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".
Last weekend, we had a reflection on the previous decades of blogging, and our ability to declare successes and failures with the war against global reuse, as waged in the press. There is a trifecta of 3 books - two of which the blog influenced, and one of which it was inspired by.
Three Most Important Re-Use Books of the Decade:
Reassembling Rubbish by Dr. Josh Lepawsky does an incredible job of surgically dismantling arguments widely cast by Basel Action Network and Greenpeace and other "do-gooders". He researched their IRS 990s, exposed the financial backing of Planned Obsolescence and Big Shred, and provides data to eyewitness the spray of filthy gossip about repairpeople in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While not an emotional read, that was not what we needed. If stoic in delivery, Lepawsky rubbed shoulders with #ownvoices. His team spent weeks living with emerging market recyclers and repairers, including several long visits to Las Chicas Bravas in Sonora Mexico (Retroworks de Mexico). Lepawsky re-thinks the incredible geographic scars of mining industry, comparing risks to the hand-wringing concerns over removing screws in slums like Agbogbloshie. It is incredibly well documented, footnoted, and sourced.
Secondhand by Adam Minter is about "Travels in the New Global Garage Sale". For a more visceral look at the "collateral damage"to the global good-enough markets, this is the best. Adam turns the corner from being an extremely well-regarded trade journal writer, covering the scrap industry (first book, Junkyard Planet 2013), and dives into the mosh pit of reuse diaspora in Secondhand. Cleverly written, he first makes the used possessions personal - estate sale by estate sale, Goodwill by Goodwill, and his own grandmothers' basement chachkas. He then follows the billion dollar trade to the tech sector in India, China, Mexico, Benin and Ghana, and introduces us, face to face, with the talented and inspiring "others", letting the people in the USA, Europe and Japan hear the #OwnVoices of the racially profiled "primitives" we've been told are too ignorant and stupid to do more than burn the devices they carefully select, test, and purchase. He is a great listener.
Remanufacturing In the Circular Economy is the newest release by Dr. Nabil Nasr of RIT in Golisano Institute for Sustainability (Rochester, NY). Unlike Lepawsky and Minter's books, I cannot say I've yet read Nasr's Remanufacturing, but I'm ordering a copy now. I have been a fan of Dr. Nasr for decades (though he probably barely knew me until the 2013 Fair Trade Recycling Summit in Middlebury). Some of the oldest Good Point Ideas blogs have hyperlinks to Dr. Nasr's stats on remanufacturing, the industrialized growth of scaleable repair (I remember having to learn "hyperlink" code, copy and pasting). As I applied principles in the 2007 Harvard Business Review article "The Battle for China's Good Enough Market" to explain what Asia's tech sector was really doing with the desktop SVGA CRT monitors that CBS 60 Minutes claimed were burned in acid in Guiyu, I could always find sanity in Dr. Nasr's data. Like Lepawsky, Nasr provides Datajournalists a place to fact-check "80%" of the slop sprayed at us in alarmist NGO press releases.
The team provides Super Bowl stature in the defense of reuse. The table is set for Fareed Zakaria (CNN Global Public Square) to invite these 3 authors and deliver the dagger to racial profiling. He may want to invite Dr. Grace Akese, who has just recently moved to take a position at Bayreuth University in Germany. Grace provided key insights to Reassembling Rubbish, in particular an "OwnVoices" fact check of characatured Agbogbloshie. Good luck, Grace, in turning Germany's (Kevin McElvaney's) "mirror on itself" back in the right direction. Emmanuel Nyaltey of Fair Trade Recycling would also be a good score. This morning I twitterwarned Fareed (a personal hero from "Foreign Affairs" editor days) that I'd be sending him snail mail to pitch the episode.
The #FreeJoeBenson case made in 2018 Spain Documentary "Blame Game" is now on both Amazon and Youtube... Director Juan Solera is ready to give his takeaway. At the sunset of the decade, integrity has a fighting chance.
Where now? Hopefully, journalists will do some datajournalism, and rely less on interviews with people (like Awal, below) who explain that Sony is made in France, and 1980s Sony in the city dump arrived days earlier by sea container.
Gotta love Awal, but France24 citing that he knows Sony is made in France? and this is proof of dumping?
In a peer reviewed journal, if you are citing an interview with a primary school drop out burning wires at the city dump, as your source that Sony is made in France... you might already be a laughingstock. Awa; told us he has never seen a single sea container arrive at Agbogbloshie (nor multiple other interviewed scrappers, none had seen a single one, much less "400 per day" necessary to support dumping tonnage estimates, or the "500 per month" estimated by Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane). We don't need Vermont bloggers to blow the whistle on France24... increasingly, you will see it in the comments section of youtube, from African "ownvoices". Try math. The TV above weighs 40kg. How many would you have to count at Agbogbloshie each day to support the claims repeated ad nauseum on CNN, BBC, CBS, PBS, Al Jazeera, France24, or the German documentary mills? If Agbo was the largest e-waste dump on earth, then Middlebury, Vermont, passed it years ago... And Marshall Arkansas is not far behind. (The number of TVs we saw arrive was in the low dozens, generally on push carts).
The point is that major authors have now considered the thesis on "ewaste dumping" considered reportable by journalists, and reporters don't need a blogger as a background source any longer. The relief we sought against the tired and untrue depictions of my colorful geek friends as burning-tire-waving slum pirates is now in hand. I can at this point do little more by writing about it than just pointing Environmental Scholars to the peer-reviewed great books above.
Is the blog obsolete?
We have established that global trade in reuse and repair created the critical mass of users which made cell phone towers, internet cables, TV stations and satellites investible for the global south. We have established (particularly with Lepawsky's help) the Earthworks.org reality that the worst photo of recycling is better than the impact of the best and most modern metal mining operation. We did so while tipping the hat to the retired generation of Dr. Lester Brown (State of the World series) and Dr. Graham Mytton (BBC), their work creating a sustainable basis for Africans, Asians and Latinx countries to achieve 20th century living standards without scarring the planet the way we did when we first dug up the ground and coral islands to manufacture goods a first time.
But there's a bigger war ahead. The view has to be not only from 50,000 feet, it has to do with the future.
#PLANNEDOBSOLETESCIENCE: Engineering of software and copyrights to deliver disadvantages to reuse, repair or resale in secondary markets. Coined here and now. You're welcome.
For the next decade, I have to draw writers, authors and journalists attention to the anti-reuse war being waged on the Digital Front. It's not something I'm an expert in. I can barely explain blockchain, and oversimplify End User Licensing Agreements. EFF.org, like Dr. Nasr, is ahead of me in this regard (but like Nasr may miss opportunities identifying the right heroes on the battlefield).
Here's a preview of what's ahead.
The future battle for property ownership will be through #PlannedObsoleteScience.
The infection of Software (Copyright Law) into Hardware (Patent Law) is a growing threat to "First Use" property protection.
Original Equipment Manufacturers are silently pursuing "EULA" Agreement rights over everything consumers buy or own.
The monetization of campaigns against "Third World" reuse and repair reflect OEM unease with the ability to enforce those standards on the Tech Sector in emerging markets.
China's future role in using blockchain, facial recog, social network credit, and patent control to protect and advance its state-owned manufacturing sectors.
