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".
The Tragedy of Agbogbloshie, the scrap neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, has been a "scene of the crime" which Joe Benson is in prison for. Among the most credible sources for Benson's crime suspicions came a year ago this month, via Scientific American. Ghana is not more polluted than any other emerging urban city. So why, in 2014, is Ghana the butt of the Scientific American headline?
Is this the truth? Is this metal scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, among, close to, remotely, being one of the ten most polluted sites on earth? Scientific American is important and credible, as is the original source - Blacksmith Institute.
No. Accra's scrapyard doesn't compare to Chernobyl or mining hotspots like Kabwe or OK Tedi. It's not pretty, but it is pretty similar to dozens of other auto scrapyards in Guangzhou, Mumbai, Detroit, Jakarta, Rio, etc.
How did the headline above place Accra's automobile, white goods, and electronics scrapyard - and only their scrapyard - on a list with Chernobyl, Ukraine, Kabwe, Zambia, and other mining, smelting, nuclear and petroleum disasters?
In this blog, I'll show you where the research by Blacksmith Institute, behind this headline, was accurate and plentiful. Unfortunately, one tragic citation led to false arrests, collateral damage, and potentially tarnished the brand of a really fine organization. As Dr. Josh Lepawsky has described in "Mapping E-waste as a Controversy: From Statements to Debates II", there has been a pollution of non-peer-reviewed "data" in the discussion of export policy. It will lead to the end of "top ten" lists from Blacksmith Institute.
Definition of PRIMUM NON NOCERE:the first thing (is) to do no harm
The tragedy is the amount of solid effort which Jack Caravanos of CUNY put into the Blacksmith Institute research. He visited Agbogbloshie, photographed it, interviewed the people, and even helped win a project (with Swiss funding) to "clean up" the operations with a heroic MakerSpace effort described at http://qamp.net/ And apparently, just as quickly, the European project at Agbobloshie, the $85,000, went to waste. I cannot speculate whether it was from the lack of buy-in, or what. But as I told @RecyHub (who was on the ground for the project), giving that money to a Fixer / Importer like Wahab, Emmanuel, Hamdy, Souleymane, Miguel, or Joe Benson would have been a better bet. Hard to recruit people when they're in jail. And that's the tragedy here... Blacksmith meant well. I don't think they intended to enter Agbogbloshie with a #saviorcomplex, on an Ego-Eco-Safari. But they produced one of the most thorough, impressive pieces of research, and then embellished it with the label of Most Toxic Place on Earth, and on page One, #FRAMED Joe Benson of #WasteCrime. One single piece of bad data may destroy our confidence in the top ten lists... I found it. It's just one minor assumption, properly footnoted. And it took Scientific American down with it. Tragic Fame. For some time, I'd been trying to find out exactly how this "ranking" of hundreds and thousands of polluted sites occurs. How is the lead mine pile in Kabwe, Africa being compared to leather tanneries in Bangladesh (or Guiyu, China)? Is the "threat" measured by toxicity per square meter, or by type of toxic, or by the number of people exposed? There should be a methodology to ranking.
The Top 10 Toxic Threats (per Blacksmith Institute)
Agbogbloshie, Ghana E-waste
Chernobyl, Ukraine Nuclear accident
Citarum River Basin, Indonesia Industrial and domestic pollution
Dzerzhinsk, Russia Chemical manufacturing
Hazaribagh, Bangladesh Tanneries
Kabwe, Zambia Lead mining
Kalimantan, Indonesia Gold mining
Matanza Riachuelo, Argentina Industrial pollution
Niger River Delta, Nigeria Oil spills
Noril'sk, Russia Mining and smelting
Technically, Agbogbloshie leads the list because it starts with "A". GhanaWeb could be forgiven for mistaking the alphabetical order for ranking. But Blacksmith is definitely claiming that out of thousands of mining, dumping, and scrap processing sites, Accra's auto scrap yard is in the top 10.
Scientific American's article from December 2013 implies there is a careful process of rank evaluation.
"The Blacksmith Institute, along with Green Cross Switzerland, compiled the new rankings after surveying more than 2,000 sites in 49 countries. The organizations estimate that toxic pollution threatens the health of more than 200 million people in the developing world." - Scientific American
There are mining spills, mercury-contaminated federal arms sites, uranium mines to compete with. A science and engineering NGO like Blacksmith Institute, which makes every effort to distinguish itself as a science-based environmental think tank, carries a lot of weight. Blacksmith made 2014 the year that "e-waste" in Accra, Ghana, would gain a notoriety which Basel Action Network and Greenpeace could never, on their own, bestow. Six months after publication, Joe Benson of BJ Electronics was locked in a British prison cell.
One toxic footnote.
Blacksmith Institute's go to guy is Jack Caravanos of CUNY. When I called and spoke to Blacksmith earlier this week, Dr. Caravanos's research was the anchor. Professor Caravanos has built a considerable reputation for his Department at CUNY, and for Blackstone. He's currently studying Kabwe in Zambia, Africa, the leaded ore mining city (which would certainly be on my ballot of "Worst Places").
Caravanos published two articles on Agbogbloshie, Ghana, in support of its rank as one of the worst places on planet earth. I don't have time to go into the reports in detail, and don't have expertise or desire to debate Caravanos on his strongest suit.
I agree with 90% of the research. But the introduction! Out of the gate, Caravanos declares the crime scene to be the product of exporters like Joe Benson. Joe Benson's an admitted exporter, and Caravanos, on page 1, says that 75% of the exports by people like Benson are sham recycling, exposing a loophole in Basel, and deserve the blame for the site he measures.
False accusation, relayed from Greenpeace, sourced from BAN. Wrong.
Caravanos' footnote is to a paper which in turn footnotes Jim Puckett's false, fake, abandoned hoax statistic (see Tragedy 2). It's like the best Law and Order forensic lab technician leaps out of character and, after describing boot prints and blood types and DNA, goes on to announce (repeat speculation) of motive, opportunity, and means. He's wearing a lab coat, and he has chemistry evidence, but the whodunnit is coming from hearsay. No. Benson is innocent, and you have one little footnote that you've accidentally given scientific credence... which the source itself does not claim (and now distances itself afar of).
A great chemist normally doesn't mix the chemistry results with third party gossip over motives. If he does, and creates a titillating "ranking" press release, he could wind up in Scientific American... And/Or in the Good Point Ideas blog.
Here's the ifixit/goodpointideas teardown.
1. We grant it's bad. Something must be done.
Let's grant Caravanos the premise that people working in the scrapyard (which manages mostly automobile and white goods waste) have serious health concerns. The major contributions he has made are to take blood and urine and soil samples and assess them for toxics. We have had a gut feeling that the images of kids pushing burning wires around with sticks was not a good thing, and I'll grant Caravanos science that he documented it.
Let's grant that we don't want our teenage sons and daughters burning wire in Agbogbloshie, especially if there's a school or better job available.
2. We ask about the methodology of the "Top 10" ranking.
How the tests he performed establish the difference between the "Top Ten" most toxic (or most exotic?), and the next 1,990 runners up, isn't clear. There are baselines for "healthy" and "EPA limits" which are crossed, but I'd expect to see a comparison chart. How does the arsenic showing in urine levels compare, site by site? We could see how Ghana fares compared not just to the other 9 sites, but to sites with better results, and understand why Accra and not Foshan, or Kinshasa, or Detroit or Torreon deserves the Scientific American headline.
Then we could ask other methodology questions.
Are similar auto scrap yards compared, and are lead and copper mines and smelters compared to other lead and copper smelting sites?
And how many lead mining sites does Blacksmith compare to how many scrap sites?
Are the soil samples given more weight when the population of exposed people is greater? Or younger?
What's upstream? What are other proximate causes?
In Guiyu, that last question would have led to the documentation of the textile mills and tanneries which employ most of the people in that district... something I discovered by comparing BAN's "Exporting Harm" water samples online, and finding the Louhajong River tests with very similar results. Adam Minter later visited Guiyu and confirmed many textile mills upstream of Guiyu... something Greenpeace less than ironically ran with as "dirty laundry".)
The problems with college and university ranking methodology (e.g. US News and World Report) are widely discussed in academic circles (also less than ironically). USNWR has been accused of deliberately "reshaking" the weight it assigns class size, faculty degrees, costs, etc. just to create a sense of suspense. The ranking changes every year, giving USN and WR annual rankings more relevance.
It was just a matter of time before Blacksmith's lists got held to the same scrutiny, and when an innocent African television repairman gets put in UK jail 6 months later, that time may have come.
3. We question specific claims of causality....
The question of "upstream" sources runs even deeper, when correlation equates to causality, which equate to Guidelines, which equate to racial profiling.
Caravanos, deep in the paper, acknowledges that he cannot determine where arsenic in urine actually came from, he can only document it's disturbingly high. As Adam Minter and Greenpeace have pointed out, the textile dying industry in Guiyu (E-Stork Series, "Where Poisoned E-waste Babies Come From") is more closely associated with the river water samples than e-scrap. Arsenic is almost a tag to trigger suspicion that "something else is going on", such as copper mining, or C&D debris, because arsenic isn't related to e-scrap or e-waste. To Caravanos credit, he keeps an appropriate distance from making the claim that the e-waste was the direct cause of the lead in the soil. But evidently he didn't call David Biello at Scientific American, so I have to.
Even if "e-waste" has toxics, are electronics imports the cause of the toxics documented? And even if they are - this is key - are recent imports the cause of the waste electronics? India, as a control group, has almost no imports of used electronics, but would probably be on a Blacksmith map of "informal sector" e-waste lists.
George Walker Bush Motorway, Ghana Morning Commute
Most of the activity at Agbogbloshie is AUTOMOBILE scrapping. Accra and Lagos have TONS AND TONS of scrap automobiles. Freon, motor oil, insulation, gas and diesel.
Does anyone think that the automobile scrap in Agbogbloshie is imported from western nations?
Used autos are, for sure. But everyone knows that the vehicles are maintained and kept running for a decade after they are imported... no one is claiming that 75% of used auto imports "very quickly" go to Agbogbloshie, or that there's any "dirty little secret" about A-Waste.
For some reason, however, the e-junk in the photos is assumed to be recently imported, while the auto scrap is not. Why? The question leads us to the 4th point about Jack Caravanos articles, published by Blacksmith Institute.
4. Repeating proven falsehoods.
Caravonos repeats, and offers Blackstone Institute's credit, for disproven, false, discredited stats. Here are quotes from the two papers, and links to the "sources".
"It is estimated that globally 20-50 million tons of e-waste is generated per year, representing 1-3% of the world's municipal waste."
Here are the problems that make the Geeks of Color wince, quotations taken directly from Blacksmith Institute Journal of Health and Pollution, Vol. 1 no. 1, Feb 2011.
"As stated in a study on e-waste recycling and disposal by Brigden, Labunska, Santillo and Johnston as much as 75% of items produced in the EU and 80% in the US go unaccounted.... Companies use a loophole in the [Basel Convention] treaty that allows for the shipment of second-hand donations as a way to also ship unusable items that will end up in landfills or scrap yards, accounting for 75% of what is shipped."
