Preceding "Fair Trade", For Profit Efforts to Correct Injustice

While spending some Saturday time researching on today, I became really curious about the Freelands (my great-great grandparents, and my middle name) who came to Kansas with New England roots, in the mid 1800s.

Kansas, in the mid-1800s, was "Bleeding Kansas".

Basically the Mason-Dixon line of slavery was broken by democratic vote in "slave-owning" Missouri, which was above the line, breaking the precedent.  Kansas-Nebraska Act followed, and Kansas was to decide slavery based on the popular vote.

RobinRobin Haiku: Recyclers Are The City Blacksmith

Recyclers Are the City Blacksmith - by RobinRobin

Guiyu's not dumping
Harvest IC chips - it's smart
Imperfectly wise

Hong Kong's not dumping
Monitors Rebuilt TVs

Agbogbloshie films
Capture urbanization
City waste, recycled

Demand for education
Mankind makes cities

Rapid city growth
Is dirty, unlike forests
But melds womens rights


OP ED: GPS Tracker Controversy Resurfaces #Monitour

Just a brief update about the 2016 reports (2) by Basel Action Network which claimed that their partnership with MIT Senseable City Lab demonstrated that 36% of USA E-waste is illegally -  and shamefully - exported.  When the first report came out, one year ago, we contacted MIT to question the following methodological concerns in the study.  MIT sent a disavowal and stopped appearing with BAN in the press, but the damage has been done.  BAN unmasked unwitting and unwilling participants and named names - even companies like mine that they know for a fact did not export the device they shipped to us.  Where there's smoke, someone should get fired.

1) 50% of waste - CRT TVs - were not tracked.  Probably because they are almost never exported. If they are never exported, the exported "findings" fall back into the 10%-20% range identified in several other studies.  It's the "blue-eyed basketball player fallacy" (selective sampling).  They tracked 30% of types of devices deemed likely exports, and found 36% of those were exported.

2) BAN covered up destinations which didn't fit their "primitive and shameful" narrative of overseas recycling.  Here is video from April '15, six months before our downstream USA recycler exported a printer we handled, of Hong Kong's legal EcoPark.  We found direct evidence that BAN erased the coordinates for this facility, and shared that on the blog and with MIT.

3) BAN misidentified legal repair and reuse as shameful exporting.  Two CRTs tracked in Pakistan ended up in a multi-story reuse shop a couple of blocks from Pakistan's largest tech university, in the same building that sells CRT analog converters (changing monitors to TVs).  Another data point that "disappeared" in BAN's second report appears to show a large SKD factory in Foshan.  If it isn't this factory, then why did BAN erase the datapoints in its second report?  In Fact, one of the SEATTLE devices exported (under investigation by Washington DEP) was in fact tracked through the site above, and is found in reuse in Tin Shui Wai (a city, not a rice paddy, in the New Territories).  BAN erased the datapoint, but it was shared with us by someone in Seattle, and we profiled the cover up here.

4) Whether or not the tampering and fallacies above were intentional, BAN's participation and funding and sharing data with E-Stewards who sponsor BAN financially are prima facia violations of MIT ethics rules on both conflict of interest and tracking of "unwitting and unwilling" human subjects.  If there was any question whether BAN was just following devices or was targeting unwitting and unwilling subjects in the first report release, that was released in the second, where BAN named me personally and my clients in Somerville, despite knowing that we did NOT export the device they tracked. Oh, and the Somerville site is a commercial office, not a public drop off point... MIT undergrads had to ring a doorbell and get buzzed in to a building with no "recycling" sign.  At that point, MIT assigned its attorneys to the case and MIT Senseable City Lab issued a disclaimer and stopped commenting publicly on BAN's allegations.

And remember, #2 EcoPark is a direct competitor of E-Steward donors!

