Boogeyman E-Waste: Stats the Charitable Industrial Complex Won't Share

Well, in another week I may or may not be in Championsgate (Orlando) Florida for the next E-Scrap Conference.  I've long made peace with not speaking or presenting at the Resource Recycling conference... speaking to groups of peers who mostly feel they know what you know is a more thankless task than many realize.

This blog is inspired by Max Rosers 2017 paper, "Our World in Data."



If the conference isn't cancelled due to Hurricane Irma (there will be about a week to clean up the airports), I'll go to attend the E-Life documentary screening, and to make the usual noise about the boogeyman approach to environmental awareness.

360 Degree Racism: The Privileged Wage Collateral Damage on Emerging "E-Waste" Markets


Do rich people have more leverage and 'unfair' advantage in a marketplace?  Absolutely.  No one denies that in a used car transaction that the wealthy owner of the car doesn't have the same need to make the sale, and the poor person - who needs an affordable car to get to work - has more to lose if the sale doesn't happen.  The wealthy have the power and privilege.

That said, the stupidest and most ignorant conclusion is that poor people should be put in a different marketplace than rich people.  That they shouldn't trade together.  Years ago, an NGO leader told me that poor people should repair poor peoples stuff, and rich people should repair rich peoples stuff... that identity should define the legality of the transactions.

It is a kind of stupid that could only occur in a marketplace contaminated by "identity politics".  Instead of talking about the transaction, and what's in the best interest of the free market participants, we are defining them as representatives of social groups.  In a market where some collective guilt or social liability has been whipped into a froth such that the rich person feels liability or exposure to the idea that they have exploited the poor person in a transaction, and therefore choose to shred the car rather than allow anyone to say they sold it in a transaction, to a poor person, in a marketplace where they held the upper hand.

#360DegreeRacism is the spawn of identity politics.


Used Chevy in Poorest Rural Mexico

A Spectrum Of Opinions


Twenty years ago, I was one of the most bullish advocates of widespread internet access for the masses.  I saw the web as anti-totalitarian, progressive, feminist, and leaning towards fair.  It would expose us all to more information and culture. The "open air" of democracy, I thought, would prove harkening if not irresistible to people living under despots who had grown accustomed to dishing out "pravda" (truth) through government and corporate press hegemonies.

In some ways, internet access has, indeed, worked out that way. But the "democratization of online information" has also forced us to deal with other things we see in popular governance.  Tyranny of the majority, gerrymandering, and appeal to rhetoric over reason... these are as much at play in the internet today as innovation and shared compassion.  Plato's Republic must be required reading at Facebook headquarters.  There are fewer editors of the internet, and fewer checks and balances of power.  It may be a pure democracy (without executives, representatives, or judges) - which, Plato says, naturally gives rise to dictatorship.

"Wise men speak because they have something to say;
Fools because they have to say something" - Plato

People on both sides of arguments today (online) are trying to bully the moderates.  In doing so, they share a common position on the social spectrum.

GPS LIE DETECTOR? Flagrant False Claim #Ewaste Watchdog (GPS Tracking Monitour interview)

Wow, haven't followed up that much since the MIT SenseAble City Lab and BAN GPS tracking project was pulled to MIT legal office about a year ago.  Readers are aware that this blog tracked many of the devices into places that BAN didn't want to talk about - like a University reuse operation in Faisalabad, or modern 21st century EcoPark in Hong Kong (no longer obscured in Monitour).

Well I just ran across a little video produced in 2017 by Luen Hai - Decoding the Connection.  In it, at about minute 6, a Hong Kong reporter identifies Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network as an important expert in e-waste imports to Hong Kong.  Then Jim says on screen that 54% of the GPS trackers the organization placed in e-waste was shipped to Hong Kong.

If you know about this study, you may think I made a typo. The numbers are so specifically wrong. But this is Jim's recorded voice, in his own words... screenshots with subtitles below.

1. "These little trackers, and I can show you one, they are like little lie detectors"



IRONY of IRONIES...  Listen to what Jim tells the filmmaker about the GPS "lie detector"...  Full video at bottom below.


Europe (and INTERPOL) Focus Still Explained by "Strategic Metals"?

INTERPOL announced 30 days of "recycling crime" enforcement this week.

On this I will give them points - They are targeting automobile "recycling crime" and waste exports, and not as many of the photos seem to show reuse or Tech Sector imports. I believe Fair Trade Recycling (WR3A) has been effective in reducing the enforcement agency's obsession with "e-waste exports".


The photo of lead-zinc ore for sale from Africa's most toxic mine (Kabwe in Zambia) is apparently legal.  There's no law targeting the most toxic activity on the planet, because it isn't "waste"... so there is no fetish attached to it.

I love INTERPOL's focus on tigers and elephants and shark fins and ocean dumping. I'm enthusiastic about illegal forestry and charcoal trade. But what explains INTERPOL's strange obsession with recycling, when MINING is so much worse for Africans and the planet?

Mining lead-zinc ore from Africa's forests, for sale to Asia and Europe, is legal.

But it is apparently not legal for Africans to buy back scrap metal?