Both of these citations come into the respected Blacksmith Institute Journal of Health and Pollution, to no doubt be cited again in many university research papers. Brigden, Labunska, Santillo and Johnson publish... For Greenpeace. That's the same NGO which planted the geographic tracking device in a television donated to Joe Benson, after (gasp) "cutting a wire".
The source of Bridgen et. al. data? Go back to E-Waste Tragedy 2, the Non-Profit Sanctimony Source Code.
Distributed on BAN letterhead at Basel Convention meeting COP8
For all its contributions in chemical analysis, mapping, and science, the opening page of the Blacksmith Institute journal is, in effect, laundering bad data. Jim Puckett has denied ever even saying it, claiming recently that the only time he estimated these numbers was in 2002's Exporting Harm (China). You remember... NEVER has BAN ever stated... published here 18 months ago, and still never explained. Jack Caravanos and Rich Fuller should be aware that many people will only read the introduction, and the paper definitely represents the 75% waste as true.
"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." (-Bloomberg News)
In July 2013, in one of the most read blogs of the past 5 years, Basel Action Network went to pains to accept the 2011 studies that showed definitively that - like automobiles - most of the used electronics paid for and imported were done so by Africans, not by westerners, that most of what they purchased was working and repairable, and that (like autos) most of the scrap observed in Agbogbloshie had been used for more than a decade before it was discarded. By definition, that is domestically generated e-waste, no more "imported" than the cars in USA scrap yards were dumped by Toyota and Honda. BAN accepted they were wrong, but didn't change their claims. BAN moved the headstones, but they didn't move the graves. And the "ewaste hoax" statistics now haunt the institute, and Scientific American.
Any credible engineer or scientist can trace the footnotes to the letterhead claim to the disavowal. But unfortunately, via Blacksmith's Rich Fuller blog, Caravanos doubled his bet. The guest blog by Caravanos states rather definitively that "all the reports we may have read about this place are true." He has cited the Greenpeace report, which cites the BAN "exhaustive study", so he has to be aware of the allegations against the import-export trade.
I recently returned from the notorious Agbogbloshie recyclers market in Central Accra and all the reports you may have read about this place is true. Where else in the world can you find people dismantling computers, automobile engines, refrigerators and the like mixed in with a wholesale vegetable market, dozens of food vendors, a large mosque and the infamous copper wire burning site, which produces large volumes of toxic black smoke that lingers in the air all day. All this happening in what appears to be a random, chaotic structure (while there are no streets, vendor signs or directory, it is actually quite well organized and profitable to the vendors.) - Jack Caravanos
No. They are not all true. Tragic.
Joe Benson never went to primary or secondary school. But he is self made successful businessman, a TV repairman who is the reason that 6.9 million households in Nigeria could watch the World Cup and the Africa Cup and participate in democratic debate in 2006. He's in a tough spot if it's his word against CUNY and the Blacksmith Institute's Journal of Health and Pollution. But I'd take his side over BAN and Greenpeace, who profit directly from the exaggeration and then move on to the next "cause" (piles of never-exported CRT glass, or dirty laundry from upstream textile mills). Blacksmith Institute is supposed to be different.
Blackstone Institute has a professional website, and a healthy budget, and impressive staff. If I'm not jealous, as founder of WR3A.org, I should be. Fuller's credentials appear impeccable, and I've got no agenda suggesting we question them. The E-Waste Tragedy, in my opinion, is the number of creditworthy do-gooders and agents of conscience who have been sucked into the black hole of E-Waste Fatwah. I'd kill to have the grant they got to establish the Maker Fair project in Ghana! I had to do Retroworks de Mexico with nothing but credit cards.
So I'm here to help the Joe Benson's of the world debate their case. There has been a stampede of profiling, resulting in Environmental Injustice. The tinkerers, fixers, and geeks of color have enough problems fighting planned obsolescence and sham exporters, and environmentalists need to polish their rifle sites and lay off the friendly fire. This was a decade of environmental malpractice, and by writing this, I hope to get Blacksmith Institute to use its amazing intellectual assets to pursue it.
The very photographic evidence in Caravanos papers and the Blacksmith's blog, which shows poor people scrapping, is incontrovertible proof that this site cannot possibly be managing anything close to the the 20-50 million tons generated in the Blacksmith Institute article by Caravanos. Caravanos paper shows satellite imagery mapping the site, and you couldn't park Sims or ERI trucks there. Its clearly a bottleneck which no one would expect could manage a significant quantity of Earth's e-scrap if we weren't distracted by photos of little black kids with wires on their heads.
Moreover, if Caravanos has read the UN source reports, he knows that the 50 million tons are arrived at by calculating the generation of emerging cities like Accra. The main question we have is where else is Ghana managing its scrap, because Agobogbloshie cannot even account for the generation of 24 million people who live in Ghana. I have more truckloads of "e-waste" arriving at my plant in rural Middlebury Vermont every day than we see in the Agbogbloshie films!
Economically, it's impossible to pay for 75% junk with the scrap and 25% reuse, as alleged. And Benson can recycle junk for free in the UK, he has no incentive to load a bad item on a container at all. The theory of motive is a total fail.
Is it needlessly antagonistic to call "ENVIRONMENTAL MALPRACTICE" on Scientific American's coverage of Blacksmith Institute's "Top Ten" list? From my perspective, we challenged these reports in 2009 and 2010 when they came out. A guy's in jail and it could go viral... and if Fuller and Caravanos are reading this, I believe they are smart enough to change bandwagons. Engage us, find out what's going on, and help us get a debate about the #FreeHurricaneBenson petition.
The e-waste tragedy is Collateral Damage. BAN.org makes up a figure to make its cause seem more urgent, Greenpeace repeats it, and Joe Benson winds up in jail, and really cool organizations like Blacksmith Institute wind up discredited, or forced to avoid interviews.
Mike Daisy. Fuller and Caravanos need to take their cue from Ira Glass, This American Life, and get in front of this imprisonment. Sign the #FREEJOEBENSON petition. Come out ahead, guys. Hopefully, Rich Fuller takes my blog as friendly advice. I don't want them to lose scholars, job applicants, or donors. (I gave them 24 hours advance access to this blog, would have offered longer if I asked).
As you may have seen on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart over the past few days, Africa has highways. Trevor Noah, a new comic newscaster on the program from South Africa, made his debut with "Spot the Africa", taking on #povertyporn and #whitesaviorcomplex stereotypes. For a lot of Americans, Noah says, Africa is one giant village full of "AIDS, huts, and starving children, who you can save for just 5 cents per day."
Rich Fuller, Jim Puckett, Steve D'Esposito, Shiela Davis, Ted Smith ... there are a whole bunch of us who were environmental activists in the 1980s, who have made a career out of trying to do what we desperately want to do... make human consumption of earths resources more sustainable.
We must learn the lessons of past do gooders. The church. Western medicine. Police power.
We imagine ourselves immune at our peril. And the collateral damage is ours. Joe Benson does NOT belong in prison, StEP damages itself by defending his prison sentence, Caravanos means well but damages Blacksmith Institute by repeating the hoax statistics (in an otherwise apparently well-researched report). USA generators of working display devices and computers opt to send them to shredders, and to boycott the geeks of color. We are boycotting the very, very, very best jobs that the emerging markets have.
Africa has a lot of real, real problems, and we don't need fake ones distracting our attention. None of us want the progress of emerging urban markets to take our minds off of the need for progress, especially in agriculture, women's equality, and democratic reforms.
As many said about Mike Daisy's impassioned falsehoods about Foxconn (maker of IPhones) in China, China has enough real problems that it certainly doesn't need Europeans and Americans making up fake problems on their behalf. And that goes for Africa, too. I first listened to the NPR This American Life Foxconn story in a rental car with Josh Lepawsky and Chris McNabb, on the evening drive back across the Arizona desert, near Tombstone, as we made our way back from their first visit to Retroworks de Mexico... my own @AMP effort. We're all on the same side here.
Staying on subject. What lessons can the Environmental Activist Community learn from the "E-Waste Tragedy?" Does Joseph "Hurricane" Benson belong in prison? If not, how the heck did he get there, and how do we keep from making the same kind of mistake again?
Turns out, the ancient Greeks had this nailed many centuries ago.
In Orlando, at the E-Scrap 2014 Conference, I actually had a chance to speak to several people on all sides of the "Guidelines" issue. Most, including Jim Puckett, said of course Joe Benson does not belong in prison.
The person from StEP (Jaco) mostly defended the prison sentence for Benson. Jaco acknowledged the probability that 91% of Benson's sold good were actually reused, and acknowledged that most of the stuff filmed at the dump was "Post-Reuse", and generated by Ghanaians. Nevertheless Jaco made the case that "rules are rules". If the Guidelines "suggest proof of full functionality", that Benson should have known the consequences of his export activity, even if those Guidelines were based on eroneous (BAN.org) claims. Even if Benson knew they were being reused, and new he was bringing rejects back for free recycling in the UK, prison was warranted.
(Did you notice the term "Guidelines suggest proof is needed"? How about proving the suggestion is warranted?)
This logical "appeal to desperation" has also been labeled the Politician's Fallacy, and often results in prohibitions, war on drugs, 10 foot fences to foil 9 foot ladders, and many "industry self regulation" standards. There is a lot of money in providing "Something".
Having studied this for a couple of decades, I'm basically hardening in my position. Even Mr. Puckett actually offered to sign the petition, and said of course Benson should be released. Desperate measures
Desperation is demand. Desperation is everywhere. Desperation for internet, desperation for affordable TVs to watch documentaries and World Cup Games, desperation for good tech jobs, desperation for informal scrap work, etc.... these drove the demand for Joe Benson's suppply. Desperation to be part of the emerging world market drives the economics that purchase televisions and computers and cell phones that rich countries discard.
I've stood in lines of Egyptian medical school students waiting to see the latest CRT monitors imported from America. I have been to Africa, Asia, South America, and the Mideast, and I'm cooked in this. I know the truth, I can't forget it just to fit in with my fellow environmentalist friends. If I have a contract that forbids exports, I will fulfill the contract, but I'm not pushing anyone under the bus and I'm not singing racist hymns.
The number one cause of death of women in Lagos and Cairo is lack of computerized blood banks. Two former medical school students in Cairo were buying 2 containerloads of computer monitors in 2008, just to meet that desperate need.
So yes, there are poor people, and huge cities in Africa have dumps. The snapshots of Africa's Desperation have led to "white guilt" which makes European and American "agents of conscience" desperate to escape their guilt, their corporate liability. And the #whitesaviorcomplex and #liabilitycomplex recyclers in the West are desperate not to be associated with that poverty, that blame, and that guilt.
Desperation for internet, television, cell phones and blood banks vs. Desperation not to be accused of liability for a reused device that EVENTUALLY gets scrapped 15 years later. Guess whose desperation is more important?
Something must be done about whites desperate not to be accused.
Shredding and export bans and Guidelines are something.
Therefore, something (export bans and Guidelines) must be done.
Benson is in jail because Lord Chris Smith's UK Environmental Agency places greater weight on the latter "appeal to desperation". The Guidelines were designed without the Africans, Asians, or South American geeks of color in the room, they were done without purchase orders, and the total failure to account for "elective upgrade" and "eventual discard" in the PACE charts shows that White IFIXIT geek jobs are protected, white big shred is protected, and expat Africans like Benson finish last.
