is not being collected and treated in an environmentally-sound manner. Further, some of the world’s e-waste is shipped great distances to developing countries where crude and inefficient techniques are often used to extract materials and components. These “backyard” techniques pose dangers to poorly protected workers and the local natural environment. Global trading of electronics and substandard recycling in developing countries has led to environmental catastrophes in places like Guiyu, China and Agbogbloshie, Ghana, to name two examples."
This states that Agbogbloshie - 27 dudes burning tires and auto wire - is an (a) "environmental catastrophe" which is due to (b) improper e-waste export. It's neither a nor b. It's not due to e-waste import, nor is it any more an "environmental catastrophe" than any other auto scrapyard. Yet it merits not just a mention, but the Forward. And the Executive Summary continues on this path:
"The intrinsic material value of global e-waste is estimated(1) to be 48 billion euro in 2014. The material value is dominated(2) by gold, copper and plastics contents. ... Whether the raw materials are recycled or the toxins lead to actual harmful emissions largely depends on their collection and treatment manners. As mentioned before, only 6.5 Mt of the 41.8 Mt of e-waste are documented and recycled with the highest standards. "
27 young men = billions of kilos, billions of Euros?
These are some specific numbers. Six point five million tons of e-waste are recycled at "the highest standards". In Europe, that usually means running used electronics through an automobile shredder. So, what exactly is the evidence that the 6.5M tons management is superior to the "non-EU" management? Difficult for the report to say, since it claims to know little or nothing about the balance. But like the UNEP Report, the UNU Report seems confident that pictures of kids surrounded by evidence of 0.0015% of the 41.8M tons - oh, wait, that's too high, that's the total amount allegedly dumped in Ghana. What the PICTURES show is a site that we demonstrated handles just a few thousand pounds of electronics per week, collected in wheelbarrows by hand from African generators.
Some might still doubt our first hand accounts, or others, of Agbogbloshie. But in the paragraph above, there is prima facia evidence that the writers don't have any expertise at all in scrap recycling. Let me point out a couple of blatantly obvious things.
If the reports defending Jim Puckett prove he's in denial about the export statistics, what have they in essence agreed on?
The export is paid for by Africans and Chinese. They are buying the "wastes" and are the ones paying the estimated 48 billion Euros (which may or may not include transportation and customs fees).
The material value is certainly not dominated by gold, copper and plastics. That is certainly an indefensible, wrong statement. The largest volumes of exports during the periods described are white goods and display devices (mostly CRTs), neither of which can pay for its own transport without reuse value being the primary contributor.
Defining your own country's "documented" processes as being "highest standards" when the report admits it does not know what happens to the other stuff, and demonstrates it does not know (see #2 above) by making wildly false statements about gold content in CRTs and refrigerators, proves nothing except your bias.
Gee, I wonder who is funding the essays which deny the 85%-91% reuse studies? Could it be European shredders and precious metals companies? Could it be Original Equipment manufacturers who have a stake in stopping the secondary market sales ("market cannibalization"), via planned obsolescence? Could the very system which taxes European and American consumers to shred their own retained commodity value, hiring full time professionals to oversee that process, somehow overlook that Africans sell printed circuit boards to Dowa in Japan, and do NOT, ever, in any documented or even anecdotal way, use acid baths for those circuit boards?
Hey, Europe. You are nice guys and mean well. But your povertyporn photojournalists (Bellini, McElvaney, Fedele, Dannoritzer) are following a disavowed, false lie. You have no interviews with the accused. And your imprisonment of Joe Benson is the result of racial profiling. You seriously need a course in #blacklivesmatter, #whiteprivilege, #whitesaviorco mplex, #parasitesofthepoor, #charitableindustrialcomplex.
Who is your friend? The supporter who is loading your ship with lies about Africans? Our your humble blogger, pointing to the gaping hole in the side of your boat?
The guy you are following, who is propping up your ewaste WEEE jobs, is in a knotted rope of his own denials, lies, ad hominem attacks, false accusations, false convictions, and general deceit. Cut your losses. Do not go down with the EWaste Hoax Ship.
Now, I realize I've been accused of being less than diplomatic since 2010, when BAN put Pieter Hugo photos of African kids who had nothing at all to do with the imports on their Form 990. But that was following 6 months of California Compromise diplomacy, assistance to BAN with CRT Glass Tests, and deference to BAN's suggestions in the NIH Report. I was too diplomatic during the lynching of Africa's Tech Sector, and now I'm all Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.
But look at Joe Benson. How Europe is treating him is disgusting, it is vile, it is horrific. And Jim's calling him "collateral damage" and saying he has nothing to do with it leaves the habeus corpus at Interpol and CWIT and UNEP and UNU's doorstep.
Save the women and children first.
And count them. Count the number of them. Look at all the photos of the sad ewaste burning children, and count. Ask them the real ages. Start with the facts, and you can do that with the very photos that launched the Ewaste Armada.
Coming soon: Our Report on Agbogbloshie, and CWIT's Report on Project Eden. I think we are reaching an understanding, and that Jim's Op Ed is doing something desperate - not ignoring us. He has broken with the silent treatment. EWaste Hoax is now "a thing", and denial is on the table, in spades.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
"Urban waste pollution in the Korle Lagoon, Accra, Ghana" ("Urban Waste") is an article that appeared in The Environmentalist in November, 2002. It was written by Markku Kuitunen and Kwasi Owusu Boadi at the University of Finland, following announcement of a major grant (mostly OPEC) to dredge the river and abate annual flooding.
BANG BANG. E-Waste Hoax is Dead. (note that CAER has removed all the Agbogbloshie Boy photos from the website, and is now a "national security" focus for RERA... E-Wastegate Agenda Shift)
Anyone writing any report on E-Waste Crime in Agbogbloshie is incompetent if they don't do background research. I don't have time to cite every one of these, but this one has a great bibliography, and is really a "smoking gun" for the Agbogbloshie "E-Waste Hoax", as well as a sobering account of past grants and efforts to "save Accra" from urban pollution.
The pollution and flooding is described as a problem since the early 1970s and 80s, and is attributed to "rapid urbanization" of Accra, Ghana's capital city.
"The Korle Lagoon in Accra, Ghana, has become one of the most polluted water bodies on earth. It is the principal outlet through which all major drainage channels in the city empty their wastes into the sea. Large amounts of untreated industrial waste emptied into surface drains has led to severe pollution in the lagoon and disrupted its natural ecology. The increased levels of industrial activity and consumption by the urban population lead to the generation of copious quantities of waste. Managing the volume of wastes poses a major challenge for the city authorities, particularly, ensuring that all the waste generated is collected for disposal. In Accra, the Waste Management Department is currently capable of collecting only 60 percent of the waste generated daily. The rest is dumped in open spaces, in surface drains, and into water bodies which end up in the Korle Lagoon. High eutrophication levels have developed in the shallow water body. The net effect is that, at the slightest downpour, the lagoon overflows its banks causing regular flooding in parts of the city.
"The Government of Ghana, having realized the adverse impacts of pollution in the lagoon on the physical and economic environment of Accra, with the support of donor agencies, is implementing measures to restore the lagoon to its natural ecology. Attempts are also being made to get the communities in the catchment area to become involved in managing their environment through environmental education and awareness programes."[sic]
The article stresses that problems cited in two previous studies (Biney, 1982 and Mensah, 1976) had continued to increase, and that by the time of the 1976 and 1982 studies, the lagoon was dead. As Accra (and Lagos, Douala, Nairobi, Kinshasa, etc.) has grown, so has pollution from the waste generated by people who live there.
Before the onset of this severe pollution, and in the early 1950s, the lagoon supported a thriving fishery of both fin and shellfish, which served as a source of employment and income for some people in the nearby shantytown, which incidentally derives its name from the lagoon. However, due to the grossly polluted state of the waters, the lagoon has lost its fishery (Biney and Amuzu, 1995), and it is hard to believe that this black, nauseating muddy water could ever have supported any such life. The Korle Lagoon is the major basin into which the greater proportion of the flood waters of Accra flow before entering the sea (Biney and Amuzu, 1995). The lagoon receives water from a total catchment area of 400 km2.
It receives discharges from three main sources—the Odaw River and two major drains on its eastern and western sections (Fig. 3). These major drains are mostly uncovered and usually collect silt and debris which are transported into the lagoon (Mensah, 1976). Waste discharges, including industrial effluent, are the major sources of pollution. The wastes originate from residential, commercial and recreational areas, offices and institutions, such as hospitals and schools. They include food waste as well as paper, batteries, glass, plastics, textiles, excreta aerosol cans, and much more (Biney, 1982; Mensah, 1976).
So Mike Anane's descriptions of the "E-Waste Tragedy" starting with bad e-waste exports in Europe is late to the game. Here are descriptions of the dumps upstream of the river, citing reports from Amuzu 1976, Laing 1994, etc.
"The water in the upper part of the lagoon is muddy, and the stench emanating from it is unbearable. An abundance of saw mill dust from the timber market industrial area is disposed into this part of the lagoon. Also, the Waste Department's dump which is covered with industrial sawdust, is gradually encroaching into the water body. Sediments in this part of the lagoon trap effluents from upstream. These include industrial, domestic, and hospital wastes which have further deteriorated the water quality upstream. According to Liang (1994; 141), a survey of manufacturing industries in the Greater Accra Region showed that the metal industry creates 16 percent of the total industrial waste, garment and textiles - 30 percent, chemicals and cosmetics - 20%, electricals and electronics at 1 percent and mineral products at 0.7 percent. Most of the untreated industrial waste waters are discharged into surface drains which flow into the Odaw River and Korle Lagoon. Since the upstream part of the lagoon is the usual point of discharge, and the receptor of wastes, it is the most affected."