Another EU EWaste Documentary: E-Life by Ed Scott-Clarke (Teaser)

Have only seen the E-Life Youtube trailer so far.  Ed Scott-Clarke did respond to my email and suggested I wait to see the documentary.  So... this is only a review of the trailer. A teaser of the teaser (I'll review the whole doc when I see it).

So far, same old same old. A 40 year old TV plastic housing is used as a frame to film men ("boys") burning wire on that spot on the lagoon shore.  Supposedly, 40 year old TVs and VCRs are being dumped on primitive tribesmen on the shores of Ghana.

http://www.edwardscottclarke.com/news/2017/8/3/e-life-wins-its-first-award

Executive Directors Lars Wogen, John Ditchfield, and James Scott-Clarke (relation?) had access to both sides of the story. The trailer shows one side. I can hold my breath, but the fact that they use the exact same "50 year old kitchen CRT TV plastic" in a smoky Agbogbloshie frame for their title shot makes me pessimistic.



E-Missionaries Saving African Recyclers: 9 Stages Of Eyes Adjusting to Dark

Senegal Computer Salesman - 2006
The 2006 picture of white computers shows a Tech Sector importer in his shop in Dakar, Senegal.  The Pentium 3s and 4s were likely 5 years old. They'd be 15 now. The picture itself is 11 years old. Someday, the computers will be Senegal's e-waste, if not already.

Until then, they brought the internet to people who could not afford to buy new.  And Souleymane, the geek in the white shirt, was one of the most interesting people I've met in a decade.  He stayed at my house.  We cooked and broke bread together. I accepted his money, and he accepted those computers from Vermont.

Most of us don't have a personal connection with Africans in photos of exported e-waste.  And most of the photos in the mainstream press do not have any specifics... names, age, date of import, chain of possession, etc.

Contrast the 2006 import shop with the 2016 photo.


Unfortunately, neither photo is typical in news reports on exports of used electronics to Africa.

What do the photos below say to you as an Electronics Recycler?  It depends at what Stage of the Recycling Export Experience you have achieved.  To end racism and environmental injustice, you must first remember a lesson from childhood. Let your eyes adjust to the dark, and it won't frighten you as much as it does at first.

Here are the 9 Stages of Export Denial and Acceptance.

Achtung Germany! Agbogbloshie (Ghana) Pollution is from AUTOMOBILE Waste Not E-Waste / WEEE

MISDIRECTED FOCUS

The 'Burning Environmental Issue' is Automobile Waste, not e-waste.

Clean up Africa's car pollution, worry about electronics later (when you understand it).

Hey, Listen..."Sending European used cell phones" to Africa is not the problem, and arresting African export-import traders won't clean the water or bring back "Eden".



For two years, I've been making the point that Agbogbloshie is not the largest e-waste dump in the world, and that geeks of color are being racially profiled and arrested.  Those things are true.  But Accra is polluted, and the grants to date are misspent and misdirected.

Before Germany spends $15M - 25M on an e-waste recycling solution, they should look at the photos in the link more carefully.

It's a tire, and a ball of automobile wire, not a cell phone.

There is a serious pollution problem in Accra and other African cities. Its cause should be obvious as you wend your way from Accra's Kotoka International Airport to the hotel, the day before you spend another hour wending your way to Agbogbloshie's slum... or stuck bumper-to-bumber in Accra (or Lagos, or Nairobi) traffic.


Cars.
Autos.
Vehicle-Waste.

Follow the trail.

[photos taken at Agbogbloshie Scrap Yard by Robin Ingenthron for WR3A - except for the screenshots from MTV music videos of Placebo and Beyonce, and DW article]


CRT Glass Resolution: An "Own Goal" In Slow-Mo

The path of least resistance is to trust our environmental regulators, trust the watchdogs, and assume that profit-driven industry is the villain, the fox in the henhouse.

The path of least resistance is to assume that people questioning environmental enforcement are "apologists" who care less about environmental pollution than the enforcement proponents.

Sometimes those assumptions are 100% right.  I'm not a carbon climate causality denier, and I'm proud of my 9 years of service as a Massachusetts recycling regulator.


But as a former regulator, I can attest regulators are not always right.  Regulatory agency lawyers tend to be more risk-averse than private sector attorneys, for example.  Regulators understandably want to hold themselves to "the highest environmental standard".  But when there is doubt and uncertainty - an engineering problem for example - the regulator can become obfuscated and defend his own reputation.  That is to say, when in doubt, the regulator has to act - in doubt.  And saying "yes" or "no" sometimes boils down to the regulator's own insecurities.

And these lead to unintended consequences.  #OwnGoal

Let me again state that what the agencies do, for the most part, is great.  I'm suggesting an environmental police chief should look at community concerns the way any police chief looks at protest.  You can stonewall and deny mistakes, claim 100% effectiveness in your policy.  Or you can learn from a mistake and adjust your policy.

Ai vs Oi - Defining Original Intelligence

Musk and Gates are correct in their warnings.  AI - Artificial Intelligence - will eventually have the means to use facial recognition software, etc., etc.