It has come to jail. Someone is in jail because of Guidelines drafted in an Appeal to Desperation of do-gooders, in a liability ju-ju culture. And taxpayers in England are paying both to destroy working televisions from hotel upgrades (to flat panel), and are paying to feed and house an innocent man in their prison.
And no one is reporting on this.
Are they all still afraid of the Ayatollah of E-Waste? I no longer think that explains it. I think it's the Money In Something, as in the Something that must be done.
It's a sin to kill a mockingbird, people, and your window of deniability ("We thought we were doing the right thing. We had to do something. Something had to be done. We didn't know...") is closing as fast as the prison cell door.
Sadness and desperation is a human condition which covers all continents, and all centuries of human history. Those who exploit it for profit will come and go. It infected Western medicine, until we developed a system of peer review and scientific method. Do no harm. This is the lesson for the health of the environment, the health of the planet, and curing the ills of pollution and poverty.
The E-Waste Tragedy is rooted in ignorance of geography, of world economy, failure to find root causes, failure in lifecycle analysis, and simple logical fails.
"Something must be done" is nothing new. Virgin sacrifices, scapegoats, and wars have been the result. It's time to trace Benson's unjust jail sentence to its root causes.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
I woke up between 2-3AM last night, from a very vivid dream (and strong acid reflux from trying too hard to reduce the Thanksgiving leftovers).
In the dream, my company was about to make an announcement about our R2:2013 certification. As part of the announcement, I had prepared to release dozens of helium balloons, from the garage of my house (I blog and do accounting from an office over the garage). The balloons were mostly yellow and pink, there may have been a few reds or blues, and they were up against the ceiling of my garage and my office and around the awnings of my home. (Not sure exactly how I was going to "release" them).
Anyway, who should show up in my dream? Jim Puckett, executive director of Basel Action Network, came personally in response to the announcement. He didn't go to the warehouse... he showed up at my home in Middlebury, Vermont... to inspect my balloons.
It was cheerful and amicable, as my conversations with Jim normally are. Still, I felt the same spike in adrenaline I get when an OSHA or Homeland Security or Vermont EPA (ANR) inspector arrives by surprise. I was flustered enough, evidently, not to question why E-Stewards was inspecting my R2 certification, or why Jim himself was coming to my home.
Yes. Jim Puckett was there, at my home garage, to inspect my balloons. It was some kind of a privilege he had, because I was about to celebrate my certification.
Jim wanted to know if the balloons were "fully functional" before I released them. I remember him walking about outside the garage, peering at the helium balloons against the ceiling, and taking notes. No kidding. And this was normal to me.
Well, Jim had come to question whether or not I could verify that these were functional, working balloons. And I told him that obviously they were working, or they would not be on the ceiling, they'd be on the floor. He asked about some balloons that were a little smaller, and whether too much helium had escaped. The more questions he asked about the balloons, the more empowered I felt to push back. These were MY balloons, not his balloons, and they were floating, and if they weren't working then they wouldn't float into the sky, now would they?? I pointed to a flattened balloon on the floor of the garage.
It occurred to me this morning that the entire "release the balloons" dream was some kind of allegory for cathode ray tube sales, and #whiteprivilege. The most important tests for CRTs is whether the vacuum inside the tube is intact. California SB20 actually requires the vacuum to be released, ruining the CRT, prior to export, in a rule which has SCREAMED planned obsolescence since I became aware of it more than ten years ago. There are other tests, like age and size, but the vacuum test is the best test for repairability. Color can be fixed, even cathode ray guns can be replaced. But if the CRT vacuum is popped, the phosphor powder on the inside becomes practically impossible to repair.
There's no way to develop a test for CRTs which is as obvious as "the helium balloon is on the ceiling, it's obviously working unless you think I taped it there, in which case it's not going to release into the sky now, is it?"
But the feeling I experienced, when Jim Puckett came to my home to inspect my balloons that I bought with my own money, has to be similar to the feeling experienced by African, Asian, and South American CRT display traders. They have their tests, and if the tests fail they LOSE MONEY. They lose a lot of money if they buy deflated CRTs. They've been caught flat footed, questioned whether they'd paid money for something which wasn't working or repairable.
CRTs are more difficult than balloons, but this isn't exactly highest tech. While incredibly sophisticated in their original manufacture, Cathode Ray Tubes are like engine blocks in that any mechanic can lift the hood and see the oil running from the head gasket line and know that an engine is going to be worth repairing. That may have required an engineering degree 70 years ago, when CRTs and engine blocks were "high technology". An auto mechanic worth his salt can determine whether a car is a waste of time without revving it up and driving around the block.
The African "e-waste" traders are all worth their salt.
Joe Benson didn't have satisfactory proof that he hadn't taped bad helium balloons to the ceiling. The burden of proof was on him, because Lord Chris Smith, the head of the UK Environmental Agency, hasn't yet read that Jim Puckett has never, ever said that the vast majority of balloons released in to the sky are deflated. His sentence can't be explained by a rush of fear, a sudden judgement call. The UK Environmental Agency had years to consider the fate of Joe Benson. Unlike the case of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, or the two seconds it took for Cleveland police to shoot and kill 12 year old Tamir Rice, this Joe Benson story has been in documentaries and Puckett's slide shows, and on the cover of UK Independent and Guardian newspapers, and even reported by the BBC.
Benson's testimony breaks my heart. He didn't understand why he needed a lawyer. He totally underestimated the widespread white belief that black people are releasing popped balloons into the sky, and the majority of balloons they release into the sky are insufficiently tested for helium content. Benson thought it obvious, he could not have been in business for 25 years selling junk waste TVs to Africans who pay $10,000 per container of 500 TVs.
Tomorrow, back to reality. Inspecting the trade of black African entrepreneurs, and presuming them guilty, and sentencing #hurricaneJoeBenson to a jail cell, the liberal aristocracy fails to notice its #whiteprivilege much. Can you name the quote of the Aristocrat who slummed around a former colony, and found out that the uneducated masses were creating a future Superpower out of underclass democracy?
"In these words, which fell accidentally, and on a particular subject, from an uninstructed man, I recognize the general and systematic idea upon which a great people direct all their concerns."
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Emmanuel E.P. Nyaletey is an electronics technician, currently on scholarship at Georgia Tech in Marrietta, where he's pursuing a degree in coding. Emmanuel grew up a few blocks from the alleged largest "e-waste dump" of Agbogbloshie. He went back to visit Agbogbloshie in March 2014. Emmanual and I both attended the USA premier of Cosima Dannoritzer's documentary, The E-Waste Tragedyhosted by Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network... the inspiration of my past 6 blog posts.
Nyaletey has written an essay, reacting to the film, and it was posted on the ISRI.org blog last week. It is worth a humble read.
The urbanization, electrification, and rapid development in African cities and other "emerging markets" is changing not just the landscape of Africa, but the foundations of the Guilt-AID industry.
Since the BAN.org NGO publicly denied its previous claims that most of Africa's imports are "reuse excuse" junk, destined for "primitive recycling", the internet has begun to explode with exasperation, much of it (like Emmanuel's essay) written as eyewitness accounts.
William Buffett's essay, "The Charitable Industrial Complex", Cassandra Herrman's documentary #Framed, Heather Agyepong's "The Gaze on Agbogbloshie", and the "Rusty Radiator Awards" are well-heeled responses this blog has been inspired by over the past year. What's harder to document are the less well produced, naturally exasperated reactions by ordinary businesspeople (like Joseph Benson) who trade "good enough" product to Africa's metropoleses (new articles in New Republic and the Guardian at bottom).
"At the age of 18, Mildred became pregnant, and in June 1958 the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thereby evading Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriage a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia. Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth" that was brought against them."
I was 5 years old in 1967, and remember the discussions at a family reunion in Ridgedale, Missouri (my grandparents home, outside a town on the Missouri-Arkansas line). I don't remember which of my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and their cousins, were on which side of the debate, but I remember it being somewhat "controversial" that a white man would marry an African American (black, negro) woman. The "kiss of love" movement, I'd argue, has been going for 50 years, and began with the Lovings.
I remember the "take-away" lesson a close relative gave this 5 year old. While it shouldn't be illegal, I was told that the couple should think about their responsibility, as parents, to bring mixed race children up in the world. "It's not just their lives, it's their children's lives" the relative told me... implying something was somehow selfish, or irresponsible, even if not illegal. I got the jist... that it was a morally complex decision for two lovers of mixed races to join as family.
The lesson I was being fed was a kind of a moral compromise... Relatives not wanting to be on record as opposing the Supreme Court's decision, but who were finding a different reason to caution me about opposition to these marriages... for the good of future children.
I hear the same kind of moral rationalizing going on over export for reuse and repair. "What about ten years from now, when the repaired CRT doesn't work anymore?" Thus a section chief at Vermont ANR warned our company's municipal clients at a regular meeting of solid waste districts, earlier this year. They should be warned... if Good Point exported their working material, they will have exported a future "waste".
That's her moral imperative, that if something will eventually become waste, it shouldn't be legal to sell it to willing black people. I'd like to see that logic applied to thrift shops and used car dealers. For that matter, I guess it's equally true of brand new product. Once again, the vision for Africa is "Back to (Project) Eden".
This Thursday, I suggest you ask some of your older relatives if they remember when the 1967 Supreme Court case was in the news, and how people reacted. If you can't remember it yourself, try to get a sense of what was "controversial" about the Lovings marriage in 1967.
And then ask them if they imagined in 1967 that USA society would elect the "mixed race" child of such a marriage to be President of the United States. Are we better off that minorities and children of mixed race marriage can be President? And would we have gotten here without changing the laws banning those marriages?
Here's an article on Richard and Mildred Loving's marriage from 1967's Life Magazine, with the public kiss photo (Grey Villet estate).
Time to set down the pen and give readers time to follow the link to Emmanuel Nyaletey's "Reaction". But as you consider the position your recycling company takes on the RERA legislation, to ban export of used electronics to people like Emmanuel, Wahab, Hamdy, Souleymane, Miguel (African used tech dealers I've profiled via the blog since 2007), think about Thanksgiving Dinner forty five years from now. Will you want have taken a stand banning commercial relationships with African tech importers? Can you imagine that in 40-50 years, a future Simon Lin, Lee Byung-chul, or Terry Gou, will be running an ODM in Yaounde, Lagos, or Accra?
Or will you tell your kids you were one of the first 50 people to sign the petition to FREE HURRICANE JOE BENSON? You have the chance to quit CAER and to join WR3A / Fair Trade Recycling instead. You have a chance to look the children of today's African Nerds in the eye, and tell them you were on the side of Huckleberry Finn, that you were willing to take a risk and be on the right side of this debate.
Stand by us.
More very recent articles on Africa's reaction to charity industrial complex and "parasites of the poor"
( Alternative title: The E-Waste Comedy? ) "Hurricane Joe Benson" is locked up in a UK prison, away from his family. His home is at stake, his retirement at stake, because he pleaded guilty to violating GUIDELINES. Guidelines designed by policy wonks, in response to lies, to protect Africans (from Africans)... No offense to E-Stewards... but instead of donating to BAN.org, environmentalists should be contributing to a class action defamation lawsuit.