So we knew in the 70s, 80s, and 90s that the lagoon was already polluted and dead, and that the source of the pollution was upstream of Agbogbloshie. And the 2002 study estimates the contribution of electric and electronics as contributing 1%. I'm not saying that Accra isn't polluted, and I'm not saying that pollution isn't tragic. But accusing African Techs, Geeks and Nerds, or Dagbani scrappers, of making this mess amounts to not much less than criminal defamation.
Sample clip, 1994 Accra Waste
So certainly ownership of second hand electronics increased in Ghana homes, certainly teledensity increased, as did pollution, sewage, and people throwing batteries and car stuff in the gutters and river. But arresting internet cafe owners, TV resellers, cell phone repairers, etc. seems like the most hideous, disgusting, moronic solution to the problem that anyone but a planned obsolescence industry could come up with.
And the Urban Waste Pollution articles bibliography, on page 309, involves numerous water studies of the Odaw River and Ghana pollution. Not a single one of these, however, is cited in Greenpeace (Poisoning the Poor), Basel Action Network (Digital Dump), or Blacksmith Institute (aka Pure Earth) report with CUNY.
So this study oddly isn't cited by the #whitesaviorcomplex NGO's like Greenpeace and Basel Action Network, or Mike Anane, who blamed recent dumping from Europe and American "ewaste" for the destruction of the lagoon. Jack Caravanos, Richard Fuller, Edith Clark, and Calah Labertson's study for Blacksmith Institute (PureEarth) published the most respected recent report on the subject of Agbogbloshie:
Background. It is estimated that 20-50 million tons of electric and electronic waste (e-waste) is generated per year of which 75-80% is shipped to countries in Asia and Africa for recycling and disposal. -
- Jack Caravanos, Edith Clark, Richard Fuller, Calah Lambertson
Now over the past year, I've developed a very frustrated relationship with Richard Fuller's organization. Dr. Caravanos has presented to the Society of Environmental Journalists (http://www.sej.org/) and has done more than anyone I can think of to carry the concerns about gold mining, and lead mines, like Kabwe in Zambia. The horrific pollution at these primary metal mines was the very reason I became an environmentalist and recycler in the late 1970s.
Some of the time, I feel like Pure Earth and poor old Dr. Caravanos are victims of this hoax. In "It has been estimated that 70-80% of e-waste is exported to countries in Asia and Africa" on page 17, they no doubt did nothing worse than Dr. Josh Lepawsky has discovered everyone did... the statistic was one of the most cited in all academic journals on e-Waste. But when the source of the statistic denies ever, ever having said it, and starts spinning like a top, you'd think they'd want to know about it and address it when that source in turn CITES BLACKSMITH in saying Agbogbloshie's e-waste dump is not a hoax.
"My organization, the Basel Action Network (BAN) – which has become the object of an all-out Ingenthron obsession, has never done a study of any kind in Ghana. We have written about Ghana using figures from other sources. I know that the Blacksmith Institute and Greenpeace have done studies there. But I don’t think those organizations play fast and loose with numbers. " - Jim Puckett
So Blacksmith and Greenpeace cite Jim, who in turn says he's never studied Agbogbloshie and cites them. If you were Joe Benson, or someone like him, under threat of prison for "common knowledge" of dumping, who would you contact? Well, they are contacting me, so what can I do?
Sadly, Blacksmith/PureEarth refuses to accept our invitation to correct a single mainstream press report citing their "Top Ten" list as the source of the "data" about Agbogbloshie. Unfortunately, the last thing I heard from them was "Please don't contact us anymore", which was directed not only at me personally, but the invitation I had just given them to meet with Ghana representatives of WR3A (Emmanuel Eric Nyalte and Wahab Odoi).
Will the project to "Transform Agbogbloshie" be successful? Another quote from the 2002 Kuitunen / Owusu Report describes what had to go "right" for the OPEC Grant to "Transform" Agbogbloshie.
"Communities must be provided with both economic and social incentives that will enable them to contribute meaningfully to the project's success. Since pollution in the lagoon is related to lack of basic sanitation facilities, providing communities with such facilities will reduce the pollution and make the project sustainable."
The studies of pollution of African urban landscapes, of river pollution, stormwater runoff, and sewage, are fairly easy to find. The Basel Action Network's "solution" of boycotting and imprisoning African Technicians, putting men like Benson in Western prisons, shows that people aren't even reading the previous studies... the "solution" is aimed at making Westerners feel responsible, and giving African leaders an excuse to blame Western dumping.
The exaggeration and simplification of development-driven pollution is not confined to Agbogbloshie. Guiyu, China, is the home of a major textile dying industry. Telling reporters that "ewaste killed the river" isn't just irresponsible. It's basically defrauding Interpol of its scarce resources, defrauding funders who donate to "saving Africa" by shredding computers, and defraud collectors of computers who shred rather than sell them to people who want to buy them. African technician entrepreneurs are forced into back alleys, forced to buy from people who could care less about "ewaste atrocities", and everything gets worse. Lord Chris Smith (UK Environmental Agency) should have simply spent a day at the library rather than speaking with NGO leaders who made it up as they went along.
Keep in mind I've met Joe Benson. I've met other Africans whose goods were seized. I saw an R2 Company in North Carolina call Malaysia DOE to report a certified contract manufacturer. I lived in Africa for 30 months between 1984-87, and was quite aware of the pollution occuring in Africa's rapidly emerging cities. We all wanted the cities to develop, and to balance the concerns of pollution and development has been a large part of my career. If you were me, you'd really have no choice but to write this blog and follow Jim down the river to unite with his family.
So yeah, it's a little frustrating when millions of dollars are given to Accra in 2002 to dredge a lagoon, and it never happens, and millions again in 2012 (by IMF), and nothing happens, and then hundreds of thousands given through GAHP to buy a wire stripper that's worth a few thousand and which is completely inappropriate and by several accounts was never used. If PureEarth/Blacksmith is going to take the trouble to "double down" and announce in July 2015 that the grant is a success, and that Agbogbloshie is being "Transformed" - at the same time the homes are being knocked down and Interpol has announced Puckett and Anane to describe Agbogbloshie to Interpol agents ... I'm sorry, this is Orwellian. This is Animal Farm.
The fact is that cities like Accra werehad less than a million residents in 1980 and now have up to 5 million (depending on where you draw a rapidly expanding city line). Most of the homes and businesses still dump their municipal solid waste, batteries, freon, diapers, etc. in the ditches and canals leading to the Odaw River, and virtually nothing has changed direction since all these reports were written. The only stuff that is getting recycled - what we want - is getting recycled by the linguistic minorities (like Dagbani) who lived in the slum of Old Fadama.
Westerners are taking money to declare the West is dumping pollution in boats from the sea, and that stupidity is distracting Interpol wildlife agents from enforcing ivory and rhino and endangered species hunting laws.
A couple of studies cited in the Urban Waste report below.
Biney, C.A. (1982) Preliminary survey of the state of pollution of the coastal environment of Ghana. Oceanologia Acta No. SP, 39–43.
Mensah, G.G. (1976) Water Quality and Pollution Survey of Inland and Coastal Waters in Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Water Resource Research Institute.
As in, on stuff. Intelligence in use in the phrases "military intelligence" and "business intelligence". It's information. But it is actual intelligence as well, and when you have it, many people will mistake you for "being intelligent".
Having is not being.
People who think, or suspect, that one is not intelligent will doubt or claim not to have understood the intelligence. And they have a point... a lot of "snake oil salesmen" were behind the phrase "snake oil salesmen"... society has a lot of experience with people who obfuscate or dazzle with rhetoric, or fake statistics, phony studies, in order to garner a following. Often it's for profit, but some people do it for other "currency", like moral approval or fame, or simply to hide something, dodge shame.
What my secret has been is a very diverse set of experiences. I called it - in a failed Luce Scholar interview - "stomping my foot in every puddle, getting wet with knowledge". The Interviewer said my interview and answers were impressive, and I obviously HAD taken advantage of every experience from lead-in-a-musical to semester-at-UN to friends-with-local-townies, but with a just-below-3.0-grade-average, he suspected Luce Fellowship could not see past the number. It's similar to what my banks and investors tell me about my company.
There is "intelligence" and there is "actionable intelligence". Sometimes being able to implement it means convincing other people to back you on a dark horse bet. After all, it's the unknown "dark horse" that makes the intelligence valuable. If I knew even more certainly than anyone else that a candidate HAD, indeed, won an undisputed election, no one cares whether the candidate won by 95% of the vote or 95.1466792%.
So, it's dialectic, the contrary hypothesis, that gives your information its value. If a major news story breaks that puts the election results in question, now your extreme expertise has value. You answer the question, and the conspiracy advocate probably falls on their face, and everyone admits the election was never in question. Now your information or "intelligence" is devalued again, but perhaps you have a reputation for having good intelligence.
This theory-of-knowledge blogging revolves around the fact that Basel Action Network's goose is cooked. Everyone knows. The fact that a few photo-journalists are still copying BAN's master plan of poverty-porn photos, poster children, with ludicrous "factoids", just embarrasses the high priest of ewaste further. He has tried to move his organization away from the "80% dumping" faux pas, to focus on gluts of recycled glass cullet (which he helped create). And enough people are paying for the "Stewardship Certification" machine that he may have succeeded in creating a self-funded NGO.
So it's not about saving Joe Benson, it's about tagging the practice of false accusation. And that has to be done with intelligence.
What I have learned about "intelligence" is from diversity of knowledge, dialectic method. A great grandfather and grandmother who lived with the Hopi and Navajo, started a newspaper, and became state majority leader. A crippled subsistence farmer grandfather who literally built his own homes and was an extraordinary artist and contractor. And parents who exposed me to world lit, and travel, and argument, at an early age. And the fact that they kept moving us from school to school, from MO to MA to IN to CA to AR, forcing me to make new friends, kept me always outside my comfort zone. Mom threw Plato's Apology on my bed when I was smoking pot, and it blew my mind.