5) We had direct tracking of exactly how much of our used electronics we qualify for direct or potential export.  It's under 10%.  We provided that information to MIT Senseable City Lab, who provided it to BAN before BAN issued the 2nd report ignoring that data.   The fact we could track that item without BAN's GPS was less interesting to us than the fact that an E-Steward who pays BAN handsomely cancelled our shipments of printer scrap for several weeks while the GPS tracker was in our building.  A source at MIT has privately confirmed the same suspicion, that BAN had active access to "live" devices and that it would have been simple to warn paying sponsors to avoid shipments containing the devices.

If anyone needed a track record for BAN's targeting of me personally, here is a reminder of a paid BAN staffer's characterization of me, personally, to a Chicago Patch reporter two years earlier, and BAN's public admission of the personal attack, and apology to me.

Whether funders like The Body Shop Foundation or researchers like Carlo Ratti of MIT Senseable City lab will ever partner with Basel Action Network again is an open question.   But they would be wise to track the history and reputation of the "watchdog" that barks at companies that don't pay them "certification fees" worth millions of dollars to stay silent, and to fund vicious racist attacks on innocent Tech Sector importers and exporters like "Hurricane" Joe Benson of the UK - the Tom Robinson of UK's witch hunt into fake news about Agbogbloshie distributed by BAN... falsehoods exposed by me months before BAN's report called me out in shameful light.

It's a shame that legitimate concerns exposed by the study can't now be pursued without airing false propaganda.   The fact our Massachusetts printer, sent to Chicago, didn't go to the place in Hong Kong described and approved (#2) and the reasons - legit or not - given to our downstream USA copy machine repair shop who exported it... all legitimate avenues to explore and learn from.  But those could have been pursued without "unmasking" the unwitting and unwilling participants, and without the 5 research fallacies described above.

I'm bringing this up because last week a Vermont Agency of Natural Resources staff person made a claim about my company and the GPS tracking which did not mention the legal R2 certified facilities in Hong Kong or EcoPark (video above), in defense of new Procedures which the Agency admits are directed at one company - mine.

Pharmaceutical Recycling 2: Rich Liability vs. Poor World Shortages

George Washington Carver Is Not Liable For Peanut Butter Allergies (he didn't even invent it)

In Part 1, I introduced this topic after opening a piece of mail telling us that a $500-something dollar epipen we own had reached its expiration date.  It made me curious whether the "obsolescence" of the pharmaceuticals equated to actual risk, and made me think about the different financial implications for wealthy, poor, stockholders, etc. And how the psychology of "greed and fear" is used as a persuader to advance the interests of those parties.  From Part 1:
In the case of an epi-pen, "less effective" is certainly a concern if you can afford a new one.  But if my kid starts to suffer a life-threatening peanut allergy reaction, I'm not going to check the date on his epi-pen.

What about "elective upgrade"? Can I sell my expired epi-pen, and buy a new one to satisfy my risk averse kin?  That reduces MY liability (to my son), but is my liability somehow "externalized" to poor people?
Hint:  No

But let's see how the Policy On Pharma Storage or Disposal (not recycling) is covering the exits.

Pharmaceutical Recycling: When 1st World Liability Means 3rd World Shortages

My  wife and I received a mail about a $500-something dollar epipen having reached its expiration date.  It made me curious whether the "obsolescence" of the pharmaceuticals equated to actual risk.

I found a decent 2012 Science-Based-Medicine journal article by Scott Gavura, seeking answers to the question, and found once-again that medical ethics are rich in direction for environmental ethics.  Human Health has been a concern for longer than Environmental Health.

So basically the article says that there is very little risk that expired medicine is bad for you.  It doesn't turn into poison (there was one possible case of that from a medicine that was long ago banned from the market... think of the liability if people died from not reading the date on your label).

When a new medicine is approved by FDA, no Pharma company can afford to then test it by putting it on the shelf for several years to determine its expiration date.  They do run tests on exposure to moisture and light, and use those to predict shelf life.  But like food, an open can of stuff doesn't stay good for as long as a closed can of stuff, so the expiration date is majorly affected by whether it is pre-consumer (unopened at a pharmacy) or post-consumer (excess from a once opened bottle).