Here is a link to the "Guidelines", developed in Europe, to save Africans from Africans. The "Guidelines" are behind "Project Eden", INTERPOL's effort to divert some international police away from ivory, drug, and guns dealers to focus on television repair in Ghana and Nigeria. Those jobs are documented by UN research to reuse 91% of the material they import, generating 6 times the average wages in those countries, and providing access to mass media without mining, refining, generating carbon, etc.
The whole thing reminds me a bit of "Escape to Chimp Eden", the Animal Planet program hosted by Eugene Cussons. Cussons rescues poor chimpanzees and brings them safely from bad zoos to good zoos. Except that the technicians in Africa are by far smarter, and know more, than either the "experts" on "e-waste" in Europe or the chimps. They could give Kyle Wiens of IFIXIT a run for his money. This whole idea of guidelines to train Chinese and Africans to properly repair and recycle... is a tragedy in the making.
By far the worst #WhiteSaviorComplex film I have seen is Dannonitzer's "The E-Waste Tragedy". I don't like to drop the "r" word, but the film takes the word of a bigot who makes money selling shameful images and uses them to raise money for his own salary, and to put technicians in jail.
Alternative title: The E-Waste Comedy? continued
The film (I'd retitle The E-Waste Comedy) showed used electronics at an African scrapyard, then found the orignal owners in England, who could not account for the 15-20 years since they "discarded" the product.
The 20 years in between is silent... the original UK exporter is long out of business. If Mike Anane spoke to a single Ghana resident who may have owned the equipment, he may have saved himself from a very comical confrontation in England. Instead, the film opens with Anane's "follow the trail" investigation, leading to a confrontation with an original device owner, who was clearly confused why his office is being approached with an asset tag for equipment they replaced 20 years earlier.
It's a bit like being confronted with our names in a high school textbook, and being asked how we can account for it since our graduation ceremony (...in 1980?).
How did a display device, replaced in England in 1993, wind up in a Ghana dump 20 years later? It's being oversold as a "Tragedy". The truth is simple and boring.
Europeans and Americans discard electronics like the first owners of a car... after 3-4 years. The cars, we all know, get used for ten more years. But I guess some of us never imagined our display devices (TVs and monitors) could be reused. Does anybody doubt the CRT televisions and monitors replaced by flat screens are working or repairable?
Out of an abundance of caution... we arrested and jailed the people who reuse them. Brilliant.
"We work for European Government, and We're Here to Help."
Joseph Benson remains in jail, though his containers were among the 279 studied and exonerated in the Ghana and Nigerian studies. On AVERAGE, they were 91% reused. He's in jail because someone in Seattle, Washington, made up a fake statistic accusing Mr. Benson and his clients of importing 75%-80% waste. Even though that source withdrew his "statistics" a year earlier, Benson was sentenced to 16 months hard time, alongside robbers, rapists, and terrorists... because the Seattle NGO came up with nifty phrases like "reuse excuse" and "reuse abuse" and profited from images of African teenagers in scrap yards (without sharing a penny).
Let me make this clear. This black man had no incentive , no motive, and no reason to commit the crime he was accused of, and his goods, seized based on the accusation of the absurd wastecrime statistics, were determined by third party researchers to be good... He's proven innocent. The junk (habeus corpus) was found to be generated by the cities in Africa, which have millions of households who have owned electronics for decades.
And BAN and StEP admit to all these facts, and still remain silent about the "collateral damage"! And they applaud their own roles in peeling Interpol officers away from endangered species crimes to investigate trade and repair of used display devices. The used displays were found to have higher reuse rates than brand new products sold in Africa! That's one of the reasons Africans buy used goods from countries with stronger warranty laws!
Technically, and tragically, Benson pleaded guilty to violating the "guidelines" the #WhiteSaviorComplex protagonists comedically designed to ensure African weren't losing money by paying for transport and dumping 80% of the material he sold to exporters.
The "Guidelines" were developed after Basel Convention attendees (Parties) were distributed fake data, and the Europeans and Americans met to draft guidelines to improve upon the 80% dumping (which never existed). More fakery provided to UN delegates ahead in the E-Waste Tragedy series.
Below are the Guidelines.
Last week, Senor Puckett himself sent a news release backing off of them. But hear the laughter? The USA Trade Press didn't realize that the Basel Convention Amendment was not passed, and Puckett was backing off because his laughable "statistics" are no longer respected by the UN Committees! The emporer's new clothes are given a figleaf ("Ummm, I'm just taking a bath, the robes are in the closet")
The BAN Amendment is NOT the Law.
Go to the Guidelines Glossary, and read the definition for Ban Amendment, which has been heavily promoted by BAN.org, but has not been ratified. There never was a crime by an African. The crime was racial profiling, and it was committed by my fellow environmentalists.
And since my better blogs are less resentful sounding, less angry, or (as Jim P. describes them) less mentally ill, here's another really choice 1970s guitar riff from African singer/legend Prince Nico Mbarga ... the original owner of a 1978 white magnavox found on the head of a kid in Lagos 3 decades later.
Perception / Reality indeed. The innocent wisdom of Prince Nico Mbarga's lyrics still echo. I too do wonder ...why? why? why?
(Far classier than Die Antewood btw!)
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Ipsos MORI meets South Park's Satan... This is the fourth part of a series of blogs following the documentary "The E-Waste Tragedy". Emceed by Jim Puckett, premiered at the E-Scrap Conference 2014 in Orlando, the film by Cosima Dannonitzer purported to show junk electronics, dumped in Ghana. They "followed the trail" back to the electronics origins in England. I viewed the film with Emmanuel Eric Prempeh Nyaletey, who grew up a few blocks from Agbogbloshie, Accra's scrapyard. He was carrying a petition to #FreeJoeBenson, the Nigerian expat sitting in prison in the UK for "violating e-waste export guidelines", and no one at the conference wanted to sign it.
Ipsos MORI is one of the UK's leading research organizations. The website describes Ipsos MORI's 16,000 research staff in 84 countries. Like Q-method, the organization relies on face-to-face interviews. They get the real data for IMF, World Bank, and UN factbooks. Last Month, Ipsos MORI published research titled "Perceptions are Not Reality: Things the World Gets Wrong".
The Perceptions are Not Reality publication focuses on the "top ten" things which the majority of people in a society (14) perceive wrongly about themselves, about their own, local and national, civilization. The web page starts with statistics, perceived and real, about facts on the ground in Great Britain:
"In Great Britain we get a lot of things very wrong…"
Teenage pregnancy: the British think one in six (16%) of all teenage girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, when the actual figure is only 3%.
Muslims: we hugely over-estimate the proportion of Muslims in Britain – we think one in five British people are Muslims (21%) when the actual figure is 5% (one in twenty).
Christians: in contrast, we underestimate the proportion of Christians - we think 39% of the country identify themselves as Christian compared with the actual figure of 59%.
Immigration: we think 24% of the population are immigrants – which is nearly twice the real figure of 13%.
Ageing population: we think the British population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 37% of the population are 65+, when it is in fact only 17%.
Voting: we underestimate the proportion of the electorate that voted in the last general election - the average guess is 49% when the official turnout was much higher at 66%.
Unemployment: we think nearly 24% of the working age population are unemployed when the actual figure is much lower at 7%.
Life expectancy: we overestimate our life expectancy by three years, thinking the average for a child born in 2014 will be 83 years, when the actual estimate is 80 years.
Murder rates: we are however one of the best informed countries on the murder rate: 49% saying it is falling (which is correct), and only 25% think it is rising
Unfortunately if not surprisingly, the USA perceptions aren't even as accurate as the UKs.
The perceptions of risks, and how those (mis-)perceptions are monetized when they go viral, has long been a theme of this blog. But mis-perception and misconception, by itself, is not a tragedy.
Knowledge of the world around us is increasing, societies are becoming more aware of one another, and if Ipsos MORI continues to survey people over time, I hope they find that the trend in the perceptions will become more accurate. We are more frightened by ebola than we should be, but 50 years ago, would we have known about ebola at all?
Misperception of facts do not make a "tragedy" unless we gear up to act on those "faux facts". And what motivates society?
GREED and FEAR. Got misperception? Use it to motivate and market to regulators.
Desire and aversion. Dopamine and adrenaline.
Chase and escape. Many of the same forces behind international recycling policy resemble too closely the psychology of fish and rabbits, predators and prey in the free trade economy.
The tragedy, in my opinion, is the leveraging of genuine caring. Society's best evolved nurture instinct, caring for children, or empathy, is being mixed in a test tube (or cathode ray tube) of hoax statistics. I don't want us to stop caring or nurturing, but beware the 'friendly fire'.
The mix of bad stats and genuine concern in "wastecrime" has resulted in "Guidelines" developed by an obscure side room (PACE) in a UN committee, where people who have never lived in Africa act on falsely perceived statistics of what Africa is importing. And it's the fear by the USA that these "committee hijacks" at the UN are pandemic that keeps the USA from supporting "international law". Organizations like BAN.org were all over the PACE guidelines (last week they basically admitted they'd gone too far on tests for laptops).
Look at how the "international law" is being bent in the Hurricane Joe Benson case, and you can imagine the USA's concerns over American personnel in dozens of analogous situations.
The "E-Waste" Guidelines are distributed by good people, like David Higgins of Interpol, distracting his staff from the heinous ivory poaching in Tanzania. An African born TV repairman with 25 years of experience in the trade, a person they should have been interviewing, is instead set up by an NGO which makes hay out of greed and fear, and finds people who see opportunities in non-trade barriers to cut African competitors (for scrap) out of the picture.
Tanzania seizures - At least it's not "e-waste"
Its a compliment to hear I'm saying something ingenious, but as Satan tells Stan Marsh in last week's South Park, it's not rocket science.
Rabbits and foxes evolve with adrenaline and dopamine producing glands, which they need to reward them for escaping capture or feeding themselves. We've now evolved into a society with so much access to instant gratification, and so little real risk, that its incredibly easy to trigger these glands. Like diabetes, the over-stimulation of "greed and fear" glands can lead to addictions and other things.
The best diagnosis for what has gone haywire is free market trade. What would the Economy do if raw materials weren't subsidized, or their extraction effluents enforced to the degree that the toxics are released? What if mining copper and coltan was as regulated in rain forests as it would be in a city neighborhood?
We have genuine, and good, concerns over environmental risks - toxics and extinction, we care about it, and I care about it more than most. But when people confuse use with fake statistics and risks to children, they turn our environmental regulators into a source of "friendly fire" and "collateral damage". Instead of putting an African Ivory Trader in jail, they have bagged a TV repairman, a tinkerer, the guy who helped 6.9 million Nigerians watch the World Cup on television, the people who vote in Africa's largest democracy, and the people who are outraged by Boko Haram.
I'm not against international law and regulation designed to protect the ecosystem, any more than I'm against modern medicine to protect us from dangers. But the history of western medicine includes chapters on mass distribution of mercury as a laxative, and being "waste centric" is not holistic.