I don't believe people are born with "intelligence". I think that exposing people to variety of experiences and viewpoints plows the field of the mind, allowing new species of seeds to grow. Sometimes people are lucky, gathering intelligence on a topic that turns out to be widely misunderstood, and so distinguish themselves in the right place at the right time. Others learn all about something that few others learn to care about, the history of light bulbs, or results of 1800s Scottish elections.
The trick now is to find the derivatives of the knowledge, to learn the lesson behind the great "E-waste Hoax" of 2002-2012, the decade of arresting geeks of color, impugning emerging market tech sectors, pissing on the campfire of development, all the time calling ourselves saviors and stewards. It's the psychological underpinnings of recognizing intelligence and distinguishing it from snake oil salesmen, who will appear at either end of the political spectrum. Dissecting the Basel Action Greenpeace NGO PureEarth #charitableindustrialcomplex isn't pleasant, but we can learn about a bad decade of activism, infuse it with the antibodies of exposure to other views, genders, languages and nationalities, and build a better activist platform. I still am an idealist, I still want to save the world, or go down with the pride that some future generation, had they been born in this period, would wish they had shown the intelligence, the way I hope I'd have been like Mark Twain in the 1800s... and not like Senator Eugene McCarthy of the 1950s.
Here's a start. It's cool to surround yourself with people you are proud of who are a lot like you. You can really appreciate your father, think he's excellent, and an excellent teacher from your town may have a lot in common with him. And your fine uncle shows a lot of the same great attributes. All well and good, don't reject your own culture, steep yourself in the values you've learned. Then, go and find people who have done the same thing but in a totally different circumstance. I knew the values of the rural, but was fascinated by friends from the city. And friends from Europe. And Asia, and Africa, and South America. The more the truth you've learned survives in every culture and circumstance, the more tested your belief system, and the more certain you will be of the intelligence you have gathered.
Then, be very very careful about that. Things change. Keep the delete key, the pencil eraser, the white out, on the desk.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Growing up in Western Christian culture, I'm very familiar with the incentives and disincentives offered by the Gods of Emotional Appeal. You will feel "joy" if you are righteous, or at least "satisfaction". We are promised sorrow and pain if we sin, or the sins are depicted surrounded with imagery of sadness in the Christian media.
I'm a silent Believer. I remain religious, or spiritual, since the "born again" experience I had in Arkansas as a pot-smoking teenager. But from the beginning, it was not an "us vs. them" experience... I was also changed positively (enlightened) by the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao, and refined my beliefs Buddhism. Buddhist writers described "spiritual materialism" to describe the economy of emotions. But the quiet, non-evangelical Believer, accomplishes much. It is the deeds, the karma of her life, which measure the Christian Sage above the greedy, the exploiting, or spiritually wretched.
Ethics. This blog is about Ethical Environmentalism. What the truth is, is important. But Ethics without a belief are as useless as Ethics with wrong "knowledge". Our time on earth is about choosing aims, aiming, and meeting those aims. We can't aim and shoot a bow without both gravity and light. Faith and truth.
Currency of Comforting Emotions:
"Comfort" is promised by every religion. But (lives uncomfortably prolonged by medical science aside) comfort is mostly measured by distribution of economic wealth. We call them blessings, and we teach ourselves, rightly, to feel thankfulness and gratitude.
But if we are more thankful for having Stuff, doesn't that mean we are bound to be less thankful when we have less? Or is it only when society's attention is brought by media broadcasting our luck, privileges, and belongings that we must demonstrate our faith? Or is "thankfulness" and contriteness and humbleness an emotion that has evolved to distribute benefits, and do good? Have selfish societies, turning Kings and Queens into lavish attention-whores, fallen of their own weight?
The monuments, pyramids, and cathedrals they left... were they evidence of great societies, or huge closets of envy? I will take the invention of geometry and calculus over marble columns any day - it was the knowledge and skill necessary to build those things which was the real value, not the marble itself. It is possible to have knowledge of calculus, or spiritual truth, and be better off than the rich man whose name is on the column but never lifted a finger to build it. Harnessing external knowledge and engineering, paying for it, has worth, it incentives the acquisition and retention of science and engineering, and pays people who maintain it. Ownership of the goods passes from human to human, through departing generations, discard, or trade. It is the knowledge and understanding that must be passed on.
Do emotional rituals help us do this? What is the role of the Archer's prayer? Sons and daughters of the archer learn the role of light and gravity in setting the aim. But what the archer chooses to aim for - food, or enemy, or lion - is the central question of ethics.
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Thanks for Blessings:
Certainly the disconnect between material goods ownership (quantity of blessings) and spiritual value was severed by the red letter teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. But there's still a turmoil in America, where the Believers are Thankful (an emotion) for Blessings (material goods) which are delivered to us by labor, mining, and externalized effort.
Externalization... that has been a big word. We feel guilty if our mother makes our bed, while scolding us for not having made it. We've externalized our bed-making labor onto a holy mother, and the emotion of guilt is the price to pay.
We hold in some kind of admiration the "self doers", the fixers, the people (like my grandfather) who do and make everything themselves. The Renaissance men and women who perform their own labor, and master every art, are admired.
What I've struggled with in the latter decade of my religion, and the karma of recycling I embraced in the same "enlightenment", is the way emotions are used as currency. As promises. As a map of a rat's maze, with cheesy "joyous bliss" at the end of one path, and "wretched sadness" at the end of another.
Emotionalizing a political or social policy is certainly not beneath me. I've fought fire with fire. While today I believe that many of our emotions have evolved to support "Nurture" (Steve Pinker was a latter day influence), I do believe in the direction. I believe in the "good" we practice, and I believe it's normal to feel good about doing good things. We've evolved to care, and to make the world better.
But we must pay the Yang its due. If we are merely led by our emotional needs to "save Africa" or "give from the heart" or "right injustice", we are more likely to be led to fear externalization or liability which we have mere doubts about. I can make my own ceramic coffee cup, I guess, and thereby know that no children were exploited by the people I bought the ceramic cup from. Or I can pay more for a Trump Industries Cup and hope that rich people have more fear of liability and will therefore, less often, exploit children than a Chinese coffee cup maker. But I buy coffee cups too seldom to participate in a "certification" of them, and at this point I think certifications are defined in smoke filled rooms. E-Stewards vendors literally must give a cut of their proceeds to a third party that uses those funds to run an ad campaign impugning Africans, Asians, and Latinos, to fund a guilt campaign which then draws more "believers".
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Balancing Gravity and Light:
So I remain religious, but my belief plays the role of gravity in my life. Truth, and science, provides the light. Without science, my beliefs allow me to run into things, step on things, and blindly do more harm than good. Without belief, I have no traction and no gravity to manage my direction. And it's honesty about where our arrows landed which is the number one piece of information an archer, or enforcer, needs.
The yin and yang of science and belief are both important to political movements. The movements which trump emotions by telling lies about numbers, who call punished innocents (like Joe Benson) "collateral damage", ultimately harm God. Nothing does more to harm the credibility and honor of Jesus, Siddhartha, Krishna, Moses or Mohammed like those who promise, exaggerate, misstate, and wave flags and misleading photos for a quick and selfish advantage.
I'm not losing my religion. I have more trouble teaching it with nuance than those who simply told me of the joy and rapture of their beliefs. We, the continuing believers, can't promise cheese at the end of the maze. I wince at those who attribute economic privilege and blessings to prayer tricks and greater love and preference from God.
We must teach religious humility. The greatest religions do that. And humble environmentalism is the best way to pass down our aims. We must prioritize habitat. Rain forests and Savannah and ocean trenches, those are our Cathedrals and Pyramids. We need faith to be courageous enough to ACT when they are threatened, that young faith, that emotional faith, that volunteerism is sacred.
But aiming the volunteers at a racial profiling campaign, filled with emotive images and lies, is a modern day crisis in the church of environmentalism. We have our Boka Haram, our Lord's Army, our ISIS, espousing the same faith in environment and saving the world that we cherish... but which aims its arrows at the crowd, and closes its eyes, expecting its righteous desires to guide the shaft.
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The Archer's Prayer:
Raise your kids to shoot for justice, to train their eyes and arms like a bow. The singularity of the perfect aim, for me, is improved by meditation and prayer. The recitation of a memorized Lord's Prayer, or 5 carpet prayers to Mecca, or the silent and sacred Om. They are part of the quality of our life, the zen and art and maintenance. They allow us to aim well. American snipers need to understand gravity and lighting, we need calm and deliberate information to save the world. What I believe is that trade is externalization of contact... getting to know the coffee cup makers. I want religious people in the world who will have an emotion if the ceramic mugs are being made shamefully by children. I don't really care what brand, as the Golden Rule is found in every major religion. As Jesus said, Satan is not a house divided, doesn't throw his own demons into swine, anything that heals is good by definition. Don't worry what language the other Good People speak or the words in the prayers they say. Their religion may give them concentration, and emotional value. We just need Churches, Temples, and Mosques to preach the truth.
If you are an activist, you cannot define your net impact by your intentions. Basel Action Network says it wasn't "aiming for" Africa's Tech Sector. But all along, they have had an obligation to trace where their arrows are landing.
The word derives from "Old Englishsyn(n), for original *sunjō... The Biblical terms translated from New Testament Greek (αμαρτία - amartia) and from Hebrew as "sin" or "syn" originate in archery and literally refer to missing the "gold" at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error. (Archers call not hitting the target at all a "miss".)
The archers who tell the students to aim the arrow anywhere they wish, at or above the crowd, and that God's hand will direct it... who tell the youngest snipers and archers that only their belief in their own stewardship matters... that false arrests and unintended consequences can be written off as "collateral damage" - those people are scumbags. There is a time to feel anger. They damage the very faith in belief and ethics. The perversion must be expunged.