And this is hot topic in Waste Policy... see all the national pharma take-back day events this month.

How We Knew About Apple's "Recycled Content" Plan 2 Years Ago!

Big announcement, just out, from Apple CEO - Apple will produce its electronics from 100% recycled material, not from virgin mining.

It's reported from Apple's just-released 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report.  It's bound to hit all the Earth Day news outlets this weekend.

Sourcing recycled content, creating a demand-pull effect, was what we were working on when I started at Massachusetts DEP in 1992.  It can be very big news.

Question:  How did I know about this almost 2 years before Apple's announcement?

Apple doesn't make its own stuff.  It's generally put together by a Shenzhen contract manufacturer like Foxconn or Wistron, which the blog has focused on many times.

Guess how we knew about Hong Kong EcoPark when we allowed a trial load of printers to go to Hong Kong - when our E-Steward downstream wouldn't pick up after several loads to their shredder?  When the BAN GPS Tracker was in our facility, and suddenly our shipments were mysteriously cancelled?

When I did background check on why Hong Kong would be paying for printer scrap again, before approving to the Chicago downstream replacing the E-Steward, I found that the $550M EcoPark tenants were sourcing scrap for plastic to be sold to a contract manufacturer in Shenzhen.   One who made devices with a major brand name label.

Lifecycle Analysis: CleanTech, "BrownTech", and Export Markets

What is the tension between "CleanTech" - e.g. a new hybrid car - and (what I'll call) "BrownTech"?  Repairing an older gas guzzler to run another year before mining, refining, consuming for new?

Early adapters proudly display their new CleanTech device.  As they should. By electively upgrading to a newer, environmentally-efficient device, they are sending signals to the market and to investors.  The early adapters are on the front lines, bringing the scalability (lowered cost and efficiency) to the new wind, solar, sustainable, recycled-content, non-toxic, etc. markets.

But being able to afford these elective #CleanTech upgrades is a privilege not shared by poor people, especially those in Emerging Markets (so-called "third world" countries).  For them, they are upgrading from a black and white 1967 television to a color 19" CRT.  From not having a phone at all to a flip Motorola.

The new #cleantech device trade shows are exciting.  So are ghetto repair shops. We are on the same spectrum of Life Cycle Analysis.  The differences are economic and cultural.

2002 Article In Recycling Today Foreshadows WR3A, IFixIT, E-Stewards

While looking to upload some papers in, I ran across an article published by Recycling Today magazine in 2002 - by yours truly.  "Setting a Higher Standard" explained that boycotting the export market would be a "war on drugs" approach, forcing legit oversees reuse and recycling operations to meet demand via "back alleys".

Here are 3 conclusions about e-waste export policy at the end of the article (edited by Brian Taylor).

Looks sound.

1) Send Quality.  Meet the customers and find out what they want.  Just export that.  Don't throw a piece of junk on the container that you don't know what to do with.  This would become the foundation of and Fair Trade Recycling.

2) Support Reuse and Repair.  This forshadowed, was influenced by's Silicon Sam.  I'd used Sam's repair instructions while reviewing Chinese purchase orders, and found the Chinese buyers were giving instructions that would eliminate non-repairable units.  This led to the realization that China was not buying ANY CRT Televisions, only specific 15" and 17" CRTs, which meant the trade was not driven by cost externalization.  California SB20 went off a cliff that year.

3) Support Reputable USA companies.  This forshadowed R2 and E-Stewards.

Basel Action Network attacked me for writing the article, personally, and that is how I met Jim Puckett.  He blasted a response to the article via "Microsoft Outlook" and cc'd dozens of people whom I'd never met, but with whom I'd become acquainted over the years.