The best mining is worse than the worst recycling, pollution wise, and the free market rewards that. If the Guidelines that put Joe Benson in prison are also disrupting the MSW or recycling hierarchy, destroying reuse, keeping industrial minerals coming out of mines instead of recycling programs, then we need a correct diagnosis. The free market isn't perfect, but tinkering with free markets should not violate the "do no harm" in the environment.
The E-Waste Tragedy is the misperception of reuse as dumping, the mis-measurement of dumps in emerging market cities as "recent imports" from the West. Ignorant regulation is a magnet for NGOs and big companies and dictators with strategic interests. They aren't evil, they are just following the same economics as African and Chinese importers.
We just need to harness the misconceptions. If 91% of imports to Ghana work or are repaired to work, and the majority of regulators think that 80% of them are "primitive dumping", you wind up with rules written by people with access to rule-making. E.g., Authoritarian governments and big pocketed companies, the only winners from shredding working and repairable display devices.
Joe Benson had no such access. And it's environmentalists' loss. Like Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, the jury never really got to know him. Environmental Malpractice is the new Environmental Injustice. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
South Park by Parker by Stone and Parker is our generation's Pogo by Walt Kelly (1913-1973).
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
No one denies that the volume of unwanted electronic scrap is growing. Gadgets improve lives around the world. They don't work forever. But they often have more than one life. Display devices (more than half of all the e-Scrap) are like used automobiles. The average life of an automobile (15k miles per year, 200k miles per car) is about 13 years... some last longer, some shorter. But the average first ownership of cars is less than 50 months, or about 4 years. Some people (with means) like to buy new cars every 3-5 years. Same goes for television and video displays. Just as the cars roll around for twice the number of years they were used by the first owner, there's a secondary market for TVs, PCs, and their display devices. How can a do-gooder create a $3M non-profit out of the used appliance (or used car) market? Two parts White Guilt, one part Exotic Locale Photos, one Fake Statistic. Print millions, move on.
1. Create a fake news crisis
Tell all the environmentalists that you have a "dirty little secret"... that most of the electronic material they have brought in to recycling centers didn't really get recycled in the USA, or at all. CBS 60 Minutes, PBS Frontline, NPR, USA Today, BusinessWeek, BBC will come running to you with the microphone. You are marketing a believable message to people who are already "activated" on the topic (already making the effort to bring old gear for recycling).
This is key, you aren't trying to convince people to care, you are taking people who already care and convincing them of a scandal. For example:
"Approximately 80% of electronic waste currently delivered to recyclers is actually exported to developing countries."
It worked so well, making a fake number up for China. Best to adjust it a little when applying it to another continent. For example, see the "75% junk" results from an "extensive investigation".
Throw in modifiers like "strictly" and "toxic"... With the right baloney statistic, even repair and reuse, highest on the environmental hierarchy, can be made to sound suspect. Halloween-y language like "skeletons" and "ghoulish" and "witches brew of toxic chemicals" add to the suspense.
On BAN.org letterhead
Take pictures of actual USA collections, and then juxtapose them with dumps in other countries.
Falsely state that majority of USA junk is shipped directly overseas
"The dirty little secret is that when you take [your electronic waste] to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80 percent of that material, very quickly, finds itself on a container ship going to a country like China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Pakistan — where very dirty things happen to it," says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment. - NPR
You get NPR, CBS, PBS, BBC, CNN, FOX... a veritable alphabet soup of reporters and journalists to report your made up statistics. Better yet, let your Board Member and biggest donor swear to them under oath in Congress.
Board of Directors Congressional Testimony
Be sure to touch on emotional triggers, like injustice, poverty, and fear.
Now post scary looking African photos, and pose kids with stuff on their head! Exotic locales! You are brave and interesting!
No need to pay the models for your gaze on Agbogbloshie. A buck a pose, tops.
Take "exotic" photos of Africans at small African dumpsite in large African cities, material imported 20 years earlier
2. Offer a (fee-based) Solution
Now offer a solution... a "certification" that allows companies which pay you to tout that they are NOT in your fake statistic. They are properly vetted... companies like Creative and 2TRG. With the expertise the reporters bestowed, you can logically also declare your knowledge of the "politically correct" domestic recycling solutions. Since you made the problem up in the first place, you can approve 95% of the applicants without much risk.
Big capital solutions are the best "solution". Like Shredding! There are automobile shredding companies out there (like SWEEEP) which will anxiously throw the electronics material in the machines. No need to trouble with testing and repair, you can avoid the "geeks of color" if you use shredding machines right there in jolly olde England.
Crush crush, grind grind! And now you find out that some anti-gray market brand name manufacturers like it, too! Get firm offers to fund your campaign to destroy the "secondary market". For every ten working used gadgets destroyed, two new ones can be sold, in the charitable-industrial-complex fight against "market cannibalization" (aka "planned obsolescence in hindsight").
Oh, yeah, shred that working TV baby
Monetize the solutions. In order to be "Certified", member stewards ("Big Shred") must pay your "non-profit" a share of their "income". And in return, you publicly praise their legislative attempts to create non-tariff trade barriers for reuse and refurbishing.
But to get more paid members, you need to show the consequences of NOT getting "certified".... How can you build a faith-based recycling economy without an inquisition?
3. Accuse and Arrest
Now that your baloney, baseless statistics are accepted on faith by regulators as "common knowledge", inexpert enforcement agents to rise to the rescue. Get INTERPOL and UK Environmental Agency to accuse (primarily African) "waste tourists" of "waste crime".
Factory remanufacturing bound monitor refurbishing factories supply over 50% of displays sold to emerging markets
The container above was going to an original contract manufacturer in Asia to be made into small, affordable, new TV sets. But why not say it went to Africa? The 6 billion people in the "non-OECD" make a pretty big target, and aren't good at defending themselves (thanks to your exotic photography). Many people won't notice as you glide back and forth between "non-OECD"and "third world", referring to China's "rice paddies" and Africa's "shantytowns". Easy to make people forget that, in the past decade, internet access grew in nations making $3,000 per person per year at ten times the rate of "developed nations", and they didn't do it with $1500 Macbook Airs or Microsoft Surface tablets.
The arrests of people in reuse & repair markets rewards your cash-paying "Stewards", like SWEEP, who don't want to compete with higher added value reuse and repair exports. You split the cash and set up the small fries. And you frighten most American surplus property dealers from exporting to the boogey-men.
Even dictatorships in Africa get into the act. Don't like what your subjects are saying on that "internet"? If people can only import new devices, only the wealthy in your nation will have access.
Hurricane Joe Benson sentenced to UK prison for 91% good reuse based on fake statistics and rules to govern fake crime
Basel Convention doesn't actually make the trade of reuse a crime at all. It's not only "not waste", a clause in the convention explicitly protects those exports (and you are on record protesting it). But you can undermine the exemption with "guidelines" which shift the burden of proof (if 80% are bad, after all, they are probably guilty). Shred and Planned Obsolescence partners will help you to start your own legislation. The RERA bill (HR2284) in Congress will make it all illegal, no using actual statistics on reuse as a defense (see #3 below), making the "burden of proof" easy to enforce, and will keep the loot for you and your donors to split. It's less than the nation would make selling used goods for reuse (scrap is worth less), but make it sound "patrioticly domestic".
Putting African TV repairmen in jail in Britain may not sit well for long. Prepare your statements. "Collateral Damage" is the best response, if you are asked why someone reusing 91% of their exports gets put in prison for violating your "guidelines" - the ones designed to eliminate the "75-80% dumping".
But be prepared, this is where it gets tricky... Over 3-4 years, people won't stay duped.
4. Prepare for Factual Studies ('OOPS')
Sooner or later, all the attention will draw actual research. Be prepared to say Oops.
- 80-90% Reuse (Kenya study) - 85% Reuse (Peru study) - 87% Reuse (Malaysia audit) - 3% Export (US International Trade Commission report) - 91% Reuse (Nigeria UN funded study) - 93% Good (Ghana UN funded study)
Um, the only 80% dumping (or your 75% tweak for Africa) figures anyone can find include the clean, baled, plastic and metal scrap from the proper disassembly and shredding. That's right, your own source says they were talking about the percentage of good, clean USA scrap which gets exported, not about the percentage of exports burned by children.
What about the scary photos at dumps?
Oh, "Sorry", it turns out the dumps you were taking pictures of collected that stuff from businesses and households in Africa. Nigeria already had 6,900,000 households with TVs about a decade ago (World Bank). Cities like Lagos, Cairo, Accra, etc. have been watching the World Cup for years and years, and after a decade, upgrade their TV sets just like we do. Sure, most were originally imported used - back in the 1980s and 90s. But no study finds imports going "directly" or "simply" or "very quickly" to the dumps you took pictures of (#1).
Sound incredible? Look at the used car market in the USA, and you'll understand the turnover of electronics in Africa. Most new car buyers upgrade after 4 years, but the used cars aren't discarded as "waste". Turns out that most of the display devices Americans abandoned for flat-panels, like used cars, for the past 20 years, weren't imported as "waste" at all. That is precisely why the Basel Convention made this trade specifically legal in the first place.
When MIT, Memorial University, ASU, USITC, etc. start tracing actual transboundary movements, they will find that its not the recyclers in the "rich nations" who paid to ship the material. It is all paid for by people in "poor" countries. African businesspeople pay for the loads and the shipping, and they generally DON'T factor in avoided disposal costs of the rich. Instead, they found that TV Repair is a pretty decent job in Africa, attracting the best and brightest, just as it was in Taiwan, Singapore, and other rapidly-emerged economies. The researchers found billion dollar contract manufacturers buying good displays for re-manufacture, just like car engines and ink cartridges, for resale in huge cities like Jakarta, Mumbai, Johannesburg, and Lima.
Remember your friends at "Big Shred"? They aren't bad people at all, they are recyclers. But the problem is, they believed you. When they realize your NGO isw running an anti-trade, anti-business, anti-globalization, anti-market campaign, and they could have been making more money exporting good stuff, they turn away.
The OEMs who played in the anti-export marketing know that the contract manufacturers are real, and many now realize that getting affordable reuse equipment into African cities is opening new markets for new product. Someone is more likely to buy a laptop if they have an email account. And an "anti-Asia, anti-China" campaign has serious blowback potential.
Functional CRTs with 25 year lives were discarded in wealthy nations for "flat LCDs", after only 5-10 years use
Most of the above factories are in Asia.
Direct African trade exists, but was small potatoes in comparison. But lacking the huge remanufacturing facilities, the African buyers were very choosy about what they bought and paid to ship and import.
Researchers at universities have done the math and, if you claimed the "E-scrap" problem was huge (you said 50M tons per year), then the "two thousand containerloads" sent to Africa is (click, click, type, @SUM...) about 3% of all the generated "waste". Your claim that the neighborhood of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, imports "most of the world's junk electronics" is mathematically impossible based on your own exaggerated figures. And university students tend to run into exchange students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and tend to get first hand confirmation of your #povertyporn, #whitesaviorcomplex, #parasitesofthepoor, and #rustyradiator marketing.