The critical role of federal, state and university government PROCUREMENT in the future of secondhand rights. WE COULD HAVE WRITTEN OUR OWN EULA AGREEMENTS IN THE 1990S, WITH THE POWER OF STATE PROCUREMENT. WE WERE TOLD TO PROCURE 'SPARE TIRE' LICENSES ON GOVERNMENT PCS, SO NO MICROSOFT AUTHORIZED USER LICENSES WOULD NEED TO BE PURCHASED BY SURPLUS PROPERTY OFFICES 5 YEARS LATER**. Don't make that mistake again.
DIY farmers may get the sympathy cameras, just as wire burning draws cameras in Africa. But the actual digital front is on govenrment procurement (buying RIGHTS to non-leased devices), right to repair laws that actually protect scaleable re-manufacturing systems.
Everything we witnessed in Fuji vs Jazz Camera, Lexmark vs. Arizona Ink Cartridge Refurbishers, and Jim Puckett's outright lies to Scott Pelley about where the SVGA computer monitors circled by Hong Kong Helicopter were headed* is tiddlywinks next to the game of chess ahead for product ownership.
Footnotes below. Welcome to the 2020s. Don't be BAN. Don't be CBS 60 Minutes. Don't be Placebo music videos. Don't be poverty porn. Don't make the mistakes they made dismissing a little respected Vermont blogger in 2006.
*Scott Pelley later says "we followed the trail". That was a lie. He did not. And I have a record of telling Michael Rey and Nichole Young of CBS News about the SKD factories in south China which purchased the SVGA CRTs for remanufacture, and showed evidence that large TV CRTs were far more expensive but never purchased - the sample circled in Hong Kong could not be explained by "waste externalization" because there were no samples of TV waste. And the two blogs that outed 60 Minutes are now front page Google search for the Wasteland story. If you are a reporter, and feeling good about your Polk journalism award, and one of your background sources is whistleblowing, don't assume the truth won't creep up by the end of a decade. Take your medicine (your datajournalism) vitamins now.
** By WE WERE TOLD (about "spare tire licenses"), with all due modesty, I told everyone so, in 1999, during distribution of the 2000 EPA JTR Report on Massachusett CRT Recycling Infrastructure Development. I flew to meet Michael Dell in Austin Texas to pitch it, I pitched it at NERC.ORG and NRC. I was hired by New Deal Software of Cambridge MA and flown to conferences around the USA to pitch it. It's at the top of my list for this decade, using procurement power of the government to set the standards.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
While the population in Africa is growing very quickly, it is not growing nearly as quickly as the number of televisions (and phones, computers, other electronics) per household.
When you study the number of years that Africans have been watching TV (see Dr. Graham Mytton's "Mass Communication in Africa" 1983), the shocking thing about Agbogbloshie is just how bloody few TVs are at the city dump. Africans keep fixing and fixing them, using them over and over, longer and longer.
Somehow, however, the world has been fed a story that places Africans as primitives surrounded by burning waste electronics delivered by evil people in the west. Somehow, good reporters are sending a message to boycott and arrest citizens of Africa's Tech Sector.
Here's a 2019 report from France 24, by Franck Hersey... no evidence of any research of % of Agbogbloshie waste from electronics vs cars, no "baseline" research of how much a city like Accra normally generates (not imported waste, but eventual waste). No interview with Grace Akese, Emmanuel Nyalete, Adam Minter, Robin Nagle, Jenna Burrel, Josh Lepawsky, Ramzy Kahhat, etc. Our pal Awal Muhammed of Savelugu and Tamale - the most photographed man in Ghana - gets plenty of screentime. Franck Hersey actually films Awal pointing to a 1990s Sony TV and pretending to read that it was Made in France...
Accidentally bigoted reporting has been a theme of the blog. And its still a problem. But I'm not feeling that important to the fight any longer. Is it time for Obi Wan Ingenthron to lower his light saber and join the blue ghosts?
Seriously, anyone with a piece of paper and a calculator can see that only 500 to 1000 TVs fit in a sea container (depending on the size of TV and the packaging), and that the cost of landfilling or recycling them in the UK or USA is far lower than the cost of shipping them overseas. But even after the NGOs have confessed to exaggerating the statistics - and a year ago, PROVING themselves wrong with a GPS tracking study of devices in Europe found less than 10% exported - the denigration of negro repairman is a stubborn thing indeed.
Speaking of stubborn... I think it may be time for me to let this blog go.
Mistakes are still being made in the press - lots of them. But there is now a small force of justice warriors, myself included, waging the defense on Twitter. And if you focus on the second of my tweets (to correct the Financial Times datajournalist @Alekswis (more below), it's pretty easy to just link to articles and data that has already been published.
I'm not going to quit the blog, but I think I should post less often, and rely on other social media to educate. The blog accomplished very much (many of the links above are written by authors and researchers who started out interviewing me because they were reading the blogs). And there will still be news stories and interesting things to write about. But Adam Minter stopped updating his ShanghaiScrap.com blog, and perhaps I should do the same.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Twelve years ago, this blog was asking important questions about assumptions press and policy makers were making about electronic "waste" exports.
I was one of the few people who had 30 months experience living in the so-called "third world". I had seen what Hans Rosling and Gapminder described as incredible progress. I had grown up with a Hollywood and American Press stereotype of "hillbillies" in the Ozarks (and was well aware that we sometimes played to the type), and I'd seen many of the same ingenuity and change in emerging markets.
As the eldest child of my generation, I got more than my share of time with the grandparents (and some great-grandparents), and perhaps for that reason have always been genuinely interested in talking to people much older and more experienced than myself. I spent countless hours talking to my mother's "hillbilly" parents about things I'd experienced in the 1980s in Cameroun, and comparing those experiences to theirs in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s in the Ozarks.
I had about 9 years experience as an environmental regulator, and can honestly say I'd played a strong role in setting USA's national policy in regards to CRT recycling and reuse (including exports). My college degree was in international relations, and I'd spent a whole semester studying at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. I speak French fairly fluently, and am married to a French citizen.
But perhaps most importantly, I can spot a fraud. And I'm fairly thick skinned about calling attention to phony allegations.
For a period, this blog seemed almost unique in its defense of reuse - and indeed "recycling by hand" in the developing world. By 2010, I was referred to in Vermont as a "lightning rod". Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network threatened me to my face. "We don't want to have to go after you, but we will if you don't stop criticizing us in the blog," or something to the effect, Jim said to me when he approached me with an olive branch for Retroworks de Mexico....
Anyway, the point here is that there are now a thousand Robin Ingenthron blogs, and the lovely dandelion seeds have covered everyone's yard in yellow flowers. But it is also time to reflect on how important it is, really, to continue.
In sixth grade, I joined a choir, and was told after some weeks that the important role I played was that I really could not sing well, but that I sang so loudly, that other boys in the choir would raise their voices to cover mine up. I think that its safe to say that has happened in electronics recycling export policy.
There are still flare ups. Financial Times just this weekend ran a tired story, based on a year old BAN report, saying that the UK was the "worst exporter" in Europe. By worst, the writer assumed that countries which BAN found not to export at all were "good" or "model" nations. The GPS trackers set in the UK only had 3 cases of export, less than 5%. But 5%, FT reporter Aleksandra Wisniewska was led to believe, is too much. Question for Franck Hersey and Aleksandra Wisniewska: Which EU country is "worst" in interracial marriage? She tweets interesting articles about #datajournalism, a hashtag I very much follow. I don't want to pick a fight with her, but the article she wrote contrasts sharply with the one by Katie Jane Fernelius the blog gave the shout out to just last week.