The article was sent to some folks at US EPA, who later hired me as a consultant for the 2006 Federal Register CRT Rule, which funded my second trip to Asia - this time bringing Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim and Lin King of UC Davis, to visit some of the "Big Secret Factories" that BAN was racially profiling as "primitive rice paddies".  (If you are researching MIT Senseable City Lab and BAN's Monitour project, there's a chestnut about this at the bottom of this blog).

TOP 10 Themes to Ingenthron's Good Point "e-Waste" Blog 2006-2016

If you are going to map this blog to take my insights for a thesis, article, or term paper you are writing, I'd be glad to help though I don't have that much time to insert links below. Let me know whether I've forgotten any.  Because I might be finished.

These ten themes have valuable lessons outside of e-waste policy.  They are examples of examining an electronics recycling problem, and finding a universal that will lead to more environmental justice (and less environmental malpractice) in other trade policies.

1) Mining a ton of material always pollutes more than getting the same ton by recycling.

The hand-wringing about "perverse consequences" of recycling can lead to improvements in the recycling process.  But any "gotcha" or "dirty little secret" stories need to face up to situations like copper mining at the OK Tedi Papua New Guinea, the lead mining at Kabwe, the 14/15 largest USA Superfund sites, etc.  If you dispose of X out of concern over it's recycling process, and the same quantity you disposed of has to be mined from a rain forest, don't pat yourself on the back.

2) Elective Upgrade Decisions are Relative, Tied to Value Added

The second-hand market allows a chain of affordable use.  When a rich person chooses to upgrade to a new device, the environmental costs of production (like mining) remain embodied in the old device, which is now affordable to someone who could not have afforded a new device.

This creates a "critical mass of users" in emerging markets necessary to support investment in cell phone towers, internet cable, satellites, TV stations, etc. You can't raise enough taxes to repave a road if none of your citizens owns/affords a car.  Don't feel guilty about getting something new - so long as your used good gets reused.

More below

Circular Economy and African Shanzhai: Under the Bridge

Shanzhai, or Shan Zhai, or sanzai...

I dropped the word "shanzai" recently.  In my mind, it's something I blogged about not that long ago (2011) - a term I learned from meeting Dr. Josh Goldstein at USC via Adam Minter.  But I do admit to that habit of dropping a word or a phrase in places where no one knows what I'm talking about (unless they do).

Like a reference to "the Keystone Cops", the word "shanzhai" went "whoosh" over the heads of my listeners.  But in a reuse and recycling context, it's a profound concept.  It is like a master guitarist finding that a fan has learned to play his riffs even better than he can.  It's the concept of taking an iPhone 6 and repairing it with bells and whistles that make it, virtually, like an iPhone 9 (yet to be invented).

Today's blog has three goals - 1) remind readers of the importance of shanzhai, 2) show some really awesome examples of Africans turning broken LCD TVs into things of higher value, and 3) explore the "poor communicator" dynamic which so often dumbs down own discussions. When is it necessary to go back and remind a new reader what a word means?  Often today, journalists and bloggers "hotline" the word by html to a definition somewhere else online, similar to a footnote.

So here's the thing - Shanzai is being re-defined in relationship to "counterfeit" stuff. In the same way the charitable industrial complex defined African electronic recycling with "bad" images of Agbogbloshie, and defined Chinese technology reuse with cesspools and rice paddies, someone is out to bury the concept of refurbishment itself, and to make it seem shameful.

And they are going to use European and American implicit racism and assumptions about Africans and Chinese people to keep the competition away.  Like second string white baseball players, the American and European "big shred" recyclers are frightened of competition from Jackie Robinson.

To be fair, shanzai does also mean borrowed or knock-off, but in Chinese it has a much more respected context.  As I explained in the blog, Shanzhai is respected in China, in the way that John Frusciante, 47, (Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist) respects Josh Klinghoffer, 37.  Klinghoffer copied Frusciante's guitar riffs and added a spice to them that put the Red Hot Chili Peppers on another level.