For starters we have to define "original intelligence".


Apple of California or Taipei iPod Contractors? "Birth of iPhone" is "Game of Thrones" Saga

In the Game of Thrones (which am watching for the first time, binging Seasons 1, 2, and 3 during an Xfinity free-access trial).  It's about the rightful sons and daughters, or "bastard" sons of Kings, and their rights and claims to Kingdoms and Thrones.

In our world, the Patent or Copyright or Claim of invention is the coveted throne of the modern "Rightful Heir".  And the stakes - for Titans like Apple, Samsung, Sony, or Foxconn - represent a far more wealth than the "Iron Throne" at King's Landing.



Game of Thrones keeps our interest, in part, by slowly revealing more dimension in characters introduced in a previous season (before killing them off and replacing them, perhaps with a new actor less willing to negotiate better salary.. another contract manufacturing angle).  For those of us who study planned obsolescence and contract manufacturing, the history of Android (especially Samsung) vs. Apple smartphones is just as fascinating.  (There's even a 'bit player' I know personally, a kind of Hong Kong Tyrion, that I know pesonally.  Proview's Rowell Yang of the four fingers received a check from Apple for $60M five years ago. He had trademarked the name "iPhone" while I was a consulting with Proview).

In last weekend's WSJ.com, there's a fascinating chapter to the claims that Steve Jobs is the rightful King. father of the smartphone.

Religion of Retrospect

Hey I just got up out of bed, in the middle of the night, to write this down.

I consider myself religious, yet attend no church.  I believe that all the things I have to be most thankful for are the result of some really "great books".  Bhagavad Gita. Tao tse Ching. Plato. The New Testament of the Christian Bible. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.  Aristotle.  And others.

Here's how I judged whether something was inspirational, how it became great.

Retrospect.

Fifth Week of USA College Students Apprentice Program in Africa Tech Sector

Fair Trade Recycling Update:  How Four USA College Students Will Change The Way You See Africa's E-Waste.
Zacharia is amazing

Fair Trade Recycling has a positive message.  Like the message in Hans Rosling's seminal "chimpanzee test" video - that ignited Gapminder in Sweden - our programs teach more about emerging markets.  The 1960s "Third World" images are, themselves, a form of pollution.

This summer we have 4 USA college interns working across 2 continents - Africa and North America - to create a partnership in parts supply.  Two students (U of Florida and Middlebury College) have been working in an apprentice program for flat screen TV repair in Ghana.  They are not just learning about T-con boards and controllers, or how to spot and replace overheated capacitors.  They are seeing Africa's Tech Sector as equals.

"Karim Zacharia is amazing!!!"

I like getting that message.  These two Americans are not "saving Africans".  They are not introducing a new "less primitive" technique. They are being exposed to Africa's best and brightest, to people who may well have been on scholarship to an engineering program if they'd been born in different circumstances.



Circular Economy PowderFinger

Hey, I've written a whole lot of words about images.

Here's some sound.  Neil Young's "Powderfinger", performed by Cowboy Junkies, seemed to describe red state hillbilly moonshiners.  But the words and expressions hauntingly tell the story of Africa's Tech Sector, accused of "e-waste crimes" by NGOs, shredding companies, regulators, some manufacturers, and many European journalists.

Euro Agbo Photo Journo 5: Fotografiska Museum

Visited Stockholm Fotografiska Museum.

It is like the Photojournalist's "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" in Sweden.  Photos are displayed both as works of art, and as important and beautiful storytelling.  The museum is in a retrofitted brick railyard building, with 3 floors. Lovely interior design, best restaurant and coffee shop ever seen.

There were 4 themes (These change year to year). Horses, Irving Penn, Scribbled on woman heads (skip it), and South Korean clone labs.

Upon entry, the first theme was "Like a Horse". Many new artists, but also vintage historical photography of horses.  Some blond haired, blue-eyed white children in Texas. Horse poop, spray-painted gold. Little bottles of 'horse odors' you can sniff for multi-dimensional effect (did not see many attendees take the advantage).

Exotic. Some African American horseback riders in urban Philadelphia. Celebrity. Young Patrick Swayze, and Richard Gere on horseback.  The biography of one of the photographers explained he would never have been "discovered" if he hadn't been pals with Richard Gere before the actor was famous. The timing was right - the star of Pretty Woman on horses got the photographer in with a magazine, which led to a career.



Euro Agbo Photo Journos Redux 1: The Butterfly and the Whale (enacted by 2 roosters)

With the help of Ghana Tech Wahab Odoi, and the miracles of the internet, I have managed to put together a lot of the pieces behind the strange alt-coinish entry by the  band Placebo.  Their MTV video's use of Agbogbloshie as a backdrop for "Life is What You Make It" debuted during the middle of this blog's series on Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos.

As far as making friends with people you run into in strange places - well, chalk this chicken fight up to unfortunate timing.

I was in the middle of a "photo journo flog" series.  And Sasha Rainbow was thrilled with what seems her studio's most prestigious work to date. And the band and Placebo fans were unprepared to play a part in an environmental lesson plan.  What does work for photography often does not work as journalism?... um no it's about the music dude.