The point of this is that the blog continues to have an anti-defamation role.
But I'm no longer alone, and there are now plenty of people - and publications, like Discard Studies - carrying the ball. The #ownvoices movement has recognized that people like Jim Puckett are claiming to speak on behalf of non-white technicians and recyclers in emerging markets, when there are plenty of people like Emmanuel Nyaletey, Grace Akese, and Oscar Adrian Orta who can speak for themselves, thank you.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
Once you get the sensationalist headline out of the way, this week's article in The Nation provides stunning contrast with the reporting that began 5 years ago about the so-called "Largest E-Waste Dump On Earth".
The tamer subtitle, "How Dakar’s trash depot became a battleground for Chinese industry, the World Bank, and Senegalese organized labor" reflects a deeper assessment by New Orleans based writer Katie Jane Fernelius
I'll kick off the New Year by posting a few excerpts. But it's better to read the whole article, as it contrasts incredibly sharply with the lazy photojournalism which depicted African scrappers as helpless primitive victims. Fernelius obviously listens, and either wasn't being fed any Mike "Fishing As A Boy" Anane nonsense, or took the time to research and collect the type of data that would prevent the kind of journalism malpractice applauded a decade ago.
The article begins and ends with the Senegalese Recycling Union representative El Hadji Malick Duallo at the Dakar dump of Mbeubeuss. He's presented as someone knowledgeable about scrap markets, able to leverage Chinese and European and American investors (and experts). A real grown up, in stark contrast to the "thousands of orphans" described in Jim Puckett's cringeworthy 2010 portrayal of Agbogbloshie... "A Place Called Away". Yep, it is one decade ago that BAN's Puckett described Accra's dump as a hell of injustice, kicking off Interpol's Project Eden, sending dozens of naive European photojournalists to interview Michael Anane, etc. etc.
That year, I was still trading with Senegal, and had produced a short video featuring our partners there, which attempted to depict Africa's Tech Sector as savvy and laudable. Midway through Katie Jane Fernelius article, she cites Dr. Josh Lepawsky and Adam Minter, and summarizes their insights with literary skill... It is not just the tech sector who deserves respect. It is not just #freeHurricaneBenson being profiled with GPS geography-as-bigotry. The scrap sector, too, deserves our respect.
"This challenges a familiar story about garbage, in which trash becomes a facile metaphor for global inequalities between the haves and have-nots. In this narrative, the exurbs of the Global South are unwitting recipients of the waste produced by the excessive consumption of the Global North; where the supply chain has a clean beginning and end for each object from production to landfill; and in which the people fated to sort through that garbage, like the waste pickers of Mbeubeuss, are powerless victims of globalization, a provincial and doomed lumpenproletariat. This is the narrative undergirding documentaries like Trashed and Plastic China.
“The prevailing narrative around waste dumping never gets beyond investigating even the most basic surface economies of how much it costs to get the stuff from point A to point B,” says Josh Lepawsky, professor of geography at Memorial University and author of Reassembling Rubbish. “The assumption is usually just made that because it’s going from so-called developed countries to developing countries, it must be because it’s cheaper there,” Lepawsky says. “But when you look at things like landfilling costs and shipping costs, it’d be cheaper to not ship our waste away. So why spend all that money to send it away if it’s just cheaper to send it to a landfill here?” The main reason why garbage is exported out of America is because someone outside of America is buying it. Usually, they are expecting that they will be able to make enough money from the waste to recover the cost of shipping that they paid. And the reason they are expecting that is because much of what we waste is recoverable and sellable: At Mbeubeuss, plastic and copper are among the most popular materials separated and sold.
“It’s important to step back a little bit from waste as a universal category,” Lepawsky says, meaning that it’s important to interrogate what is classified as “waste” in the economy.
Adam Minter is interviewed as well as Josh Lepawsky (blog readers know our history bringing experts to look behind the smoke and mirrors of Basel Action Network and Greenpeace boogeyman journalism).
Better yet, here is one sample of the type of quote you get when you LISTEN TO AFRICANS rather than to brave white experts like myself.
“I want an association for all of West Africa,” Duallo says while raising his fist. He said that efforts to unionize at the dump were not enough given that manufacturing in Africa relied heavily on their efforts. “Eighty percent of products for factories come from waste, so we must advocate for our value.”
Definitely going to follow Katie Jane Fernelius work from here on out. Here's her website. I'm anxious for more writing like this.
Why do some of us become very attached to our grandparents, and others of us secretly dread the holiday base-touch? Why do some of us spend thousands of dollars per year flying back and forth to visit elderly relatives, and others don't bother to make a ten minute drive, more than once a year?
The gift of boredom. It's something perhaps lost on the current generation of non-fisher, non-hunter (I'm neither, either), non baseball-watcher generation. The ever-ready internet is at our fingertips. The cell phone has balmed our boredom so thickly that even minutes lead to fidgets.
Will this reduce book reading? Great books have made me better than who I am. Could I have finished reading them if I'd had internet in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s? I appreciate many people who know history and still read books (many far more often than I do). But in wondering at my own weakness for distraction, I fear that great books will not die in fire... but in ice.
Master Baba of Tamale Ghana, retired Tech Sector, on the history of West Africa Television
My father worshipped his grandfather, PawPaw Freeland. As kids, my brother and sister and I were usually taken out of public school a week or two before graduation so that we could be sent to spend nearly 3 months per year at the homestead in Taney County (most often without our parents, just to live with the grandparents). I cannot say that I appreciated it then as much as I appreciate the memories now. But I do think it gave me a tolerance for, and taste for, interviewing elderly people to learn fresh-picked history.
My most recent trip to Ghana, Africa, led me to ask TV repairmen I was interviewing how they learned, how they apprenticed. It led to a warm relationship with Karim Zackaria of Tamale, who it turned out is also a father/grandfather/mentor centered dude. Karim was absolutely delighted that I wanted to meet Mr. Baba, who had trained him (and many other) apprentices in TV repair. Baba is now retired, but still visits repair shops to give pointers and advice.
Baba had gained experience in the 1960s at the Ghana Sanyo Electrical Manufacturing Company in Tema. Like SKD factories I worked with in Asia, the Ghana factory was sent TVs in parts (circuit boards, CRT tubes, plastic cases, speakers, etc) for reassembly. I always get a kick out of a young European do-gooder, like Poland's Dagna Rams, who brings up Ghana Sanyo of the 1960s... It shows she's listening to the history, and not getting her news about Ghana off of RT or Youtube.
It seems to me pretentious to present my interviews with Baba as historically important. As it would be pretentious to pretend I have a close personal relationship with Dr. Graham Mytton, the BBC technician who helped set up dozens of TV and radio stations across Africa between 1960 and 2000. I have read Mytton's 1983 book, "Mass Communication in Africa" and have had some email and twiter exchanges with him, but nothing like the solid long interview a professional writer is overdue to give him. And to give Mr. Baba, who is about Graham's age.