Here's what you will see in the blog below the "more" line:

1) Chili Peppers "under the bridge" video
2) An explanation of how I feel lonely explaining African exports (tied to lyrics)
3) A photo slide show demonstrating what Africans are doing with broken LCD TVs (like the ones Total Reclaim allowed to be exported to China)

And as usual, the conclusion

4) African geeks know more than we do, and the "circular economy" doesn't revolve around white people.

followed by

5) a blog-end of why it may be worth it to sometimes write a blog that's over most reader's level of expertise.

See if you can check the boxes

Defending Geeks of Color In Vacuum of Nuance

The April Fools blog on Saturday returned to familiar ground.  I'm a little uncomfortable with one of the jokes, which I softened in a later edit.  The GPS Not In 88 Electronic Recycler acronym was cringeworthy.

But in backing away, I'm also caving in to the neutering of nuance by political correctness.  You see, by nature of my privilege, many say I cannot joke about certain things.  Such as the white privilege of those who would criminalize used appliance repair.

Mark Twain's use of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn is still "controversial", at least among people whose IQs are either much higher or much lower than mine.

Essentially, the majority of human beings agree with me and not those who have claimed the mantle of "Steward".  But the majority does not have the e-waste megaphone.

Ghana Fair Trade Recycling Album

The strict European definitions that place repair and reuse under "waste management" regulators was a reaction to a false statistic, which was perhaps created innocently but was funded with millions of dollars of Planned Obsolescence, Anti-Gray-Market, and Big Shred money.  An obscene amount of money as compared with the number of dollars that ever went to the families of people whose photos among waste were used to pass the legislation and garner those donations.

Breaking News: GPS Recycling Miscegeny Trackers Flatten Circular Economy

[SEATTLE, WA 01.04.2015 00:01 april fools] MIT Sendable City lab announced today that a study with NGO Basel Acting Network has revealed a startling outcome, and a next stage.  The circular economy is flat.  And a Next Generation Tracking Devices has been developed to find reuse trade as it occurs.

The team will keep tracking the devices, as they move around between repair and reuse markets. But the next generation of trackers, the NI88ERGPS, will clearly identify boundries in the gray market.

"In our first effort, we thought that Basel Acting Network had tracked each of the GPS devices to its final resting place.  We called that end point 'Overseas'.  We thought we were finished," said Dr. Carl Ratty of MIT Sendable City Lab. "It turns out there are a lot of different places over there, and stuff keeps moving around."

The 1st Generation of GPS devices are still in motion.  88 different nations have continued to use, pass along, and exchange the devices.  Reuse is spiralling out of control, and it will take a new generation of trackers to make the crime - not disposal, but point of exchange - more black and white.

A 'point of pollution' requires that the device stop somewhere, in a dump. BAN's actual target is the exchange of goods and services between rich and poor, an act he labels electronic miscegenation.  These are not geographic "positioning" tracers.  They will trace "possession".

Continuing Final Outcomes:

"In 2016, we were certain that when the GPS devices landed in Faisalabad, Pakistan, that they were surely and finally buried, deep in the soil of a 3rd story electronics mall with escalators and dozens of reuse shops," said Basel Acting Network CEO Jim Plunckett.

But the first trial continued to track the property for as long as the batteries last.  Devices disposed in a primitive computer company's third shelf eye-level retail shop moved to a dormitory at Faisalabad University, 3 blocks away.

"We updated the report to show the devices new locations.  But they keep moving," said Ratty.

Devices sent to Tin Shui Wai in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district could be tracked going up an elevator, the a 14 floor apartment.  One device appeared to be in use in a hospital mobile cart.  A display device attached to a blood gas analyzer, the GPS tracker showed the cart moving up and down hallways, floor by floor in the Cairo General Childrens Hospital.

Plunckett sees a better solution than tracking an "end point".