CRT Glass Market Murder Mystery: Killing with Friendly Fire

"I have to say something." 

We have a really, really immature CRT glass recycling industry.  With a couple of exceptions like Dave Dlubak, who knows how to keep quiet after 3 generations of managing scrap glass, we have a lot of people who think that negative campaigning against each other is the way to put themselves ahead.

"There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them."

Our "e-waste" recycling industry, in general, has made a mess out of "investigations" and "diligence" (or dis-lingence) of cullet end markets.  Having put the word "waste" in the title of our commodity, we were off to a bad start.  And it got worse.

We had a very, very low bar to meet, environmentally.  Provide leaded silicate in a way which is safer than virgin lead mining.  100 years of environmental science were behind the "hierarchy" of reuse, recycling and mining-for-disposal.  Stand at a mine like OK Tedi in Papua New Guinea, where cyanide tailings rush out of the rainforest, killing all the coral reefs.   Stand at a lead mine in Peru, or Kabwe Zambia (the most toxic place on earth).  All we had to do was take lead and silica which has already been mined, already been refined, and deliver it to replace the virgin raw material.  The worst recycling beats the best mining.

But greed for competitive advantages between recyclers has gotten in the way, and "inspection costs" are now perceived by the buyers to outweigh the financial and environmental advantages of CRT glass recycling.

2005:  I worked very, very hard in 2005 to open up the Samsung, Klang, Malaysia CRT furnace to secondary cullet.  That means recycled CRT glass.   We worked with one of the largest CRT contract assembly companies on the planet, who purchased $200M in new CRT tubes from Samsung Klang in 2003, to use their purchasing influence to open the door.

2008:  Someone in the USA, I won't say who, but in our industry, was upset that Samsung was taking "unwashed glass".  The Recycler had put in an investment to wash the phosphor. So they told a certain NGO in Washington to contact the Malaysia EPA about Samsung taking in unwashed glass to recycle it.

"Could you give us a statement please?"
"Yes. 'Chocolate makes one very thirsty.'"

Africa Hears "Great White Father" in (Seattle) Washington

Since the successful "Fair Trade Recycling Summit" at Middlebury College on Earth Week 2013, there has been a notable trend in visitors to the website ( and this blog.

A year ago, the deep blue in the USA (ignore Alaska s.v.p.) showed most readership here.  But Europe was #2.  In a given day now, Europe may not check as often.

But look at Africa and the mideast.  In 873 weekly readers, Africa is showing continued interest, in our exposure of the "science" of e-waste "statistics".

The maps were well lit during the Fair Trade Recycling Summit itself.   355 page views per hour on the video alone.  Some of those were "classroom" views with multiple attendees.

But as Americans shrug and say "Huh, that's interesting", and go back to recycling old "e-waste dumping" stories, the logins at African Universities and Colleges continue.

Africans know that "new" product is A) unaffordable, and B) unreliable.   When there is a high number of returns on millions of units at USA's Best Buy, WalMart, or Target, they yank the product.  Certain new electronics have 33% failure rate from electrostatic discharge.  Where do the bad batches, new in box, go?  When a Taiwanese factory gets its display units back for bad pixels counts, or electrostatic damage, or bad capacitors?


Basel Action Network Accuses R2 Certified Companies of Illegal Acts

On June 17, Basel Action Network released another attack piece, accusing R2 Solutions of violating international law.  In doing so, BAN has indirectly attacked my company, which chose to pay for R2 Certification rather than accepting E-Stewards written offer to pay BAN to certify our operation to their own E-Stewards Standard.

Here's an "as concise" critique of BAN's "concise critique", based on the following international law.

Article 17 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: 
1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. 2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

"The [R2] Standard suffers greatly from its seeming intentional avoidance of international law as it refuses to acknowledge or recognize the definitions and obligations, decisions and guidelines of the Basel Convention, which all developed countries, except the United States have ratified and implemented and is now globally adopted by 180 countries." - Jim Puckett
There are three problems with BAN's analysis of their competitors at R2 Solutions.  The third is the most important.

Cease and Desist Campaign. Yes. We are "behind it".

To those of you forwarding the emails announcing that importers are "pushing back" on the finger-pointing watchdogs, the answer is yes.  Though the words "behind it" have many meanings.

We stand behind the importers.   The geeks of color in Africa, South America, and Asia who have been labelled "mostly primitive" in their importation of an ill-defined word "e-waste".   The technicians who know more about capacitors than we do, who are asked for "proof" and "evidence" that they are not burning the computers they carefully spec'd out, flew to the EU, Canada and USA, and paid good money for.