Fellow book readers, and authors (like Adam Minter and Josh Lepawsky), have been very kind to me, I think in large part because they are also able to read, to listen, and appreciate the elders. I gain a certain amount of credit by flying to interview sage technicians like Allen Liu, retired in Taipei, and asking retired people who educated THEM, get them talking about THEIR mentors and gurus.
This raw video is uploaded to the Fair Trade Recycling Playlist on Youtube, as part of a project we could call #OWNVOICES. Rather than approach Africa's solutions or problems as social justice warriors or white saviors, we interview Africans about where stuff in the junkyard came from, when it was imported, and what they think can be done about it. And a big part of this project is interviewing elders.
My inspiration, and perhaps the North American apex of this method of interviewing aged people, is perhaps the historical book Black Elk Speaks. I will post my review of that below. But first, some raw unedited footage of TV repairman Master Baba of Tamale.
This was assigned reading in High School in the 1970s. I was very disappointed my own kids were never assigned to read it in the 2000s. I re-read it several times, and it had a profound impact on the rest of my life. The early chapters are a bit hard to get through - many complex dream sequences. Reading them does develop the historical "character" (it would be harder to understand Black Elk's influence as an aged wise man without having read the fever-induced-hallucinatory chapters of his near-death youth). The climax at Wounded Knee brings tears, just thinking about the chapter, decades later. As trivia - Many years ago, when I was re-reading Black Elk Speaks at my grandmother's home in Forsyth, MO, my dad looked over my shoulder (yeah, as if DAD is going to know about Black Elk, I thought). He then asked me if I remembered John Neihardt... or was I too young to remember he was dear friend of my great grandfather, and sat on that couch (5 feet away) every weekend in retirement? (Both my great Grandfather Freeland and John G. Niehardt served in the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, and retired near each other in Taney County Missouri). At a meta level, it taught me to listen more to people like my grandparents, and my father, to capture the wisdom as Neihardt tried to do with Black Elk. You can't go back and change the wars of the past, but you can learn to appreciate elders today.
Adam followed Good Point Recycling and one of our many overseas reuse partners, Chendiba Enterprises. And he corrected the abismal reporting on Agbogbloshie, to boot. He understood, and translated, my furious defense of geeks of color, accused of being "waste tourists" because "big shred", through its donations to NGO Basel Action Network, had more clout with reporters than the accused.
But Adam's book revolves around the End... After Second-hand, there may be a third-hand. Rarely, a fourth-hand vintage collectible. He is fair in defending and supporting the reuse market. But the Secondhand Market is fundamentally tied to our parents death, and the cleanout of their homes one day, beit in Japan, Tucson, India, or Middlebury, Vermont.
So to start Blog One, Perishable Goods.... Everything is perishable. Every device or item we possess was extracted violently from the forests, and we should keep and renew it as long as possible. But even if it was never harvested to make paper, a tree dies. And so does a book.
Water damaged books are poison to reuse bookstores
More than a decade ago, my wife Armelle's grandfather Gabriel passed away. She was as close to him as I was to my grandparents, and that respect was part of the attraction that led to our marriage. (Adam also had very close feelings for his grandparents, just saying).
When Marcel (Armelle's Papa) and his sister (Pierrette)'s son, 3rd generation Andre, were at grandfather Gabriel Crouzieres' home, to empty it, I was sent in as (I guess) a moderator. Standing between the two Frenchmen, I was on the second story of the house that hadtobevacated. Below the second floor window was a roll off trash container....
Always more stuff
"Toi, tu veux ca?" nephew Andre held one of Gabriel's attic possessions to me. He was not asking my father in law, Marcel. No, he understood I was there as mediator. I didn't answer. After ten seconds, he threw the child's painting down into the dumpster.
Marcel and his sister barely spoke again for more than a decade after the great Gabriel Crouzieres attic cleanout. The home was listed and quickly sold. But not speaking with your sister for more than ten years, because her son was brusque in tossing your dad's emotional possessions... that's a fail.
Fast forward to my own parents (and revered grandparents) stuff...
After reading Adam's book, I was forced to suddenly deal with my grandparents (and grand-aunt's) stuff. My parents had moved to an Arkansas farm house (a really nice Fay Jones home on a 300 acre Searcy County farm.... 20 minutes from Grinder's Ferry on the Buffalo River).
The home purchase got an unoccupied (non-occupiable) guest house on the 300 acre parcel. My dad decided he could make it a "library" for his father's law books... and also the other books, clothes, and memorabilia he salvaged from the auction of his mother's possessions. I was the one who said, "keep the books" in the late 1990s, based on my experience with ebay (my account opened 1999) and alibris.com.
As described a few weeks ago, a tree fell in a storm, and chopped the spine of the guest-storage house in half, opening all the contents to several days of rain. No matter how intelligent, valuable, insightful, or rare a book, if it is wet it will mold. Mold is the terminal cancer of libraries and book collections. By the time I got there, these books were wet , and smelled, and the best I could do was photograph them before the big burn.
Like Secondhand, this is all backward view. This is a blog one for 2020 vision...
How do I, as the person responsible for most of the "stuff" in my house, avoid putting my kids in the position Adam well describes? I'm realizing that every posession that won't wind up in a fricking museum is, in all fact, "Perishable Goods". I have more experience with this than my children will have, when I (will) die.
So this "Perishable Goods" blog series is going to be about my attempt to clean our own house before the kids have to do it for us.
I recently rediscovered that my very first "blog" was posted in 2003, pre-Google-blogspot. I copied and reposted the old blog into my 2006 Good Point blog. Take pictures of perishable items.
Everything in this photo is perishable, except perhaps, our love
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
A gigantic crane is swinging overhead, no doubt carrying some new material for the erection of another spire atop the Sagrada Familia Basilica, here in Barcelona.
It's a distraction from this week's challenge. How to explain to a group of Catalan University Professors how markets for used devices work, and how they can be measured without influencing the way they move. The title of our talk is "ZeroKnowledge". It is about the so-called "Observer Effect" in scientific study, and in particular, how data collection in "e-waste", "e-scrap", or "surplus property" can affect the policies and contracts and trade that add up to the actual outcome.
In my first chart, above, we can recognize the so-called "Circular Economy", but also the gravitational shortcuts of efficiency. When a ton does not "show up" to meet the scrap shredder/refiner/urban miner's prediction (and the hours of use of their shredding machine suffers), you cannot state that the material is "lost". It probably went into a more efficient gravitational orbit of "reuse". And countries which are good at reusing and repairing devices also tend not to throw copper away. We may object to the way they extract the copper when the device is eventually discarded after many more years of use, but the calculation of environmental cost must be honest about the fact that brand new device production to meet the demand in emerging markets is a far worse carbon scenario. The two choices are, let them reuse and repair, or keep them in the dark (nighttime in "project eden").
But I digress. Today's talk is not about what the Waste/Mineral Policy should be, but about how the study, monitoring, regulation, certification, blockchain tracking, warranty registration, and GPS tracking devices will spin it, and to what ends.
Above are 3 slides we worked on with the Barcelona EReuse.org group.
They are working with us and a larger OBADA group to get Catalonian computer procurement officials to put into the RFP for purchase of new laptops a "blockchain" which would allow a surplus property officer at end of life to insert a USB key, find the blockchain, wipe the drive, and "inflate" a "spare tire license" such as Chromium or Linux. The Spanish government would pay $1 per PC for "pre-wiping", which would be save $5 per HD wiping fees, and allow the PCs to be sold directly through surplus property auctions.
