Anatomy of a Myth: the World’s Biggest E-Waste Dump Isn’t.

Let’s start with two photographs.

The first was shot by me in China’s Hunan Province. It shows a warehouse that contains roughly 5,000 old locally-collected televisions awaiting recycling. This photo only captures a portion of what is a big inventory, and a big operation. Every day more arrive. Most people outside of China have never heard of this place, mostly because it is indoors, and difficult for journos and activists to gain access to.


Next, a photo tagged “e-Waste – field of computers” that I came across while looking at a Google map of Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana that everyone from the Guardian to Motherboard has called the world’s “biggest” or “largest” e-waste dump.


There’s nothing good or right in the Agbogbloshie photo. The pollution it depicts is nasty. But if you can get past the shock and evaluate the volume of e-waste in the image, it’s not much – especially compared to what we see in the China photo. Indeed, despite the parade of Agbogbloshie slideshows posted by media outlets over the years, there’s a curious dearth of images showing large volumes of e-waste at the site. Rather, the genre is almost exclusively devoted to pictures of laborers, oftentimes not even processing waste – see this useless and exploitative New York Times slideshow, or this more recent one from Motherboard. My long-standing suspicion has been that there aren’t any great volumes of e-waste at Agbogbloshie, and that most of the journalists and photographers who go there – having had no experience with developing world recycling – document their shock, but not what’s actually happening, frankly because they don’t know better.

This matters. Agbogbloshie has become a global symbol for what’s alleged to be a vast and growing environmental problem: the export of e-waste from the developed world to West Africa. Yet in recent years, academic and UN-sponsored research has shown that the problem is far more complex – and, in all respects, smaller – than what’s being depicted. In other words – we’re not talking about the world’s largest e-waste dump.

So what I’m going to do is show how somebody with actual experience reporting in and around the global recycling industry – especially in the developing world – looks at Agbogbloshie. My background is that of a journalist who has been writing about and photographing the industry for 15 years, and has visited hundreds of recycling facilities, especially in the developing world. In March and April, I visited Accra. Continue reading

I’ve been cloned … on twitter. [UPDATED]

A few months ago a friend emailed to say that he’d searched for me on twitter and found twenty accounts using my name, photo, and bio. I looked, and he was right: I was being impersonated. But here’s the thing: the actual twitter handle – the thing that starts with an @ – wasn’t some permutation of @adamminter. Rather, it was always @XHnews plus some random string of letters. As many of my readers know, @XHnews is the official, verified account of Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, purveyor of news and propaganda to the world.


Why would someone want to make a mash-up of me and Xinhua? I have no idea. But anyway, Twitter doesn’t make it easy to get rid of these accounts – you have to fill out a form for each one. Still, once I finished complaining about the first, I couldn’t stop, and after 20 minutes or so I’d dutifully complained about each Minter/Xinhua mashup, and a few days later they were gone. Or so I thought.

Because a few weeks later they were back. Only this time, it wasn’t two dozen mashups – there were more than fifty. This time I filed a single impersonation report with twitter and added a note explaining this curious situation, and begging that twitter delete every Adam Minter that starts with a @XHnews. And they did … Continue reading

More iPhone, More Carbon.

Earlier this week, when Apple announced that it was building a solar-powered data center in Mesa, Arizona, I immediately thought of their phones. To be sure, there’s much to admire in Apple’s commitment to reducing its internal carbon footprint. But that admiration needs to be tempered by an equally relevant set of facts: the carbon emissions associated with each generation of the iPhone are actually growing.

More carbon with every bite.

More carbon with every bite.

The trend was brought to my attention in a blog post by the Restart Project, a London-based collective that promotes repair and maintenance of old products. As they point out, Apple laudably discloses carbon emissions for each of its products via publicly available environmental reports. And according to those reports, the carbon emissions associated with an iPhone have been growing with each new model, from 70kg for the 4s, to 75kg for 5s, to 95kg for the iPhone 6 (Apple doesn’t break out respective carbon emission rates for the 6 and the 6 Plus) that was selling –  according to Apple – 34,000 units per hour during its last reported quarter. That’s a whopping 35% increase in per iPhone carbon emissions over three phone generations.

Continue reading

Native advertising?

This morning while browsing the New York Times I came across this stunning full page Apple ad. Terrific collaboration on the part of two of America’s top lifestyle brands.

[and a nice explainer on native advertising, here at the Guardian]



The Environmentally Unfriendly, Pre-Mature Afterlife of the iPhone 5s

What’s the lifespan of an iPhone? Is it measured in the lifespan of the handset? Or is it measured in the lifespan of the battery? Most iPhone users will likely answer that the lifespan is determined by the battery, if only because – unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4 – consumers can’t change an iPhone battery without voiding the warranty. As a result, if you own an iPhone, and your battery is dying, you’re left little option beyond relying upon Apple’s $79 battery replacement service – and the one-week, mail-in wait that it requires. Under that circumstance, most consumers will opt for a new phone. After all, who can wait a week for a battery replacement?