5 Major Studies show 85%-93% of exports are GOOD. Largest in Africa, funded by UN/Basel Convention, above
African Import Markets - that small portion of all used material - were 93% Good. The African import for reuse and repair shops have no more to do with the African dumps than new car dealers have to do with abandoned auto scrap.
Almost nothing in your story adds up at all. All you have is close up pictures of brown kids at city dumps, which you've now labelled representative of the entire nations of China, Brazil, India, Nigeria, etc. None of your math makes any sense, and you have to cover your tracks.
So be prepared, don't let the facts overtake your momentum. .Skip to the next crisis, quickly... One that you helped create....
5. Jump to Next Crisis (The Non-Exported)
The ones (good or bad) that were NOT exported got destroyed in USA and EU...
....and good news - they have been generating massive piles of unrecycled, leaded CRT glass.
Congratulations!! Your new crisis is a real one!!
Glory be, the big shredders people sent the displays to, when they were afraid to export for reuse, have made a huge pile of actual toxic material!
Sharpen your knives, boys.
But remember your "friends" at big shred and the Original manufacturers? Who do you think your "superfund campaign" is aimed at?
The hissing sound... what's that hissing?
6. Disavow Step #1 (Cover Your Tracks)
"Never has BAN ever statedthat 80% of US e-waste is exported." - Jim Puckett
Parasites of the Poor? Photos of kids at dumps all over annual reports. No $$ goes to the young men in pictures
Best do step 5 quickly.
Time to move on to attack the piles created by your Stewards.
Pretend not to know the name of the Collateral Damage behind bars.
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Or the one behind bars.
7. (non-) PROFIT!!
Success! You've created a charitable NGO, dedicated to eradicate a problem you made up, and have a real crisis to point at... while creating a bit of collateral damage along the way.
Check out the 501-c(3) charitable (non-political) organization's income. (Form 990)
Roughly $3 Million Dollars in 3 years. But what is the hissing sound? What's the sound a deflating balloon makes??
Increasing salaries, but declining donations / revenue. Net assets declining, from $439,923 to $149,207 to $44,856....
What's all the recent red ink? When compensation, salaries and wages go from $90,000 per year (2010) to $402,806 (2012) per year, that tends to happen.
What would African reuse markets, and other geeks of color, do with a million dollars per year, or $402,000 in annual wages?
The real "E-waste Tragedy", perhaps, is environmental malpractice. For more information, visit the Top 10 Myths about "e-Waste".
The IRS Form 990 is an annual information return that most organizations claiming federal tax-exempt status must file yearly. Read the IRS instructions for 990 forms. If this organization has filed an amended return, it will not be reflected in the data below.
"When something is "claimed" to be exported for repair... but is actually exported for primitive dumping...." Africans are accused of relocating to Europe in order to do this to other Africans, and #GreatWhiteSavior is here to help.
Better, listen to Jim make BAN's case, on video, and on his own behalf. Below is the case for the "guidelines" which would rewrite Basel Convention's Annex IX, B1110 (the unamended Convention explicitly makes Hurricane Joe Benson's exports legal, See Part 1). In the video testimony below, Jim Puckett admits that they are legal under the Basel Convention. They'd be "illegal" under the "Guidelines" proposed under the Basel Ban Amendment, developed under the cloud of his hoax statistics. As he describes, those Guidelines are being implemented in Europe. Those were the Guidelines the UK Barrister used to convict Hurricane Benson. Below is Puckett's impassioned case not to "roll them back" (i.e. why we should still amend the Convention with the hoax-fed Guidelines).
To get the Guidelines drafted he had to tell a little fib. Basel Action Network told the Convention delegates that 75% of the material was actually dumped, citing an "extensive investigation". He refers to a 2005 study in the video below, but is hardly as definitive about the "statistics" from that "investigation".
Jim, in the video, is defending the GUIDELINES which were designed to prevent the 75% waste he claimed to have documented. Those are the GUIDELINES Joe Benson is accused of violating. But above, Jim's discussion about GUIDELINES is filmed AFTER the 2011-12 E-Waste Assessment Studies, on seized containers in Africa (279) found 91% of the used material was repaired or reused.
If you assume new equipment works, 93% of imports are good
Now that the actual, vetted reuse statistics are out, Puckett appears to be changing the tune. He is now trying to say that even if the goods are repaired, or tested, that any "elective upgrade" (replacing a 512K ram with 1Gig is "generating" 512K stick of "waste"), would be illegal even if the item were fully functional..., if one gram on a 20kg unit is upgraded, the entire 20KG unit was (under his guidelines) defined to be "waste".
It's a rather elaborate explanation for his previous claim that "extensive investigation" found 75% of imports were bad. Rather elaborate.
Africans cannot be trusted to upgrade parts!?!?!?
Don't roll back the Guidelines developed when my organization told you that 75% of the material was dumped as waste, just because 91-93% of it wasn't dumped as waste.
Mr. Puckett's "Guidelines" were established to curb a "fake crime". His fake data from 2006 (when 6.9 million households in Nigeria already had TV, and he was filming the Lagos dump which was NOT recently imported material) was supported by photos of 20 year old imports eventually found at the dump... not from current imports or upgraded parts!
Digging, digging, digging his organization in deeper.
He's too embarrassed to open his mouth and ask for Joe Benson to be freed. The "common knowledge" of widespread dumping was a hoax.
Compare the vetted data above to the 2006 "report" by BAN.
And compare that to the report given to BAN by Kiaka and Kamande in Kenya, estimating 80-90% repair and reuse. BAN never distributed this study, because it tells BAN exactly what I told him in 2005... that Africans have such high shipping costs, they insist on only working and repairable equipment, like the material shown in WR3A's 2006 video in Senegal.
In his testimony, Jim says, "this is the name of the game, how do we externalize our costs". But Jaco Huisman, Emile Lindemulder, and other EU staff took him at his "75% waste" word, and know that it is AFRICANS selling to AFRICANS. Why does an African like Joseph Benson consider it "his game" to externalize UK's "recycling cost"? Benson is competing against Kuusokoski's SWEEEP. And Kuusokoski is paying BAN to stop him. The name of the game isn't "externalizing costs". It's "internalizing profit".
It's a sin to kill a mockingbird, Jim. The Geeks of Color
From the Nigeria E-Waste Assessment Study:
The majority of refurbished products stem from imports via the ports of Lagos. The interimresults from project component 2, the Nigerian e-Waste Country Assessment, show that 70%of all the imported used equipment is functional and is sold to consumers after testing. 70%of the non-functional share can be repaired within the major markets and is also sold toconsumers. 9% of the total imports of used equipment is non-repairable and is directlypassed on to collectors and recyclers."
"Refurbishing of EEE and the sales of used EEE is an important economic sector (e.g. Alaba market in Lagos). It is a well-organized and a dynamic sector that holds the potential for further industrial development. Indirectly, the sector has another important economic role, as it supplies low and middle income households with affordable ICT equipment and other EEE. In the view of the sector’s positive socio-economic performance,all policy measures aiming to improve e-waste management in Nigeria should refrain from undifferentiated banning of second-hand imports and refurbishing activities and strive for a co-operative approach by including the market and sector associations."
What Jim Puckett said about the "91% Good" Study:
"I am very satisfied with the quality of the UNEP studies. I know well the authors and have worked with them and discussed findings with them."
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
New Orleans non-for-profit public school - Ruby Bridges 1960 - Happy Birthday
Do not mistake "margins" for greed. Having a margin, or "profit", on a transaction is like insurance. Someday you will have another transaction... an unintended loss, or a call for help. Your margin allows you to have a positive impact on other peoples lives (employees, creditors, family). Things don't always go as planned. There is no place that's more true than Africa.
In the words of an old chum at the University of Arkansas, here's how most of us see wealth.
'I see dollars kind of like I see calories. When I see a person who doesn't get enough calories, who's skinny and weak, it makes me uncomfortable. It's unattractive. When I see someone who's getting more calories then they need, I kind of see it like an obese person. It's unattractive. I like to be around healthy people who make enough money.' - Bertrand X?, friend at U of A
But there is an entire group of people who think "profit" is "likely bad". They are anti-globalist. And they often seek out a once-obscure federal tax statute to "certify" business partnership.
"Your company is for profit. I work for a non-profit. You shouldn't charge me recycling fees."
I made more money working for non-profits than I have made running a small business, and I have helped more disadvantaged people with my business than I helped working in the not-for-profit sector. I'll demonstrate that later. But using a tax code to predict environmental outcomes was a key ingredient in the decade's "e-waste tragedy". I'm not going to attack non-profits, but the belief that the tax status is necessary or sufficient to predict best behavior will attract wolves in sheeps' clothing.
Why do people attach a moral fetish to a federal corporate income tax filing statute? What's with the obsession over corporate filings, as an indicator of morality? Why are some people more suspicious when I take my personal savings, buy a truck, drive it for income, and pay taxes on that income? What makes a federal tax category more "honest" and more "trustworthy" than a small business?
My thesis is that the belief acts as a disincentive for agents of conscience to take business classes, and if they later want to enter business, they start with a disadvantage. If you tell a million college students with consciences that "business is bad", they look for jobs in the non-profit sector, surrounding themselves with like-minded 'believers'. The effect is bad for non-profits, bad for business, and creates an entire class of people on both sides who are almost oblivious to the situation in Africa.
Abusive executives gravitate to the easy money in every society, and the sharpest elbows in emerging markets are found in government, especially when a rich natural resources contract is available (oil, gold, copper, timber, etc.). Bullyboy culture is at the core of the resource curse, and its antibodies are small businesspeople, reuse, and the tinkerers blessing. Sadly, this is a near opposite of what my generation has been trained to believe about "trust".
In emerging markets, I learned to trust small businesses most, and when trying to decide how to "give back" to Africa, I found business people were often my betters or my equals, which is the best foundation for a long term relationship.
Net Impact gets it, and the next generation of college students seems less inured to judging each others resumes based on their employers federal tax statute.
Still, the people who have been setting the agenda for Africa and "e-waste" have been people of my generation. Lingelbachs, Lindseys, Pucketts, Westervelts, Smiths, Schneiders, Tonettis, Cassells, Rubinsteins, Davises, Kyles, Cades, Lynches, etc. grew up in a league where business played mean, exploited resources and people, and referees calling foul on business were considered more heroes than the players on the turf. Most actually think Dell and HP manufactured CRT monitors (nope), failing to understand that true factory "takeback" will lead to the same people that were buying most of the used CRTs in China and Southeast Asia in the first place.
The environmental theory was that business is responsible for pollution (rather than consumption). But few referees had actually played in the "business" league. When business was represented in drafting the "rules", it was usually a huge business with paid lobbyists. Europe's WEEE laws were drafted by billion dollar conglomerates, NGOs, and professors. Joe Benson's ilk were not at the table.
We tried to represent small tinkerer businesses, labelled "the informal sector" by the professors. I submitted 30 pages of advice on the "WEEE" Guidelines, shared with small business owners in Malaysia, Egypt, Mexico, Peru, which had key phrases such as "elective upgrade". The Executive Summary of these comments is available on the web, was shared with the ICRS Refurbishers Group, and turned in to John Myslicki (who tragically was dying of cancer during the final months of the PACE committee).