Product Takeback/ Stewardship advocates and laws have manufactured a System for recycling #ewaste which requires maintenance and stewardship. The ship of Product Stewardship is seaworthy, but it's headed for an iceberg if the advocates are just focused on the next legal product and don't take responsibility for the takeback laws they already created.
Check the List, Below, of TV recycling company closures and failures.
The "Product Stewardship" movement needs maintenance... or at least some fiddling with.
When devices go obsolete Stewardship advocates make manufacturers "fix the problem". But what's good for the goose, is good for the gander, right?
Something is broken in E-Waste Stewardship.
As I testified and wrote 5 years ago, electronics reuse markets are so complicated (compared to mattresses, paint, and alkalines) that "e-waste" was probably NOT the best product for wiser Product Stewardship Advocates to start off with. Now, the list of problems in the electronics recycling infrastructure in "ewaste stewardship" states is growing bigger. Primum non nocere - "first do no harm" - needs attention.
But that's water under the bridge. We have these state "takeback" laws now, and a command and control system of accounting for residential TV recycling.
Take a look out the window, my friends.
Here is a brief (and incomplete) list of CRT Recycling Companies which have left the residential TV and computer recycling markets in the Northeast, some permanently. The squeeze of NOT reusing (liabilities in contracts banning exports), and subsequent glutting of CRT glass end-markets (prices better for buyers), has driven up costs, but there's no way to send a Price Revision. Meanwhile, in NY, NJ and PA in particular, some OEMs reportedly met their "obligations" and left these recyclers, and others, to "pound sand".
My company is still around in part because of our good fortune losing our largest contract - Oyster Bay in NY Long Island, which we lost in 2012. The OEMs had said they met their goals, and we thank our lucky stars that a competitor talked Oyster Bay into dropping us as a vendor (that competitor is now on the "casualty list" below - focusing on commercial electronics and out of the residential stewardship game).
Others were not so lucky... The Northeast Product Stewardship map has some big holes to fill...
2TRG - Ohio Recycler that was part of EWSI Roll up. EWSI failed to fulfill its financing obligations to Good Point Recycling after GPR invested significant accounting.
Creative Recycling* - Major service provider on East Coast (including NY, CT, NJ, PA), one of our biggest competitors in NY.
Eco International NY/PA* - This site was one of the oldest and most respected CRT glass processors in the Northeast. They reportedly left the largest (12k tons) pile of CRT glass during their bankruptcy.
EWSI Geneva NY - See 2TRG. They affected us not only by being a competitor without a sustainable economic plan, but triggered enforcement in NY raising the costs of recycling.
MPC PA/MN* - One of our backup companies when we ran out of manufacturer obligation in NY, discovered with 2,500 tons unprocessed CRT glass in Philadelphia area.
North Coast and Kuusakoski did not go out of the residential TV recycling business, but gave up even trying to pay for CRT glass recycling, creating a huge controversy with dumping CRT glass on municipal landfills as "daily wind cover".
Sims Metal Recycling NY/NJ/Canada - Closed largest e-waste plants this year after $115M annual "write offs" for e-waste.
StoneCastle - Not a Northeast player, but contacted Good Point to ship dozens of trailers of CRT glass in 2012, 2013 (to Retroworks de Mexico). We did not execute the PO based on our credit review, but this would have taken us down with them.
Waste Management Inc. closed its CRT dismantling facility in Springfield, Massachusetts, three years ago.
This is probably over 50% of New England CRT capacity, down in flames (figuratively or literally), since the passage of Product Stewardship Legislation in the Northeast.
Some of this is the scrap metal and plastic market - not anyone's fault. But the largest recyclers in the list failed while scrap prices were at an all time high...
For the past 12 months, we've lost $250,000 just on scrap prices. The "high" is over.
True, the Product Stewardship laws did create a booming supply, and brought expansion and investment to the industry. But now, prices for scrap have crashed, and there appears to be little way for large, single-payer contracts like Vermont's to make adjustments.
And it's not just circuit/wiring board. Steel scrap prices have crashed. Copper scrap prices have crashed. Plastic scrap prices have crashed. The price of circuit boards has gone through the floor, following the lowest gold prices since the recession. As the USA dollar gets stronger, even reuse markets are shrinking.
Good Point continues to meet all of its obligations, paying what is necessary to recycle the CRT glass, at smelters and new CRT furnaces. But we can't love a business that doesn't love us back. The cost of Certification (mandatory in Vermont) keeps going up, and the state keeps increasing its insurance requirements. We need to keep paying our staff a living wage, and that wage should be changing as the unemployment rates fall.
Time for some leadership.
CRT Recycling of Brockton may not be the last residential e-waste recycling company to "crash and burn". Since I own our building, there's no chance we'd abandon material here (I'd lose my home and life savings)... but that's a double edged sword as well. I can't play chicken with state agencies and OEMs. We have profitable clients - colleges, universities, hospitals, and businesses - which take a fraction of the space and labor to service. We may be one of the best flat-screen recyclers in the country, based on procedures we developed with recyclers and technicians... we could just do that, and steer clear of municipal collections for a few months.
This is not a recycler crying about recycling. I'm a recycler forever. I just have to pay workers and fuel trucks, expense equipment, and meet all our obligations while saving the planet... or I won't be able to save it any more.
There is a buyers market and a sellers market in scrap, and I've never stopped believing in recycling just because buyers (mills and furnaces) are having a good year. We'd like to pay the CRT glass destinations what they deserve... at the right price, the "glut" goes away. I've always believed in paying what it takes to recycle, as a signal to buyers and investors that urban mining is as sustainable as mining from rain forests.
But if Product Stewardship legislation expects recyclers to keep picking up material when no one is paying the cost of processing it, we have to protect our workers and investors. I repeat, do not love something that can't love you back.
~ ~ ~ ~
My critique is not against the fine people behind Product Stewardship 1.0
It is the slow speed of addressing failure in any startup. In the private sector, you can't leave people in the rain. Right now, we are banging on the doors. Hey, Great People.. us normal people are dyin' out here.
There's a counter-argument, that Product Stewardship demands the "free market" solve the problem. But it has turned out to be less of a free market, and more of a monopoly. Especially in states like Connecticut and Vermont, where "command and control" or "flow control" systems dictate all the costs... but also in states like NY, NJ, PA where a state official made up a number as an obligation - dictating what "demand" is for tonnage based on a negotiation with the OEM paying the bill - completely removed
The improvement of human health, in Western medicine, went through a similar trial-and-error phase, and even a similar scatological fixation like today's Big Gaze on landfills. In the big picture, environmentalists are probably on the right track. My 25 employees are such a small picture, when the earth is at stake.
Truth? Systems designed by environmentalists to recycle CRT display devices have been a monumental catastrophe. Some things worked, but some things crashed and burned. We have redirected from reuse to create huge piles of shredded (not chemically separated) leaded CRT glass.
On a recent Saturday night, one of the larger Massachusetts CRT Recycling companies became the Xth in the northeast to go out of business. The cause of the fire at CRT Recycling (CRTR) of Brockton has been determined to be arson. The company was on the brink of failure already, having missed months of rent payments.
The R2 Certification of the company will no doubt be questioned, like the ESteward certifications of Intercon, 2TRG, and Eco International. But politicizing the failures, or like one NGO in Seattle, propagandizing each failure with a press release to tout your leadership (?), is not scientific or engineering stewardship. The breakdown of companies like CRTR has been documented, but if the root cause is not Product Stewardship Legislation, the question should at least be asked and explored.
Scientifically, if a solution peddler - SERI, BAN, Product Stewardship Inst, etc - is going to attribute failure of a company to something, you need to examine all the failures, first.
I'm not an expert in any of these former "CRT recycling" companies. If someone has a correction, send it along. It just kind of looks like OEMs payments and state employees doesn't care as much what happens as the recycling workers, or even the people paying to throw stuff away.
Whether the "Product Stewardship" movement can rise to accept the same level of responsibility as they demand of manufacturers is the question. If Sony, in inventing the Walkman, should anticipate MP3 players and CDs, then it seems little to ask that a state environmental conservation agency should negotiate fair bids which pay enough to cover fair wages and the environmental destinies they insist upon. If every CRT stockpile can be blamed on manufacturers or recyclers or lack of (black hat DEP) enforcement, the "white hats" ("here to help") Stewards get off too easy.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
This is another "Environmental Malpractice" blog. And it's not an easy read. Some may decide to ignore it. But the number of people who "get it" is steadily increasing. This summer another major player "took the red pill", and realized that "saving Africa" is not accomplished by impugning motives, environmental balance, or skills of Africa's "ewaste" Tech Sector. In this blog I try by analogy to connect the #whitesaviorcomplex, #charitableindustrialcomplex, and #environmentalmalpractice to greater liabilities and inefficiencies in societal systems designed to cure flaws - from affordable housing, to peanut allergy, to snakebite kit sales, or to used car sales in Eastern Europe... It's all about bringing Stewardship Advocates to practice Stewardship (liability) for their own regulatory systems, to do no harm, and when they find out they have been harming, "adjust course". It doesn't require a mea culpa if you do the right thing from now on.
Last week I was alerted to an editorial by Laura Seay and Alex de Waal (July 17)
This was via a tweet from AfricanSolarLLP, a boots-on-the-ground solar energy project coordinator based in Accra, Ghana, who (along with Alhassan Abdallah) has been bringing first-hand accounting of the Old Fadama / Agbogbloshie real estate evictions (vs. "Sodom and Gomorrah") via @Twitter.
The article (Q and A) addresses many of the cautions I've undertaken, and there's some heavy stuff to dish out to readers of de Tocqueville. An increasing number of environmentalist intellectuals like myself, may remain ardent environmentalists, but still fear the "churchiness" of the environmental-regulatory complex. This is also true of other "world savers", we can be ardently pro African while suspicious of what Peter Buffet called the Charitable Industrial Complex. In fact, much of it could apply to Fair Trade Recycling, and is a reminder of the dangers in heroicizing our "geeks of color" and "hurricane bensons".