(longtime readers will recognize this "spare tire licence" from my first business in 2001).
Gaudi himself would be challenge to diagram the "influence" chain of players in the diagram of Influence and Desired Outcomes.
That term, "Desired Outcome", is the specific trap that environmentalists fall into again and again. Because any multi-stakeholder consensus necessarily involves overlapping motives and agendas and directives, from profit to reducing liability to stature to sex (I've heard tales about stakeholders who "engage" each other after torrid debate).
Dr. David Fanquesa, who I met through Rohi Sukia's OBADA blockchain project, designed the third slide.
I think I will pick up more on this later, time to catch the metro for my appointment. Suffice to say, this is the type of structural racism that catches Joe "Hurricane" Benson in the undercurrent.
"Zeroknowledge" by the way is the term David uses to address the challenges of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) signed by R2 and E-Steward companies that have simultaneously signed agreements TO DISCLOSE information in the NDA.
This problem led to the closing of Malaysia's Net Peripheral factory in 2011. The factory, based on "Fair Trade Recycling Offset" incentives, had developed a glass-to-CRT-glass solution with Samsung's CRT furnace in Klang, Malaysia. We provided information about it to Kelly Keough and Craig Lorch, who both toured the factory. Later, Adam Minter visited and wrote an article about it.
The information we provided was used to initiate an inquiry with the Malaysia Department of the Environment, which then chose not to renew Net Peripheral's import permit, leading to the closure of the factory and loss of 100 jobs in Penang.
The Barcelona professors wanted to see if blockchain can provide the downstream proof that auditors seek without violating an NDA.
I'm doubtful that people afraid of "liability" of having said "yes" - like the Malaysia EPA, the R2 auditors, or my company's upstream clients - will (like real estate pollution liability) protect first the reputations of the rich. People rich enough to shred a laptop, rather than who are poor enough to want to resell and reuse it, will continue to define who is allowed to do what. Waste Colonialism. It's a scandal.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
"Waste Colonialism" comes up in the final chapters of Adam Minter's new bestseller "Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale". Adam kicked off his book tour at the University of Vermont, in part to thank my company and our global partners for "dropping our drawers" and giving him access to secrets of the trade.
In fact, the next to last chapter is titled "A Rich Person's Broken Thing". That is drawn directly from conversations I had with my Ozarks grandparents, both on the farm as a child, and in long talks with them after I returned from the Peace Corps in Cameroon, Africa (June 1984-December 1986). Adam captured my grandpa Clarence Fisher's anecdotes about when automobiles first came to the Ozarks (his own father had a horse and wagon, and signed his name with an "X"). As many family members were leaving the Ozarks during the Great Depression (along the "Hillbilly Highway"), his older brother, he said, got into the used automobile business. He explained that no one they knew could afford a new car (and the unpaved roads would be heck on them anyway). Used cars were affordable... but his brother's method was to go to St. Louis, Memphis, or Chicago and listen for sounds a car was making when it had broken down or was about to. If you knew what went wrong with a car, what the sound that problem makes, and how to fix it, you could buy the "rich man's broken thing" for a lot less. They'd bring it down to Cedar Valley, fix the car, and flip it for the price of a working used car.
I explained to my grandparents how I'd seen Africans doing that exact same thing. And Adam not only put it in the book, but recounts the tale of Joseph "Hurricane" Benson of BJ Electronics in England, who was sentenced to prison for buying used hotel CRT TVs and selling them to Africa.
Adam shows the wisdom of the African traders, and accepted my challenge, which was to ask why do rich countries (and in particular white people, because Japan and South Korea don't do this) create "rules" by which Africans can buy secondhand equipment? And when the UK House of Commons reported that the African exports needed to stop - not to "save" the Africans from pollution, but to retain "strategic minerals and metals" for European industry - why did no one from that House of Commons think it worthy to write the UK Barrister who was recommending Joe Benson be prosecuted?
Adam's answer is "waste colonialism". He doesn't use "racism" the way I have in the blog, but he certainly calls out the bigotry involved in confusing (sometimes deliberately) the secondhand (and "thirdhand") Tech Sector with the unschooled wire burners of the scrap sector.
As I said when apologized to 7 years ago, the apology from Basel Action Network should not be made to me, but to the Africans, Asians and LatinX whom the NGO has been racially profiling as "primitives".
What we want is young people in search of a hypothesis or thesis as to why "tested working" and "fully functional" rules that Joe Benson was convicted of violating were written in the first place, when there was never any evidence that any of the sea containers of used equipment entering Ghana made it to Agbogbloshie (at least, not until after a decade of use). Joe Benson asked the "habeus corpus" question - where is any evidence that anything he sold was being dumped?
I've shown repeatedly how the Tech Sector in the global south not only repairs equipment, but completely remanufactures it. The TVs above are made from the working lightboxes of used computer monitors. The signs below are made from TV lighboxes.
How exactly did Waste Colonialism shift the burden of proof onto the darker skinned experts of the Tech Sector? Why did the press believe, and widely report, the bogus made up statistic that 80% of what Africans and Asians buy is unrepairable waste dumped on "primitive" recyclers? And why has no journalism outlet followed up on the original fraudulent claim, given its use to literally handcuff and imprison black TV repairmen from Africa?
How is it remotely ok that no one took the word of the true experts, the Tech Sector in emerging markets, in writing the export standards, or at the trial of Mr. Benson, Joseph?
TV lightboxes sold as battery powered signs and menus in Tamale, Ghana
In November, I had a dream that Amazon got Adam Minter fired from Bloomberg. So I started out writing him an email about it, but it turned into this blog. It is time for the universities that have lots of international students and are "woke" about racial profiling to investigate the way environmental rules are being twisted to disadvantage the "Right to Repair", which is primarily a Privilege of the Poor.
This is kind of turning into what I'd call a "Faculty Party" blog, where people are interested enough in hearing the details of the Secondhand market to take a deeper dive into the subject. I think there are 55 people in the world who read these blogs, some professors seem to really dig them. Other professors pretend to be interested because they are stuck talking to me at a faculty party and I keep giving information not recognizing they are just making conversation and are sneaking glances at the door. Those can skip to the end.
Jaleel attempted to repair the laptop Adam Minter wrote "Junkyard Planet" upon
When I told Adam that his laptop might not have been repaired on his first trip, but was working 1 year later, it took us into the deep specialization of the African repair Tech Sector. Some geeks - like Olu Orga (who Adam used as a guide in Agbogbloshie) start in a "thirdhand" market, getting used computers from wealthier Africans. Others import directly from Japan, China, Europe or USA. Repeatedly, I've seen fixers in both USA and abroad put 45 minutes of work into a Pentium 3, and stop work completely when a Pentium 4 walks in the door. It's a time value equation. When a containerload of easier stuff arrives, the "low hanging fruit" takes precedent. That probably happened when Chendiba's techie Jaleel was stumped by the bad video chip.