The primary concern is the ignorance of "Elective Upgrade". This is where a facility in a non-OECD nation has technical ability which surpasses the ability of the exporting nation, and is already recognized in the PACE under "warranty returns". What isn't well understood is that the factories which make computers (like monitors) are not owned by the OEMs and that in addition to taking back under warranty, they purchase back PCs for refurbishing for sale in the "white box" market. Just one factory we work with normally buys 5,000 computers or monitors per day, and even if the PC or monitor is working, will replace and upgrade parts to make it better, work elsewhere, or work longer. - Retroworks de Mexico testimony submitted to PACE
5,000 monitor per day refurbisher, 1500 employees, an original contract manufacturer for major OEMs, defined out of WEEE
Unfortunately, not one word of the 30 pages of peer reviewed (techies) comments were used in developing the Guidelines used by Interpol. The NGOs and huge corporations used pictures of children and fake statistics ("75% waste" in Africa claimed by BAN in writing, "80%" claimed in Asia... from the same source?) to draft guidelines that require plastic wrapping on a pallet, and give the plastic wrap more "weight" in determining "likely disposal" than the shipper having taken the time to individually identify loose TVs by make, model and year of manufacture, or from the process Benson used to remove units in the UK prior to shipping.
Misleading "stats" circulated on Basel Action Network letterhead to Basel Convention Parties 2008
The "NGOs" at the table were allowed to participate in StEP and other "consensus" rule developing bodies without paying the steep fare. They were invited and allowed, and Joe Benson was not, because Benson lacked "charitable tax status". That's like drafting NBA rules without any actual basketball players participating... NBA rules developed by short white Europeans and Americans without skills in reuse or repair.
So Joe Benson went to jail not for dumping, but for violating "guidelines" developed by non-exporters to prevent 75%-80% dumping. The descriptions of the "informal" sector were trusted because Basel Action Network claimed it had the right USA tax code.
The primary problem we had in participating in groups like StEP and PACE was the same as the small businesses in Asia and Africa faced.... The membership was "for profit" or "non profit". WR3A is a registered non-profit (NGO), but we were not "501-c(3)". So we were told we had to pay the same fees to participate as HP, Dell, or Umicore. Charities however (like Willie Cade's) could participate without charge. And that distinction was ridiculous for African, South American, and Asian small business. Even the term "informal sector" is a joke among people in the repair and reuse business, it's a term created by professors to describe businesses that can't pay $5000 to participate in their conferences and discussions.
The absence of testimony submitted by WR3A members demonstrates how the tax code effectively kept representatives of businesses like Joe Benson's BJ Electronics, or PT Imtech, or Net Peripheral, or Medi-Com, or Retroworks de Mexico, from contributing to the EU "Guidelines". As a result, these brown-skinned geeks lost businesses, or went to prison, without any evidence of dumping or Basel Convention violations. Benson was effectively asked to "prove" that his exported material was among the 91% good found by the Manhart study, and was "presumed" to be 75%-80% bad based on "common knowledge".
That is the real E-Waste Tragedy.
Tax-coded "trust" is especially suspicious when the "non-profit" is promoting legislation (RERA, Basel Ban Amendment, federal procurement) in violation of the very charitable tax code..
To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.
Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations. Organizations described in section 501(c)(3), other than testing for public safety organizations, are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions in accordance with Code section 170.
In 2015 or 16, your obedient blogger will cross a threshold. Someday soon, for the first time, I will have worked more than 50% of my career in the "for profit" sector. This means I got most of my paychecks, in the past, either from state or federal government (MA DEP, US Peace Corps) or from the following category of corporation identified in 26 U.S.C. law:
A 501(c) organization, also known colloquially as a 501(c), is a tax-exemptnonprofit organization in the United States. Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501-(c)(3)) provides that 29 types of nonprofit organizations are exempt from some federalincome taxes. Sections 503 through 505 set out the requirements for attaining such exemptions. Many states refer to Section 501(c) for definitions of organizations exempt from state taxation as well. 501(c) organizations can receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, and unions.
Ten most feared words in Africa - "I govern e-waste in Europe, and I'm here to help"
Being rich doesn't make you bad, being poor doesn't make you bad. The tax codes, created for Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, and other charitable associations, was created to protect the types of associtiations observed by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 (Democracy in America).
"It is clear that if each citizen, as he becomes individually weaker and consequently more incapable in isolation of preserving his freedom, does not learn the art of uniting with those like him to defend it, tyranny will necessarily grow with equality.
"Here it is a question only of the associations that are formed in civil life and which have an object that is in no way political.
"The political associations that exist in the United States form only a detail in the midst of the immense picture that the sum of associations presents there.
"Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Not only do they have commercial and industrial associations in which all take part, but they also have a thousand other kinds: religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small; Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools. Finally, if it is a question of bringing to light a truth or developing a sentiment with the support of a great example, they associate. Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.
"In America I encountered sorts of associations of which, I confess, I had no idea, and I often admired the infinite art with which the inhabitants of the United States managed to fix a common goal to the efforts of many men and to get them to advance to it freely."
(De Tocqueville is da man, by the way, and the inspiration of bloggers everywhere. Just take an hour to read different quotes of his online, you don't have to read the whole book on Democracy to get the insight.)
In "A History of the Tax Exempt Sector: An SOI Perspective" (2008) Ansburger /Ludlum /Riley/ Stanton document how American associations documented by de Tocqueville began to be recognized in federal tax codes. The incentive to "protect the sheep from taxes" began as early as 1894. And as recently as 1969 the IRS tried to to "clean the nest" of wolves in sheep clothing, especially "member-serving" associations which were clearly not on the same page as the Red Cross (or Red Crescent).
Donations to the KKK were tax-deduction, and the clash between "belief" organizations and civil rights / employment law continue to create Supreme Court case fodder to this day. Do the Boy Scouts have to admit girls? Does a donation to the Catholic Church's defense fund for lawsuits against a child molesting priest qualify as a charitable gift? How many billions of dollars are claimed on tax forms for "donations" of Apple Macintoshes and Pentium II computers to Goodwill and Salvation Army? How many scrap PCs are reported as a donation of the original purchase price?
If you want to come up with rules for football/soccer or basketball, do charities deserve more say than coaches and players?
The "E-Waste Tragedy" is not about tax codes. But there is a repeated bump I hit with journalists, professors, researchers, and citizens of conscience over the Basel Action Network's ridiculous - and rather specific - claims over the trade in used computers to Africa. Reporters over the age of 45 grew up with a distrust of "for profit" and a bias for "non-profit". Thirty years ago the question was, "how do we take away the 501-c3 status of a charter school that won't admit colored children?" or, "how do we revoke the 501-c3 status of the Ku Klux Klan?"
If BAN was making numbers up, wouldn't the IRS catch them in the annual tax reporting? Um no. No the IRS would not.
Surprise. The Executive Director of BAN earns more than Hamdy, more than Wahab, more than Mariano, more than Fung.
People in their 20s, who grew up with church scandals and NRA ads, might ask the better question. Why does anyone think that a petition not to pay taxes was a measure of morality, honesty, and trust in the first place?
Let's grant that the Charity Sector tax code made sense originally in the 1800s.
That the associations already formed and observed by de Tocqueville would be recognized as serving a quasi-governmental welfare function (hospitals) made complete sense.
The morality, however, predated the tax law... the statute didn't create the morality. And it never seemed quite thought through how federal tax employees would issue sanctimony licenses, or measure ongoing organizational moral turpitude.
Decades ago, the federal government smiled upon hospitals, giving them a special tax status, so they didn't have to pay income tax on their donations. Makes more sense than taxing the hospital and then having to tax fund health care, right? But having created the non-tax and charity 501-c category, how do the feds monitor who moves into the category, and how they use their status as their organizations evolve? Do the feds monitor it at all? As we see NGOs clearly and openly lobby for legislation to benefit their members, on the home page of their websites, using photos of black teens carrying wire on their heads, do we somehow trust the association more than we trust the integrity of all of its collective, for profit, members?
Here's where the scales of justice swing with yours truly. I've worked almost exactly half my professional life in the non-profit sector. But when I speak up for an imprisoned African born TV repairman - Joe Benson - sitting in English prison cell for violating a "guideline" drafted upon bogus, ficticious, scandalously specific lies ("75% of exports to Africa are waste" - BAN circular to Basel Convention delegates, see part III), I keep hearing people say "BAN is a non-profit" or that "you are a for profit". Benson's prosecutor referred to African waste imports as "common knowledge". They shifted the burden of proof on Benson to prove his exports were NOT waste based on ten years of smoking turds of facts vomited upon journalists by a guy in Seattle whose paycheck comes from Big Shred. It's probably the grossest case of "Charitable Industrial Complex" and "Great White Savior", "Poverty Porn" and "Parasites of the Poor" that I've ever seen. And the racially charged marketing of the "anti-export cause" is jaw dropping.
The "gaze" on Agbogbloshie continues to be the real tragedy. That's the opinion of Heather Agyepong, and the opinion of Eric Emmanuel Prempeh Nyaletey, and many "hurricanes".
Environmental Injustice is most likely in Africa to be the result of Environmental Malpractice by Europeans. Forcing Africans to mine raw materials, but not allowing Africans to recycle or repair the goods made of those raw materials, forces shorter product lifespans and higher costs of ownership, and denies Africa its "Tinkerers Blessing". What does that have to do with charitable tax codes?
It's always frustrating to admit that the above statement is "the opinion of business". Even if I don't export any more, I am a "businessman". Vermont and R2 make it really difficult to export, and the USA is no longer the Saudi Arabia of reuse - Chinese cities like Shanghai now export more used product than the USA does. So it's not my actions or my self interest that make me less credible. It's the IRS tax statute.
I pay taxes, therefore I'm less believable than the guy who makes twice as much money and doesn't pay taxes.
So I sit here this weekend morning pondering the moment I became less credible.
So... Not including my pre-18 years (working as a janitor and often sole white boy at U of A student union night crew), I worked mostly in the non-profit sectors (501-c3 and government) from 1980-2001. Four of those years were part time (about 15-20 hours per week) during college, but you can count 1984-2001 solidly as non-profit sector, 7 years as a regulator and ten at two 501-c3 NGOs. Ah, but for 2 of those years I also worked as consultant (the 1999-2001 charity was unable to pay my agreed full time salary). So round it off to 4 years of non-full-time (laborer for colleges and universities), 15 years for not-for-profit, and 2 years as a "tie game".
I started my Vermont company in 2001. I paid to incorporate "American Retroworks Inc." the week I was let go by the charity, one of the managers cut from payroll. So in March 2015, I guess I'll still be a little short of 50% of my years in "for profit", I'm still mostly non-profit experience. But I'm pretty sure if you count the hours per week up, I can make the threshold. Dollars earned? Non profit and regulator income wins, hands down.
My MBA concentration was in non-profit and public management program at Boston University, and so I read a lot about non-profit and not-for-profit theory.
So, having anointed my expertise, here's the gist.
The whole "non-profit sector", as a measure of trust, is a fallacy.