Making more people aware of an injustice by oversimplifying the problems and the remedies is Poster Child Policy. Making sad photo-essays of orphans working in scrap yards, and representing those children to be "emblematic" or embodiment or archetypal of African importers, is wrong on the science, and leads to environmental malpractice.
The challenge is to neither write so densely that no one reads it, nor so simply that it sets people off with the equivalent of racial profiling. Basel Action Network "simplified" the long and complicated Annex IX, B1110 rules on export for repair and refurbishment by telling virtually everyone that it meant "fully functional", creating a set of enforcement guidelines which Joe Benson eventually gave up and pled guilty to in return for a decreased sentence. [NOTE: That is not "twice convicted of the same offense," the just-world-fallacy / panacea shared by CWIT]. But at the same time, we have to recognize that progress has been made in understanding the nuance of "ewaste exports", and I think I can report that arrests of other Africa Tech Sector geeks like Joe Benson are less likely.
The awareness of the misuse, and misapplication, of well-meaning guidelines should serve as a broader lesson for all environmental interventions. First, do no harm. Protection of the innocent takes precedence over the simplified profiling guidelines (what Emile Lindemiller of Interpol called "Proactive Enforcement" - get out there and accuse people before the crime has been committed, and less environmental harm will occur.
That's like giving snakebite kits to everyone and telling them to incise and suck out the venom, whether you know the snake was poison or not.
I'm happy to report that Interpol staff may not be electronic repair experts, but I'm reassured they can eventually see when their enforcement is being abused by interested parties. Eventually, they will get it right. What environmentalists need to learn is to take responsibility for our stewardship and environmental dumping enforcement "cures" before a proper diagnosis has been reached.
This is how the study of environmental health must learn the same lessons as the application of western medicine to promote human health. It's ok for a doctor to make a mistake, a mistake is not malpractice. It becomes malpractice when you have been provided information to correct your practice and don't follow it. This is the pivot point. We don't blame NGOs or Interpol for believing 80-90% of used computer purchases by Africa's techs were for "primitive burning" when they actually believed it, and were told so by the press. Once the source of the statistics has been discredited (and we can safely say we are at that point), it is the way the agencies - International and Non-profit - comport themselves going forward which matters.
I had a meeting with international enforcement staff (Interpol). Now as a reminder, I'm a former regulator and I did a semester at the UN / Geneva Switzerland in 1983 (on the Infant Formula / Nestle Boycott movement in the UN General Assembly). Let me just say that getting European based international staff to say publicly that a correction is in order is about as likely as getting Ban Kee Moon to publicly endorse Donald Trump for USA president. This is not a criticism, but the loyalty is first and foremost to the Agency. If you believe your agency's credibility is important in the "bigger picture" or "long run", you are doing your job not to emphasize a mistake (say, importing dysentery to earthquake vics in Haiti). And I recognize that meeting with a wildcat blogger like me for a long time is worth more than a handshake.
So I won't kiss and tell, but I think Interpol "gets it". It took awhile to wade through all the studies. But if you have sent officers into the field chasing 80-90% criminal dumping, and find it's 10-20% dumping, and that 10% damage in shipping, damage, elective upgrades, etc. is common to rice exports, electricity generators, farm tractors, etc... you can resent having been used politically by, say for example, charities, EU metals buyers, big shred, planned obsolescence, etc. If hypothetically you recognized the "Dennis Moore" analogy, and distribution of justice was "trickier than you thought", you don't want to damage the Agency through a correction. But you might find a way to let the blogger know you "get it". Imagine a Matrix movie where a silent majority has all taken the "red pill" and all realize it's an elaborate illusion, but choose to walk around in it. That's what the #ewaste policy world is beginning to look like.
USA EPA, NGOs, international staff, are all increasingly signalling to me that they "get it". They don't want to be blogged about. But the Emporer of E-Waste has no clothes, and a lot more people see the naked exploitation of the enforcement system by "interested parties".
This is not to say that "environmental externalization", the theory of unintended effects of environmental enforcement in (e.g.) OECD nations (or localities within those nations, via "environmental injustice") is not a genuine issue. It is, in the same way that housing and zoning are legitimate issues. But having created a "solution" for the problem, we must be "stewards", responsible when that solution veers off course, or is itself - like environmental regulations - a source of unintended consequences.
Growing understanding of Nuance is a kind of "cold comfort" to Hurricane Benson. A UK Environmental Agency may slowly realize its aged leader Lord Chris Smith drank the wrong kool-aid, but those looking to preserve the agency - which certainly has more merits than demerits - doesn't want to fan the flames. And I've been "flaming" them pretty hard. But kind of like the Catholic Church at some point recognized it had "a sex priest problem", there's an increasing awareness of the "nuance" of arresting Africa's Tech Sector based on photos of goods at dumps that were exported 5-15 years earlier.
Junk 1980s Volkswagens in Romania don't prove that Germany dumped its "a-waste" (auto) on Eastern Europe. Romanians know that Romanian car engineers had to be pretty resourceful and crafty to keep cars running behind the Iron Curtain, and know that Poland and Ukraine and Slavs imported a lot of used cars from Germany as soon as the Berlin Wall fell. They can identify with the technicians at Chendiba Enterprises of Ghana who import used computers, service them, and bring Ghana double and triple digit teledensity growth for two decades. They know that Mike Anane collecting asset tags anecdotes doesn't prove sea containers are dumped in an auto scrap yard.
So the good news is that I believe Interpol "gets it" and I believe there has been a paradigm shift. It hasn't reached the mainstream press or the photo-journalists yet. But #ewastehoax is headed to a quiet "correction". Project Eden may continue, but they are looking for Trafigura, not for Lagos TV repair technicians or other #geeks of color.
So what's the big, long-essay, next step?
My life philosophy is that we need to repair failures in our own environmental movement. That when we design carrots and sticks, grants and enforcement, to correct real problems that need to be corrected, we have the same "Stewardship" responsibility that we demand of Manufacturers. If a manufacturer designs a product or system that does harm, we need to tell them to do no harm. Likewise, we need to be responsible for our own "Stewardship" command-and-control systems. We too need primum non nocere, "to do no harm".
Much like curing cancer, or rather an auto-immune disorder. When we send enforcement and "certification" staff out to "correct problems", we need to recognize when they are "attacking healthy cells". If we invent an injection for peanut allergy response which costs $500, or 100 times the cost of a Benadryl capsule, we need to recognize the slippery slope...
At the Mayo Clinic website, you start to recognize a lot of "can include" and other modifiers. You learn all kinds of things about Epi-pen, the $500 emergency injection.
Anaphylaxis: A life-threatening reaction
Peanut allergy is the most common cause of food-induced anaphylaxis, a medical emergency that requires treatment with an epinephrine (adrenaline) injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, Twinject) and a trip to the emergency room.
Anaphylaxis signs and symptoms can include:
Constriction of airways
Swelling of the throat that makes it difficult to breathe
A severe drop in blood pressure (shock)
Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness
Now I'm NOT going to wade into the peanut allergy water, but use it to illustrate how the fear of liability, or fear for a child's life, can impact a decision to use the epi-pen.
If you see your child has a moderate breathing difficulty, and you don't use the epi-pen, the statistical chances are that the breathing difficulty will abate. But it's the odds vs. the stakes. And what if you are taking care of someone else's kid, who has an epi-pen? You aren't an expert, but you see the kid is having a bit of a panic attack and you probably are not far behind.
Most people would say, err on the side of intervention. Give the dose. Because the liability for not giving the injection has a future value of more than $500.
But what if millions of people are making this decision, for a few hundred actual severe cases of severe anaphylaxis? At some point, you have to ask the question... why do they no longer sell "snake bite kits" at camping stores? Because studies found more people died of complications and infections from the snake bite kits than died of the snake bites. In 1998, there was a massive Epi-Pen recall [WSJ] of nearly 1 million peanut allergy injectors, worth $1.4M. What if you were told there's a liability for a risk of using the epi-pen?
The auto-immune discussion may be opaque to some, but I think it reflects the realization that "80% of used electronics sales are illegally dumped" (still widespread, recently hocked in press releases from the UNEP to promote a report saying only 1/3 of seizures showed ANY allegedly illegal shipments. That's not saying a different report refutes the headline - THE REPORT ITSELF REFUTED ITS OWN HEADLINE.
So Lord Chris Smith's UK Environmental Agency has been sent out to profile African Used Goods buyers - and again these are AFRICANS doing the export and import, not cartoon money-hatted Annie Leonard Story of Stuff cartoon, Montgomery Burns Sham E-Waste companies. Their enforcement directly benefits UK's Big Shred companies, and "keeps valuable scrap metal" in Europe. It serves the work of Planned Obsolescence and anti-gray-market manufacturers. And it boosts a budget for charities and NGOs and European bureaucrats.
So the fact - FACT - that 90% of the used goods imported into Africa are working or repaired is quite different from the allegation of 90% waste. In this derivative mind-blowing matrix, the anti-immunity disorder is the Agency. Imagine millions of schools being distributed Epi-pens, which were incorrectly administered 2/3 of the time, like a snakebite kit. Oh, wait... don't have to imagine half of that.
Now imagine that it turns out that the best way for Africa to develop, and to develop its own proper recycling infrastructure, is to allow it's Tech Sector to become a Steward. Instead of trying to prevent the Tech Sector from acquiring affordable goods, instead of preventing repair and refurbishing jobs by cutting off their supplies, that you discount the sale price in order to incentivize takeback... to involve the Tech Sector - Africa's best and brightest geeks - to oversee Africa's bottom rung recycling/scrap sector.
Instead of arresting Hurricane Joe Benson, the UK Environmental Agency should be giving him a grant to take back any accidental breakage or 15-year obsolete goods generated by Africans.