"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."  - UNEP Study 2012
"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."  - Jim Puckett, Executive Director,  
We have focused on the source of the presumption of guilt, that dirty little secret circulated by Basel Action Network.    Repeated by SVTC and ETBC and Greenpeace.   No doubt believed by many who trust their eyes when Jim Puckett shows them photographs, rather than their heads.

Caught black-handed
With the admission last month that the UNEP studied the containers BAN accused, and found them to be predominantly the reuse equipment the importers claimed it is, BAN has backed away from the Interpol "Project Eden" campaign.  But BAN is completely behind the false information provided to Emile Lundemiller in the Interpol "Organized Crime" E-waste report.

When a city like Lagos has six million households with televisions, it has many environmental problems.  Disposing of its own "ewaste" is one of those problems.   Fair Trade Recycling is an attempt to finance solutions by empowering the technicians who import used equipment with the tools to take back tomorrow's junk, and the methods to recycle it responsibly.

Sign a letter, or sign a petition.   Tell BAN, ETBC, and Greenpeace to "Cease and Desist".

Father's Days Communiqué Part I: Passing a Business Down to a Next Generation

Dear Sonny,

Here is what I can tell you about starting a recycling company from scratch.  Or really, starting anything from scratch.  It could probably apply to a doctor's office or a house painting company.

writing about digital waste handling
At the beginning, when you are the sole employee, you pretty much have to work on getting the clients, and not promising to do more than you are able to do.  At the beginning, you are earning a reputation, which will compound over the course of the next ten years of your business.  My first "motto" was "we are who we say we are and do what we said we'd do".

You will learn on your own that it's really difficult to do every job in your company.  You can try, and it's worth trying so that you know what it is.    But you will discover what Adam Smith observed, that every hour you take away from a task you are indispensible to, to do a task you can outsource, will stunt your business growth.

You will find that you are completely indispensible to about 20% of the hours, because those hours are key to 80% of your income.  Which hours those are will be different for a 2-person, or 4-person company, than they are to a 40-person company.

BAN Spins: How the Basel Action Network Saved Africa

This month, the UK is moving to change its laws to stop the export of used televisions.  You know, the used TVs which make up 70% of sales in African markets, which created about 7 million households with TV in Nigeria.  And the CRT computer monitors, which Africans used to set up the internet cafes which led to the Egyptian Spring.

In about 10 days, new regulations will come into force to explain the 2009 arrest of an African, Joe Benson, who sold the TVs before the laws were changed.  You could call it "tying up a loose end".

But there's another loose end to attend to.   Last month, Basel Action Network publicly disavowed the "80% Export" statistic in response to a Bloomberg editorial (Adam Minter).   Also, BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett applauded this UNEP study.

"The majority of refurbished products stem from imports via the ports of Lagos. The interim results 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 to consumers. 9% of the total imports of used equipment is non-repairable and is directly passed on to collectors and recyclers."
- Final report of the UNEP SBC, E-waste Africa Project,  Lagos & Freiburg, June 2011 
Here's another quote from the Nigeria E-Waste Assessment Study:
"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."
Sounds a lot like "Fair Trade Recycling".  So how does BAN balance the UN Study, showing 91% reuse, recommending AGAINST laws like CAER's Green-Thompson bill, with its applause for the crackdown by Interpol and Europe on exporters like "Hurricane" Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics?

First, embrace the study.  Second, take credit.

Quotes from Jim Puckett:
"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.   These studies were funded due to our film Digital Dump which was shown at the Basel meeting whereafter the EU donated 1 million Euros to assist Africa in solving the e-waste crisis.  
"Nigeria was faced with a very serious abusive importation scene when we first arrived in 2005.  They took the appropriate action and Nigeria is one of the great success stories of addressing the e-waste crisis.  In China it has worsened, in Nigeria, they have really exercised control over the egregious toxic e-waste trade impacting their environment.  "
This is Jim Puckett's spin on the UNEP study, which took 279 sea containers in Nigeria (104 of which came from Joseph Benson's adapted country, the United Kingdom).   The researchers pieced all the TVs out, and found 91% reuse rate.   He tries (in the second quote) to take credit for the turnaround.

In fact, BAN was very, very busy in 2009 and 2010, the period when the 91% reuse was documented in the UNEP study.

Here is a report from the University of Northhampton (UK) which uses BAN as a source, stating only 25% of what Nigerian techs imported could be fixed or reused - complete with photos by master photographer Jim Puckett himself.  What a terrific turnaround it is, from only 25% reuse to 91%.