Artists look for simplicity - a simple, powerful photo can tell a thousand words. But those words may be false, and quite easily proffer mere racial profiling.  I brought their video into the "Free Joe Hurricane Benson" debate, and they seem angry and perturbed.  Easier to describe me as a trollish brute than to entertain the possibility that their depiction of poverty was bleeding with collateral damage, and wrapped in #ewaste activist folly.

How did we meet in this place?  All of us? How does Awal, Yahroo or Razak wind up with a Whatsapp treasuretrove of white contacts from UK, USA, Spain, etc?  Since just the last month, I've been sent photos and been handed by phone to speak directly to five "freelance documentary makers".  It's a land rush... but they don't know what kind.

What $20,000 Means: Blog to Sasha Rainbow, Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal, @PlaceboWorld



Dear Directors, Producers, and Stars of the Music Video "Life Is What You Make It",

About two weeks ago, I ran across the release of your new Placebo music video through my organization, Fair Trade Recycling / WR3A, which researches public posts on Agbogbloshie.  Despite recognizing some of Placebo's hits from the past two decades, I admit I was not at all acquainted with the artists.  Over the course of 2 weeks, I've developed a much greater appreciation for not just the art, but the social justice that Brian and others with the band strive for.





I know a lot more about African recycling than I know about music.  I've been to Abgogbloshie and Old Fadama several times with our members from Tamale, Ghana.  We have translated for or been interviewed by several documentary and print journalism investigations on so-called e-waste dumping in Africa.  Here are 4 good articles and films on the topic of export.

3Sat
Aljazeera
Smithsonian
SciDev

But let me explain how we can work together to create clean and sustainable recycling jobs for the "workers of Agbogbloshie".  There's a win-win here, and there are plenty of other people besides me you can go through if I've tarnished the relationship by introducing the subject.  ("Alright then, I'll go to hell," often starts here).

A Refreshing "Victimless, Villainless" Assessment of E-Waste in Chennai India: Naveed Ahmed Sekar

Mobile Consumption and Disposal in Chennai Metropolitan Region India (2017 Naveed Ahmed, Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany)

This short analysis of "e-waste" phones in the rapidly emerging market of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), India, is the kind of abstract approach that could make a good model for other products and other cities.  

Once again, it shows the "circular economy" is heliocentric, and does not revolve around Europe.  Telephones sold to families in India (4 phones average per household in Chennai) are not thrown into the sea.  The secondary market is not "competing against" the legitimate scrap market.

Instead, Naveed shows the issue is reluctance to let go of devices. When people remember the purchase as a great sacrifice, they hesitate to believe it is eventually worth only the sum of its raw materials.  This leads to the same "hoarding" documented by Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s.



Loving vs. Placebo? Sasha Rainbow, Life's What We Make It

First of all, happy 50th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision, June 12, 1967.

Here is a thoughtful article in Salon, written by Dave Singleton, the godson of attorney Robert McIlwaine. 
“He” was my godfather Robert McIlwaine, Uncle Bob as I called him, and my secret was a surprise. I discovered recently that he was the lead lawyer on Loving v. Virginia, the iconic U.S. Supreme Court case on interracial marriage. He argued for Virginia and against the rights of the interracial couple.
Like Singleton, I spent all my summers Mark Twain country, where slavery had been legal. A lot of my own writing was influenced by conversations among grandparents and family members when I was 5 years old in 1967.  My parents generation was pro-Loving, but they argued with older Ozark relatives about it - some of whom I adore still.  

The anti-Loving marriage argument at my grandparents home was that "It's not right to the children, it deprives the kids of either society".  That is familiar now.  I've heard it said about marriages across religious lines.  And it struck me deeply because, at 4 years old, I'd asked the girl next door, Sally, if she would marry me when we grew up.  She explained to me we could not because she was Jewish.  I asked my parents if it was true that a Christian boy was not allowed to marry a Jewish girl.  They told me it was actually possible, but that family can oppose it, and that you have to "think of the children".

I could not, at that time, imagine ever loving a girl as much as I loved Sally.  And perhaps that's why the evening news of the Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia, caught my 5 year old attention.

Today, I'm grateful to have grown up knowing and loving 'racists' who were just cautious, frightened people, not bad people - like the uncle of the Salon writer.  I think this prepared me to recognize 'accidental racism' in the environmental community. These are my friends, sharing my recycling passion, many of whom seem as stubborn as any family in the south when it comes to trade in used equipment with black people.  

Where I grew up, you learned that you can hate and detest a friend's idea, without thinking too much less of the friend. If you think free export policy will hurt Scrap Sector's children, and I think anti-export policy hurts the Tech Sector's children...  I don't describe you as a bad person.

But righteousness always hears it that way, doesn't it?  And when you become famous for being righteous, you invent and prosecute "blasphemy".