That's the Fair Trade Recycling model.
What Environmental Studies needs is 3.0. We need to study a holistic approach to world environmental problems, not a million dollar grant to send braggy exaggerating white people into Accra's notorious urban land development politics.
More below, my thoughts on 3.0, the need for intellectualizing do no harm. And another analogy - this time on the urban and suburban land values and the "ghetto effect" of USA housing policy due to racial profiling... and how Africa is going through the same things with linguistic and ethnic and religious minorities (Dagbani, Hausa, etc.) that America cities went through with blacks, when housing projects were cited away from white schools, creating a later need for busing.
My long held belief that environmental enforcement is aimed at protecting property values is reinforced. The wealthier the geography, the more regulators. Regulation that drives "externalization" decried by environmentalists, and that financial interests will continue to take advantage of any "rules".
The challenge we all face is to make justice digestible. The hopeful thing is that Interpol folks eventually figured out they are being manipulated by European metals buyers, Big Shred, and Planned Obsolescence, what they wanted me to convey to you guys is that intelligent people with our level of insights (that's grouping me with whom they labelled "the academics") need to simplify and focus objections earlier and faster. Basically they were frustrated at the 2011-2015 period when photojournalists and Basel Action Network were in the drivers seat because no one was mobilizing the correct information in a way that was accessible to journalists and non-technical governmental staff.
Coming from 3 generations of journalists/journalism professors, I'm reminded that the number of people who read the "corrections" (page 2) is always a fraction of the ones who had read the juicy headline.
I realized this was at play in 2008 and began trying to fight fire with fire. What I would like, looking forward, would be for our project to deliver some defense of the "autoimmunity disease" when environmentalists and regulators are turned against basically good people. I've been somewhat heroicizing the "geeks of color" and "hurricanes" but as you guys probably know that's
Blacksmith (Pure Earth) has taken a very rude stance but wants to sunset Agbogbloshie (wait for the news to go away) and move on to other things. It's not that gratifying, but yes hopeful in the way that ending desegregation was hopeful. I forsaw the tensions when I contact them in 2013 and 2014, and now in 2015 they find my blogging too aggressive to meet with ANYONE from WR3A. They won't meet Emmanual Nyalete, or Wahab Odoi Muhammed, or anyone at all about issuing a statement correcting Jim Puckett's citation at EScrap News that Blacksmith / PureEarth is behind the Agbogbloshie hyperbole. And it's not because they don't read EScrap News - they asked EScrap to ask me to edit a comment I left about the blog, and when I edited it to be nice, said that EScrap had agreed with them.
Bullshit. This is not how holy organizations address their problems. Environmental Malpractice needs to be taken as seriously as medical malpractice. Africa's Tech Sector -- and many other recyclers - have been harmed by the e-waste hoax, and people who made money off of it need to do more than just hope no one reads my blog and it all goes away. Because as the piece in Al Jazeera by Jacopo Ottaviani shows, the truth comes out eventually.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
The great news is that -- compared to previous articles (via BBC, The Atlantic, The Guardian, NPR, NY Times, Washington Post, Wired, etc.) -- the web documentary appearing yesterday on Al Jazeera and internazionale by young Italian reporters Jacopo Ottaviani and Isacco Chiaf, "E-waste Republic", is much more sophisticated. It allows many other (English-speaking) voices to come forward and describe the nuance of a scrap problem in an African city.
This documentary is far ahead of the pack in documenting the complex pieces of the electronic reuse and scrap markets in Africa. And they hit the nail on the head by stating that demolishing Agbogbloshie will make the problem worse.
Kudos to Ottaviani for interviewing second hand dealers and repair shops, and giving time to yours truly (on behalf of WR3A / Fair Trade Recycling). They give author Adam Minter [whose own accounts of Agbogbloshie are frankly more factual] almost as much screen time as Mike Anane. There are data and statistics, and the documentary stands apart from the lie that boycotting Africa's Geeks will somehow make wire burning juveniles "go away". I thank and respect Ottaviani and Chiaf for taking the hours and hours to get a "whole story" perspective.
What the documentary fails to do, sadly, is to correct the proportion distortion. or the myth that import for repair is "illegal". Like Kyle Wiens piece @Wired, Ottaviani recognizes the demolition of the slum is bad - but alsocontinues to make the story about westerners' stuff. This continues the central conceit that Agbogbloshie's problems somehow revolve significantly around "imported e-waste".
The focus on e-waste exports in sea containers is the Mystery of Al Capone's vault, 29 years after.
[ postscript: This was a tricky blog to write, as I respect Jacopo and Isacco and value the effort to interview #geeksofcolor and tell a nuanced account. But it also perpetuates definitions of #ewaste that include reuse and repair, and false testimony about volumes and timelines of simply disposed waste, and honestly it does represent another example of photojournalism's need for exotic hooks. ]
The outstanding part of the web documentary are interviews with African techs. Ottoviani and Chiaf spoke to far more members of "the Republic" than Cosimo Dannoritzer or other exploitation journalists. Several African used goods dealers get screen time. Anane has to compete now with Adam Minter and DK Oseo-Asare of QAMP (Makerspace). The reuse side of the story is finally on equal footing with the accusers. And I'm grateful.
However, the camera's focus, like the title, is on the puny.
Are the sea containers filled with e-waste? That's the titillation that E-Waste Republic continues to toy with. How big a problem? It must be big enough to justify our western attention... Because we are more focused on stuff than African people.
The Dagbani hosts and guides at Agbogbloshie's scrap yard, who did not speak English well, wound up on the cutting room floor. The story they would have told is that only 20-50 VCRs, monitors, TVs and computers come there each day, they come primarily by wheeled push cart. Never, ever has a sea container been dumped at Agbogbloshie.
The 40,000 people who lived in the razed slum just don't understand the fixation on the used electronics. Most of the smoke and fire, and most of the wire, is from tire burning. By titillating us with "povertyporn", the Agbogbloshie of E-waste Republic is, in the end, more like Fox News Geraldo Rivera's 1986 documentary, "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault". The reporter Geraldo Rivera admitted in his autobiography that he had hyped and hyperbolized the issue, but in the end found that it works. The 30M viewers he attracted launched his career.
It is much more difficult to take the path of Dr. Josh Lepawsky and Grace Akese in their article "Sweeping Away Agbogbloshie. Again". It's commercially challenging to try to actually correct Western preoccupation with "e-waste", or (like Dr. Graham Pickren's thesis) tease out the "fetish" westerners have, via liability and "gotcha journalism", for Stuff with their asset tags on them. Heather Agyepong's photoessay, "The Gaze on Agbogbloshie" at least recognized the obsession the west had, an intelligent, self-aware distraction. She saw how much bigger Agbogbloshie is than a scrapyard. Adam Minter, in his own treatment of the site, saw that the scrapyard was mostly automobiles and tires and city buses, not electronics.
The problem Ottaviani and Chiaf faced is that without the hype over the mystery of e-waste, they probably could not have gotten production. The past misperception, what I've labelled #ewastehoax or #ewastegate, is the only reason people buy tickets to the show. So like Geraldo Rivera, they engage in the subtly exploitative close-up shots of unemployed youth breaking stuff (they do not bother to break CRT faceplate glass if there's no camera there, no one earns a penny from that activity), and toy with the wording whether Agbogbloshie is the "largest e-waste dump on earth" - subtly saying "yes" while adding "one of" and "in Africa" rather than saying "no".
In the intro, they don't just clearly say that the used goods imported to Ghana work or are repaired 91% of the time, and that's a better rate than brand new product. They preserve the central attraction. They play to the conceit that there's a mystery in these vaults, these sea containers of used goods purchased by Africans in Europe and packed by Africans in Europe for a $10,000 journey across the ocean. A hotel in Europe resells its used CRTs (for LCD replacements) to an African, and it's labelled "abandoned" rather than resold.
Many of these abandoned electric and electronic devices still have commercial value, some because they are still functioning and others because they contain valuable materials which can be recycled. This is why they are loaded onto containers, shipped from the ports of developed countries and sent to developing countries, like Ghana. Awaiting them at their destination is a widespread network of middlemen, dealers, repairmen and second-hand salesmen who choose the devices, test that they are operational and put the e-waste from rich countries back into circulation in the local economy.
That's a long and difficult way of saying "No". There's no e-waste crime evidence in Al Capone's vault. Operational stuff isn't "e-waste". The recycling value doesn't pay for shipping. If it did, Africans would be buying stuff a lot cheaper. (Ottoviani requested the chart from me, below, twice).
African's don't buy scrap from Europe, period. There is accidental breakage, shipping damage, replaced parts, and "elective upgrades" that sometimes catch retailers off guard (when a cell phone that sold a month earlier loses its cache). But there's as much "fallout", or more, in brand new goods imports.
By ignoring the fact that Agbogbloshie is getting the scrap stuff at the end of a used life in a big city, they keep editors happy by fanning the self-obsession white people have with "vaults".
We don't have a fetish about the copper mines, gold mines, or Kabwe lead mines in Africa where thousands die and are poisoned extracting the coltan for our cell phones, but we obsess endlessly about a used cell phone that one day is discarded the same as a new one would be. Mike Anane has recognized the obsession, and shows his personal vault of asset tags, at his home, in one segment.
Are the sea container "vaults" filled with Al Capone's e-waste? The answer is "no" and the documentary can't get an "A" by continuing to give air time to Mike Anane's baseless allegations of western dumping. My favorite weasel wording NGO chief is also in true form:
However, there are also dark sides, for example regarding the quality of imported goods. Some studies report an average life span of two or three years. “Almost all used devices entering Western Africa have already been used extensively,” explains Jim Puckett, the founder of BAN (Basel Action Network), a non-governmental organisation which opposes the exportation of toxic waste. “These devices may be bought, used for a few weeks, months or years and immediately afterwards end up in a dumpsite, listed in statistics as domestic e-waste.”