But the guy who had the Chinese video chip replacer comes to buy Chendiba's "stumped Jaleel" laptops a low-low price, and has his own niche... similar to my grandfather's automobile trading brother from Cedar Valley. The question of time is not how long it took them to do the repair, it's the equation of letting go of inventory between container shipments. And my broader point is that this is a level of sophistication that was completely absent when a group of white Saviors came to Geneva to draft the PACE document ... which was used to hijack the original language of the Basel Convention on electronic repairs, and even recycling. Annex IX B1110 was one of the very first things I blogged about in 2006 or 2007, because Basel Action Network had PROTESTED against it and lost. Two decades later, at the PACE meetings, BAN came to reinsert "tested working" and "fully functional" language which would lead to Joe "Hurricane" Benson's arrest and sentencing, and would waste countless hours of INTERPOL's time chasing "Project Eden".
Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE)
The details of trade between Africa's tech sector entrepreneurs, based on their own individual and thirdhand specialty, is like a visit to Steve Jobs Cupertino California garage. The names are different from Wosniak, Gates, or Zuckerberg. But the Wahabs, Ibrahims, Olus, Karims and Awudus deserve their own movie... not just a brief throwaway interview tacked onto a Placebo video about wire burning and tire burnig in Agbogbloshie.
Europeans did invite presenters from Africa. Michael "Fishing as a Boy" Anane was invited to this meeting.
If Wahab buys 5 containers per year, as he did in the past, it displaces shelf stock (Adan;s laptop) faster. If he only brings 2 containers to Tamale in 2019, Kamal will haggle harder. It's actually rather inefficient by Moore's Law standards, owing to northern Ghana being poorer. It differentiates Tamale from Accra (Steve Bugi turns over his stock much faster, has many more local guys with chip makers for the fast nickel on the as-is laptop).
Anyway Adam may be the only Journalist who might possibly be interested in the trading, haggling and intrigue between Wahab, Souley, Steve, Azis, Oluu, and Awudu, who all compete for Wahab's attention, stock, space, and the biggest gambit - who touches the container first. Wahab uses the last to force people to pay what's owed. I've seen Wahab deliberately ship entire loads direct to Tamale, driving past Accra and Kumasi, to pressure Steve in Accra and Aziz in Kumasi to pay the #%$ up... then do the opposite on the next container to pressure Kamal Chendiba in Tamale the next year.
When Jaleel diagnosed a bad video chip - requiring board-level repair - Chendiba called in another Ghana expert who replaced the chip using a Chinese machine that created "universal" video chips for board level repair
The Right to Repair Market is far bigger than the number of American or European customers who paying for repair and wanted their repaired item back. It also benefits those of us who trade in or sell or donate a used item that would otherwise be condemned as waste.
The guy Aziz whose wife got Adam Minter's Junkyard Planet laptop owed Wahab a lot of money, Wahab repossessed the car he had sold him, so it was a little uncomfortable trying to get the photo. They have made up but Wahab still isn't selling much to Aziz. This is the kind of granular activity going on in Africa's secondhand and thirdhand market. The market is far, far richer in expertise and experience than anyone who attended the PACE discussions.
There is some discussion about cars and electronics being sold purely for parts. It does happen, and I never went to Benin where I'm sure it happens more. I was shaking my head at the word "probably"for parts in Adam's answer to a question at UVM. When it's a Vermont resident with Ghana roots offering to buy a damaged vehicle from a neighbor, it's probably cosmetic and repairable. The reason she said the African gave her - cosmetic damage lowers customs fees - is absolutely true, and is also why they generally tend to import fewer for-parts-only cars (they still get taxed as a car). But I'm sure Adam knows a lot more about "car crusher light" market, which I've seen evidence of in trains going from USA to Mexico.What I observed I cannot find a photo of, but looked like cars that had been "crush light", the roofs pressed down, but after the doors were removed and placed in the car (protecting the door for reuse). That achieves transport savings, but since there's no steel market for the scrap to go southbound (AZ-Sonora), it had to be parts economy.
Or for that matter, a bicycle parts economy. Adam and I went to observe the unload of used Japanese bicycles in Tamale, north Ghana. And as evidence that Europeans are turning around on the JoeHurricaneBenson issue, I got the most enthusiastic promotion of the Waste Colonialism question by none other than Zoe Lenkiewicz of WasteAID (which in its first opening season was pitching bad stories about Agbogbloshie, but has listened to Africans and done a superb job turning the message back around).
To continue my digression, and reconnect automobile repair in Africa with my Grandpa's history...
The auto trader Wahab and Adam and I visited in the Bronx - Souley - is planning to retire from teaching and move to Brockton to help run our new Good Point Recycling plant (he was weekend leasing the Bronx yard, and there is a construction plan for it). It got a little iffy as afterwards (it came up that Wahab owes Souley money and that it could become an issue, Wahab split his last payment between me and Souley and owes us both the remainder of his September shipment). Anyway, the "for parts" cars I remember at the Bronx were specific orders from shops that needed those parts, not much evidence of Mexico-style flat-tops, which allow customs to declare it as "metal scrap" (based on looks, and a dash). The trick is to pay tax for "parts only" if its a reuse car, and "scrap metal only" if it's a parts car.
In conclusion, Africans are doing the same thing that Ozarks Hillbillies were doing 75 years ago during the Great Depression. And the Planned Obsolescence described by Vance Packard in "The Waste Makers" is going on now, and not just among OEMs. Environmental documents like the Basel Convention are being used to promote bigoted and structurally racist trade restrictions. And if that's not worthy of a Masters Thesis, I don't know what is.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
I could use some help updating this 2003 Retroworks Mining Factsheet.
Circular Economy of Digital Reference Cycles
While the fundamentals of the Retroworks Mining Factsheet remain in place, it has not been updated since 2003. For example, it needs carbon emission reference points (a great grad school paper next semester? I promise to review it).
Reuse and Repair is not on the list of Environmental Harm
The environmental impact or cost of Stuff, first hand, second hand, third hand, or scrap, is ranked in this order.
1. Mining and Extraction 2. Manufacture 3. Consumer use 4. Disposal 5. Distribution
I've written extensively about how #1 and #4 are driven by real estate sensitivity. The West's environmental regulations (protect cities first, western mining lands third, foreign forests and islands last) do externalize some environmental costs. On "externalization #4", we have always agreed and tried to work with anti-export "action networks".
Unfortunately they malign techs who extend the lifecycle through repair and refurbishment, and some (Jim Puckett) seem to do so with no conscience whatsoever, even labelling cases like #FreeJoeBenson "collateral damage" from a righteous crusade.
Correcting the course of doctrinaire environmentalists has long been an inefficiency; the root environmental science, codified in the Factsheet, should be the focus, and not the ad nauseum, ad hominem, personal attacks from either environmentalist leader.
As an aside, no it is not true that "BAN is Dead", and that the record "stands corrected". Despite important work verifying the apparently unintended consequences, by Memorial University, USC, ASU, Rochester Institute of Technology, MIT, PCUP Lima, U Barcelona and others (see Discard Studies), BAN continues to slide puff pieces which are deaf and blind to Lifecycle Analysis or refurbishing (apparently alleging overseas means "primitive scrap"). Over and over, the mere geography profiles the outcome - if a black African or coffee colored Asian bought the used device, we are to believe the outcome is bad.