Today at Bloomberg View I take issue with this Apple design choice, in an op-ed entitled, “Eco-Friendly Apple’s Dark iPhone Secret.” As I point out in the piece, the new iPhone 5s is more unfriendly than most, due in no small part to the fact that Apple has chosen to glue the new phone’s battery to the case, making it even more difficult to replace. Below, an image courtesy of ifixit, showing a removed battery and the glue strips that secure it.



Surely Apple – a company that prides itself on reduced packaging – can figure out a way to allow consumers to switch out batteries from its most popular product. At Bloomberg View, I suggest that it might want to start looking for a way sooner rather than later.

Paul Krugman’s Communist Viagra Peddlers

Paul Krugman has seen the enemy, and that enemy is a Communist Viagra salesman. At least, that’s the message conveyed in the esteemed Nobel Prize winner’s Saturday blog post at the New York Times, “The Hacking of Michael Pettis.”

For those who don’t know of him, Michael Pettis is a finance professor at Peking University, and a well-known ‘China bear’ and skeptic. For China critics like Krugman, Pettis  and his blog are inspiration. In any event, a few weeks ago Krugman was amused to find Pettis’ blog filled with Viagra ads; on Saturday, amusement turned to alarm when he returned to Pettis’ blog to read that – due to the power of the Viagra hackers – Pettis has been forced to re-build his blog. There are plenty of conclusions to be drawn from Pettis’ blog predicament. Krugman, notably, chooses the most extreme:

“Commenters over there are suspicious — this sounds awfully persistent for Viagra salesmen, and you have to wonder whether someone doesn’t like frank assessments of Chinese economic prospects. And it makes me grateful that this blog is protected by Times firewalls etc., given the stuff that has happened outside that protection — e.g., fake Google plus, Facebook, and Twitter accounts in my name, to cite just the stuff I know about.”

Let’s be clear about what Krugman is implying here: Michael Pettis, noted skeptic of China’s economic prospects, has been transformed into a Viagra sales platform by “someone” who doesn’t like his economic analysis. .Who is that “someone?” Krugman won’t won’t say, but in this age of state-sponsored hacking it shouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots to … the Chinese Communist Party and its platoon of Viagra salesmen?

This is wacky stuff – black helicopters for the well-heeled Nobel Prize set, in a sense. It’s also baseless stuff: when I posted the story to facebook, my friend Rich Brubaker, founder of the Collective Responsibility consultancy, and an adjunct prof at the China European International Business School in Shanghai, left the following comment:

“Pettis’s blog has had this for three years. Started as a result of widespread WordPress event, and all my blogs had same problem. I sent him fix years ago… Clearly he isn’t bothered.”

That’s a reasonable, fact-based explanation, even if it leaves open the possibility of something far more serious. Krugman, if he hopes to avoid becoming a cartoon of himself, would be well-advised to learn from it.

UPDATE: In another facebook comment, Brubaker expands a bit on his communications with Pettis:

“Here is one of the links that I sent him, which describes the core issue that he was facing in 2011 (when I emailed him). I myself had to go through this for 2 blog sites, both WordPress, and a LOT of sties were reporting the same issue at the time. With many being hosted on Media Temple.”

The link Rich shared is here.


Suspend Me On Twitter (Updated)


On Friday afternoon I logged into my twitter account and was promptly informed that my account had been suspended. I’d been given no notice, no warnings, no indications whatsoever that something might be amiss (for the record: I am not a spammer, an account churner, or a follow-back participant; I don’t engage in personal attacks). Rather, the account was just summarily suspended, and that was that. I was offered a link to a page with possible explanations for the suspension, and a form that I could use to appeal the suspension – which I promptly did.


So far, nobody from twitter has gotten back to me with an explanation, absolution, or further punishment. Of course, twitter isn’t a government, and they’re under no obligation to follow any kind of due process in such matters. But for twitter users like me, who have woven the service into their daily routines, the capricious, totally opaque nature of this account suspension is both disturbing and – in my case at least – a warning that I might want to reconsider how much I depend on it.

In any event, if somebody out there knows somebody at twitter who might be able to help me, I’d be deeply grateful. Having a suspended account isn’t the best PR, and I’d at least like to erase the stigma before people start thinking I’m a spammer or worse.

[UPDATE, SIX HOURS LATER:  So I go to bed suspended, and wake up restored. Yes, that’s right: twitter restored my account. However, in keeping with the opaque nature of this episode, they didn’t bother to send along an explanation. Rather, they just restored me. Were my emails the difference makers? Was I misidentified as a spammer? Did someone at twitter HQ grow tired of my China tweets? Perhaps, like my wife, they feel that it’s time I update my profile photo? Anything is possible, I suppose, in the absence of any kind of explanation. The End.]