Dark sides.... Jim Puckett is an artist. Devices used for "a few years and immediately afterwards end up in a dumpsite"? Subtle? Years and immediately. In Ottaviani's defense, he did tweet a reply to me about Anane and Puckett's quotes:
Yes, I replied. The false accuser is always a part of a story about a lynch mob. No one would have taken the time to arrest and imprison "Hurricane" Joe Benson without the "biggest dump in the world" as a scene of the crime. But the destruction of Agbogbloshie was about forcible eviction of Accra's poorest neighborhoods because the property was too expensive to buy from them. The central conceit that #Agbogbloshie is a significant dumpsite is a common interest of the reporters (Ottaviana and Anane) and the NGO leader, and the StEP experts in Europe. "Without the hype, we wouldn't be here".
My thesis is that the "dark side" is not what Ottaviani and Puckett describe. The dark side is a Scarlet Letter, charitable industrial complex which keeps enriching the miserablists... NGOs, EU Agents, and photo safari journalists... exploiting pics of kids at dumps, making boycotts and arrests of geeks seem tenable. It's the lynch mob economy that gives me shivers.
Ottaviani and Chiaf met me, with Wahab Odoi Muhammed, his Ghana pals Peter, Hamadou, and Ahmet, along with author Adam Minter at the #Agbogbloshie Onion Market on March 30, 2015. We brought 2 Ghana customs officials and went out to lunch after walking and filming 27 young men between ages of 15-34 burn tires and wire and disassemble stuff like VCRs and 1990s computer monitors. Jacopo and Isaaco came back and interviewed a computer repair and reuse shopkeeper, Steve at Bugi, for an hour the next day.
The problem with this documentary is that it continues to present e-waste as somehow an important part of life in Agbogbloshie or Accra or Ghana. That misrepresentation is part of the problem. Representations matter, and representing African buyers like Joe Benson of BJ Electronics of participating in some kind of "witches brew" caldron of smoke and poison destroys the lives of Africa's Tech Sector, Africa's best and brightest, the reason Al Jazeera even has a TV channel in Ghana. Without the used computers and cell phones, no African could watch or read Ottaviana's web documentary, as there would never have been enough subscribers to pay for the internet delivery cables and switching stations.
But I can't complain too much. There is this:
“African technicians, the ‘black geeks’, have a fundamental role,” explains Robin Ingenthron, the founder of Fair Trade Recycling, a non-profit organisation which supports e-waste recycling and ethical trading. “Without the television sets they fixed over the years, nobody would have built TV towers. And the same goes for internet access.” “Many of the students in Ghana who have a computer have a second-hand one”, explains Professor Martin Oteng-Ababio, a professor in the Geography department of Ghana University. “It is only thanks to the second hand market that part of the population is allowed access to technology, know-how and technical proficiency which would otherwise be difficult to obtain.”
Without used car sales, Africans wouldn't be paving their roads. Eastern Europe developed the same way, buying West Europe's used goods. World Bank describes it as "critical mass of users", enough consumers to pay for support systems - including recycling downstream as well as content - for consumers.
Probably my own conceit is jealousy. Fair Trade Recycling has been far less successful at fundraising than BAN or StEP or Blacksmith Institute. I wish I could hang out with the popular Europeans and Americans who throw parties and conferences about documenting and solving Africa's e-waste problems. I just have to make do drinking muddy unfiltered coffee with my hosts, my friends Wahab and Emmanuel who invited us and organized our tour, who continue to risk arrest and loss of life savings.
The Duke and Dauphin, too, attracted a bigger crowd.
Alright then, I'll go to hell.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Please excuse the delay in publishing the promised report on our visit to Accra, Agbogbloshie, Mole, Tamale, and Tema in March and April, 2015.
We were nearly finished with a report, and expected to post it before end of the month of May. However, four major developments occurred in the weeks immediately preceding the publication date.
Natural Disaster - A major flood in Accra, combined with an explosion at a gas station, killed 150 people. During this disaster, no one was thinking about discarded appliances.
UNEP published a lazy, poorly reviewed report (ignoring most of the studies they cite from UNU), and worse, accompanied it with a false headline of "90% illegal" (which was contradicted by the contents of the study itself). Mathematically, how can 90% of contents be illegal if only 1/3 of seized containers contain SOME illegal material? What mattered were the photos - eight of Agbogbloshie.
CWIT and Interpol announced a meeting for June 24 and 25, featuring Jim Puckett of BAN and Mike Anane as speakers. While we felt it was unlikely they would spring "new information", we were already delaying our report to address UNEP's "new information" and waiting seemed prudent.
AMA, a local Accra municipal association destroyed Agbbogbloshie, citing "floods" and "ewaste imports", AMA sent bulldozers to knock down the homes and businesses of tens of thousands of Agbogbloshie residents and workers. It was the beginning of Ramadan, and #UNWorldRefugeeDay and rainy season... and the bulldozing to "dredge the waterway" occurred at the populated homes side of the slum, not the abandoned side of the waterway.
From our "e-waste" prospective (not the evicted's), what's most important about the last point were a couple of hours of filmed interviews we have, with Ghana technicians and scrappers. Some had told us, when I asked "why?" about the #ewastehoax of Agbogbloshie, that they believed it was part of a propaganda campaign to take their land.
I reviewed the maps and it was definitely true that Agbogbloshie, described as the remote "outskirts" or "nearby cities like Accra" in Greenpeace and other NGO reports, is smack dab in the middle of the city, 9 minutes from the most luxurious hotels, less from major banks and government complexes. But in the first draft of the report, I avoided mentioning it, as I thought it came across as rather paranoid. Now, after the evictions and apparent razing of the scrap businesses, I have to check that dismissal...
The entanglement of Western second hand goods export and urban planning in Ghana is complicated. In writing the report, we need to check our outrage, and report the facts.
There is definitely a need for urban planning and revitalization, and there's definitely a role for EU to police exports of toxic waste (like Trafigura's). Our so-called "ewastehoax report" does not impugn either motive. But catching Africa's second-life tech sector and Africa's end-of-(African)-life recycling sector in the crossfire represents collateral damage. Too many benefit financially by peddling their "expertise" in a defamation campaign, thereby siphoning off resources necessary to implement a "Fair Trade Recycling" solution to Africa's own e-scrap problems.
We need African geeks of color, we need African hand-dismantlers, and harming them does not benefit urban development or management of electronic scrap.
If cell phones and displays work for 10 more years than their assumed "end of life" in Europe, they save mining and energy costs. The reuse reduces recycling costs in the OECD. The technicians in Africa allow Africans to leapfrog to the next generation of devices, rather than emulate the less-sustainable 3-5 year device life of OECD nations. Not that anyone has a right to impugn Africans choices to electively upgrade or discard or buy new... There is just no EU liability or responsibility or stewardship in question that trumps Africans self determination to buy used, or buy new, or invent a third alternative. Whether an African decides to buy a new product from China, or a used product from China, or sells copper scrap to India, or refurbishes products from Europe or the USA, there is no "Basel Convention" crime (see Annex IX, B1110), and the #whitesaviorcomplex can "stand down" and "hold its fire".
What do we have to add to the report? What's the source of the delay?
Basically, to tell the definitive story of the so-labelled "largest e-waste dump on earth" requires careful editing (not least to redact my tirades, every time I watch the filmed interviews or see tweets of evicted Agbogbloshie residents). We are alleging so much hyperbole and exaggeration that the working title became "e-wastegate". That requires careful writing, and much editing.
Old Fadama (the name of the inhabited part of Agbogbloshie) was a slum in the middle of one of West Africa's most prosperous emerging markets. Developers had been trying to evict the slum dwellers for decades... while avoiding relocation costs and compensation, according to experts. As Rafa Font @Recyhub informed me, "Sodom and Gomorrah" was a term used by the developers who wanted to evict the residents as cheaply as possible. It played off of the "E-waste Tragedy", the Biblical Halloween hyperbole, close-up photos of "exotic poor", and alliterative descriptive nonsense (see Jim Puckett's "A Place Called Away"). These articles falsely link the Agbogbloshie auto scrapyard to thousands of sea container imports of used electronic devices. (I will pay Jim one thousand dollars if he can provide any evidence that one one single sea container has ever been imported directly to Old Fadama).
In the meantime, instead of rushing to publication, we have pieced out portions or parts of the report as necessary, to allow peer review, or to provide photos that didn't require word-smithing. I didn't want our report to come out like BAN's "Digital Dump" or Greenpeace's "Poisoning the Poor", two examples of non-peer reviewed studies which crapped out fake statistics that were later passed around in footnotes of scholarly journals. There is no sneak attack. We are sharing data, with Blacksmith Institute, CUNY, UNU, Interpol, and others, before the publication. So far, kind acknowledgement at best.
And as I've linked several times recently, others who share WR3A's concerns about Africa's Tech Sector and Western narcissism have also published articles in the meantime. There is a sense of traction. This has come to a head, and our report needs to be tight.
In trying to address all of these new angles, the report had hit 36 pages (and that was before the June evictions). I have since released a slide show at National Geographic's website, and blogged about key observations. Our goal is to add more information but shave this down to 20 pages. That's more work and effort than writing the first 36 (many written from Ghana).
The draft Abstract for our study is at bottom.
Here are some key ideas emerging from our Ghana experts, insights that Wahab Odoi Muhammed, Emmanual Eric Nyalete, Kamil, Jaleel, Kamaldeen, Elvis, Abdullah, Razak, Steve, Awal, Rachid, Hamadou, Peter, and others bring to the table (the bibliography alone will take a page, and hours of spell-check).