The techs overseas have no appetite for obsolete CRT TVs, which would be the #1 export if cost externalization is the primary driver. When legitimate press republishes the false claims, they damage the environmental movement. The latest "collateral damage" is the reputable news outlet TheVerge, whose stories I've shared in the past. Colin Lecher reported this week from The Verge on the 2016 Monitour tracking project - the same GPS "methodology" that put 25 year TV repair veteran Joe Benson in prison https://twitter.com/colinlecher.
Jim Puckett scores again. Like a modern day Thomas Midgley Jr, the man who gave us leaded gasoline and spent his professional life fervently championing his misdiagnosis, Jim Puckett of BAN is ruining lives.
He has explicitly threatened to ruin mine, saying he can use his GPS devices to do so, and pointing to his clout with the press. I'm not the only person to be so threatened. "A thorn in his side", he called me, when we opened Las Chicas Bravas Retroworks de Mexico operation a decade ago... a hand-disassembly operation in an OECD country which has places in Sonora as poor as anywhere in Africa, where copper mining is king. When we opened it to researchers as a place to study the social and economic and environmental effects of profiled recyclers, BAN saw it as an attack on BAN. Because they are all about funding, and nuance and LCA is a threat to the charitable industrial complex.
Accidentally posted another oldie goodie... RIP Gahan Wilson. Fits the spirit of Primum Non Nocere, "first, do no harm".
More Gahan Wilson comics https://www.google.com/search?q=gahan+wilson&client=tablet-android-samsung&prmd=inv&sxsrf=ACYBGNTEbJGMa1XiR0nJfmYKNSo12gzSEA:1575404887688&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjq2dTFqJrmAhVS4YUKHdmaAM4Q_AUoAXoECA8QAQ&cshid=1575405877802&biw=686&bih=1098&dpr=1.75
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill
For over Ten Years, WR3A has been collecting video interviews, showing firsthand accounts by both the Second-hand tech sector and recycling (scrap) sector in places like Ghana, Senegal, China, Cameroon, Egypt, Peru, Mexico, Indonesia, etc etc. There is a new hashtag for this.
#OWNVOICES. It's about marginalized people telling their own story, especially when it differs from - or opposes - "their" story as told by big money and charity industrial complex "saviors".
It is Overdue. Marginalized reuse techs - labelled "collateral damage" (2013) by Jim Puckett of BAN.org - have to to take the mic.
One huge takeaway from author Adam Minter's visit (his 3rd) to Middlebury last week was his ability to transition the story of Secondhand to "OWN VOICES". Google search top result for definition is a good start:
Rather than talk about what the TechSector has to say about their own decisions to invest their own savings in purchasing goods from Europe, USA, Japan, and other OECD countries with surplus "homeused" or Secondhand electronics, I thought I'd remind everyone that this is what WR3A has done repeatedly since the organization was incorporated in 2007. Our Youtube Recycling Playlist is filled with unedited interviews of workers in the scrap sector and tech sector (DIFFERENT PEOPLE!) in the developing or emerging markets.
Example 1: Emmanuel Nyaletey (Ghanaian American) interview with Jaleel Mohamed in 2015. Two years later, Adam Minter left his Junkyard Planet laptop to Jaleel for repair. It required board-level chip replacement by another tech, but the laptop is now in use in Kumasi, Ghana. Adam payed attention to the #ownvoices in this video, asked to meet them and let them demonstrate what the Tech Sector can do.
Example 2: Hamdy Moussa of Egypt, a CRT monitor importer, allowed his processes to be filmed in 2008. He showed hundreds of pages documenting that 85% or the CRT monitors required no repair at all (the tubes work for 22 years, and Western countries were only using them for 3.5 years). German filmmaker Klaus Neuman used this footage in the 2013 short now on Vimeo
Example 3: Video interviews we had with the Ms Vicki and Dolores of Retroworks de Mexico, and other self-proclaimed "Las Chicas Bravas" wsa shared with NPR and PBS, and resulted in an #ownvoices moment captured by NPR Marketplace, Arizona PBS, and Living On Earth.
The #CharitableIndustrialComplex, #BigShred, and #PlannedObsolescence interests hijacked these peoples stories, and so widely disseminated a story about "primitive victims, orphans, dumping and pollution" that our attempts to relate these #techsector stories was drowned out in the media. At Joe Benson's sentencing, the barrister simply stated that it was (QUOTE) "common knowledge" that the majority of TVs Benson purchased (from hotel upgrades and ones he cherry picked from legal dumps, using his reuse license) would NOT be reused, but dumped.
Dr. Josh Lepawsky, Adam Minter, and Blame Game documentary filmmakers researched the UK's claims. We provided the researchers a smoking gun - the UK House of Parliament's own 2012 documentation that UK policy took into account that the majority of exports would be reused, but based its policy on retaining "strategic" or "critical metals" and minerals. Emmanuel Nyaletey, when shown the document, got really mad, noting that African hands mined most of that metal, and keeping Africans from reusing or repairing devices because Europeans wanted to keep the metal made a darn good example of "marginalization", even if Joe Benson had not been arrested and sentenced to 5 years of prison.
BBC's Raphael Rowe is a journalist of color, and made his name in the UK for having been profiled and falsely accused, a man who spent several years in UK prisons before being released. His refusal to revisit the Panorama documentary that falsely identified Joe Benson as a criminal, based on GPS transponders showing that TVs purchased by Nigerian expat Joe Benson were being resold in Ghana and Nigeria, has been recorded. I tried to share with him the documentation of Africa's electricity use and TV ownership from the 1990s. Rowe muted me, or at least stopped answering my tweets. He should imagine how Joe Benson felt about that, having been in the UK prison system himself.
The idea of corporate "stewardship" of the environment was turned into a weapon against the #righttorepair, #goodenoughmarket, and #geeksofcolor. The story of ink catridge profit leading HP and AGMA to pay Chinese military to raid printer cartridge refillers was exposed by HP's own press release. It's not that different from Midgely's coverup.
Western civilization's saving grace is, as compared to many other cultures (though the Aztec library did not get a chance to vote) admitting historical mistakes and educating ourselves about those mistakes. I'm grateful for free speech, and our ability to blow the whistle on the press, manufacturers, and charitable industrial complex. But that history is written a generation later. BAN and Greenpeace and HP and INTERPOL and the UK Barrister won't publicly admit their mistakes. It is up to students researching the topic, and professors like Memorial University's Josh Lepawsky and USC's Josh Goldstein to provide those students with good leads. And it is up to the jury of everyday readers - the people who Adam Minter is so, so good at communicating with, to realize they've been misinformed about what Africans, Asians, and South Americans do with Secondhand stuff.
New rule: Person with the most knowledge about repair of, and demand for, the device gets to define if it is waste to her/him. Basel definition of waste originally recognized this, but rich countries exploited power to define it. - WR3A Tweet Nov 2019
Call these raw video clips a Firsthand Account of Secondhand Trade.
Today's blog is a reminder of our raw footage in the WR3A library, some of it more than a decade old, that the TechSector was being marginalized, to the financial benefit of racketeers in Seattle. As people begin to research the concept of OwnVoices and the marginalized tech sector valedictorians #geeksofcolor, that we have dozens of literal inverviews, like the ones below, of Africans interviewing Africans, Mexicans interviewing Mexicans, Peruvians interviewing Peruvians, Indonesians interviewing Indonesians, etc., going back to WR3A's first grant (from Consumer Electronis Association in 2008, when we mailed out 10 Flip Cameras to Fair Trade Recycling members around the world).