The nuance is sadly missing from the response I got yesterday, indirectly (posted to a fan group) from Placebo "Life is What You Make It" director Sasha Rainbow.  Rather than answer any of my questions, even my messages offering to introduce common third parties if she doesn't want to speak to me directly, she pasted a new sunshine on my bum, spank slapped me personally as a very bad human being who people should avoid talking to.  I'm thinking of writing in response to her characterization of me and Fair Trade Recycling. Maybe tomorrow.

Perhaps we are just competitors.  Perhaps she saw the teaser for the Joe "Hurricane" Benson documentary I'm trying to shepherd, and it's just business to position her own Agbogbloshie documentary ahead.  She has employees, mouths to feed, etc.  


Q and A: The Bitter End of UK's E-Waste Safari Exploitation

More information turned up on the Band Placebo and how the Agbogbloshie dump kids were chosen to launch the Band's Australia tour.  

The band's reps are researching us.  And we are researching the filmmaker and the band.  Feelings of saviorism and feelings of exploitation are both valid, and both come from good hearts.  We are all running uphill, fighting for higher moral ground.

Here is "Running Up That Hill", a song about trading places.  It is one of the band's hits from the past that got USA airplay, at least on college radio.  ... I remember this.




There's no direct communication between us (yet?), but a lot of evidence people are reading the blog and adjusting their message.  For example, the OfficialPlacebo Facebook page no longer ID's Abgo as "the largest e-waste dump in the world", and reciprocally, I can state this headline was also fake news ("Brian Molko highest paid singer on earth")


"The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true."
























This is NOT TRUE, the lead singer of Placebo does not out-rank Mick Jagger, Beyonce, Eminem, etc.  But the fact that it shows up as the top Google listing for "net worth Brian Molko" shows that Brian has something in common with Wahab, Chendiba, Joe Benson, and other Tech Sector entrepreneurs in Ghana - who do NOT import 80% waste to what is NOT the "biggest e-waste dump on earth".  More in common than he ever knew.

Since my earlier blog and tweets, Placebo has taken down this claim on Facebook - that Agbo is the "world's largest e-waste dump".



Now watch out for someone simply swapping the words "in Africa" for "on Earth".  Some people imply that sounds like a small mistake.  But is is quite a correction. "The Tallest Man in the NBA" and "The Tallest Man on North Korea's High School Basketball Team" are two very different "Tallest Men". Because fewer Africans owned TVs and computers decades ago, their junkyards have fewer of them than ours do. Here's a photo of a pile in Addison County Vermont...
























Seriously - we got WAAAAAAY more e-waste in Middlebury Vermont (pop 10k) than Accra has in Agbogbloshie.  Maybe I can pay Michael Anane to tell people he played mini-golf here as a boy, and we'll get some MTV screen time.

The photo of Agbogbloshie is, to us, even funnier and more obviously a joke than the MediaMass (Onionish) fake news.  The kid is standing on a single TV, on a barren landscape, carring a bag (no doubt on his way on some errand) and a Alsdair Mitchell pulled a McElvaney and said "kid, jump up on here a second".  Using it under the headline "the world's largest e-waste dump" a single kid standing on a single TV in a city of 3M is rather hilarious (and I'm not the one that choose that screenshot for that headline - Placebo's Facebook manager did).

Look, Brian Molko is closer to being the richest rock star than Agbogbloshie is to being the largest e-waste dump, but that's irrelevant.  My point is that good people - Ghana's Tech Sector and Brian Molko - can get thrust into conflict through misinformation and misunderstanding, and no one has to get bent out of shape.   It's dialectic. I know more about the band, and at the end they'll know more about Ghana, and the UK Press portrayal of its slums (no chaps, t'isn't about you).

So for the benefit of Placebo fans, it's ok to enjoy the video.  The camerawork is some of the best I've seen there (a little cheating with extra gasoline of the fires).  But below is a quick Q and A about Agbogbloshie, the myths and the facts.  Everything stated below has been the subject of many blogs.


Euro Agbo Photo Journos 4: Update Placebo Video (Sasha Rainbow) in Agbogbloshie

UPDATE: Life Is What You Make It (Placebo cover)

The 1990's European rock group Placebo has launched a new hits album featuring a haunting cover version of "Life is What You Make It". The Music Video used to launch the release was filmed in June 2016 at Agbogbloshie, a slum near the center of Accra, Ghana.  The rockers declared to fans on Facebook that Agbogbloshie is The Largest E-Waste Dump In The World. The slickly filmed and haunting video is "dedicated to the workers of Agbogbloshie", and ends with three austere warnings urging fans not to allow their cell phones and computers to fall into African hands.


Most recent academic research (Memorial U, USC, PCUP, MIT), has revealed the amount of e-waste in Agbogbloshie to be globally inconsequential, and many headlines to be wildly exaggerated. Agbogbloshie is not populated with thousands of orphans "pawing" through 500 sea containers of European e-waste per month. Nor is the site a remote wetland - its status as a heavily polluted urban river was established decades before personal computers were sold in the USA.  The modest sized scrap yard (mostly auto scrap) in a city of 3-4M does receive E-Scrap in scrap metal by pickup truck and wheelbarrow carters in an informal cash economy based on copper and aluminum - and reuse - value. Baseline World Bank data show millions of Ghana households had televisions in the 1990s. UNEP and UNU data show the site accounts for far less than 1% of the e-waste traffic in the world, and probably generates most of that on its own.

To get a professional assessment of the site, in 2015 The Smithsonian and Sci.Net each sent reporters who were experienced with scrapyards. Both experienced reporters found mainstream press coverage to have been grossly exaggerated and prejudicial. The NGO which had originally named Agbogbloshie to be a significant electronic waste dumping ground now claims otherwise, now from a defensive position of having "racially profiled" the Ghana Tech Sector who successfully reuse and resell 90% of the imported goods (a record superior to brand new product sales).

Placebo SashaRainbow Filmtaker Alasdair Mitchell with Awal, Razak, Abdullah, and unknown


PLACEBO Twitter Spat: UK Band Fans White Privilege in Agbogbloshie

"The Band is absolutely dedicated to its workers.  Our policy is to give a living wage to any employee, crew person, or extra, irregardless of their race or nationality.  We'll investigate Awal Basit's concerns, and if there's any validity to his claim, we'll make this right."
 - Nobody so far.  Robin Ingenthron made this quote up to be helpful.

That's is how Robin Ingenthron would have answered the question.  So far, no one from RiseRecords or PlaceboWorld, or any band mate, has summoned the courage to address Agbogbloshie scrap worker Awal Muhammed Basit's concerns. Awal says neither he nor the two other Scrap Workers the video is "dedicated to" were paid, or signed waivers.

It would have deftly anticipated the questions over white PRIVILEGE which infuse discussions over filming slums, teledensity, liability laws, and the prison sentence for African TV repairman Joseph Benson.

Like a lot of slum dwellers, Awal is nearly illiterate and struggles with English. Fortunately, I had Wahab, our Ghana Tech Sector partner here in Vermont to translate, and felt like we could get to the bottom of this quickly.  Maybe Sasha Rainbow, the video director, mistook Awal's enthusiasm for giddiness over being featured in a PLACEBO video.  Maybe he signed a waiver he hadn't understood.

Going directly to the band, via twitter, was I know a little likely to ruffle feathers.  But we were polite in the beginning, and my concern about the days of silence have to do with the narrowing opportunity to translate directly - while Wahab is here - for the band.

Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos 3: Credits Making Poverty Porn Placebo in Agbogbloshie!

Video Produced by Sasha Rainbow for RiseRecords and Placebo creates more "Collateral Damage".  

"Life is what you make it" music video, filmed at Accra city dump, uses gasoline fueled fire, children, and recycling images.

Well, well, well... it has been a busy week for Agbogbloshie.  We are looking for a release document for one of the "three musketeers" (Awal, Razak, Yahroo), who featured prominently in a new music video released for Placebo by Rise Records.  Not trying to scare them away, but to get them into their role in the dialogue.  They probably meant well, and are "collateral damage" from BAN propaganda... which they append at the video's final seconds, as if spreading fear for Africans victimization is compensation enough for a day of scrap circus performances.

First, some actual journalism happened the same afternoon as the video was released, and from the same state (Oregon).  Resource Recycling magazine had a thoughtful cover article on our Fair Trade Recycling "carbon offset model" waste trading with Ghana.

Same day, Rise Records (Beaverton, OR) released a film by director "Sasha Rainbow".   The music video for glam-punk-rock rerelease UK group Placebo advertises albums and t-Shirts.  The Song is "Life's What You Make It".

The film opens with the line "dedicated to the workers of Agbogbloshie".  Well, that's nice.  What's fascinating is that Sasha Rainbow uses only a handful of the people there, and the most prominently featured is Awal Muhammed of Savelugu (north of Tamale), who I spent several weeks with in January and February.

Here's Awal in the music video.  I am struggling to know how to feel about this.  His name, at a minimum, should be in the credits.  He's not a "nameless faceless worker of Agbogbloshie".



Here's Awal wearing my company T-Shirt (with Yahroo)


So I was kind of mock-exploiting these "most photographed dudes in Africa".  But I don't know if I paid them as much as Placebo or Sasha Rainbow paid them - or far more.  And I very much want to find out.  Because if Sasha Rainbow and Rise Records did compensate these workers, they should proudly name them (like a check would require) and say so in the credits.  Because Bellini, McElvaney, and other Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos did not.  None of us assumes the scrappers are given more than a thank you, and if that's the case here, the Glam Rockers need to find out, and correct that.  If I see these people in a video that's making money, I want to read that the dudes were paid a fair crew wage.  The ironically titled video "Still Not Sponsored" is perhaps the grossest, most disturbing example, with smarmy ridiculing voice over by Mike Anane, a guy these scrappers detest.

Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos 2: Dr. Jack Caravanos Back on Duty - Let's Flog The Mining

Since I've been quite the heckler of Blacksmith Institute / PureEarth for allowing themselves to be cited as a source of many, many incorrect and false reports on Agbogbloshie e-waste, it's refreshing to be able to give them a kudos.  I was just going after "data journalists log, photojournalists flog" on Africa in the previous blog.

Now what? I'm back so soon?

Blacksmith's main researcher on toxic sites across the globe is NYU's Dr. Jack Caravanos. Dr. Jack's research on soil and processes at Agbogbloshie was actually very good... too bad no one citing the report as saying things it doesn't say has ever read it.    The Guardian and other press who cited it as evidence that Agbogbloshie was some kind of significant world dumping ground would have done well to interview Jack rather than Mike Anane.  Jack's twitter account should be followed, because he's the first place I saw this story.

But here's where we are in total agreement - it's the mining.

And the Kabwe Lead Ore Mining in Zambia, to be more precise.




Jack Caravanos and Blacksmith Institute first put Kabwe lead ore mines on the map.  The worst recycling on earth is better for the environment than the very best mining.  And Kabwe, in Zambia, is one of the worst mines.

Compare the Guardian photojournalism of Kabwe to the Stephano Stranges photography of Agbogbloshie.  They meet in the middle, with StephanoStranges Coltan mine...  Is this where grisly photojournalism redeems itself?  Or is this where Robin tries to salvage relationships without being hypocritical?

I told the Guardian in 2014, "It's the Mining, Stupid".  Can we finally take on the toxic legacy of the General Mining Act of 1872, and the precedent it set for mining across the earth?

Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos 1: Flog African Tech Sector "E-waste"

My last post kind of took on European "White Savior Complex" in the e-Waste story.  I hesitated before hitting "publish".  Was I being too hard on Europeans?

The latest "European photo-journalist safari" came out the day after.  Italian photojournalist Stephano Stranges announced fundraising for his, well, somewhat creepy African series "Victims of our Wealth" or "Le Vittime della nostra Rizzchessa". Screenshots below...



From his website "Stranges Images" (which is largely in English, though he's Italian), you get the picture, so to speak.  The metal mining exploits Africans to make electronics, and then the Africans are exploited a second time by the selfsame electronics in Agbogbloshie.
Coltan, in other words, the mineral that everyone carries around in his or her pocket, is the object of a long commercial chain that implicates serious consequences in terms of human and environmental rights.   This mineral which is used in the production of various high tech materials, is especially fundamental in making smartphones

The compulsive consumption and the continual updating of these objects, fed by by the media’s barrage of ad campaigns, has caused the coltan industry to grow exponentially since the end of the 1990’s. From that point, there has been the exploitation on the part of large multinationals and the catastrophic consequences regarding the people from areas like DR Congo.   My photographic project, therefore, starts in this area of the world, as the initial link in a process that begins with the extraction of the mineral followed by the production of the object (South East Asia) and then moves onto the excessive use in every corner of the planet, ending up in the immense African dump sites (in particular, Ghana).
Now in fairness, I am greatly concerned by the Coltan Mining in the Congo (have been upfront that Congo and Amazon metal mining was topic Numbro Una since 1980s - that's WHY I got into recycling!).  So I have some schadenfreude of my own in Stranges photos of African mining.  (Some historical confirmation at bottom).

So I figured what the heck, I'll talk to them about it... by twitter (next page below).

Look at the specific claim made to support the photojournalism. Data journalists log, Photojournalists flog...
Its name is Agbogbloshie, but when you look for it, you better ask for “Sodom and Gomorrah”, everyone knows it with that name. It is the black dump of the West. 100,000 tons a year including mobiles, fridges, televisions, computers. Here, they are burnt, opened, selected, recycled and re-sold, to then enter again the cycle of production and sale. 80,000 is the estimated population, mainly coming from the North and the most depressed areas of Ghana. 
80,000 residents managing 100k tons per year of foreign waste?  What does that look like? Do you see that in their photos?

I saw 25 people in Agbogbloshie, managing 500 lbs per day of wire.  It was mostly from automobile consoles.  It was not EVEN hysterically remotely close to the photojournalist claims, and the photojournalists own photos prove my points - and disprove theirs!

Zen of Arrogance: Confessions of a USA Recycling Madman


"Might as well be me"
If you've followed this blog for much of the decade, you know how much "guilt and privilege leverage" I write about, the liability culture. Both liberals and conservatives play "gotcha-ism".  Let me indulge in a backhanded swing, to return the ball to the court of European Recycling Overlords.  Basel is Better?  Or is it a new "infant formula" for Africans?  

Used and repaired goods are best for emerging markets, be they in the Ozarks or Cameroon or Ghana.

The irony of Europe's infatuation with Basel Action Network is that they think they are owning up to their post colonialism.  They feel heroic, doing a good one for the former colonies. But instead of "environmental justice", they accidentally delivered racial profiling of the talented tech sector.  Once again, USA is less racist despite our worst efforts.

Cross cultural case in point:  I used the n-word in a story I was recounting.  Hear me out....

Since it was quoting another person - a judge - who used the word in a sentence to me personally, I've always thought it was fair to leave it in the judge's quotations.  The use of the n-word by the judge impugns the judge. In that context, leaving the word out intervenes on the judge's behalf, at the expense of the folks he was commenting on (me and some black folk).  I literally imitated the judge's voice, and the shock value resounds because it's shocking to have heard the words coming from a judge's mouth.  But I heard through the grapevine that the Europeans thought it was verboten, and another black mark against exporting fairly.  Robin used a word Europeans know not to use.

Nuance?  It's an example of some folks being more comfortable and direct about the state of affairs our friends face.  If you've never met a black person in Arkansas, you're safer avoiding the term altogether.  If you are comfortable in your relationships, you skewer the 1970s Ozarks judge with his own words.

This was some racial tolerance inside baseball.
So - How does a guy from the Ozarks get to know more about Africa than Europeans do?

In the context of the N-word, I was in Austria, speaking on a panel, and told the story to other panel members (not to the audience).  I was telling them I was on my way back to Ghana and Agbogbloshie, and trying with the story to self-deprecate the part of America I come from.  The story is humiliating, which is a form of humility.


Fair Trade Recycling [WR3A] Launches "E-Waste Offset" Initiative In Africa



[Middlebury, Vermont May 22, 2017]  Fair Trade Recycling has launched a strategic partnership in West Africa to create capacity for proper recycling of junk "e-waste" devices without impugning, racially profiling, or interfering with the imports of Africa's talented "Tech Sector".

The initiative is based on "carbon offset" models, and is derived from conclusions Fair Trade Recycling representatives arrived at during research in Ghana from 2015 to the present.

Under the new program, African Tech Sector buyers will be rewarded with lower prices for used computers and tech sector equipment they import when they "offset" or "exchange" the tonnage for a similar quantity of obsolete or irreparable electronics taken back from African cities.  The model is patterned after "carbon offset" or carbon exchange models.

For every 50 containerloads of used electronics imported by Ghana's Tech Sector, the reuse shops will take back 10 containerloads of junk TVs and computers which were imported to Ghana two or three decades ago.  And the Tech Sector will pay for proper tools, training and methods - all funded by the profitable and appropriate reuse of newer second-hand products.

The "Agenda Shift" has already resulted in calls from major manufacturers interested in promoting takeback in Africa as a solution to junk buildup.

10 Tools & Techniques To Change the World from the Inside



Here, briefly, is my advice to college graduates seeking to employ social justice and change, and to use their idealism within the economy to earn their own way, make a living, and still change the world "from the inside".  If any famous people are planning Commencement addresses and haven't started, feel free to use this.

Twitter is a good utility. I usually praise it for its "search box", you can find breaking insider news if you ignore the "feed" and search for something.  Amazing links show up.

Another good thing is that forcing yourself to make a point in 140 characters can make for better journalism.

Here are my 10 Techniques to "Change the world from the inside", something my friends told me would be impossible when I left Fayetteville Arkansas to attend an MBA program in Boston.  You can choose something, some industry you want to change, and make a living doing so, and in the process actually alter the way the entire world does and sees things in the industry.

In order (Tweets below posted in reverse order).

Tool #1 Humility.   
Tool #2 Math and Secondary Research.
Tool #3 Psychology (including your own)
Tool #4 Networking
Tool #5 Humor (can combine with #1)
Tool #6 Scout Everyones' Perspective (clients, suppliers, regulators, everyone)
Tool #7 Pacing
Tool #8 Statistics and risk analysis and lifecycle analysis (see #2)
Tool #9 History of the field
Tool #10 Be a good citizen.

More

"Freemium High": Psychological Reward On Fury Road

Comment Field Social Media Adversaries, Check Your Buzz

This year, I have made a concerted effort to referee the internet.  Crack your fingers, place them on the keyboard, and enter the Fury Road of Comment Field Politics.



It was late. I'd had two glasses of Shiraz. And thought I'd check out Tucker Carlson, Bill O'Reilly's timeslot replacement on Fox News.

Had been listening to MSNBC and NPR side of the "Trump vs. Comey" story, and needed to clear my head of bias confirmation. It's our civic duty to understand both sides of the story. In high school, our debate coaches and senior team members would say "hey, the X high school seniors have a really excellent Negative Debate rebuttal vs. Solar Power, you should go listen, they meet Y team at 3PM"

I've known and somewhat respected Tucker Carlson from his bow-tie days, when he was the anti-populist alternative to Pat Buchanon.  He seemed to be aiming for the vacancy of Ivy League conservative William F. Buckley Jr.  His track record seems libertarian - Turned anti Iraq War (after the 1st year), supported Rand Paul, said gay marriage is a "civilizing force".

Now the abrupt cancelling of O'Reilly Factor put Tucker into the 8PM time slot, with the job of keeping O'Reilly's conservative viewers.  But those are a different age, and a different economic bent than traditional William F. Buckley, Heritage Foundation viewers.

So I was perturbed by Tucker's interview of an advocate for legal Haitian refugees, when Tucker brought up the topic of rounding them up and expelling them.

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

While spending some Saturday time researching on Ancestry.com 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
Re-manufactured

Agbogbloshie films
Capture urbanization
City waste, recycled

Teledensity
Demand for education
Mankind makes cities

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

cont.

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.