So fast a "turnaround" that the innocence/improvement happened before the crime!

Here is the infamous 2009 Interpol report, which uses the same (or similar, they never seem to be exactly the same) statistics from BAN's "study" on the percentage of waste in African used electronics exports.  Did Puckett notify Interpol that it was actually much better in 2009?  No.  BAN issued a press release, referring to the Africans as "Organized Crime".  And the source of Interpol's data on the extent of the dumping - MSU - cites who else?  BAN, their report that 80% of exports of CRTs are for primitive recycling.

More from 2009 and 2010:  The smoking guns

Replacement: Powderfinger lyrics and Barn Burning

Last night I wrote something as I was feeling it.  This morning I took it down.

If you read it the Post (Revelation:  Vermont Won't Back Down Recycling Racism), what follows is an apology and a long explanation.   As I hit the "enter key" to post it, I was listening to this song, by Neil Young, called PowderFinger.

Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger...

Bio-Accumulating Ideas Like Heavy Metals

my dad's idea
like mercury
bio accumulate

my great grandfather
my mom's dad
my auntie maude

the lies wash through
the truth resides
ideas like heavy metal

ideas don't smell
odorless colorless
nothing to fear

The truth clings
past my life
my kids my friends

bio accumulate
mind accumulate
the truth and die free

Some flee toxins
Some flee ideas
Cognitive risk

I ate Plato
I ate Gandhi*
I ate Mandela

I ate Jesus
I ate Buddha
I ate Lao Tsu

I ate Black Elk
I ate Copernicus
I ate Ayn Rand

I ate Kahlil Gibran
I ate Aristotle
I ate my Grandfather

I'm eating Bob Dylan
I'm eating Steve Pinker
I'm eating Woodie Guthrie

Their ideas
Their little bitty kernel ideas
Bio accumulate in me


Possessions and Politics: Sorry, But Someone Hates Us

Corporate Skullduggery and Competition in E-Waste

About 25 years ago, I was hanging out in the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) student union cafeteria.  I'd returned from Peace Corps (training contractor in Cameroon), and was headed for an MBA program in Boston.   We had an impassioned conversation with hippy-ish friends about my plans to change the world, fight for the environment "from inside the system".  At least one of my pals was incredulous, said it would be impossible.

I'm still optimistic about my choice, even if most of my contributions are deflecting friendly fire from other environmentalists (ignorantly aimed at African, Latin American, and Asian "geeks of color").  But sometimes things get a little scary.

In the past 4 months:

1) Someone reported us anonymously to the state Fire Marshall for not having an inspected fire system.   Our QA/QC VP is an emergency medical EMT, and has it inspected religiously.  Shrugged it off, but when we asked the Fire Marshall to test our furnace for CO, he wrote the CO report as a "response to complaint" (evidently it counts as complaining on yourself in Vermont when you ask to borrow a CO monoxide meter).

2) Someone reported us to R2 Solutions something on ebay.

3) Someone listed our website as a blacklisted spam sender. - RESOLVED... This is Network Solutions own "report spam" tool, when you get spam in your Netsol mailserver box, do NOT use the Network Solutions own "report spam" button, because if you use the same server to forward your mail, your mailserver gets listed as a spam server.   Network Solutions, hello?? (JUMP TO BOTTOM if you are looking into this MXToolbox issue.)

4) Someone reported us to a major credit agency collector for non-payment of a bogus bill which had been paid (that competitor we know).

5) Someone reported us to the R2 inspector, saying that a maquiladora is export (we have letters stating it is NOT export, and the CRTs that fail testing and are shipped back to the USA are considered our property.  This is the equivalent of telling Sony or Panasonic that if they have new CRTs assembled in Mexico, and one of them fails or breaks, that Sony or Panasonic are "exporting for recycling" even though they bring the rejected tube back to the USA).

There's more, actually, that I can't disclose here.

There is one competitor we know for sure hired a corporate intelligence person, and when I contacted a New England private investigation service (largest) they were "conflicted out" (i.e. already hired by a competitor who listed us as a target).

Key Annotations from Adam Minter's "U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World With E-Waste"

U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World With E-Waste

Whoops!  This wasn't meant to be published yet, and has no key words.  But I chose some of the comments from the Bloomberg Editoria by Adam Minter that deserve annotation or commentary, and I'll be returning here over the next few days.  So stay tuned.  More from the editorial which brought us THIS response.
"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." 
Key dialogue being recycled below...  Stay tuned for red letter responses to each.