Ok, whoa, don't jump to the comment section yet. There is definitely a self-selection process which recruits "agents of conscience" into the non-profit and government sector. The fact I spent my first 15 years gainfully employed in GOs and NGOs attests to my generation's belief in the non-profit sector, and like any self selecting group, we have a lot of pride and trust invested. And the reverse was also true... during the 1960s and 70s, a whole lot of agent-of-conscience hippies shunned the "Mad Men" careers. Not many self-respecting hippies wanted to climb the corporate ladder at Walmart or McDonalds or Pepsico. And consequently, my 1980s generation didn't meet many agents of conscience in the recruiting office.
So people in their 40s-60s, like myself, Jim Puckett, Ted Smith, Shiela Davis, and a whole-lotta-Europeans (where employment in the government sector is a higher percentage of GDP), were professionally weaned on the milk of mutual admiration. We all were legitimately, earnestly, worried about Earth, about what human consumption and economic growth were doing to endangered species, and what planet we'd be leaving to a generation yet to be born.
We were all exposed to the three sacred texts of 1960 - Rachael Carlson's "Silent Spring", Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird", and Vance Packards big-business-conspiracy investigation, "The Waste Makers". We all read Noam Chomsky, and we probably all agreed to the "negative check-off" donations for MPIRG, VPIRG, CalPIRG and MassPIRG. Ralph Nader was someone we looked up to.
The analogy I would make is to my grandparents generation, and their attendance at Ozark churches. Whatever I think of Pentacostal evangelicalism today, I'm aware that in the context of the unpaved roads of the Ozarks, people of conscience prayed, and people without consciences either didn't pray or faked it. The Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas, like Kentucky, were "Borderland Rebellion" territory in the civil war. The most prominent slave owner in Taney County Missouri (my roots) was a woman who never married and had one male "slave" her own age. I'm pretty sure they lived in a one room home. You do the math.
If my grandparents wanted to be around people with a conscience, they were more likely to meet those people in church, even if they knew not everyone in church was equally sinful. And Negroes and Sikhs and Hari Krishnas were so unfamiliar they may as well have been from Mars.
What church was to my grandparents, the non-profit sector was to the later boomers. If we got together at a reunion, the folks who worked in civil rights, or defending the poor, or resisting globalization, or saving chimpanzees, or living the Peace Corps life, did the most talking. The lawyers? Well, the more money the lawyer made, the less they talked about their work... It was the public defenders and charity lawyers who did the bragging.
So that's a long way of saying why I found myself in the non-profit sector for the first 15 years of my full time employment, and why I have so many friends there, and tend to hang out with the government and non-profits at E-Scrap conferences. But over the past 15 years, I've gotten kind of tired of losing rank in the sanctimonious pecking order of doo-gooders.
In Part X of Tragedy, I plan to interview myself (since PACE and StEP and INTERPOL wouldn't). Here's a preview. Q: Robin, you used to work in the non-profit sector. But for the past 15 years, haven't you been a for profit? Have you joined "the dark side" of the recycling force? A: Yep, I own a company now, and it's a c-corporation. I was fired from a charity, and bought a used Penske truck (without pressure testing the engine, mistake #1). I bought it with some leftover money from a second mortgage my wife and I took on the house. And honestly, there was just no time to do the 501-c(3) paperwork. I accept that those decisions placed my opinions under the shadow of "greed"
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
"Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, ending is better …" - - Brave New World / Aldous Huxley
Export for repair and reuse is specifically legal. Not just saying 'it's not explicitly banned'. It is specifically and explicitly stated to be legal inside the text of the Basel Convention.
"B1110 Electrical and electronic assemblies:
Electronic assemblies consisting only of metals or alloys
Waste electrical and electronic assemblies or scrap(13) (including printed circuit boards) not containing components such as accumulators and other batteries included on list A, mercury-switches, glass from cathode-ray tubes and other activated glass and PCB-capacitors, or not contaminated with Annex I constituents (e.g., cadmium, mercury, lead, polychlorinated biphenyl) or from which these have been removed, to an extent that they do not possess any of the characteristics contained in Annex III (note the related entry on list A A1180)
Electrical and electronic assemblies (including printed circuit boards, electronic components and wires) destined for direct reuse,(14) and not for recycling or final disposal(15)
14. Reuse can include repair, refurbishment or upgrading, but not major reassembly.
15. In some countries these materials destined for direct re-use are not considered wastes."
But more and more people are confused, or downright fooled, about international law. "Sure, Africans are repairing as well as reusing, and reuse is better than recycling, but the export is illegal under the Basel Convention".
For an expert source on the Basel Convention, unamended, please consider the position of the Basel Action Network, in their 1999 piece "Why The US Must Ratify the Entire Basel Convention (or None At All)" It's Jim Puckett's complaint about what he sees as the weakness of the Basel Convention, and saying that only nations which had voted for the Ban Amendment get it right.
"It is our conclusion that US ratification of the original 1989 treaty without simultaneous ratification of its Ban Amendment will equate to a net loss for the global environment and the protection of developing countries. Until the United States changes its position within the Basel Convention and decides to join the rest of the global community in ending the most abusive form of the international waste trade -- export of hazardous waste to developing countries it would be much better for the earth and its inhabitants to keep the US out of the game entirely."
The Basel BAN Amendment is a proposed, unpassed and unratified language which would make export for repair and reuse just as illegal as the export of waste. It represents votes by representatives to the international secretariat. They come together every couple of years, and BAN lobbies them to alter the rules in the convention (see video Part III). Basel Action Network calls "loopholes" in the Convention, and perhaps they are and perhaps they aren't... but democracies leave those changes for legislatures and executive branches to decide (else many governments would never sign any treaty, if it could be changed by representatives appointed by non-elected officials in other lands, and the changes were binding on the democracies.).
Most see the Amendment as recommendations voted on by representatives of "parties" who attend Basel Convention meetings and conferences. At Basel Action Networks urging, these committees take votes to add to the upcoming "Amendment". Nations are free to incorporate the various "amendments" into their national laws, and many European governments do this (adapt Guidelines into the WEEE rules, for example). But most nations don't, because it would be unconstitutional to have a bunch of people at a meeting who are not even citizens, much less elected representatives, vote in changes of law.
The USA, and most nations, take the position that once their legislatures ratify a Convention, that the language in the Convention as passed is the law until/unless the legislatures ratify later amendments adn suggestions. Jim Puckett cannot attend a meeting in Vienna and vote a change to USA law.
That is a proposed AMENDMENT to the current Basel Convention Law. It is not the law!
The current Basel Convention explicitly states under Annex IX (legal exports) section B1110 on electronics that electronic assemblies and cathode ray tubes specifically are legal for export for repair and that signatories can consider these "non-waste". They are also specifically mentioned as non-waste commodities in the "cores" and refurbishing WTO agreement (Doha Round).
"Ending is better than mending..."
The confusion over Treaties and Conventions which are later debated or amended, after the nation has passed it, has been called "Post Treaty Revisionism". And while BAN wants the Amendments to be adapted by the USA when BAN likes them, they complain about the same "Post Treaty Revisionism" when it goes against their thinking.
Here's a warning (by BAN.org itself) about the practice of using committee meetings to tweak the treaty. In its 2004 Briefing Paper "Running From Basel: Post Treaty Revisionism Threatens Landmark Treaty", BAN warns earnestly about the committees and groups that debate "guidelines" which are not explicitly in the Convention...
"Recently BAN has become concerned that the industry partnerships launched by the Bsel Convention since COP6, by their very nature, create an environment to exercise programs that circumvent or avoid the legal obligations of the Basel Convention... we have noted that due to overwhelming participation by industry in the partnership programs, as opposed to Parties or NGOs that might understand the Basel Convention as a legal instrument, the emphasis has been on inappropriate deregulation - for example pretending that mobile phones are not a hazardous waste." - Basel Action Network
So mobile phones are now hazardous waste? Not sure I see that in the Basel Convention at all. But BAN's point is clear, that a committee guidance document can change the understood intent of the treaty the governments ratified. I don't understand why it's better if an NGO does it than industry, but either way, it lacks force of law so long as it remains a "guideline", otherwise "post treaty revisionism" could get a Nigerian born TV repairman thrown in jail for something that was explicitly legal in the original Convention.
The original language of the Basel Convention allows that export for reuse and repair, for electronics, is not "waste disposal". BAN had urged the Convention not to adapt the exclusions in Annex IX B1100 reuse and repair exclusion in the first place, BAN didn't get its way, and now wants Amendments to be ratified, and it they aren't ratified, wants to pretend they were, or to use committee meetings (PACE, MPPI) to imply that the "law" or "treaty" has been revised in his favor.
Because Jim feels personally convinced that the export for reuse and repair will become a "reuse excuse" for a "digital dump", he has lobbied successfully to get "guidelines" passed in the PACE committee to urge for testing and packaging changes... using the very "Post Treaty Revisionism" he protested ten years ago (October 2004).
In 2006, BAN issued a paper "Preventing the Digital Dump: Ending “Re-use Abuse”
Such re-use exports have been touted as a means to bridge the “digital divide” and satisfy the great desire and need in the developing world to become a part of the information age through access to information technology. However there is a very ugly side to this “re-use” trade as well and it is time that we begin to be able to tell the difference.
In Tragedy 2, I will take excerpts from that briefing paper to show how BAN created a fake "investigation" statistic which influenced the resulting Guidelines, which were then issued by Interpol as a "litmus test" for dumping, and used by the UK to put Joe Benson in prison for something he'd been doing harmlessly for over 20 years.
These GUIDELINES, prepared by voluntary committee members with no official elected or government appointed role in most cases do indeed "raise the bar" over the Basel Convention Guidelines. INTERPOL has released inspection recommendations based on these Guidelines, and UK inspectors used the Guidelines as evidence for suspicion and search of Joe Benson's African clients containerloads (Mr. Benson was not the exporter, technically, but that's another discussion).
In Tragedy 2, I will break down this "slippery slope" which leads from a treaty that explicitly recognizes Benson's right to own personal property and to trade in legal commodities, into a "guideline" passed by a committee. I'll show you how a fake statistic is used to rush judgement, and trick enforcement officials to use the "guidelines" to seize goods and imprison traders.
A Treaty is negotiated which allows export for reuse and repair.
A small NGO which protested language in that treaty succeeds in getting a subcommittee to review guidelines for the export for reuse and repair.
The small non-democratically-elected-or-appointed committee compromises with the NGO to raise the standards for "export for repair" to read "tested working".
Benson is accused and convicted of violating those guidelines.
In this process, the explicit language protecting the right to repair and reuse in the original Convention is undermined and rewritten by a small group. Some are well-intentioned but do not know that the repair industry is better and more skilled in poor countries. Some are EU and USA refurbishers who want to protect their own jobs. Some are representing OEM or software companies whose interests conflict with refurbishers in Africa.
Export for reuse and repair is NOT ILLEGAL. It is both environmentally preferable and NOT illegal. And the process of using international committee expert appointments to undermine the business model Joe Benson used for 25 years is an example of why the USA is suspicious of ratifying such treaties. I would personally prefer the USA sign and ratify so that it had a stronger voice and interest in keeping the treaties from being undermined... but can see the nuance of both sides of this story.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill