UNU Gets Closer To Ewaste Truth - But it is LEGAL not ILLEGAL

I T    I S   L E G A L

See video of African Reuse

First the Good News about United Nations University's "Person in the Port Project" (2018).  "Assessing Import of Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment Into Nigeria"...

  1. The 2018 PiP report avoids the pitfall of poverty porn (which made its 2015 report cringeworthy)
  2. The report correctly describes the use of otherwise "unused space" in automobiles (West Africa's #1 used goods import) to move laptops, computers, and other household electronics (and clothes, and jacuzzis, etc).
  3. They involved 2 African authors, Olusegun Odeyingbo (UNU), and Dr. Innocent Nnorom, BCCC Africa (along with Dr. Olmar Desozer of UNU - ViE SCYCLE)
For a really excellent description of what "drives" the export trade, see section 5.8.1 Economic Relevance of UEEE Trade, Refurbishment and Recycling (complete quote at bottom, in blue).
"The high skill level of Nigeria’s refurbishing sector, with the ability to fix many technical defects in UEEE at reasonable service cost, also motivates importers to import both functioning and non-functioning electronic equipment to Nigeria." 
Well done.

The problem is in the press release, and the headline.  They claim something that is rational and environmentally sound is nevertheless illegal.  And the press release (apparently written by a freaked out white Starbucks barista) is to call law enforcement... without quoting or interviewing the black people who loaded and unloaded the containers.

Africans are control of this whole trade.  This report does a lot to document that, reversing the narrative that unethical OECD sham recyclers are responsible.

It's halfway there.  It correctly describes the trade, but nonetheless also makes concessions to the European E-Wastes lynch mob.  Better dressed, better facts, and with credible African co-authors.  But where is the crime?  Where is the waste dumping? 

Recalling Booker T. Washington, the report reads like a compromise.  It describes the good, but extends an olive branch to regulators who impugn trade with geeks of color in rapidly emerging markets like Nigeria.

To me, the photos, charts, and data look - ordinary.  Below are a couple which I took just a month before I saw the report, at a USA African-run pack-and-ship terminal in the New York City Area.

We agree on what it looks like.  Here is a shot I took of a container being loaded for Africa.

The UNU report uses ordinary photos of ordinary stuff which ordinary African businesspeople purchase solely for the purpose of reuse and repair.  And yes, they use empty space in cars efficiently.

Chart after chart after chart describes the exports.  And to repeat, to their credit, there are no emotion-button photos of kids at the dumps standing on computer monitors (which had been imported 20 years earlier).

They almost have it.  Then, as if they anticipated the question... So what? They invoke the spectre of crime.

The automobiles and mixed loads are made to sound suspicious.  But that's what people do in the shipping business - efficiently maximize space in sea containers.  Hardly worth an extension of the constantly-funded UNU E-waste research budget...   Uh-oh.  Here it comes.

"Basel Convention"

The report concedes these are imports by Africans, who generate profits from reuse and repair.  They are not "waste" products shipped by the driver "avoiding disposal fees" by shammy fat white guys in capitalist top hats.

But DING, that false note.  "Nevertheless, under the provisions of the Basel Convention, the export to and import of nonfunctional [Untested Electric and Electronic Equipment] into Nigeria are illegal."

No.  Sorry.  Check the Convention. Exporting them for the purpose of dumping and burning is illegal (the original claim).  Export of non-functional electronic devices for the purpose of repair is not only NOT ILLEGAL, there is special language stating, unequivocably, that it is LEGAL UNDER THE BASEL CONVENTION ANNEX IX, B1110.  And nothing says otherwise!

Vermont #RightToRepair S.180 Bill - Wall Chargers, Ink Cartridges in Chamber 35

The session on Vermont S.180 was crammed into one hour and fifteen minutes. I sat on a cushioned wall shelf in chamber room number 35.  Twelve committee members and staff. Three witnesses in favor of the Right To Repair Bill (VPIRG's Dan Brown, EFF's Kit Walsh by phone, and Michael Duplessis, of SunCommon, Apple repair guru). I was a wallflower.

You wouldn't think that the most important e-waste legislation in the United States was being discussed here, unless you counted the manufacturing lobbyists.  Not that the 3 anti-S.180 witnesses were over the top. They'd travelled to talk against a bill that was already defanged. Neutered. Eviscerated.  VPIRG told me it was effectively killed in the previous chamber.

The remaining "debate" is whether the Vermont Legislature should even form a task force or committee to further review the Right To Repair.  The lobbyists were there to strongly advocate not to have any discussions about it.

A lobbyist for the medical equipment manufacturers seemed to insinuate that people could die if finely tuned medical instruments are improperly reused.  A lobbyist for farm equipment dealerships said the line had to be drawn below dealerships.  His members were currently satisfied. (One legislator correctly pointed out the Ag Dealerships were protected by similar legislation when manufacturers prevented them from servicing multiple brands some years ago.... the lobbyist nodded, yes, that's where to draw the line)

The strategy of industry in opposition to discussion of the Fair Repair Act is obfuscation.  They left the impression that the Task Force would have to cover a pandora's box of questions.  The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development Chairman, Bill Botzow (D-Bennington), was genuinely daunted.  "Which bite of the cake do we eat first?"

How about the icing?   15 U.S.C. § 2301  Because this cake was already baked 40 years ago.  The debate was held between 1972 and 1975, all the cautions were weighed and balanced.  This is an act to establish a Task Force to review an old law and see how it can be updated.  Easy peasy...

Ask about the wall chargers.  Europe already passed rules making them universal, and no airplanes fell out of the sky.

By Evan-Amos - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16128583

CryptoCurrencyBall: Tinkerer's Blessing Moneyball Takes on E-Waste

The previous post basically took MIT SustainAble City Labs and E-Stewards to task for the ill-conceived GPS tracking study that succeeded, mostly, in elevating negative stereotypes about both scrappers and tech sector workers in emerging markets. 

Basel Action Network is trying to monetize tracking of unwitting, unwilling subjects.  I just hope MIT will eventually do the right thing and apologize for its role in using undergraduate students to place tracked devices, disguised as repairable (and in some cases WERE repaired), and associating legitimate overseas technicians with "rice paddies" and "shantytowns".

Now for the positive, forward looking alternative, the Fair Trade Recycling vision.
"Your goal shouldn't be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins... I believe there is a championship team that we can afford, because everyone else undervalues them." Peter Brand, Moneyball
We are working to fly 2 of the brightest LED/LCD/Plasma display techincians I have met in Ghana over the past 4 years to Middlebury, Vermont, to train and interract with Good Point Recycling staff. We sent 2 student interns to work with one of those technicians under the Fair Trade Recycling "e-Waste Ambassadors" program last summer (Middlebury College and U of Florida).

We are going to be card counters at the blackjack table...

And here is a paid Fair Trade Recycling Internship post to bring us there (please repost).

I call it CryptoCurrencyBall...

FRAMED: GPS Tracking System For Ca$h!! Non-Profit For Hire Egg Hunt!


Environmental NGO Basel Action Network released an Opinion piece in E-Scrap News that may have put too fine a point on their offer to shakedown competitors.
"Responsible recycling companies can be plagued with downstream vendors that cheat on their no-export commitments. For this reason, BAN encourages all electronics recyclers to contact BAN to privately contract for our tracking services. We are ready and willing to help all recyclers and enterprise companies to audit their downstream partners."

"Responsible"... You'll be "responsible" all right.  Because if you read the agreement disclaimer, you'll find you could be held responsible if the NGO gets sued for defamation.

Here's our April Fool's Day Prank - How to use an MIT-inspired GPS tracker to make ANYONE look bad.  And the fun part is, you can do it for Ca$h!