- - -
Yes, externalized pollution is acknowledged as "a driver". But you can't build a policy foundation on it. Westerners are perhaps most interested in it from our sense of liability --The perception of which shifts the burden of proof from the accuser to the traders. The polution may be in Africa, the solution may be in Africa, the jobs and resources may be African, but BAN.org has accused US. As such, somthing that leverages our white guilt became a "pillar" of enforcement mandates. Interpol, CWIT, UNEP have made it the sole "driver", and then built a theory of export that cannot account for the cost of the transport. So to explain the flow of money (from Africa to Benson, not from Benson to Africa) they make unsubstantiated references to "organized crime".
But when people in the trade are interviewed, a totally different set of drivers emerges.
- Repair expertise (greater in Accra than in London) is also a driver. - Rate of first purchase (same as studies of auto markets) predicts second hand sales. - Elective upgrade - not "repairability" or "functionality testing" drives discard (both in EU and Africa). Higher testing procedures will not reduce the rate of disuse. - Electric grid fluctuations are proven to short out brand new devices more often (and at greater cost) than solid state electronics from previous decades. - Disposable Income decisions - when internet, cell phone, and television access and penetration occur, in double and triple digits per year, in nations earning less than $3,000 per capita per year, the individual consumers in those markets must be presumed to make a rational purchasing decision. If they buy a used CRT television for $50 rather than a new flat screen for $800, perhaps they know more about their decision than the "saviors". - Cost and Value Added by hand dis-assembly - hand de-manufacturing of electronics produces a cleaner copper, aluminum, and steel stream, as well as recoverable parts. The fact that wage demands in OECD nations for machine shredding, at a lower recovery rate, than hand disassembly does not mean the decision to hand-disassemble in a lower wage country is "informal" or "primitive". Walking to work is not more "primitive" than taking a taxi, dudes. - Avoided Mining Costs. When Africans recycle, or repair and reuse, they are not being given the same credit as Americans and Europeans for "saving trees" and "avoided mining costs" - even though Africa is ground zero for mines like Kabwe, artisinal gold mining, and illegal forestry. - Growth in Teledensity. Not enough new product has been sold to Africa to account for even a fraction of TV viewership, cell phone use, or internet access. World Bank reports that secondhand electronics created a "critical mass of users". You can't finance a cell phone tower in a nation earning $2000 per capita per day by assuming that users must buy brand new iPhones. - Job Choice. Electronics repair is a better job in Africa than it is in Europe. Wire burning is a result of unemployment. Sacrificing repair jobs increases wire burning. - Electricity conservation programs. Ghana customs agents interviewed cited refrigerators as the primary "illegal import", and said those were targeted because of the problems with Ghana's electricity demands. The government had a program to replace older units with more efficient ones, and importing older units could bankrupt that subsidy program. These seizures were cited by UNEP as part of the 1/3 "illegal ewaste". But they have NOTHING to do with Agbogbloshie. Testing for "functionality" does not even address this concern. - Free commerce."Who the hell are you to tell me, an African, what I can buy with my money?"
It is difficult to keep to a page limit and still address all of the mistakes and fallacies in UNEP's "drivers of ewaste hell" report. For example, the stated "driver" of cheap transport? Totally, demonstrably, false. It is cheap to Hong Kong, but insinuating that it is a driver... that it must therefore be cheap to Agbogbloshie? Why not ASK what the cost is to ship to Agbogbloshie, rather than insinuate it must also be cheap if the same "effect" of cheap shipping to Hong Kong is observed? The fallacy is a heinous, fail your BEPC (Junior High Diploma), jaw-dropping example of illogic. UNEP is criminally negligent not to note in its report that transport costs to Africa are not only greater than those they cite to Hong Kong, but are higher than the claimed "avoided recycling cost".
And the statement that Africa is disposessing Europe of metal scrap value? You need to hear the reaction to that from Africans themselves. They can mine it but can't recycle it?
Modest Proposal: It would in fact be helpful to the discussion, and hasten our publication, if I could omit some of the more glaring fallacies in the UNEP report. It would reduce the amount of time involved if the UNEP will issue a simple written apology from the report writers, stating for example that the price of shipping to Africa is certainly NOT a "driver". The cost of shipping to Africa, and within Africa (from the port of Tema) is certainly HIGHER, so much higher that is is economically IMPOSSIBLE to ship 90% waste without the shipper paying for the load. The very logic that if low costs of shipper were a driver for "ewaste" in China, and "ewaste" is being transported to Africa, therefore African shipping rates must also be low, reflects a certain base of incompetence. (Hint, I'm suggesting UNEP put out an olive branch before I publish this report, so I don't have to edit my negativity).
The bottom line for the report? It's truly a shame that honest, well-meaning, environmentally-conscious EU-based WEEE leaders and CWIT did not invite Africa's Tech Sector importers, or its scrap employers, who are separated by 5-15 years of consumer ownership to speak at their meetings. Almost all of the mistakes in their report could have been eliminated by treating African technicians and importers as grown ups.
African importers, Tech Sector refurbishers, and Africa telecommunications experts could have represented Ghana and provided a counterpoint to #povertypornpeddling NGOs and AMA's stooges. Ph.D candidates like Grace Akese, or TED Talk DK Osseo-Asare, our Adam Minter, or Josh Lepawsky, or Raphael Font, or Alhassan Abdallah, or Kyle Wiens, or Heather Agyepong... there are hundreds of people with more expertise than Jim Puckett and Mike Anane, who do not take CASH for the fake story that put Joe Benson in prison.
And it is a shame on UNEP for using exploitative photos by Kevin McElvaney in place of accurate citations of facts. And shame for not pointing out that the refrigerator seizures - by far the most "illegal" shipments - were banned because of Ghana's electricity conservation buy-back program for used fridges, NOT because they were hand-disassembled or imported to be burned by children in primitive "still not sponsored" T-Shirts. I could remove many pages with a simple citation to a "corrections" page, or apology from David Higgins or Pascal LeRoy, and in doing so pay them a compliment. I know they have integrity, and the potential to demonstrate the leadership which the Mockingbirds of Africa demand of us. Anyone who read the judgement and evidence in the Joe Benson trial would NOT have trumpeted the conviction as evidence of "90%" illegal dumping (page 43-44 of UNEP report).
Perhaps we could schedule a polite, informed debate? Emile Lindemulder and I interviewed each other at E-Scrap Conference in New Orleans in 2008. He basically admitted he could not explain the economics and that he had put "organized crime" into the report ex deux machina to salvage the poisonous root - that 75%-90% of the shipments were illegal... sourced from a source who denies saying it. Now he's famous with do-gooders in the charitable industrial complex, but his name is associated with shameful race-baiting, racial profiling, and accidental racism in Africa. I'm here to make peace, to stop the tide of collateral damage to both Emile and Benson, who were the victims of supply and demand and a nasty 80% dumping hoax statistic.
Anyway, my lack of writing discipline in this blog is indicative of the challenges my organization faces in standing up to dozens of highly paid bureaucrats, planned obsolescence and big shred companies, and the charitable industrial complex. But if Interpol and CWIT are being told to ignore WR3A and Fair Trade Recycling, they should ask who is giving them this advice (within the charitable industrial complex), and why so many new articles are proving our thesis?
Indeed, we felt ignored for a decade, but it's seeming a little less lonely here on the front lines. The views are up. The buzz is in our favor. The twittersphere has Africans who were not there to comment 5 years ago. A new generation of agents of conscience, seen at ReStart Project and Chendiba Enterprises, and in Heather Agyepong's photo essay attendees, is giving the Agenda Shift more leverage.
It's easier to write a long blog than a short, well referenced, academic report. Back to work.
Co authors and donations to Fair Trade Recycling are appreciated.
Agbogbloshie is a low income urban neighborhood near the center of Accra, often a destination for new economic migrants from Ghana’s rural northern territories. The site is alleged to be a major (if not the largest) dump for used “e-waste” discarded from OECD countries. The research team reviewed secondary data on teledensity, including household ownership and consumption of electronics in Ghana, as well as African WEEE generation, import and export studies, and metadata on African urbanization. Team members then visited Tema Port (alleged source of Agbogbloshie e-scrap), computer reuse and repair facilities in Accra, Tema and Tamale (documented recipients of secondary electronics), the scrap yard at Agbogbloshie (end of life destination for Accra scrap), and villages in northern Ghana (source of migrants, as well as consumers of secondary market devices). At Agbogbloshie the team filmed Interviews with men who burn wire, as well as scrappers of white goods and autos, and plastic and circuit board collectors. Eyewitness accounts of current scrap management practices contrast sharply with mainstream press coverage of the Agbogbloshie dumpsite.
The study found strong evidence that the site has been exploited by photojournalists, NGOs and grant seekers, but no evidence that it is a significant “dumping ground” for obsolete electronics sourced from OECD nations. Agbogbloshie is not the “largest e-waste dump” on earth, nor a direct destination for any significant portion of used electronics imported at Tema Port. The ongoing misperceptions of Ghana’s secondary market stubbornly resurface, despite previous reports which do not reconcile the claims, and abandonment of claims by certain NGOs. Since there is no new evidence of dumping, future reports or continued claims about Agbogbloshie as an “international dumping point” should be investigated to determine whether the claims benefit certain economic interests in the west, or regarded as evidence of confirmation bias in UNEP reports and Interpol reports. The report concludes that the ten year dynamic of “saving” Asians and Africans from “e-waste” is probably a key example of Buffet’s “charitable industrial complex” in action.
For percentages of Western material managed in Ghana, WR3A compared actual shipping records from Ghana importers, measured material witnessed at Agbogbloshie, estimated waste coming from legal sources (new product failure, past decades of import, accidental shipping damage, etc.), and compared its calculations with figures from StEP, UNEP, and mainstream press accounts. WR3A’s estimate is that roughly 8,000 tons is waste upon import, contrasting to 21,500 from StEP. The amount is between 0.000014 and 0.00044 of world electronic waste, making Agbogbloshie one of the smallest e-waste dumpsites on the earth.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill