Tonight the staff of Shanghai Scrap is taking a break from writing over-heated posts about wikileaks to pause and appreciate what we now consider the greatest scrap recycling blog of all time: the Good Point Ideas Blog, authored by Robin Ingenthron – founder of the World Reuse Repair and Recycling Association, and owner of Good Point Recycling/American Retroworks, a US-based e-waste recycling company that proudly engages in legal electronic “waste” exports to the developed world (read the blog to learn about how he does that).
I bring Robin and his blog up for several reasons. First, Shanghai Scrap was, in part, established as a platform to promote some of my writing on the global waste and recycling trade that’s typically not available to those who don’t subscribe to trade journals, but who might take an interest in the subject. The truth is, my scrap posting has become more and more rare over the years, but I still like to do it and, logically, I take an interest in other scrap bloggers (of which there are two, now – me, and Robin). Second, Robin’s blog is a tour de force if you’re at all interested if and how the planet has any chance to process and handle the massive amounts of waste being generated on it, daily – especially electronic waste like Norelco shavers and Dell computers. How are we supposed to throw those things away when we’re done with them? What are the ethics? Third, Robin has been on a bit of a tear lately, posting some 259 blogs in 2010, most quite lengthy, and all on the recycling and re-use trade. That, in itself, deserves notice. And fourth, despite the fact that Robin’s blog has existed for half of a decade, I’ve only recently become aware of it. I need to make up for that.
Now, to be fair, Robin’s writing is dense, and I think he’d be the first to agree that he could use an editor now and then. And, it’s important to note, he writes for an industry audience, not a general one. But if you take the time to go through his blog – and I don’t say this very often about blogs – you’ll be intellectually challenged and engaged. Robin is a serious thinker, with some very serious things to say about how race and class play a powerful role in how people of color who recycle in the developing world are often depicted unfairly, if not incorrectly, by the mainstream media (check out how he destroys CBS in this post). One of his favorite phrases – and one I really like – is “techs/geeks of color.” It refers to the astonishing skills of self-taught engineers in the developing world who repair broken electronics from the developed world, for re-use. Quite often, media from the West depict geeks of color as helpless tools of the developed world, rather than as clever entrepreneurs in their own right:
This distrust of globalization is understandable. But over-zealous promotion of the point, through stereotypical depictions of barefoot Chinese and barefoot Africans has thrown techs of color under the bus, and threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophesy if the sustainable fair trade path to development is thrown out with the bathwater. This is not just the opinion of American businessmen. This is overwhelmingly the opinion of consumers in the developing nations. It is the opinion in Karachi, in Mumbai, in Douala.
And continuing …
Recycling is not a form of “waste disposal”. It is a form of resource extraction. We should be more concerned about copper mining, iron mining, and lead and zinc mining than we should be about smelting old auto batteries to make new auto batteries. Once the auto battery factories moved to India and Philippines and Thailand, it makes sense that the auto battery recycling would follow.
Or, heck, try some of this:
This blog is not really all about reuse markets for e-waste and technology. It’s more of a wiki-leaks, philosophy paper, trying to document how public policy gets developed, and how environmentalists con themselves if they believe that their moral aspirations and non-profit 990 forms somehow innoculate us from commiting the same arrogant sins as the Catholic Church of the 1500s, the anti-communists of the 1950s, the Maoists of the Great Leap Forward, and other passion-driven causes.
… [I]f this blog is about making people care about used electronics, then it’s really going to wind up on the scrap heap. The blog is about people setting environmental policy, using guilt about poor people as their marketing gimmick, but remaining silent when the Geeks of Color get Clubbed to Death. They tried to take used computers away from Pakistanis last year, and there was an uprising…
And then there’s this Sanford & Son (my favorite television show of all time) reference …
I loved it when Fred Sanford praised necks and wings, and it was the only thing he and Lamont ever agreed on… I’m from Arkansas, and know that Tyson made billions learning to resell chicken poop as fertilizer, and sending chicken wings and gizzards to Asia on cargo jets, because when we were laughing at Redd Fox on our TVs, the rest of the world agreed with him.
I could go on and on, but I realize that Robin’s blog isn’t for everyone. So let me put it this way: if you’re someone from the recycling industry who comes to Shanghai Scrap out of hope that I’ll regularly post about scrap metal, I suggest that you start spending some time at Robin’s blog, as well. He blogs scrap every day; I only do it a few times a month, at most. The insights are great, and if you care about recycling, the developing world, and a practical, realistic approach to integrating both, then Robin is your man. A top-of-the-line Shanghai Scrap recommendation: go to the Good Point Ideas Blog. I only wish I’d started reading it years ago.