The "white savior" angle of the #ewaste reporting is on the record. And there is ample evidence, thanks to WR3A, that the record overlooked the most knowledgeable and important people in the industry, and allowed them to be labelled as "Primitive" Recyclers.
If you are researching or doing a thesis or term paper on Otherization, Profiling, Marginalization, and Discrimination by liberal media, contact me. I'm a liberal, but if I turn out to have a wrong idea, I want to know about it. If I have stubbornly refused to apologize for the collateral damage I created, I want to be called out. That is part of what made Western Civilization great... not failing to make mistakes, but we are pretty good at documenting our mistakes and recording them.
I honestly think there is a Pulitzer Prize waiting out there for a young journalist who examines the fact that 15 years ago a couple of NGOs (Greenpeace and BAN) produced an utterly fake statistic... that 80% of what Africans (and Chinese and South Americans) import secondhand is actually dumped and burned. And that 80% of what photojournalists film being dumped and burned was imported (to quote Jim Puckett) "days earlier". They labelled people who traded with Joe Benson etc. as "sham recyclers", or maintained that "80% of recyclers" were paying to send junk by boat to avoid recycling fees. The fact is that anyone could see in Joe Benson's documentation that he had a) PURCHASED the TVs in the UK (often from hotels upgrading to newer flat TVs), b) that he sorted out bad ones and had a zero cost to return bad ones in the UK, c) that he paid thousands of dollars to ship the TVs and route them through tight customs in Africa, d) that he was paid on a factor of 10x to 40x the "scrap value" of the TVs when they landed. That the barrister said at his sentencing that "common knowledge" dictated that the vast majority were being dumped... that common knowledge being a press corps that repeated the fake 80% statistic without bothering to check easily available World Bank data on the number of TVs per household in Africa 2 decades earlier, and how much "ewaste" Africa dumps should be receiving as a result. Going back now to the Greenpeace videos, the Kevin McElvaney and Sasha Rainbow and Delvaney and Pieter Hugo "photojournalism", the clearly biased sampling of GPS trackers, etc., what is stunning is that no one interviews an African (other than Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane), much less one of the buyers, consumers, or Benson himself. These reporters claim to be reporting Africa's #ownvoices, but clearly through the use of fake statistics and fake narratives about how the obsolete computers got to Agbogbloshie (by pushcarts in the early morning runs of scavengers on the streets of 3M population greater Accra), they are not asking. The number of sea containers dumping there is not 500 per month. It is zero per year. If you post a photo and report that you saw a sea container, you are lying. If you post a photo and say you didn't see a sea container, then how many hours were you there if there are 500 per month (16-17 per day!) being dumped there.
Juan Solera and Albert Julia (Blame Game) spent weeks there, and when they never saw a sea container, they did research, and that is how they learned about Fair Trade Recycling, and how they got perhaps the first ever interviews of importers in their documentary. Josh Lepawsky, Reed Miller, Adam Minter, etc. asked the same question, and were all startled at how little time it took (minutes) to discredit a decade of "reporting".
It is a critical lack of #ownvoices in the reporting that will be seen as the flaw of Ptolemaic "circular economy" plans in which the rich white countries write the definition of non-"waste" to mean "a white person tested it and confirmed it to be tested working". Of all people, Raphael Rowe @areporter should understand this, but I tried to get his attention 10 years ago and he seemed more concerned about damage to his byline than the collateral damage done to the geeks and nerds and techies of West Africa. If you are one of the people who asks why I am blogging less often, I'm finding it's easier to write pithy short things, and links, on Twitter, where smart people use the "search box" (rather than read long random posts on the main feed).
Thought you'd appreciate this coverage ofAdam Minter's new book, Secondhand. He has already been interviewed by NPR OnPoint and Marketplace, and will be on Fresh Air on Cyber Monday. The concluding chapters of his book focus on our work, at Good Point, and in Ghana, on Fair Trade Recycling.
This has been a long and steady slog. Adam's research was enormously supported by interns from 2007 thru 2019. Adam was inspired to write this book at the 2013 Middlebury College Fair Trade Recycling Summit, and the research by interns at Memorial University, Univesidad Pontifica Catholica (Peru), USC, MIT, Middlebury, U of Amsterdam, U de Paul Cezanne, Univ Monterrey de Guadalajara, developed a tome of documentation and research (much of which was consolidated in the excellent 2018 MIT Press publication Reassembling Rubbish by Dr. Josh Lepawsky).
On Adam Minter's second trip to Ghana, he followed up on the fate of the laptop "Junkyard Planet" was written on
Jaleel of Chendiba Enterprises identified a bad video chip,
Lepawsky's citations, documentation, and assembled research were enormously valuable to Adam Minter, who has the luxury of knowing there is documentation of what he - and some of you - was seeing with his own eyes.
Sometimes it's difficult to see how much we have accomplished in 10 years. In 2013 and 2015, I was able to meet with INTERPOL, who quietly ended "Project Eden" (with support from Italian journalist Jacopo Ottaviano's 2015 datajournalism in Agbogbloshie, which we guided). The new Amazon Prime documentary, Blame Game, may not be perfect, but the directors Juan Solera and Albert Julia made a significant effort to tell both sides of the story - including ours.
There are many other key bricks in the history of our protective wall, contributions by important interns. Brenda Wijnen's Masters thesis, Adelaide Rivereau francophone-directed film and articles, Morgan Whittemore's parts database (which Adam Minter spent time with but it didn't make it to print), Morgan Ingenthron and Conor Fox's video footage of Ghana Tech Sector TV repair, Camila's investigation of SKD operations in Peru, Oscar A. Orta and Emmanuel Nyaletey's presentations in USA, Austria, and Kenya, John Bosco's successful effort getting FTR Offset permission from Ghana EPA, and of course the countless hours of interviews - many filmed - with dozens of Geeks and Technicians in 15 countries (some film paid for by CEA in a 2010 grant). And I know I'm forgetting some (Hi, Jinex!).
Fred Fahiri Somda of Burkina Faso, Oscar Adrian Orta, Nathan Hill, and Colin Davis have remained on the Board of Directors, and continue to support bylaws. Our battle against what Basel Action Network tried to brush aside as "collateral damage" - the racial profiling of Joe "Hurricane" Benson, Hamdy Mousa, Yadji Moussa, Wahab Odoi, Su Fung Ow Young, Allen Liu, Mariano Huchim and others - was asymmetrical. We could not get the funding BAN got, because journalism goes towards a "story", and anti-defamation groups like WR3A are in a position of stating there was no story.
Adam has been able to synthesize this as a message of empowerment. He is giving thanks to us, and by us, I want to pass it along to everyone.
When Adam came to Vermont last week to kick off the tour for this book (thanks to Corey Berman at UVM Recycling), what he emphasized is #Ownvoices - that he was most impressed by our organization's emphasis on forcing journalists to listen to people who do the repair. We don't tell their stories for them if we don't have to. This is his message in the last 2 chapters of Secondhand.
If there's anything I can do to help, letters of recommendation, etc., don't hesitate.
'You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.' Winston Churchill